Beltane The Smith
Part 2 out of 11
"Aye, to Sir Benedict, who yet doth hold the great keep of
Thrasfordham. Many sieges hath he withstood, and daily men flee to him
--stricken men, runaway serfs, and outlaws from the green, all such
masterless men as lie in fear of their lives."
Said Beltane, slow and thoughtful:
"There be many outlaws within the green, wild men and sturdy fighters
as I've heard. Hath Sir Benedict many men, my father?"
"Alas! a pitiful few, and Black Ivo can muster bows and lances by the
"Yet doth Sir Benedict withstand them all, my father!"
"Yet must he keep ever within Bourne, Beltane. All Pentavalon, save
Bourne, lieth 'neath Ivo's iron foot, ruled by his fierce nobles, and
they be strong and many, 'gainst whom Sir Benedict is helpless in the
field. 'Tis but five years agone since Ivo gave up fair Belsaye town to
ravishment and pillage, and thereafter, builded him a mighty gallows
over against it and hanged many men thereon."
Now hereupon, of a sudden, Beltane clenched his hands and fell upon his
"Father," said he, "Pentavalon indeed doth cry, so must I now arise and
go unto her. Give me thy blessing that I may go."
Then the hermit laid his hands upon Beltane's golden head and blessed
him, and whispered awhile in passionate prayer. Thereafter Beltane
arose and, together, they came out into the sunshine.
"South and by west must you march, dear son, and God, methinks, shall
go beside thee, for thy feet shall tread a path where Death shall lie
in wait for thee. Let thine eyes be watchful therefore, and thine ears
quick to hear. Hearken you to all men, yet speak you few words and
soft. But, when you act, let your deeds shout unto heaven, that all
Pentavalon may know a man is come to lead them who fears only God. And
so, my Beltane, fare-thee-well! Come, kiss me, boy; our next kiss,
perchance--shall be in heaven."
And thus they kissed, and looked within each other's eyes; then Beltane
turned him, swift and sudden, and strode upon his way. But, in a
little, looking back, he saw his father, kneeling before the cross,
with long, gaunt arms upraised to heaven.
HOW BELTANE TALKED WITH ONE HIGHT GILES BRABBLECOMBE, WHO WAS A
NOTABLE AND LEARNED ARCHER
The morning was yet young when my Beltane fared forth into the world, a
joyous, golden morning trilling with the glad song of birds and rich
with a thousand dewy scents; a fair, sweet, joyous world it was indeed,
whose glories, stealing in at eye and ear, filled him with their
gladness. On strode my Beltane by rippling brook and sleepy pool, with
step swift and light and eyes wide and shining, threading an unerring
course as only a forester might; now crossing some broad and sunny
glade where dawn yet lingered in rosy mist, anon plunging into the
green twilight of dell and dingle, through tangled brush and scented
bracken gemmed yet with dewy fire, by marsh and swamp and lichened
rock, until he came out upon the forest road, that great road laid by
the iron men of Rome, but now little better than a grassy track, yet
here and there, with mossy stone set up to the glory of proud emperor
and hardy centurion long since dust and ashes; a rutted track, indeed,
but leading ever on, 'neath mighty trees, over hill and dale towards
the blue mystery beyond.
Now, in a while, being come to the brow of a hill, needs must my
Beltane pause to look back upon the woodlands he had loved so well and,
sighing, he stretched his arms thitherward; and lo! out of the soft
twilight of the green, stole a gentle wind full of the scent of root
and herb and the fresh, sweet smell of earth, a cool, soft wind that
stirred the golden hair at his temples, like a caress, and so--was
gone. For a while he stood thus, gazing towards where he knew his
father yet knelt in prayer for him, then turned he slowly, and went his
Thus did Beltane bid farewell to the greenwood and to woodland things,
and thus did the green spirit of the woods send forth a gentle wind to
kiss him on the brow ere he went out into the world of men and cities.
Now, after some while, as he walked, Beltane was aware of the silvery
tinkle of bells and, therewith, a full, sweet voice upraised in song,
and the song was right merry and the words likewise:
"O ne'er shall my lust for the bowl decline,
Nor my love for my good long bow;
For as bow to the shaft and as bowl to the wine,
Is a maid to a man, I trow."
Looking about, Beltane saw the singer, a comely fellow whose long legs
bestrode a plump ass; a lusty man he was, clad in shirt of mail and
with a feather of green brooched to his escalloped hood; a long-bow
hung at his back together with a quiver of arrows, while at his thigh
swung a heavy, broad-bladed sword. Now he, espying Beltane amid the
leaves, brought the ass to a sudden halt and clapped hand to the pommel
of his sword.
"How now, Goliath!" cried he. "_Pax vobiscum,_ and likewise
_benedicite_! Come ye in peace, forsooth, or is it to be _bellum
internecinum?_ Though, by St. Giles, which is my patron saint, I care
not how it be, for mark ye, _vacuus cantat coram latrone viator,_ Sir
Goliath, the which in the vulgar tongue signifieth that he who travels
with an empty purse laughs before the footpad--moreover, I have a
But Beltane laughed, saying:
"I have no lust to thy purse, most learned bowman, or indeed to aught
of thine unless it be thy company."
"My company?" quoth the bowman, looking Beltane up and down with merry
blue eyes, "why now do I know thee for a fellow of rare good judgment,
for my company is of the best, in that I have a tongue which loveth to
wag in jape or song. Heard ye how the birds and I were a-carolling? A
right blithesome morn, methinks, what with my song, and the birds'
song, and this poor ass's bells--aye, and the flowers a-peep from the
bank yonder. God give ye joy of it, tall brother, as he doth me and
this goodly ass betwixt my knees, patient beast."
Now leaning on his quarter-staff Beltane smiled and said:
"How came ye by that same ass, master bowman?"
"Well--I met a monk!" quoth the fellow with a gleam of white teeth. "O!
a ponderous monk, brother, of most mighty girth of belly! Now, as ye
see, though this ass be sleek and fat as an abbot, she is something
small. 'And shall so small a thing needs bear so great a mountain o'
flesh?' says I (much moved at the sight, brother). 'No, by the blessed
bones of St. Giles (which is my patron saint, brother), so thereafter
(by dint of a little persuasion, brother) my mountainous monk, to ease
the poor beast's back, presently got him down and I, forthwith, got up--
as being more in proportion to her weight, sweet beast! O! surely
ne'er saw I fairer morn than this, and never, in so fair a morn, saw I
fairer man than thou, Sir Forester, nor taller, and I have seen many
men in my day. Wherefore an so ye will, let us company together what
time we may; 'tis a solitary road, and the tongue is a rare shortener
So Beltane strode on beside this garrulous bowman, hearkening to his
merry talk, yet himself speaking short and to the point as was ever his
custom; as thus:
BOWMAN. "How do men call thee, tall brother?"
BOWMAN. "Ha! 'Tis a good name, forsooth I've heard worse--and yet,
forsooth, I've heard better. Yet 'tis a fairish name--'twill serve. As
for me, Giles Brabblecombe o' the Hills men call me, for 'twas in the
hill country I was born thirty odd years agone. Since then twelve
sieges have I seen with skirmishes and onfalls thrice as many. Death
have I beheld in many and divers shapes and in experience of wounds and
dangers am rich, though, by St. Giles (my patron saint), in little
else. Yet do I love life the better, therefore, and I have read that
'to despise gold is to be rich.'"
BELTANE. "Do all bowmen read, then?"
BOWMAN. "Why look ye, brother, I am not what I was aforetime--_non sum
quails eram _--I was bred a shaveling, a mumbler, a be-gowned
do-nothing--brother, I was a monk, but the flesh and the devil made of me
a bowman, heigho--so wags the world! Though methinks I am a better
bowman than ever I was a monk, having got me some repute with this my
BELTANE (shaking his head). "Methinks thy choice was but a sorry one
BOWMAN (laughing). "Choice quotha! 'Twas no choice, 'twas forced upon
me, _vi et armis._ I should be chanting prime or matins at this very
hour but for this tongue o' mine, God bless it! For, when it should
have been droning psalms, it was forever lilting forth some blithesome
melody, some merry song of eyes and lips and stolen kisses. In such
sort that the good brethren were wont to gather round and, listening,--
sigh! Whereof it chanced I was, one night, by order of the holy Prior,
drubbed forth of the sacred precincts. So brother Anselm became Giles
o' the Bow--the kind Saints be praised, in especial holy Saint Giles
(which is my patron saint!). For, heed me--better the blue sky and the
sweet, strong wind than the gloom and silence of a cloister. I had
rather hide this sconce of mine in a hood of mail than in the mitre of
a lord bishop--_nolo episcopare,_ good brother! Thus am I a fighter,
and a good fighter, and a wise fighter, having learned 'tis better to
live to fight than to fight to live."
BELTANE. "And for whom do ye fight?"
BOWMAN. "For him that pays most, _pecuniae obediunt omnia,_ brother."
BELTANE (frowning). "Money? And nought beside?"
BOWMAN (staring). "As what, brother?"
BELTANE. "The justice of the cause wherefore ye fight."
BOWMAN. "Justice quotha--cause! O innocent brother, what have such
matters to do with such as I? See you now, such lieth the case. You,
let us say, being a baron (and therefore noble!) have a mind to a
certain other baron's castle, or wife, or both--(the which is more
usual) wherefore ye come to me, who am but a plain bowman knowing
nought of the case, and you chaffer with me for the use of this my body
for so much money, and thereafter I shoot my best on thy behalf as in
mine honour bound. Thus have I fought both for and against Black Ivo
throughout the length and breadth of his Duchy of Pentavalon. If ye be
minded to sell that long sword o' thine, to none better market could ye
come, for there be ever work for such about Black Ivo."
BELTANE. "Aye, 'tis so I hear."
BOWMAN. "Nor shall ye anywhere find a doughtier fighter than Duke Ivo,
nor a leader quicker to spy out the vantage of position and attack."
BELTANE. "Is he so lusty a man-at-arms?"
BOWMAN. "With lance, axe, or sword he hath no match. I have seen him
lead a charge. I have watched him fight afoot. I have stormed behind
him through a breach, and I know of none dare cope with him--unless it
be Sir Pertolepe the Red."
BELTANE. "Hast ne'er heard tell, then, of Benedict of Bourne?"
BOWMAN (clapping hand to thigh). "Now by the blood and bones of St.
Giles 'tis so! Out o' the mouth of a babe and suckling am I corrected!
Verily if there be one to front Black Ivo 'tis Benedict o' the Mark. To
behold these two at handstrokes--with axes--ha, there would be a sweet
affray indeed--a sight for the eyes of holy archangels! Dost know aught
of Sir Benedict, O Innocence?"
BELTANE. "I have seen him."
BOWMAN. "Then, my soft and gentle dove-like youth, get thee to thy
marrow-bones and pray that kind heaven shall make thee more his like,
for in his shoes doth stand a man--a knight--a very paladin!"
BELTANE. "Who fighteth not for--hire. Sir Bowman!"
BOWMAN. "Yet who hireth to fight, Sir Dove-eyed Giant, for I have
fought for him, ere now, within his great keep of Thrasfordham within
Bourne. But, an ye seek employ, his is but a poor service, where a man
shall come by harder knocks than good broad pieces."
BELTANE. "And yet, 'spite thy cunning and all thy warring, thy purse
BOWMAN. "My purse, Sir Dove? Aye, I told thee so for that I am by
nature cautious--_sicut mos est nobis_! But thy dove's eyes are honest
eyes, so now shall you know that hid within the lining of this my left
boot be eighty and nine gold pieces, and in my right a ring with stones
of price, and, moreover, here behold a goodly chain."
So saying, the bowman drew from his bosom a gold chain, thick and long
and heavy, and held it up in the sunlight.
"I got this, Sir Dove, together with the ring and divers other toys, at
the storming of Belsaye, five years agone. Aha! a right good town is
Belsaye, and growing rich and fat against another plucking."
"And how came Belsaye to be stormed?" Quoth Giles the Bowman, eying
his golden chain:
"My lord Duke Ivo had a mind to a certain lady, who was yet but a
merchant's daughter, look ye. But she was young and wondrous fair, for
Duke Ivo hath a quick eye and rare judgment in such pretty matters. But
she (and she but a merchant's daughter!) took it ill, and when Duke
Ivo's messengers came to bear her to his presence, she whined and
struggled, as is ever woman's way, and thereafter in the open street
snatched a dagger and thereupon, before her father's very eye did slay
herself (and she but a merchant's daughter!), whereat some hot-head
plucked out sword and other citizens likewise, and of my lord Duke's
messengers there none escaped save one and he sore wounded. So Belsaye
city shut its gates 'gainst my lord Duke and set out fighting-hoards
upon its walls. Yet my lord Duke battered and breached it, for few can
match him in a siege, and stormed it within three days. And, by Saint
Giles, though he lost the merchant's daughter methinks he lacked not
at all, for the women of Belsaye are wondrous fair."
The rising sun made a glory all about them, pouring his beams 'twixt
mighty trees whose knotted, far-flung branches dappled the way here and
there with shadow; but now Beltane saw nought of it by reason that he
walked with head a-droop and eyes that stared earthward; moreover his
hands were clenched and his lips close and grim-set. As for Giles o'
the Bow, he chirrupped merrily to the ass, and whistled full
melodiously, mocking a blackbird that piped amid the green. Yet in a
while he turned to stare at Beltane rubbing at his square, shaven chin
with strong, brown fingers.
"Forsooth," quoth he, nodding, "thou'rt a lusty fellow, Sir
Gentleness, by the teeth of St. Giles, which is my patron saint, ne'er
saw I a goodlier spread of shoulder nor such a proper length of arm to
twirl an axe withal, and thy legs like me well--hast the makings of a
right lusty man-at-arms in thee, despite thy soft and peaceful look!"
"Yet a lover of peace am I!" said Beltane, his head yet drooping.
"Peace, quotha--peace? Ha? by all the holy saints--peace! A soft word!
A woman's word! A word smacking of babes and milk! Out upon thee, what
hath a man with such an arm--aye, and legs--to do with peace? An you
would now, I could bring ye to good service 'neath Duke Ivo's banner.
'Tis said he hath sworn, this year, to burn Thrasfordham keep, to hang
Benedict o' the Mark and lay waste to Bourne. Aha! you shall see good
fighting 'neath Ivo's banner, Sir Dove!"
Then Beltane raised his head and spake, swift and sudden, on this wise:
"An I must fight, the which God forbid, yet once this my sword is drawn
ne'er shall it rest till I lie dead or Black Ivo is no more."
Then did the archer stare upon my Beltane in amaze with eyes full wide
and mouth agape, nor spake he for awhile, then:
"Black Ivo--thou!" he cried, and laughed amain. "Go to, my tender
youth," said he, "methinks a lute were better fitted to thy hand than
that great sword o' thine." Now beholding Beltane's gloomy face, he
smiled within his hand, yet eyed him thoughtfully thereafter, and so
they went with never a word betwixt them. But, in a while, the archer
fell to snuffing the air, and clapped Beltane upon the shoulder.
"Aha!" quoth he, "methinks we reach the fair Duchy of Pentavalon; smell
ye aught, brother?" And now, indeed, Beltane became aware of a cold
wind, foul and noisome, a deadly, clammy air breathing of things
corrupt, chilling the flesh with swift unthinking dread; and, halting
in disgust, he looked about him left and right.
"Above--above!" cried Giles o' the Bow, "this is Sir Pertolepe's
country--look you heavenward, Sir Innocence!"
Then, lifting his eyes to the shivering leaves overhead, Beltane of a
sudden espied a naked foot--a down-curving, claw-like thing,
shrivelled and hideous, and, glancing higher yet, beheld a sight to
blast the sun from heaven: now staring up at the contorted horror of
this shrivelled thing that once had lived and laughed, Beltane let fall
his staff and, being suddenly sick and faint, sank upon his knees and,
covering his eyes, crouched there in the grass the while that grisly,
silent thing swayed to and fro above him in the gentle wind of morning
and the cord whereby it hung creaked faintly.
"How now--how now!" cried Giles; "do ye blench before this churlish
carrion? Aha! ye shall see the trees bear many such hereabouts. Get up,
my qualmish, maid-like youth; he ne'er shall injure thee nor any man
again--save by the nose--faugh! Rise, rise and let us be gone."
So, presently Beltane, shivering, got him to his feet and looking up,
pale-faced, beheld upon the ragged breast a parchment with this legend
in fair, good writing:
HE KILLED A DEER
Then spake Beltane 'twixt pallid lips:
"And do they hang men for killing deer in this country?"
"Aye, forsooth, and very properly, for, heed me, your ragged rogues be
a plenty, but a stag is a noble creature and something scarcer--
moreover they be the Duke's."
"By whose order was this done?"
"Why, the parchment beareth the badge of Sir Pertolepe, called the Red.
But look you, Sir Innocent, no man may kill a deer unless he be of
"'Tis so the law!"
"And who made the law?"
"Why--as to that," quoth Giles, rubbing his chin, "as to that--what
matters it to you or me? Pah! come away lest I stifle!"
But now, even as they stood thus, out of the green came a cry, hoarse
at first but rising ever higher until it seemed to fill the world about
and set the very leaves a-quiver. Once it came, and twice, and so--was
gone. Then Beltane trembling, stooped and caught up his long quarter-staff,
and seized the bowman in a shaking hand that yet was strong, and
dragging him from the ass all in a moment, plunged into the underbrush
whence the cry had come. And, in a while, they beheld a cottage upon
whose threshold a child lay--not asleep, yet very still; and beyond the
cottage, his back to a tree, a great hairy fellow, quarter-staff in
hand, made play against five others whose steel caps and ringed
hauberks glittered in the sun. Close and ever closer they beset the
hairy man who, bleeding at the shoulder, yet swung his heavy staff; but
ever the glittering pike-heads thrust more close. Beside the man a
woman crouched, young and of comely seeming, despite wild hair and
garments torn and wrenched, who of a sudden, with another loud cry,
leapt before the hairy man covering him with her clinging body and, in
that moment, her scream died to a choking gasp and she sank huddled
'neath a pike-thrust. Then Beltane leapt, the great sword flashing in
his grasp, and smote the smiter and set his feet upon the writhing body
and smote amain with terrible arm, and his laughter rang out fierce and
wild. So for a space, sword clashed with pike, but ever Beltane,
laughing loud, drave them before him till but two remained and they
writhing upon the sward. Then Beltane turned to see Giles o' the Bow,
who leaned against a tree near by, wide-eyed and pale.
"Look!" he cried, pointing with quivering finger, "one dead and one
sore hurt--Saint Giles save us, what have ye done? These be Sir
Pertolepe's foresters--behold his badge!"
But Beltane laughed, fierce-eyed.
"How, bowman, dost blench before a badge, then? I was too meek and
gentle for thee ere this, but now, if thou'rt afraid--get you gone!"
"Art surely mad!" quoth Giles. "The saints be my witness here was no
act of mine!" So saying he turned away and hasted swift-footed through
the green. Now when the bowman was gone, Beltane turned him to the
hairy man who yet kneeled beside the body of the woman. Said he:
"Good fellow, is there aught I may do for thee?"
"Wife and child--and dead!" the man muttered, "child and wife--and
dead! A week ago, my brother--and now, the child, and then the wife!
Child and wife and brother--and dead!" Then Beltane came, minded to aid
him with the woman, but the hairy man sprang before her, swinging his
great staff and muttering in his beard; therefore Beltane, sick at
heart, turned him away. And, in a while, being come to the road once
more, he became aware that he yet grasped his sword and beheld its
bright steel dimmed here and there with blood, and, as he gazed, his
brow grew dark and troubled.
"'Tis thus have I made beginning," he sighed, "so now, God aiding me,
ne'er will I rest 'till peace be come again and tyranny made an end
Then, very solemnly, did my Beltane kneel him beside the way and
lifting the cross hilt of his sword to heaven kissed it, and thereafter
rose. And so, having cleansed the steel within the earth, he sheathed
the long blade and went, slowfooted, upon his way.
HOW BELTANE HELD DISCOURSE WITH A BLACK FRIAR
The sun was high, and by his shadow Beltane judged it the noon hour;
very hot and very still it was, for the wind had died and leaf and twig
hung motionless as though asleep. And presently as he went, a sound
stole upon the stillness, a sound soft and beyond all things pleasant
to hear, the murmurous ripple of running water near by. Going aside
into the green therefore, Beltane came unto a brook, and here, screened
from the sun 'neath shady willows, he laid him down to drink, and to
bathe face and hands in the cool water.
Now as he lay thus, staring sad-eyed into the hurrying waters of the
brook, there came to him the clicking of sandalled feet, and glancing
up, he beheld one clad as a black friar. A fat man he was, jolly of
figure and mightily round; his nose was bulbous and he had a drooping
"Peace be unto thee, my son!" quoth he, breathing short and loud, "an
evil day for a fat man who hath been most basely bereft of a goodly ass
--holy Saint Dunstan, how I gasp!" and putting back the cowl from his
tonsured crown, he puffed out his cheeks and mopped his face. "Hearkee
now, good youth, hath there passed thee by ever a ribald in an
escalloped hood--an unhallowed, long-legged, scurvy archer knave
astride a fair white ass, my son?"
"Truly," nodded Beltane, "we parted company scarce an hour since."
The friar sat him down in the shade of the willows and sighing, mopped
his face again; quoth he:
"Now may the curse of Saint Augustine, Saint Benedict, Saint Cuthbert
and Saint Dominic light upon him for a lewd fellow, a clapper-claw, a
thieving dog who hath no regard for Holy Church--forsooth a most
vicious rogue, _monstrum nulla virtute redemptum a vitiis_!"
"Good friar, thy tongue is something harsh, methinks. Here be four
saints with as many curses, and all for one small ass!"
The friar puffed out his cheeks and sighed:
"'Twas a goodly ass, my son, a fair and gentle beast and of an easy
gait, and I am one that loveth not to trip it in the dust. Moreover
'twas the property of Holy Church! To take from thy fellow is evil, to
steal from thy lord is worse, but to ravish from Holy Church--_per de_
'tis sacrilege, 'tis foul blasphemy thrice--aye thirty times damned and
beyond all hope of redemption! So now do I consign yon archer-knave to
the lowest pit of Acheron--_damnatus est_, amen! Yet, my son, here--by
the mercy of heaven is a treasure the rogue hath overlooked, a pasty
most rarely seasoned that I had this day from my lord's own table. 'Tis
something small for two, alack and yet--stay--who comes?"
Now, lifting his head, Beltane beheld a man, bent and ragged who crept
towards them on a stick; his face, low-stooped, was hid 'neath long
and matted hair, but his tatters plainly showed the hideous nakedness
of limbs pinched and shrunken by famine, while about his neck was a
heavy iron collar such as all serfs must needs wear. Being come near he
paused, leaning upon his staff, and cried out in a strange, cracked
"O ye that are strong and may see the blessed sun, show pity on one
that is feeble and walketh ever in the dark!" And now, beneath the
tangled hair, Beltane beheld a livid face in whose pale oval, the
eyeless sockets glowed fierce and red; moreover he saw that the man's
right arm was but a mutilated stump, whereat Beltane shivered and,
bowing his head upon his hands, closed his eyes.
"Oho!" cried the friar, "and is it thou, Simon? Trouble ye the world
yet, child of Satan?"
Hereupon the blind man fell upon his knees. "Holy father," he groaned,
clasping his withered arms upon his gaunt breast, "good Friar Gui I die
of hunger; aid me lest I perish. 'Tis true I am outlaw and no man may
minister unto me, yet be merciful, give me to eat--O gentle Christ, aid
"How!" cried the friar, "dare ye speak that name, ye that are breaker
of laws human and divine, ye that are murderer, dare ye lift those
bloody hands to heaven?"
"Holy sir," quoth Beltane, "he hath but one; I pray you now give him to
"Feed an outlaw! Art mad, young sir? Feed a murderer, a rogue banned by
Holy Church, a serf that hath raised hand 'gainst his lord? He should
have hanged when the witch his daughter burned, but that Sir Pertolepe,
with most rare mercy, gave to the rogue his life."
"But," sighed Beltane, "left him to starve--'tis a death full as sure
yet slower, methinks. Come, let us feed him."
"I tell thee, fond youth, he is excommunicate. Wouldst have me
contravene the order of Holy Church? Go to!"
Then my Beltane put his hand within his pouch and taking thence a gold
piece held it out upon his palm; said he:
"Friar, I will buy the half of thy pasty of thee!" Hereupon Friar Gui
stared from the gold to the pasty, and back again.
"So much!" quoth he, round-eyed. "Forsooth 'tis a noble pasty and yet--
nay, nay, tempt me not--_retro Sathanas!_" and closing his eyes he
crossed himself. Then Beltane took out other two gold pieces and set
them in the blind man's bony hand, saying:
"Take these three gold pieces and buy you food, and thereafter--"
"Gold!" cried the blind man, "gold! Now the Saints keep and bless thee,
young sir, sweet Jesu love thee ever!" and fain would he have knelt to
kiss my Beltane's feet. But Beltane raised him up with gentle hand,
speaking him kindly, as thus:
"Tell now, I pray you, how came ye to slay?"
"Stay! stay!" cried Friar Gui, "bethink thee, good youth--so much gold,
'tis a very fortune! With so much, masses might be sung for his
wretched soul; give it therefore to Holy Church, so shall he,
peradventure, attain Paradise."
"Not so," answered Beltane, "I had rather he, of a surety, attain a
full belly, Sir Friar." Then, turning his back upon the friar, Beltane
questioned the blind man again, as thus:
"Tell me, an ye will, how ye came to shed blood?" and the outlaw,
kneeling at Beltane's feet answered with bowed head:
"Noble sir, I had a daughter and she was young and fair, therefore came
my lord Pertolepe's chief verderer to bear her to my lord. But she
cried to me and I, forgetting my duty to my lord, took my quarter-staff
and, serf though I was, smote the chief verderer that he died
thereafter, but, ere he died, he named my daughter witch. And, when
they had burned her, they put out mine eyes, and cut off my hand, and
made of me an outlaw. So is my sin very heavy upon me."
Now when the man had made an end, Beltane stood silent awhile, then,
reaching down, he aided the blind man to his feet.
"Go you to Mortain," said he, "seek out the hermit Ambrose that liveth
in Holy Cross Thicket; with him shall you find refuge, and he,
methinks, will surely win thy soul to heaven."
So the blind man blessed my Beltane and turning, crept upon his
"Youth," said the friar, frowning up into Beltane's gentle eyes, "thou
hast this day put thy soul in jeopardy--the Church doth frown upon this
"And yet, most reverend sir, God's sun doth shine upon this my body!"
FRIAR. "He who aideth an evil-doer is enemy to the good!"
BELTANE. "Yet he who seeketh to do good to evil that good may follow,
doeth no evil to good."
FRIAR. "Ha! thou art a menace to the state--"
BELTANE. "So shall I be, I pray God, the whiles this state continue!"
FRIAR. "Thou art either rogue or fool!"
BELTANE. "Well, thou hast thy choice."
FRIAR. "Alack! this sorry world is full of rogues and fools and--"
BELTANE. "And friars!"
FRIAR. "Who seek the salvation of this wretched world."
BELTANE. "As how?"
FRIAR. "Forsooth we meditate and pray--"
BELTANE. "And eat!"
FRIAR. "Aye verily, we do a little in that way as the custom is, for
your reverent eater begetteth a devout pray-er. The which mindeth me I
grow an hungered, yet will I forego appetite and yield thee this fair
pasty for but two of thy gold pieces. And, look ye, 'tis a noble pasty
I had this day from my lord Pertolepe's own table."
BELTANE. "That same lord that showed mercy on yonder poor maimed
wretch? Know you him?"
FRIAR. "In very sooth, and 'tis a potent lord that holdeth me in some
esteem, a most Christian knight--"
BELTANE. "That ravisheth the defenceless! Whose hands be foul with the
blood of innocence--"
FRIAR. "How--how? 'Tis a godly lord who giveth bounteously to Holy
BELTANE. "Who stealeth from the poor--"
FRIAR. "Stealeth! Holy Saint Dunstan, dare ye speak thus of so great a
lord--a son of the Church, a companion of our noble Duke? Steal,
forsooth! The poor have nought to steal!"
BELTANE. "They have their lives."
FRIAR. "Not so, they and their lives are their lord's, 'tis so the law
BELTANE. "Whence came this law?"
FRIAR. "It came, youth--it came--aye, of God!"
BELTANE. "Say rather of the devil!"
FRIAR. "Holy Saint Michael--'tis a blasphemous youth! Never heard ears
the like o' this--"
BELTANE. "Whence cometh poverty and famine?"
FRIAR. "'Tis a necessary evil! Doth it not say in Holy Writ, 'the poor
ye have always with you'?"
BELTANE. "Aye, so shall ye ever--until the laws be amended. So needs
must men starve and starve--"
FRIAR. "There be worse things! And these serfs be born to starve, bred
up to it, and 'tis better to starve here than to perish hereafter,
better to purge the soul by lack of meat than to make of it a fetter of
"Excellently said, holy sir!" quoth Beltane, stooping of a sudden. "But
for this pasty now, 'tis a somewhat solid fetter, meseemeth, so now do
I free thee of it--thus!" So saying, my Beltane dropped the pasty into
the deeper waters of the brook and, thereafter, took up his staff. "Sir
Friar," said he, "behold to-day is thy soul purged of a pasty against
the day of judgment!"
Then Beltane went on beside the rippling waters of the brook, but above
its plash and murmur rose the deeptoned maledictions of Friar Gui.
WHEREIN IS SOME ACCOUNT OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF FOLLY AND THE WISDOM OF A
As the day advanced the sun grew ever hotter; birds chirped drowsily
from hedge and thicket, and the warm, still air was full of the
slumberous drone of a myriad unseen wings. Therefore Beltane sought the
deeper shade of the woods and, risking the chance of roving thief or
lurking foot-pad, followed a devious course by reason of the
Now as he walked him thus, within the cool, green twilight, watchful of
eye and with heavy quarter-staff poised upon his shoulder, he presently
heard the music of a pipe now very mournful and sweet, anon breaking
into a merry lilt full of rippling trills and soft, bubbling notes most
pleasant to be heard. Wherefore he went aside and thus, led by the
music, beheld a jester in his motley lying a-sprawl beneath a tree. A
long-legged knave was he, pinched and something doleful of visage yet
with quick bright eyes that laughed 'neath sombre brows, and a wide,
up-curving mouth; upon his escalloped cape and flaunting cock's-comb
were many little bells that rang a silvery chime as, up-starting to his
elbow, he greeted my Beltane thus:
"Hail, noble, youthful Sir, and of thy sweet and gracious courtesy I
pray you mark me this--the sun is hot, my belly lacketh, and thou art a
"And wherefore?" questioned Beltane, leaning him upon his quarter-staff.
"For three rarely reasonable reasons, sweet sir, as thus:--item, for
that the sun burneth, item, my belly is empty, and item, thou, lured by
this my foolish pipe art hither come to folly. So I, a fool, do greet
thee, fool, and welcome thee to this my palace of ease and pleasaunce
where, an ye be minded to list to the folly of a rarely foolish fool, I
will, with foolish jape and quip, befool thy mind to mirth and jollity,
for thou art a sad fool, methinks, and something melancholic!"
Quoth Beltane, sighing:
"'Tis a sad world and very sorrowful!"
"Nay--'tis a sweet world and very joyful--for such as have eyes to see
"To see?" quoth Beltane, frowning, "this day have I seen a dead man
a-swing on a tree, a babe dead beside its cradle, and a woman die upon
a spear! All day have I breathed an air befouled by nameless evil;
whithersoever I go needs must I walk 'twixt Murder and Shame!"
"Then look ever before thee, so shalt see neither."
"Yet will they be there!"
"Yet doth the sun shine in high heaven, so must these things be till
God and the saints shall mend them. But if thou must needs be doleful,
go make thee troubles of thine own but leave the woes of this wide
world to God!"
"Nay," said Beltane, shaking his head, "how if God leave these things
to thee and me?"
"Why then methinks the world must wag as it will. Yet must we repine
therefore? Out upon thee for a sober, long-legged, doleful wight. Now
harkee! Here sit I--less fool! A fool who hath, this day, been driven
forth of my lord's presence with blows and cruel stripes! And
wherefore? 'Twas for setting a bird free of its cage, a small matter
methinks--though there be birds--and birds, but mum for that! Yet do I
grieve and sigh therefore, O doleful long-shanks? Not so--fie on't! I
blow away my sorrows through the music of this my little pipe and,
lying here, set my wits a-dancing and lo! I am a duke, a king, a very
god! I create me a world wherein is neither hunger nor stripes, a world
of joy and laughter, for, blessed within his dreams, even a fool may
walk with gods and juggle with the stars!"
"Aye," nodded Beltane, "but how when he awake?"
"Why then, messire," laughed the fellow, leaping nimbly to his feet,
"why then doth he ask alms of thee, as thus: Prithee most noble
messire, of thy bounty show kindness to a fool that lacks everything
but wit. So give, messire, give and spare not, so may thy lady prove
kind, thy wooing prosper and love strengthen thee."
Now when the jester spake of love, my Beltane must needs sigh amain and
shake a doleful head.
"Alas!" said he, "within my life shall be no place for love, methinks."
"Heigho!" sighed the jester, "thy very look doth proclaim thee lover,
and 'tis well, for love maketh the fool wise and the wise fool, it
changeth saints into rogues and rogues into saints, it teacheth the
strong man gentleness and maketh the gentle strong. 'Tis sweeter than
honey yet bitter as gall--Love! ah, love can drag a man to hell or lift
him high as heaven!"
"Aye verily," sighed Beltane, "I once did dream of such a love, but now
am I awake, nor will I dream of love again, nor rest whiles Lust and
Cruelty rule this sorrowful Duchy--"
"Ha, what would ye then, fond youth?"
"I am come to smite them hence," said Beltane, clenching mighty fists.
"How?" cried the jester, wide of eye. "Alone?"
"Nay, methinks God goeth with me. Moreover, I have this sword!" and
speaking, Beltane touched the hilt of the great blade at his side.
"What--a sword!" scoffed the jester, "think ye to mend the woes of thy
fellows with a sword? Go to, thou grave-visaged, youthful fool! I tell
thee, 'tis only humour and good fellowship can mend this wretched
world, and there is nought so lacking in humour as a sword--unless it
be your prating priest or mumbling monk. A pope in cap and bells, now--
aha, there would be a world indeed, a world of joy and laughter! No
more gloom, no more bans and damnings of Holy Church, no more groaning
and snivelling in damp cloister and mildewed chapel, no more burnings
and hangings and rackings--"
"Yet," said Beltane, shaking his head, "yet would kings and dukes
remain, Christian knights and godly lords to burn and hang and rack the
"Aye, Sir Gravity," nodded the jester, "but the Church is paramount
ever; set the pope a-blowing of tunes upon a reed and kings would lay
by their sceptres and pipe too and, finding no time or lust for
warring, so strife would end, swords rust and wit grow keen. And wit,
look you, biteth sharper than sword, laughter is more enduring than
blows, and he who smiteth, smiteth only for lack of wit. So, an you
would have a happy world, lay by that great sword and betake thee to a
little pipe, teach men to laugh and so forget their woes. Learn wisdom
of a fool, as thus: 'Tis better to live and laugh and beget thy kind
than to perish by the sword or to dangle from a tree. Here now is
advice, and in this advice thy life, thus in giving thee advice so do I
give thee thy life. And I am hungry. And in thy purse is money
wherewith even a fool might come by food. And youth is generous! And
thou art very young! Come, sweet youthful messire, how much for thy
life--and a fool's advice?"
Then Beltane smiled, and taking out one of his three remaining gold
pieces, put it in the jester's hand.
"Fare thee well, good fool," said he, "I leave thee to thy dreams; God
send they be ever fair--"
"Gold!" cried the jester, spinning the coin upon his thumb, "ha, now do
I dream indeed; may thy waking be ever as joyous. Farewell to thee,
thou kind, sweet, youthful fool, and if thou must hang some day on a
tree, may every leaf voice small prayers for thy gentle soul!"
So saying, the jester nodded, waved aloft his bauble, and skipped away
among the trees. But as Beltane went, pondering the jester's saying,
the drowsy stillness was shivered by a sudden, loud cry, followed
thereafter by a clamour of fierce shouting; therefore Beltane paused
and turning, beheld the jester himself who ran very fleetly, yet with
three lusty fellows in close pursuit.
"Messire," panted the jester, wild of eye and with a trickle of blood
upon his pallid face, "O sweet sir--let them not slay me!"
Now while he spake, and being yet some way off, he tripped and fell,
and, as he lay thus the foremost of his pursuers, a powerful, red-faced
man, leapt towards him, whirling up his quarter-staff to smite; but, in
that moment, Beltane leapt also and took the blow upon his staff and
swung it aloft, yet stayed the blow, and, bestriding the prostrate
jester, spake soft and gentle, on this wise:
"Greeting to thee, forest fellow! Thy red face liketh me well, let us
But, hereupon, as the red-faced man fell back, staring in amaze, there
came his two companions, albeit panting and short of breath.
"What, Roger," cried one, "doth this fellow withstand thee?"
But Roger only growled, whiles Beltane smiled upon the three, gentle-eyed,
but with heavy quarter-staff poised lightly in practised hand; quoth he:
"How now, would ye harm the fool? 'Tis a goodly fool forsooth, yet with
legs scarce so nimble as his wit, and a tongue--ha, a golden tongue to
win all men to humour and good fellowship--"
"Enough!" growled red-faced Roger, "Sir Pertolepe's foresters we be,
give us yon scurvy fool then, that we may hang him out of hand."
"Nay," answered Beltane, "first let us reason together, let us hark to
the wisdom of Folly and grow wise--"
"Ha, Roger!" cried one of the men, "tap me this tall rogue on his
"Or," said Beltane, "the fool shall charm thy souls to kindliness with
"Ho, Roger!" cried the second forester, "split me this tall talker's
yellow sconce, now!"
"Come," growled Roger, threatening of mien, "yield us the fool, 'tis an
arrant knave hath angered his lord!"
"What matter for that," said Beltane, "so he hath not angered his God?
Come now, ye be hearty fellows and have faces that might be honest,
tell me, how long will ye serve the devil?"
"Devil? Ha, what talk be this? We serve no devil!"
"Aye," nodded Beltane, "though they call him Pertolepe the Red,
"Devil!" cried Black Roger aghast. And, falling back a step he gaped in
amaze from Beltane to his gaping fellows. "Devil, forsooth!" he gasped,
"aha, I've seen many a man hang for less than this--"
"True," sighed Beltane, "men hang for small matters here in Pentavalon,
and to hang is an evil death, methinks!"
"So, so!" nodded Black Roger, grim-smiling, "I've watched them kick a
fair good while, betimes!"
"Ah!" cried Beltane, his eyes widening, "those hands of thine, belike,
have hanged a man ere this?"
"Aye, many a score. Oho! folk know Black Roger's name hereabouts. I
carry ever a noose at my girdle here--behold it!" and he showed a coil
of rope that swung at his belt.
Now looking from the man's grim features to this murderous cord,
Beltane blenched and shivered, whereat Black Roger laughed aloud, and
pointed a scornful finger.
"Look'ee, 'tis fair, good rope this, and well-tried, and shall bear
even thy great carcase sweetly--aye, sweetly--"
"How--would'st hang me also?" said Beltane faintly, and the heavy
quarter-staff sagged in his loosened grip.
"Hang thee--aye. Thou didst withstand us with this fool, thou hast
dared miscall our lord--we be all witnesses to it. So now will we--"
But swift as lightning-flash, Beltane's long quarter-staff whirled and
fell, and, for all his hood of mail, Black Roger threw wide his arms
and, staggering, fell upon his face and so lay; then, fierce and grim,
he had leapt upon the other two, and the air was full of the rattle and
thud of vicious blows. But these foresters were right lusty fellows and
they, together, beset my Beltane so furiously, right and left, that he
perforce gave back 'neath their swift and grievous blows and, being
overmatched, turned and betook him to his heels, whereat they,
incontinent, pursued with loud gibes and fierce laughter. But on ran
Beltane up the glade very fleetly yet watchful of eye, until, seeing
one had outstripped his fellow, he checked his going somewhat,
stumbling as one that is spent, whereat the forester shouted the louder
and came on amain. Then did my cunning Beltane leap aside and, leaping,
turned and smote the fellow clean and true upon the crown, and,
laughing to see him fall, ran in upon the other forester with whirling
quarter-staff. Now this fellow seeing himself stand alone, stayed not
to abide the onset, but turning about, made off into the green. Then
Beltane leaned him, panting, upon his staff, what time the fallen man
got him unsteadily to his legs and limped after his comrade; as for the
jester, he was gone long since; only Black Roger lay upon his face and
groaned faintly, ever and anon. Wherefore came Beltane and stood above
him as one in thought and, seeing him begin to stir, took from him his
sword and coil of rope and loosing off his swordbelt, therewith bound
his hands fast together and so, dragged him 'neath a tree that stood
hard by. Thus when at last Black Roger opened his eyes, he beheld
Beltane standing above him and in his hand the deadly rope. Now,
looking from this to the desolation about him, Black Roger shivered,
and gazing up into' the stern face above, his florid cheek grew pale.
"Master," said he hoarsely, "what would ye?"
"I would do to thee as thou hast done to others."
"Aye!" quoth Beltane, and setting the noose about his neck, cast the
rope across a branch.
"Master, how shall my death profit thee?"
"The world shall be the better, and thy soul know less of sin, mayhap."
"Master," said Black Roger, stooping to wipe sweat from his face with
fettered hands, "I have store of money set by--"
But Beltane laughed with pallid lips, and, pulling upon the rope,
dragged Black Roger, choking, to his feet.
"Master," he gasped, "show a little mercy--"
"Hast ever shown mercy to any man--speak me true!"
"Alack!--no, master! And yet--"
"How then shall ye expect mercy? Thou hast burnt and hanged and
ravished the defenceless, so now shall be an end of it for thee, yet--O
mark me this, thy name shall live on accursed in memory long after
thou'rt but poor dust."
"Aye, there be many alive to curse Black Roger living, and many dead to
curse me when I'm dead; poor Roger's soul shall find small mercy
hereafter, methinks--ha, I never thought on this!"
"Thou had'st a mother--"
"Aye, but they burned her for a witch when I was but a lad. As for me,
'tis true I've hanged men, yet I was my lord's chief verderer and did
but as my lord commanded."
"A man hath choice of good or evil."
"Aye. So now, an I must die--I must, but O master, say a prayer for me--
my sins lie very heavy--"
But Beltane, trembling, pulled upon the rope and swung Black Roger
writhing in mid-air; then, of a sudden, loosing the rope, the forester
fell and, while he lay gasping, Beltane stooped and loosed the rope
from his neck.
"What now?" groaned the forester, wild-eyed, "Sweet Jesu--ah, torture
"Take back thy life," said Beltane, "and I pray God that henceforth
thou shalt make of it better use, and live to aid thy fellows, so shall
they, mayhap, some day come to bless thy memory."
Then Black Roger, coming feebly to his knees, looked about him as one
that wakes upon a new world, and lifted wide eyes from green earth to
"To live!" quoth he, "to live!" And so, with sudden gesture, stooped
his head to hide his face 'neath twitching fingers.
Hereupon Beltane smiled, gentle-eyed, yet spake not, and, turning,
caught up his staff and went softly upon his way, leaving Black Roger
the forester yet upon his knees.
HOW BELTANE MADE COMRADE ONE BLACK ROGER THAT WAS A HANGMAN
The sun was low what time Beltane came to a shrine that stood beside
the way, where was a grot built by some pious soul for the rest and
refreshment of wearied travellers; and here also was a crystal spring
the which, bubbling up, fell with a musical plash into the basin
hollowed within the rock by those same kindly hands. Here Beltane
stayed and, when he had drunk his fill, laid him down in the grateful
shade and setting his cloak beneath his head, despite his hunger,
presently fell asleep. When he awoke the sun was down and the world was
become a place of mystery and glooming shadow; a bird called
plaintively afar off in the dusk, the spring bubbled softly near by,
but save for this a deep silence brooded over all things; above the
gloom of the trees the sky was clear, where bats wheeled and hovered,
and beyond the purple upland an orbed moon was rising.
Now as Beltane breathed the cool, sweet air of evening and looked about
him drowsily, he suddenly espied a shadow within the shadows, a dim
figure--yet formidable and full of menace, and he started up, weapon in
fist, whereupon the threatening figure stirred and spake:
"Master--'tis I!" said a voice. Then Beltane came forth of the grot and
stared upon Black Roger, grave-eyed.
"O Hangman," said he, "where is thy noose?"
But Roger quailed and hung his head, and spake with eyes abased:
"Master, I burned it, together with my badge of service."
"And what would ye here?"
"Sir, I am a masterless man henceforth, for an I hang not men for Sir
Pertolepe, so will Sir Pertolepe assuredly hang me."
"And fear ye death?"
"Messire, I--have hanged many men and--there were women also! I have
cut me a tally here on my belt, see--there be many notches--and every
notch a life. So now for every life these hands have taken do I vow to
save a life an it may be so, and for every life saved would I cut away
a notch until my belt be smooth again and my soul the lighter."
"Why come ye to me, Black Roger?"
"For that this day, at dire peril, I saw thee save a fool, Master. So
now am I come to thee to be thy man henceforth, to follow and serve
thee while life remain."
"Why look now," quoth Beltane, "mine shall be a hard service and a
dangerous, for I have mighty wrongs to set aright."
"Ha! belike thou art under some vow also, master?"
"Aye, verily, nor will I rest until it be accomplished or I am slain.
For mark this, lonely am I, with enemies a many and strong, yet because
of my vow needs must I smite them hence or perish in the adventure.
Thus, he that companies me must go ever by desperate ways, and 'tis
like enough Death shall meet him in the road."
"Master," quoth Black Roger, "this day have ye shown me death yet given
me new life, so beseech thee let me serve thee henceforth and aid thee
in this thy vow."
Now hereupon Beltane smiled and reached forth his hand; then Black
Roger falling upon his knee, touched the hand to lip, and forehead and
heart, taking him for his lord henceforth, and spake the oath of
fealty: but when he would have risen, Beltane stayed him:
"What, Black Roger, thou hast sworn fealty and obedience to me--now
swear me this to God:--to hold ever, and abide by, thy word: to shew
mercy to the distressed and to shield the helpless at all times!"
And when he had sworn, Black Roger rose bright-eyed and eager.
"Lord," said he, "whither do we go?"
"Now," quoth Beltane, "shew me where I may eat, for I have a mighty
"Forsooth," quoth Roger, scratching his chin, "Shallowford village
lieth but a bowshot through the brush yonder--yet, forsooth, a man
shall eat little there, methinks, these days."
"For that 'twas burned down, scarce a week agone--"
"Lord Pertolepe fell out with his neighbour Sir Gilles of Brandonmere--
upon the matter of some wench, methinks it was--wherefore came Sir
Gilles' men by night and burned down Shallowford with twenty hunting
dogs of Sir Pertolepe's that chanced to be there: whereupon my lord
waxed mighty wroth and, gathering his company, came into the demesne of
Sir Gilles and burned down divers manors and hung certain rogues and
destroyed two villages--in quittance."
"Ah--and what of the village folk?"
"My lord, they were but serfs for the most part, but--for Sir
Pertolepe's dogs--twenty and two--and roasted alive, poor beasts!"
But here Black Roger checked both speech and stride, all at once, and
stood with quarter-staff poised as from the depth of the wood came the
sound of voices and fierce laughter.
"Come away, master," he whispered, "these should be Sir Pertolepe's
But Beltane shook his head:
"I'm fain to see why they laugh," said he, and speaking, stole forward
soft-footed amid the shadows; and so presently parting the leaves,
looked down into an open dell or dingle full of the light of the rising
moon; light that glinted upon the steel caps and hauberks of some score
men, who leaned upon pike or gisarm about one who sat upon a fallen
tree--and Beltane saw that this was Giles the Bowman. But the arms of
Giles were bound behind his back, about his neck hung a noose, and his
face showed white and pallid 'neath the moon, as, lifting up his head,
he began to sing:
"O ne'er shall my lust for the bowl decline,
Nor my love for my good long bow;
For as bow to the shaft and as bowl to the wine,
The rich voice was strangled to a gasping sob as the rope was tightened
suddenly about the singer's brawny throat and he was swung, kicking,
into the air amid the hoarse gibes and laughter of the men-at-arms.
But, grim and silent, Beltane leaped down among them, his long blade
glittering in the moonlight, and before the mighty sweep of it they
fell back, crowding upon each other and confused; then Beltane,
turning, cut asunder the cord and Giles Brabblecombe fell and lay
'neath the shade of the tree, wheezing and whimpering in the grass.
And now with a clamour of cries and fierce rallying shouts, the
men-at-arms, seeing Beltane stand alone, set themselves in array and
began to close in upon him. But Beltane, facing them in the tender
moonlight, set the point of his sword to earth and reached out his
mailed hand in salutation.
"Greeting, brothers!" said he, "why seek ye the death of this our
brother? Come now, suffer him to go his ways in peace, and God's
blessing on ye, one and all."
Now at this some laughed and some growled, and one stood forth before
his fellows staring upon Beltane 'neath close-drawn, grizzled brows:
"'Tis a rogue, and shall dance for us upon a string!" laughed he.
"And this tall fellow with him!" said another.
"Aye, aye, let us hang 'em together," cried others.
"Stay!" said Beltane, "behold here money; so now will I ransom this
man's life of ye. Here be two pieces of gold, 'tis my all--yet take
them and yield me his life!"
Hereupon the men fell to muttering together doubtfully, but in this
moment the grizzled man of a sudden raised a knotted fist and shook it
in the air.
"Ha!" cried he, pointing to Beltane, "look ye, Cuthbert, Rollo--see ye
not 'tis him we seek? Mark ye the size of him, his long sword and belt
of silver--'tis he that came upon us in the green this day and slew our
comrade Michael. Come now, let us hang him forthwith and share his
money betwixt us after."
Then my Beltane sighed amain, and sighing, unsheathed his dagger.
"Alas!" said he, "and must we shed each other's blood forsooth? Come
then, let us slay each other, and may Christ have pity on our souls!"
Thus saying, he glanced up at the pale splendour of the moon, and round
him on the encircling shadows of the woods dense and black beneath the
myriad leaves, and so, quick-eyed and poised for action, waited for the
And, even as they came upon him, he sprang aside where the gloom lay
blackest, and they being many and the clearing small, they hampered
each other and fell into confusion; and, in that moment, Beltane leapt
among them and smote, and smote again, now in the moonlight, now in
shadow; leaping quick-footed from the thrust of sword and pike,
crouching 'neath the heavy swing of axe and gisarm; and ever his
terrible blade darted with deadly point or fell with deep-biting edge.
Hands gripped at him from the gloom, arms strove to clasp him, but his
dagger-hand was swift and strong. Pike heads leapt at him and were
smitten away, axe and gisarm struck, yet found him not, and ever, as he
leapt, he smote. And now in his ears were cries and groans and other
hateful sounds, and to his nostrils came a reek of sweating flesh and
the scent of trampled grass; while the moon's tender light showed faces
wild and fierce, that came and went, now here--now there; it glinted on
head-piece and ringed mail, and flashed back from whirling steel--a
round, placid moon that seemed, all at once, to burst asunder and
vanish, smitten into nothingness. He was down--beaten to his knee,
deafened and half blind, but struggling to his feet he staggered out
from the friendly shadow of the trees, out into the open. A sword,
hard-driven, bent and snapped short upon his triple mail, the blow of a
gisarm half stunned him, a goring pike-thrust drove him reeling back,
yet, ringed in by death, he thrust and smote with failing arm. Axe and
pike, sword and gisarm hedged him in nearer and nearer, his sword grew
suddenly heavy and beyond his strength to wield, but stumbling,
slipping, dazed and with eyes a-swim, he raised the great blade aloft,
and lifting drooping head, cried aloud the battle-cry of his house--
high and clear it rang above the din:
"Arise! Arise! I will arise!"
And even in that moment came one in answer to the cry, one that leapt
to his right hand, a wild man and hairy who plied a gleaming axe and,
'twixt each stroke, seemed, from hairy throat, to echo back the cry:
And now upon his left was Black Roger, fierce-eyed behind his buckler.
Thereafter a voice hailed them as from far away, a sweet, deep voice,
cheery and familiar as one heard aforetime in a dream, and betwixt
every sentence came the twang of swift-drawn bow-string.
"O tall brother, fall back! O gentle paladin, O fair flower of lusty
fighters, fall back and leave the rest to our comrades, to me and my
good bow, here!"
So, dazed and breathless, came Beltane on stumbling feet and leaned him
gasping in the shadow of a great tree whereby stood Giles o' the Bow
with arrows planted upright in the sod before him, the which he
snatched and loosed so fast 'twas a wonder to behold. Of a sudden he
uttered a shout and, setting by his bow, drew sword, and leaping from
the shadow, was gone.
But, as for Beltane, he leaned a while against the tree as one who is
very faint; yet soon, lifting heavy head, wondered at the hush of all
things, and looking toward the clearing saw it empty and himself alone;
therefore turned he thitherwards. Now as he went he stumbled and his
foot struck a something soft and yielding that rolled before him in the
shadow out--out into the full brilliance of the moon, and looking down,
he beheld a mangled head that stared up at him wide-eyed and with mouth
agape. Then Beltane let fall his reeking sword and staggering out into
the light, saw his bright mail befouled with clotted blood, and of a
sudden the world went black about him and he fell and lay with his face
among the trampled grass.
In a while he groaned and opened his eyes to find Black Roger bathing
his face what time Giles o' the Bow held wine to his lips, while at his
feet, a wild figure grim and ragged, stood a tall, hairy man leaning
upon a blood-stained axe.
"Aha!" cried the bowman. "Come now, my lovely fighter, my gentle giant,
sup this--'tis life, and here behold a venison steak fit for Duke Ivo's
"Nay, first," says Beltane, sitting up, "are there many hurt?"
"Aye, never fear for that, my blood-thirsty dove, they be all most
completely dead save one, and he sore wounded, _laus Deo, amen!_"
"Dead!" cried Beltane, shivering, "dead, say you?"
"Aye, Sir Paladin, all sweetly asleep in Abraham's bosom. We three here
accounted for some few betwixt us, the rest fell 'neath that great
blade o' thine. O sweet Saint Giles! ne'er saw I such sword-work--point
and edge, sa-ha! And I called thee--dove!--aye 'dove' it was, I mind
me. O blind and worse than blind! But _experientia docet_, tall
Now hereupon Beltane bowed his head and clasping his hands, wrung them.
"Sweet Jesu forgive me!" he cried, "I had not meant to slay so many!"
Then he arose and went apart and, kneeling among the shadows, prayed
long and fervently.
WHICH TELLS HOW THREE MIGHTY MEN SWARE FEALTY TO BELTANE: AND HOW GOOD
FRIAR MARTIN DIGGED A GRAVE IN THE WILD
Now when Beltane's mighty hunger was assuaged he sat--his aching head
yet ringing with the blow--and stared up at the moon, sad and wistful-eyed
as one full of heaviness the while Black Roger standing beside him
gazed askance at the archer who sat near by whistling softly and busied
with certain arrows, cleaning and trimming them ere he set them back in
his quiver. And presently Black Roger spake softly, low-stooping to
"Lord, we have saved the life of yon prating archer-fellow, and behold
my belt lacketh for one notch, which is well. So come, let us go our
ways, thou and I, for I love not your talkers, and this fellow hath
overmuch to say."
But now, ere Beltane could make reply, came the hairy man--but behold
his rags had given place to fair garments of tanned leather (albeit
something small) together with steel cap and shirt of ringed mail, and,
about his middle, a broad belt where swung a heavy sword; being come to
Beltane he paused leaning upon his axe, and gazed upon him fierce-eyed:
"Messire," said he, "who ye are I know not, what ye are I care not, for
art quick of foot and mighty of arm, and when ye fight, cry a point of
war, a battle-shout I knew aforetime ere they enslaved and made of me a
serf--and thus it is I would follow thee."
Quoth Beltane, his aching head upon his hand:
"To death if needs be, for a man must die soon or late, yet die but
once whether it be by the steel, or flame, or rope. So what matter the
way of it, if I may stand with this my axe face to face with Gilles of
Brandonmere, or Red Pertolepe of Garthlaxton Keep: 'twas for this I
followed his foresters."
"Who and whence are you?"
"Walkyn o' the Dene they call me hereabouts--though I had another name
once--but 'twas long ago, when I marched, a lad, 'neath the banner of
Beltane the Strong!"
"What talk be this?" grunted Black Roger, threatening of mien, "my lord
and I be under a vow and must begone, and want no runaway serf crawling
at our heels!"
"Ha!" quoth Walkyn, "spake I to thee, hangman? Forsooth, well do I know
thee, Roger the Black: come ye into the glade yonder, so will I split
thy black poll for thee--thou surly dog!"
Forth leapt Black Roger's sword, back swung Walkyn's glittering axe,
but Beltane was between, and, as they stood thus came Giles o' the Bow:
"Oho!" he laughed, "must ye be at it yet? Have we not together slain of
Sir Pertolepe's foresters a round score?--"
"'Twas but nineteen!" growled Roger, frowning at Walkyn.
"So will I make of this hangman the twentieth!" said Walkyn, frowning
"'Tis a sweet thought," laughed the archer, "to it, lads, and slay each
other as soon as ye may, and my blessings on ye. As for us, Sir
Paladin, let us away--'tis true we together might give check to an
army, yet, minding Sir Pertolepe's nineteen foresters, 'twere wiser to
his us from Sir Pertolepe's country for the nonce: so march, tall
"Ha!" snarled Walkyn, "fear ye Red Pertolepe yet, bowman? Well, we want
ye not, my lord and I, he hath a sword and I an axe--they shall suffice
us, mayhap, an Pertolepe come. So his thee hence with the hangman and
save thy rogue's skin."
"And may ye dangle in a noose yet for a prating do-nothing!" growled
"Oho!" laughed Giles, with a flash of white teeth, "a hangman and a
serf--must I slay both?" But, ere he could draw sword, came a voice
from the shadows near by--a deep voice, clear and very sweet:
"Oh, children," said the voice, "oh, children of God, put up your
steel and pray for one whose white soul doth mount e'en now to heaven!"
and forth into the light came one clad as a white friar--a tall man and
slender, and upon his shoulder he bare a mattock that gleamed beneath
the moon. His coarse, white robe, frayed and worn, was stained with
earth and the green of grass, and was splashed, here and there, with a
darker stain; pale was he, and hollow-cheeked, but with eyes that
gleamed 'neath black brows and with chin long and purposeful. Now at
sight of him, fierce-eyed Walkyn cried aloud and flung aside his axe
and, falling on his knees, caught the friar's threadbare robe and
"Good brother!" he groaned, "O, gentle brother Martin, pity me!"
"What, Walkyn?" quoth the friar. "What do ye thus equipped and so far
"Home have I none, henceforth, O my father."
"Ah! What then of thy wife, Truda--of thy little son?"
"Dead, my father. Red Pertolepe's men slew them this day within the
green. So, when I had buried them, I took my axe and left them with
God: yet shall my soul go lonely, methinks, until my time be come."
Then Friar Martin reached out his hand and laid it upon Walkyn's bowed
head: and, though the hand was hard and toil-worn, the touch of it was
ineffably gentle, and he spake with eyes upraised to heaven:
"O Christ of Pity, look down upon this stricken soul, be Thou his stay
and comfort. Teach him, in his grief and sorrow, to pity the woes of
others, that, in comforting his fellows, he may himself find comfort."
Now when the prayer was ended he turned and looked upon the others,
and, beholding Beltane in his might and glittering mail, he spake,
saluting him as one of rank.
"Sir Knight," said he, "do these men follow thee?"
"Aye, verily," cried the archer, "that do I in sooth--_Verbum sat
"Not so," growled Roger, "'tis but a pestilent archer that seeketh but
base hire. I only am my lord's man, sworn to aid him in his vow." "I
also," quoth Walkyn, "an so my lord wills?"
"So shall it be," sighed Beltane, his hand upon his throbbing brow.
"And what have ye in mind to do?"
"Forsooth," cried Giles, "to fight, good friar, _manibus pedibusque_."
"To obey my lord," said Roger, "and speak good Saxon English."
"To adventure my body in battle with joyful heart," quoth Walkyn.
"To make an end of tyranny!" sighed Beltane.
"Alas!" said the friar, "within this doleful Duchy be tyrants a many,
and ye are but four, meseemeth; yet if within your hearts be room for
pity--follow me, and I will show you a sight, mayhap shall nerve you
strong as giants. Come!"
So Beltane followed the white friar with the three upon his heels who
wrangled now no more; and in a while the friar paused beside a new-digged
"Behold," said he, "the bed where we, each one, must sleep some day,
and yet 'tis cold and hard, methinks, for one so young and tender!" So
saying he sighed, and turning, brought them to a hut near by, an humble
dwelling of mud and wattles, dim-lighted by a glimmering rush. But,
being come within the hut Beltane stayed of a sudden and held his
breath, staring wide-eyed at that which lay so still: then, baring his
head, sank upon his knees.
She lay outstretched upon a bed of fern, and looked as one that sleeps
save for the deathly pallor of her cheek and still and pulseless bosom:
and she was young, and of a wondrous, gentle beauty.
"Behold," said the friar, "but one short hour agone this was alive--a
child of God, pure of heart and undefiled. These gentle hands lie
stilled forever: this sweet, white body (O shame of men!) blasted by
brutality, maimed and torn--is nought but piteous clay to moulder in
the year. Yet doth her radiant soul lie on the breast of God forever,
since she, for honour, died the death--Behold!" So saying, the friar
with sudden hand laid bare the still and marble bosom; and, beholding
the red horror wrought there by cruel steel, Beltane rose up, and
taking off his cloak, therewith reverently covered the pale, dead
beauty of her, and so stood awhile with eyes close shut and spake,
soft-voiced and slow, 'twixt pallid lips:
"She was captive to Sir Pertolepe, by him taken in a raid, and he would
have had her to his will: yet, by aid of my lord's jester, she escaped
and fled hither. But Sir Pertolepe's foresters pursued and took her
and--so is she dead: may God requite them!"
"Amen!" quoth Giles o' the Bow, hoarse-voiced, "so do they all lie dead
within the green!"
"Save one!" said Roger.
"But he sore wounded!" quoth Walkyn.
"How!" cried the friar aghast, "have ye indeed slain Sir Pertolepe's
"Nineteen!" nodded Roger, grimly.
"Alas!" cried the friar, "may God save the poor folk hereabouts, for
now will Sir Pertolepe wreak vengeance dire upon them."
"Then," said Beltane, "then must I have word with Sir Pertolepe."
Now when he said this, Black Roger stared agape and even the archer's
tongue failed him for once; but Walkyn smiled and gripped his axe.
"Art mad, tall brother!" cried Giles at length, "Sir Pertolepe would
hang thee out of hand, or throw thee to his dogs!"
"Lord," said Roger, "Sir Pertolepe hath ten score men-at-arms in
Garthlaxton, beside bowmen and foresters."
"There should be good work for mine axe!" smiled Walkyn.
"None the less must I speak with him," said Beltane, and turned him to
"Then will I die with thee, lord," growled Roger.
"So will I come and watch thee die--hangman, and loose a shaft or two
on mine own account!"
But now, of a sudden, Walkyn raised a warning hand.
"Hark!" said he: and, in a while, as they listened, upon the stillness
came a rustle of leaves and thereafter a creeping step drawing slowly
nearer: then swift and soft-treading, Walkyn stole out into the
Very soon he returned, leading a woman, pale and haggard, who clasped
a babe within her threadbare cloak; her eyes were red and sore with
much weeping and upon the threshold she paused as one in sudden fear,
but espying the friar, she uttered a cry:
"O Father Martin--good father--pray, pray for the soul of him who is
father to my child, but who at dawn must die with many others upon my
lord Duke's great gallows!"
"Alas!" cried the friar, wringing his hands, "what news is this?"
"O good friar," sobbed the woman, "my lord's hand hath been so heavy
upon us of late--so heavy: and there came messengers from Thrasfordham
in Bourne bidding us thither with fair promises:--and my father, being
head of our village, hearkened to them and we made ready to cross into
Bourne. But my lord came upon us and burned our village of Shallowford
and lashed my father with whips and thereafter hanged him, and took my
man and many others and cast them into the great dungeon at Belsaye--
and with the dawn they must hang upon the Duke's great gallows."
So she ended and stood weeping as one that is hopeless and weary. But
of a sudden she screamed and pointed at Black Roger with her finger:
"'Tis Roger!" she cried, "'tis Black Roger, that slew my father!"
Then Roger the Black groaned and hid his face within his arm and shrank
before the woman's outstretched finger and, groaning, cowered to his
knees; whereupon the archer turned his back and spat upon the floor
while Walkyn glared and fingered his great axe: but in this moment my
Beltane came beside him and laid his hand on Roger's stooping shoulder.
"Nay," said he, "this is my friend henceforth, a man among men, who
liveth to do great things as thus: To-night he will give back to thee
the father of thy child, and break open the dungeon of Belsaye!"
Thus spake my Beltane while all stared at his saying and held their
peace because of their amaze: only Black Roger turned of a sudden and
caught his hand and kissed it savagely.
"Sir," said the woman, peering up in Beltane's face, "Lord--ah, would
ye mock the weak and helpless--"
"Nay," said Beltane gently, "as God seeth me, to-night the prisoners
shall go free, or this man and I die with them. So now be comforted--go
you to Bourne, to Sir Benedict within Thrasfordham Keep, and say you
come from Beltane, Duke of Pentavalon, who swore thee, by the honour of
the Duke Beltane his father, that never again shall a man hang from the
great gallows of Black Ivo the usurper--from this night it shall cease
Now would the woman have knelt and kissed his hand, but Beltane smiled
and brought her to the door. Then, wondering and amazed, she made her
obeisance to Beltane and with her babe clasped to her bosom went forth
into the night. Thereafter Beltane turned and looked grave-eyed upon
"My masters," quoth he, "ye have heard my words, how this night I go to
take down Black Ivo's great gallows. Come ye with me? Aye or no?"
"Aye, lord!" cried the three in one acclaim.
"Do ye then stand with me henceforth 'gainst Black Ivo and all his
might? Aye or no?"
"Aye, lord!" cried they again.
Then Beltane smiled and drew his sword and came to them, the great
blade gleaming in his hand.
"'Tis well!" said he, "but first come now and lay your hands here upon
my sword and swear me this, each one,--To follow ever where I shall
lead, to abide henceforth in brotherhood together, to smite evil within
you and without, to be pitiful to the weak, and to honour God at all
Then did the three, being upon their knees, lay their hands upon the
sword and swear the oath as Beltane commanded; now came the white friar
and stared upon the sword and beholding the motto graven in the steel,
lifted up his hand to heaven and cried aloud:--
"Now greeting and fair greeting to thee, lord Duke, may thy body be
strong for war and thy head wise in the council, for Pentavalon hath
dire need of thee, Beltane, son of Duke Beltane the Strong. Moreover I
was sent to thee by Sir Benedict of Bourne who bids thee 'Arise and
follow' for that the time is at hand."
"How," cried Beltane, "art thou indeed from Sir Benedict?"
"Even so, lord. In Thrasfordham be seven hundred chosen men-at-arms,
and within Bourne, mayhap a thousand more. It is become a haven for
those that flee from tyranny and bitter wrong. As for me, I journey
where I will within the Duchy, serving the poor and ministering to the
broken-hearted, and everywhere is black sin and suffering and death. So
now in the name of these oppressed do I give thee welcome to this thy
sorrowful Duchy, and may God make of thee Duke indeed!"
"Duke am I in blood and Duke will I yet be in very sooth an God so will
it." Then turning to the three, who stood hearkening open-mouthed and
wide of eye, he smiled and reached to them his hand.
"Good friends," said he, "knowing nought of me yet were ye willing to
follow my fortunes. For this do I thank ye one and all, and so shall my
fortune, high or low, be thine, henceforth. To-day is Ivo Duke, and I
thy companion-in-arms, no more, no less--this, I pray you all,
So saying, Beltane sheathed his sword and beholding Friar Martin on his
knees beside that muffled figure, he knelt also, and the three with
him. Thereafter at a sign from the friar, Beltane stooped and raised
this slender, shrouded figure in his arms and reverently bore it out
into the shadows.
And there, all in the tender radiance of the moon, they buried her
whose name they never knew, and stood a while in silence. Then,
pointing to the new-turned earth, Friar Martin spake soft-voiced:
"Lo, here--in but a little time, wild flowers shall bloom above her--
yet none purer or sweeter than she! In a little shall the grass be
green again, and she sleep here forgot by all--save God! And God, my
brothers, is a gentle God and very pitiful--so now do we leave her in
God's abiding care."
And presently they turned, soft-footed, and went upon their way leaving
the place to solitude.
But from the vault of heaven the stars looked down upon that lonely
grave like the watching eyes of holy angels.
WHICH TELLS HOW DUKE IVO'S GREAT GALLOWS CEASED TO BE
Scarce a mile without the walls of the fair city of Belsaye my lord
Duke had builded him a great gallows, had set it high upon a hill for
all the world to see; from whose lofty cross-beams five score rogues
had hanged ere now, had writhed and kicked their lives away and rotted
there in company, that all the world might know how potent was the
anger of my lord Duke Ivo.
Day in, day out, from rosy morn till dewy eve, it frowned upon Belsaye,
a thing of doom whose grim sight should warn rebellious townsfolk to
dutiful submission; by night it loomed, a dim-seen, brooding horror,
whose loathsome reek should mind them how all rogues must end that
dared lift hand or voice against my lord Duke, or those proud barons,
lords, and knights who, by his pleasure, held their fiefs with rights
of justice, the high, the middle and the low.
Day in, day out, the men of Belsaye eyed it askance 'neath scowling
brows and, by night, many a clenched hand was shaken and many a
whispered malediction sped, toward that thing of doom that menaced them
from the dark.
To-night the moon was full, and thus, following Friar Martin's bony
outstretched finger, Beltane of a sudden espied afar the Duke's great
gallows, rising grisly and stark against the moon's round splendour. So
for a space, standing yet within the shade of the woods, Beltane stared
fierce-eyed, the while Giles, with Roger at his elbow, pointed out
divers shapes that dangled high in air, at sight of which the friar
knelt with bowed head and lips that moved in prayer: and Walkyn,
scowling, muttered in his beard.
"Messire," said the archer, "my lord Duke's gallows is great and very
strong, and we but five all told!"
"I have mine axe!" quoth Walkyn.
"Had we fifty axes we scarce should bring it down ere dawn: moreover,
the night is very still and sounds carry far--"
"Nathless," quoth Roger, "to-night we surely shall destroy it--my lord
hath said so."
"Aye--but how?" questioned Giles. "In Belsaye is that pale fox Sir Gui
of Allerdale with many trusty men-at-arms to hold the town for Black
Ivo and teach Belsaye its duty: how may we destroy my lord Duke's
gallows 'neath the very beards of my lord Duke's garrison, wilt tell me
that, my good, Black Rogerkin?"
"Aye," nodded Roger, "that will I--when I have asked my lord." So
saying, he came and touched Beltane and humbly put the question.
Then, with his gaze yet upon the gallows, Beltane sighed and answered:
"There hath been no rain for weeks, look you: the underbrush is dry,
methinks, and should burn well!"
"Aye, for sure," said Roger, "we shall burn Black Ivo's gallows to
ashes, bowman, and a good end 'twill be."
"By fire!" cried the archer, aghast, "but lord, so soon as they shall
see the flames, Sir Gui and his men will sally out upon us!"
"Nay," said Beltane, "for we shall sally in."
"Into Belsaye, mean you, lord?"
"Certes," answered Beltane, "how else may we break open the dungeon?
The night is young yet, but we have much to do--follow!" So saying,
Beltane turned and keeping ever within the shadow of the trees, set off
towards that distant hill where stood the gallows, black against the
Swiftly they went and for the most part in silence, for Beltane's mind
was busied upon many matters.
So betimes they climbed the hill and stood at last beneath the gallows,
and, glancing up, Beltane beheld noisome shapes, black and shrivelled,
that once had lived and laughed. Forthwith he drew his sword and fell
to cutting down the brush, whereat friar Martin, girding up his frock,
took Walkyn's sword and fell to likewise.
Now, as Beltane laboured thus, he was suddenly aware of a wild and
ragged figure, the which started up before him as if from the very
ground. An old man he was, bent with years, yet with eyes that burned
fierce and undimmed 'neath hoary brows, and shrivelled hands that
gripped upon a rusty sword.
"Who are ye," he cried, harsh-voiced, "who are ye that disturb this
woeful place? 'Tis here that men are dragged to die--and, being dead,
do hang i' the air to rot and rot--and thereby hangs a tale of wolves
that howl and birds that shriek, aha!--carrion crows and hook-billed
kites--they be well gorged since Ivo came. 'Caw!' they cry, 'caw!'--
soft child's flesh and the flesh of tender maids--aha!--I know--I've
watched--I've seen! Ah! since my lord Duke Beltane died, what sights
these eyes have seen!"
"Old man," quoth Beltane, bending near, "who art thou?"
"I am the ghost that haunts this place, but, ages since, I was Sir
Robert Bellesme of Garthlaxton Keep. But my wife they slew, my daughter
ravished from me--and my son--Ah! Christ--my son! They hanged him here
--yonder he hung, and I, his father, watched him die. But, by night,
when all was still, I crept hither and found a hole to shelter me. And
here I stayed to watch over him--my son who hung so quiet and so still.
And the rough wind buffeted him, the cruel rain lashed him, and the hot
sun scorched him, but still he hung there, so high!--so high! Yet I
waited, for the strongest rope will break in time. And upon a moony
night, he fell, and I gathered him in my arms, close here against my
heart, and buried him--where none can know--save God. Many others have
I buried also, for the strongest cords must break in time! And folk do
say the devil bears them hence, since none are ever found--but I know
where they lie--six hundred and seventy and nine--I know--these hands
have buried them and I have kept a tally. Ah!--but you, gentle youth,
what would ye here?"
"Burn down the gallows," said Beltane, "'tis an accursed thing, so
shall it shame earth and heaven no longer."
"How!--how!" cried the ancient man, letting fall his rusty sword,
"Destroy Black Ivo's gibbet? Dare ye--dare ye such a thing indeed? Are
there men with souls unconquered yet? Methought all such were old, or
dead, or fled away--dare ye this, youth?"
"Aye," nodded Beltane. "Watch now!" and hereupon he, together with the
others, fell to hewing down the dry brush with might and main, and
piling it about the gibbet's massy beams, while the ancient man,
perched upon a rock hard by, watched them 'neath his shaggy brows and
laughed soft and shrill.
"Aha!" he cried, "the fire ye kindle here shall set the Duchy in a
flame mayhap, to burn Black Ivo with Gui of Allerdale and Red
Pertolepe--mayhap! For them, fire on earth and flame in hell--aha! To
burn the gibbet! 'tis well bethought: so shall carrion kite and jay go
light-bellied hereabouts, mayhap, oho! 'Caw,' they shall cry, 'Caw--
give us to eat--fair white flesh!' Yet how may they eat when the
gallows is no more?"
Thus spake he with shrill laughter while Beltane laboured until the
sweat ran from him, while Walkyn's great axe flashed and fell near by
and steel glittered among the underbrush that clothed the slopes of the
Very soon they had stacked great piles of kindling about the gallows'
weather-beaten timbers--twigs below, faggots above--cunningly ordered
and higher than Beltane's head. Now as Beltane leaned upon his sword to
wipe the sweat from his eyes, came Roger and Walkyn yet panting from
"Master," said Roger, "they should burn well, I trow, and yet--"
"And yet," quoth Walkyn, "these beams be thick: methinks, when the
others go, one man should stay to tend the fires until the flame gets
"And that man I!" said Roger.
"No, no," frowned Walkyn, "an one of us must die, it shall be me--"
But now came the ancient man, leaning upon his ancient weapon.
"No, children," said he, "'tis for age to die--death is sweet to the
old and weary: so will I tend the fire. Yet, beseech thee, grant me
this: that these my hands shall fire the gallows whereon they hanged my
son, long ago: young was he, and tall--scarce yet a man--they hanged
him yonder, so high--so high--so far beyond my care: and the carrion
birds--kites, see you, and crows--and the wind and rain and dark--Ah,
God! my son! I am but an old man and feeble, yet, beseech thee, let
this be the hand to fire Black Ivo's gibbet!"
Then Beltane took from his pouch flint and steel and tinder and gave
them to the old man's trembling fingers as Giles o' the Bow came
running with the stalwart friar behind him.
So, while the five stood hushed and wide of eye, the old man knelt
before them in his rags and struck flint to steel. Once he struck, and
twice--and behold a spark that leapt to a small flame that died to a
glow; but now, flat upon his belly lay Giles and, pursing his lips,
puffed and blew until the glow brightened, spread, and burst into a
crackling flame that leapt from twig to twig. And when the fire waxed
hot, Beltane took thence a glowing brand, and, coming to the other
great pile, fired it therewith. Up rose the flames high and higher
until they began to lick, pale-tongued, about the gibbet's two great
supporting timbers, and ever as they rose, Walkyn and Roger, Giles and
the friar, laboured amain, stacking logs near by wherewith to feed the
"Enough," said Beltane at last, "it shall suffice, methinks."
"Suffice?" cried the old man, his eyes bright in the ruddy glow, "aye,
it shall suffice, sweet boy. See--see, the timbers catch e'en now. Ha!
burn, good fire--eat, hungry flame! O, happy sight--would my dear son
were here--they hanged his fair young body, but his soul--Ha, his
soul! O souls of hanged men--O spirits of the dead, come about me, ye
ghosts of murdered youth, come and behold the gibbet burn whereon ye
died. What--are ye there, amid the smoke, so soon? Come then, let us
dance together and trip it lightly to and fro--merrily, merrily! Hey
boy, so ho then--so ho, and away we go!" Hereupon, tossing up gaunt
arms, the old man fell to dancing and capering amid the sparks and
rolling smoke, filling the air with wild talk and gabbling high-pitched
laughter that rose above the roar of the fires. And so in a while
Beltane, sighing, turned and led the way down the hill towards the
glooming shadow of the woods; but ever as they went the flames waxed
fiercer behind them and the madman's laughter shrilled upon the air.
Swift-footed they plunged into the underbrush and thus hidden began to
close in upon Belsaye town. And of a sudden they heard a cry, and
thereafter the shattering blare of a trumpet upon the walls. And now
from within the waking city rose a confused sound, a hum that grew
louder and ever more loud, pierced by shout and trumpet-blast while
high above this growing clamour the tocsin pealed alarm.
Thus, in a while the trembling citizens of Belsaye, starting from their
slumber, stared in pallid amaze beholding afar a great and fiery gibbet
whose flames, leaping heavenward, seemed to quench the moon.
HOW THEY BRAKE OPE THE DUNGEON OF BELSAYE
Being yet in the shade of the woods, Beltane paused, hearkening to the
distant uproar of Belsaye town and watching the torches that hovered
upon its walls and the cressets that glowed on tower and bartizan.
"Messire Beltane," quoth the friar, setting his rumpled frock in order,
"are ye minded still to adventure breaking ope the dungeon of Belsaye?"
"Aye, verily!" nodded Beltane. "Know you the city, good friar?"
"That do I, my brother: every lane and street, every hole and corner of
it--'twas there I first drew breath. A fair, rich city, freed by
charter long ago--but now, alas, its freedom snatched away, its ancient
charter gone, it bleeds 'neath a pale-cheeked tyrant's sway--a pallid
man who laughs soft-voiced to see men die, and smiles upon their
anguish. O Belsaye, grievous are thy wrongs since Ivo came five years
agone and gave thee up to pillage and to ravishment. O hateful day! O
day of shame! What sights I saw--what sounds I heard--man-groans and
screams of women to rend high heaven and shake the throne of God,
methinks. I see--I hear them yet, and must forever. Jesu, pity!" and
leaning against a tree near by, the stalwart friar shivered violently
and hid his eyes.
"Why, good brother Martin," said Beltane, setting an arm about him,
"doth memory pain thee so, indeed? good Brother Martin, be comforted--"
"Nay, nay--'tis past, but--O my son, I--had a sister!" said the good
friar, and groaned. Yet in a while he raised his head and spake again:
"And when Duke Ivo had wrought his will upon the city, he builded the
great gibbet yonder and hanged it full with men cheek by jowl, and left
Sir Gui the cruel with ten score chosen men for garrison. But the men
of Belsaye have stubborn memories; Sir Gui and his butchers slumber in
a false security, for stern men are they and strong, and wait but God's
appointed time. Pray God that time be soon!"
"Amen!" said Beltane. Now, even as he spake came the sound of a distant
tucket, the great gates of Belsaye swung wide, and forth rode a company
of men-at-arms, their bascinets agleam 'neath the moon.
"Now!" spake the friar, "and you are for Belsaye, my brother, follow
me; I know a way--albeit a moist way and something evil--but an you
will follow,--come!" So saying Friar Martin set off among the trees,
and Beltane, beckoning to the others, followed close. Fast strode the
friar, his white robe fluttering on before, through moonlight and
shadow, until they reached a brook or freshet that ran bubbling betwixt
flowery banks; beside this strode the tall friar, following its winding
course, until before them, amid the shadow--yet darker than the shadow
--loomed high an embattled flanking tower of the walls of Belsaye town;
but ever before them flitted the friar's white gown, on and on until
the freshet became a slow-moving river, barring their advance--a broad
river that whispered among the reeds on the one side and lapped against
rugged wall on the other.
Here the friar stayed to glance from gloomy wall and turret to fast
waning moon on their left, then, girding up his gown, he stepped down
into the reeds, and a moment later they saw him--to their amaze--
fording the river that flowed scarce knee deep.
So, needfully, Beltane followed, and, stepping into the water found his
feet upon a narrow causeway cunningly devised. Thus, slowly and
carefully, because of the flowing of the water, they came betimes to
where the friar waited in the shadow of the massy wall; yet, even as
they came near, the friar waved his arm, stooped--and was gone; whereon
my Beltane stared amazed and the three muttered uneasily behind him.
But, coming nearer, Beltane espied above the hurrying waters the curve
of an arch or tunnel, and pointing it to the others, took a great
breath and, stooping beneath the water, stumbled on and on until it
shallowed, and he was free to breathe again.
On he went, through water now breast-high, with slimy walls above him
and around, seeing naught by reason of the pitchy blackness, and
hearing only the smothered splash of those behind, and gasping breaths
that boomed hollow in the dark. Yet presently he saw a gleam before him
that broadened with each step, and, of a sudden, was out beneath the
sky--a narrow strip wherein stars twinkled, and so beheld again friar
Martin's white frock flitting on, ghost-like, before. In a while he
brought them to a slimy stair, and climbing this, with ever growing
caution, they found themselves at last beneath the frowning shadow of
the citadel within the walls of Belsaye town. Now, looking north,
Beltane beheld afar a fiery gallows that flamed to heaven, and from the
town thitherward came a confused hum of the multitude who watched; but
hereabouts the town seemed all deserted.
"The dungeons lie beneath our feet," whispered Friar Martin. "Come!"
So, keeping ever in the shadow of the great square keep, they went on,
soft-treading and alert of eye till, being come to the angle of the
wall, the friar stayed of a sudden and raised a warning hand. Then came
Beltane with Walkyn close behind, and peering over the friar's broad
shoulders, they beheld a sentinel who stood with his back to them,
leaning on his spear, to watch the burning gallows, his chain-mail
agleam and his head-piece glittering as he stirred lazily in time to
the merry lilt he sang softly.
Then, or ever Beltane could stay him, Walkyn o' the Dene laid by his
axe, and, his soaked shoes soundless upon the stones, began to steal
upon the unconscious singer, who yet lolled upon his spear some thirty
paces away. With great body bowed forward and hairy fingers crooked,
Walkyn stole upon him; six paces he went, ten--twenty--twenty-five--
the soldier ceased his humming, stood erect and turned about; and
Walkyn leapt--bore him backward down into the shadow--a shadow wherein
their bodies writhed and twisted silently awhile. When Walkyn rose out
of the shadow and beckoned them on.
So, following ever the friar's lead, they came to a narrow doorway
that gave upon a small guard-room lighted by a smoking torch socketed
to the wall. The place was empty, save for a medley of arms stacked in
corners, wherefore, treading cautiously, the friar led them a-down a
narrow passage and so to a second and larger chamber where burned a
fire of logs. Upon the walls hung shining head-pieces; cloaks and
mantles lay where they had been flung on bench and floor, but none was
there to give them let or hindrance. Then Friar Martin took a torch
that smoked near by, and, crossing to the hearth, reached down a massy
key from the wall, and with this in his hand, came to a door half
hidden in a corner, beyond which were steps that wound downwards into
the dark, a darkness close and dank, and heavy with corruption.
But on went the friar--his torch lighting the way--down and ever down
until they trod a narrow way 'twixt reeking walls, where breathed an
air so close and foul the very torch languished. At length the friar
stopped before a mighty door, thick-banded with iron bars and with
massy bolts, and while Beltane held the torch, he fitted key to lock
and thereafter the great door swung on screaming hinge and showed a
dungeon beyond--a place foul and noisome, where divers pale-faced
wretches lay or crouched, blinking in the torch's glare.
"What?" cried one, coming to his feet, a squat broad-shouldered man--
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