Beltane The Smith
Part 4 out of 11
time the timbers creaked, and hearkening with straining ears. Down they
went amid the gloom until they spied an open door below, beyond which a
dim light shone, and whence rose the snoring of wearied sleepers. Ever
and anon a wind-gust smote the ancient mill and a broken shutter
rattled near by, what time they crept a pace down the creaking stair
until at last they stood upon the threshold of a square chamber upon
whose broken hearth a waning fire burned, by whose uncertain light they
espied divers vague forms that stirred now and then and groaned in
their sleep as they sprawled upon the floor: and Beltane counted three
who lay 'twixt him and the open doorway, for door was there none.
Awhile stood Beltane, viewing the sleepers 'neath frowning brows, then,
sheathing his sword, he turned and reached out his arms to the nun in
the darkness and, in the dark, she gave herself, warm and yielding,
into his embrace, her arms clung soft about him, and he felt her breath
upon his cheek, as clasping his left arm about her, he lifted her high
against his breast. And now, even as she trembled against him, so
trembled Beltane also yet knew not why; therefore of a sudden he turned
and stepped into the chamber. A man started up beside the hearth,
muttering evilly; and Beltane, standing rigid, gripped his dagger to
smite, but even then the muttering ceased, and falling back, the man
rolled over and fell a-snoring again. So, lightly, swiftly, Beltane
strode over the sprawling sleepers--out through the open doorway--out
into the sweet, cool night beyond--out into the merry riot of the
wind. Swift and sure of foot he sped, going ever where the shadows lay
deepest, skirting beyond reach of the paling watch-fires, until he was
come nigh where the horses stamped and snorted. Here he set the nun
upon her feet, and bidding her stir not, crept towards the horses,
quick-eyed and watchful. And thus he presently espied a man who leaned
him upon a long pike, his face set toward the nearest watch-fire: and
the man's eyes were closed, and he snored gently. Then Beltane shifted
his dagger to his left hand, and being come within reach, drew back his
mailed fist and smote the sleeper betwixt his closed eyes, and catching
him as he fell, laid him gently on the grass.
Now swift and silent came Beltane to where the horses champed, and
having made choice of a certain powerful beast, slipped off his chain
mittens and rolled back sleeve of mail and, low-stooping in the shadow,
sought and found the ropes whereto the halters were made fast, and
straightway cut them in sunder. Then, having looked to girth and
bridle, he vaulted to the saddle, and drawing sword, shouted his
battle-cry fierce and loud: "Arise! Arise!" and, so shouting, smote the
frighted horses to right and left with the flat of the long blade, so
that they reared up whinnying, and set off a-galloping in all
directions, filling the air with the thunder of their rushing hoofs.
And now came shouts and cries with a prodigious confusion and running
to and fro about the dying watch-fires. Trumpets blared shrill, hoarse
voices roared commands that passed unheeded in the growing din and
tumult that swelled to a wild clamour of frenzied shouting:
"Fly! fly! Pertolepe is upon us! 'tis the Red Pertolepe!"
But Beltane, riding warily amid the gloom, came to that place where he
had left the nun, yet found her not, and immediately was seized of a
great dread. But as he stared wildly about him, he presently heard a
muffled cry, and spurring thitherwards, beheld two dim figures that
swayed to and fro in a fierce grapple. Riding close, Beltane saw the
glint of mail, raised his sword for the blow, felt a shock--a searing
smart, and knew himself wounded; but now she was at his stirrup, and
stooping, he swung her up to the withers of his horse, and wheeling
short about, spurred to a gallop; yet, as he rode, above the rush of
wind and thud of hoofs, he heard a cry, hoarse and dolorous. On
galloped Beltane all unheeding, until he came 'neath the leafy arches
of the friendly woods, within whose gloom needs must he ride at a
hand's pace. Thus, as they went, they could hear the uproar behind--a
confused din that waxed and waned upon the wind.
But Beltane, riding slow and cautious within the green, heeded this not
at all, nor the throb of his wounded arm, nor aught under heaven save
the pressure of this slender body that lay so still, so warm and soft
within his arm; and as he went, he began to wish for the moon that he
might see her face.
Blue eyes, long and heavy-lashed! Surely blue eyes were fairest in a
woman? And then the voice of her, liquid and soft like the call of
merle or mavis. And she was a nun! How white and slim her hands, yet
strong and resolute, as when she grasped the dagger 'gainst Sir Gilles;
aye--resolute hands, like the spirit within her soft and shapely body.
And then again--her lips; red and full, up-curving to sweet, slow
smile, yet withal tinged with subtle mockery. With such eyes and such
lips she might--aye, but she was a nun--a nun, forsooth!
"Messire!" Beltane started from his reverie. "Art cold, messire?"
"Cold!" stammered Beltane, "cold? Indeed no, lady."
"Yet dost thou tremble!"
"Nathless, I am not cold, lady."
"Then wherefore tremble?"
"Nay, I--I know not. In sooth, do I so, lady?"
"Verily, sir, and therewith sigh, frequent and O, most dolorous to
Now at this, my Beltane finding naught to say, straightway sighed
again; and thus they rode awhile, speaking nothing.
"Think you we are safe, messire?" she questioned him at last.
"Tis so I pray, lady."
"Thou hast done right valiantly to-night on my behalf," says she. "How
came you in at the window?"
"By means of a tree, lady."
"Art very strong, messire, and valiant beyond thought. Thou hast this
night, with thy strong hand, lifted me up from shameful death: so, by
right, should my life be thine henceforth." Herewith she sighed,
leaning closer upon his breast, and Beltane's desire to see her face
"Messire," said she, "methinks art cold indeed, or is it that I weary
"Nay, thou'rt wondrous easy to bear thus, lady."
"And whither do ye bear me, sir--north or south? And yet it mattereth
nothing," says she, soft-voiced, "since we are safe--together!" Now
hereafter, as Beltane rode, he turned his eyes full oft to heaven--
yearning for the moon.
"What woods be these, messire?" she questioned.
"'Tis the wilderness that lieth betwixt Pentavalon and Mortain, lady."
"Know ye Mortain, sir?"
"Yea, verily," he answered, and sighed full deep. And as he sighed, lo,
in that moment the moon peeped forth of a cloud-rift and he beheld the
nun looking up at him with eyes deep and wistful, and, as she gazed,
her lips curved in slow and tender smile ere her lashes drooped, and
sighing, she hid her face against him in the folds of her mantle, while
Beltane must needs bethink him of other eyes so very like, and yet so
false, and straightway--sighed.
"Messire," she murmured, "pray now, wherefore do ye sigh so oft?"
"For that thine eyes do waken memory, lady."
"Of a woman?"
"Aye--of a woman."
"And thou dost--love her, messire?"
"Unto my dole, lady."
"Ah, can it be she doth not love thee, messire?"
"Indeed, 'tis most certain!"
"Hath she then told thee so--of herself?"
"Nay," sighed Beltane, "not in so many words, lady, and yet--"
"And yet," quoth the nun, suddenly erect, "thou must needs run away and
leave her--poor sweet wretch--to mourn for thee, belike, and grieve--
aye, and scorn thee too for a faint-heart!"
"Nay, lady, verily I--"
"O, indeed me thinks she must contemn thee in her heart, poor, gentle
soul--aye, scorn and despise thee woefully for running away; indeed,
'tis beyond all doubt, messire!"
"Lady," quoth Beltane, flushing in the dark, "you know naught of the
"Why then shalt thou tell me of it, messire--lo, I am listening." So
saying, she settled herself more aptly within his encircling arm.
"First, then," said Beltane, when they had ridden awhile in silence,
"she is a duchess, and very proud."
"Yet is she a woman, messire, and thou a man whose arms be very
"Of what avail strong arms, lady, 'gainst such as she?"
"Why, to carry her withal, messire."
"To--to carry her!" quoth Beltane in amaze.
"In very truth, messire. To lift her up and bear her away with thee--"
"Nay--nay, to--bear her away? O, 'twere thing impossible!"
"Is this duchess so heavy, messire?" sighed the nun, "is she a burden
beyond even thy strength, sir knight?"
"Lady, she is the proud Helen, Duchess of Mortain!" quoth Beltane,
frowning at the encompassing shadows. Now was the nun hushed awhile,
and when at last she spake her voice was low and wondrous gentle.
"And is it indeed the wilful Helen that ye love, messire?"
"Even she, unto my sorrow."
"Thy sorrow? Why then, messire--forget her."
"Ah!" sighed Beltane, "would I might indeed, yet needs must I love her
"Alack, and is it so forsooth," quoth the nun, sighing likewise. "Ah
me, my poor, fond son, now doth thy reverend mother pity thee indeed,
for thou'rt in direful case to be her lover, methinks."
Now did my Beltane frown the blacker by reason of bitter memory and the
pain of his wound. "Her lover, aye!" quoth he, bitterly, "and she hath
a many lovers--"
"Lovers!" sighed the nun, "that hath she, the sad, sweet soul! Lovers!
--O forsooth, she is sick of a very surfeit of lovers,--so hath she fled
from them all!"
"Fled from them?" cried Beltane, his wound forgot, "fled from them--
from Mortain? Nay, how mean you--how--fled?"
"She hath walked, see you, run--ridden--is riding--away from Mortain,
from her lords, her counsellors, her varlets, her lovers and what not--
in a word, messire, she is--gone!"
"Gone!" quoth Beltane, breathless and aghast, "gone--aye--but whither?"
"What matter for that so long as her grave counsellors be sufficiently
vexed, and her lovers left a-sighing? O me, her counsellors! Bald-pates,
see you, and grey-beards, who for their own ends would have her
wed Duke Ivo--meek, unfortunate maid!"
"Know you then the Duchess, lady?"
"Aye, forsooth, and my heart doth grieve for her, poor, sweet wretch,
for O, 'tis a sad thing to be a duchess with a multitude of suitors
a-wooing in season and out, vaunting graces she hath not, and blind to
the virtues she doth possess. Ah, messire, I give thee joy that,
whatsoever ills may be thine, thou can ne'er be--a duchess!"
"And think you she will not wed with Ivo, lady--think you so in truth?"
"Never, while she is Helen."
"And--loveth--none of her lovers?"
"Why--indeed, messire--I think she doth--"
"Art sure? How know you this?"
"I was her bedfellow betimes, and oft within the night have heard her
speak a name unto her pillow, as love-sick maids will."
Now once again was Beltane aware of the throb and sting of his wounded
arm, yet 'twas not because of this he sighed so deep and oft.
"Spake she this name--often?" he questioned.
"Very oft, messire. Aye me, how chill the wind blows!"
"Some lord's name, belike?"
"Nay, 'twas no lord's name, messire. 'Tis very dark amid these trees!"
"Some knight, mayhap--or lowly squire?"
"Neither, messire. Heigho! methinks I now could sleep awhile." So she
sighed deep yet happily, and nestled closer within his shielding arm.
But Beltane, my Innocent, rode stiff in the saddle, staring sad-eyed
into the gloom, nor felt, nor heeded the yielding tenderness of the
shapely young body he held, but plodded on through the dark, frowning
blacker than the night. Now as he rode thus, little by little the pain
of his wound grew less, a drowsiness crept upon him, and therewith, a
growing faintness. Little by little his head drooped low and lower, and
once the arm about the nun slipped its hold, whereat she sighed and
stirred sleepily upon his breast. But on he rode, striving grimly
against the growing faintness, his feet thrust far within the stirrups,
his mailed hand tight clenched upon the reins. So, as dawn broke, he
heard the pleasant sound of running water near by, and as the light
grew, saw they were come to a grassy glade where ran a small brook--a
goodly place, well-hidden and remote. So turned he thitherward, and
lifting up heavy eyes, beheld the stars paling to the dawn, for the
clouds were all passed away and the wind was gone long since. And, in a
while, being come within the boskage of this green dell, feebly and as
one a-dream, he checked the great horse that snuffed eagerly toward the
murmuring brook, and as one a-dream saw that she who had slumbered on
his breast was awake--fresh and sweet as the dawn.
"Lady," he stammered, "I--I fear--I can ride--no farther!"
And now, as one a-dream, he beheld her start and look at him with eyes
wide and darkly blue--within whose depths was that which stirred within
him a memory of other days--in so much he would have spoken, yet found
the words unready and hard to come by.
"Lady,--thine eyes, methinks--are not--nun's eyes!"
But now behold of a sudden she cried out, soft and pitiful, for blood
was upon him, upon his brow, upon his golden hair. And still as one
a-dream he felt her slip from his failing clasp, felt her arms close
about him, aiding him to earth.
"Thou'rt hurt!" she cried. "O, thou'rt wounded! And I never guessed!"
"'Tis but my arm--in sooth--and--"
But she hushed him with soft mother-cries and tender-spoke commands,
and aiding him to the brook, laid him thereby to lave his hurt within
the cool, sweet water; and, waking with the smart, Beltane sighed and
turned to look up at her. Now did she, meeting his eyes, put up one
white hand, setting back sombre hood and snowy wimple, and stooping
tenderly above him, behold, in that moment down came the shining glory
of her lustrous hair to fall about the glowing beauty of her face,
touching his brow like a caress.
Then, at last, memory awoke within him, and lifting himself upon a
feeble elbow, he stared upon her glowing loveliness with wide, glad
"Helen!" he sighed, "O--Helen!" And, so sighing, fell back, and lay
there pale and wan within the dawn, but with a smile upon his pallid
HOW BELTANE PLIGHTED HIS TROTH IN THE GREEN
Beltane yawned prodigiously, stretched mightily, and opening sleepy
eyes looked about him. He lay 'neath shady willows within a leafy
bower; before him a brook ran leaping to the sunshine and filling the
warm, stilly air with its merry chatter and soft, laughing noises,
while beyond the rippling water the bank sloped steeply upward to the
green silence of the woods.
Now as Beltane lay thus 'twixt sleeping and waking, it seemed to him
that in the night he had dreamed a wondrous dream, and fain he would
have slept again. But now from an adjacent thicket a horse whinnied and
Beltane, starting at the sound, felt his wound throb with sudden pain,
and looking down, beheld his arm most aptly swathed in bandages of
fair, soft linen. Now would he have sat up, but marvelled to find it so
great a matter, and propping himself instead upon a weak elbow glanced
about him expectantly. And lo, in that moment, one spake near by in
voice rich and soft like the call of merle or mavis:
"Beltane," said the voice, "Beltane the Smith!"
With heart quick-beating, Beltane turned and beheld the Duchess Helen
standing beside him, her glorious hair wrought into two long braids
wherein flowers were cunningly entwined. Straightway he would have
risen, but she forbade him with a gesture and, coming closer, sank
beside him on her knees, and being there blushed and sighed, yet
touched him not.
"Thou'rt hurt," said she, "so must we bide here awhile, thou to win thy
strength again, and I to--minister unto thee."
Mutely awhile my Beltane gazed upon her shy, sweet loveliness, what
time her bosom rose and fell tempestuous, and she bowed her head full
"Helen!" he whispered at last, "O, art thou indeed the Duchess Helen?"
"Not so," she murmured, "Helen was duchess whiles she was in Mortain,
but I that speak with thee am a lonely maid--indeed a very lonely maid
--who hath sighed for thee, and wept for thee, and for thee hath left
her duchy of Mortain, Beltane."
"For me?" quoth Beltane, leaning near, "was it for me--ah, was it so in
"Beltane," said she, looking not toward him, "last night did'st thou
bear a nun within thine arms, and, looking on her with love aflame
within thine eyes, did yet vow to her you loved this duchess. Tell me,
who am but a lonely maid, is this so?"
"Thou knowest I love her ever and always," he answered.
"And yet," quoth she, shaking her head and looking up with eyes of
witchery, "thou did'st love this nun also? Though 'tis true thou did'st
name her 'reverend mother'! O, wert very blind, Beltane! And yet thou
did'st love her also, methinks?"
"Needs must I--ever and always!" he answered.
"Ah, Beltane, but I would have thee love this lonely maid dearest of
all henceforth an it may be so, for that she is so very lonely and hath
sought thee so long--"
"Sought me?" he murmured, gazing on her wide-eyed, "nay, how may this
be, for with my kisses warm upon thy lips thou did'st bid me farewell
long time since at Mortain, within the green."
"And thou," she sighed, "and thou did'st leave me, Beltane! O, would
thou had kissed me once again and held me in thine arms, so might we
have known less of sorrow. Indeed methinks 'twas cruel to leave me so.
"Cruel!" says my Beltane, and thereafter fell silent from sheer amaze
the while she sighed again, and bowed her shapely head and plucked a
daisy from the grass to turn it about and about in gentle fingers.
"So, Beltane," quoth she at last, "being young and cruel thou did'st
leave the Duchess a lonely maid. Yet that same night did she, this
tender maid, seek out thy lowly dwelling 'mid the green to yield
herself joyfully unto thee thenceforth. But ah, Beltane! she found the
place a ruin and thou wert gone, and O, methinks her heart came nigh to
breaking. Then did she vow that no man might ever have her to his love
--save only--thou. So, an thou love her not, Beltane, needs must she--
die a maid!"
Now Beltane forgot his weakness and rose to his knees and lifted her
bowed head until he might look deep within the yearning tenderness of
her eyes. A while she met his look, then blushing, trembling, all in a
moment she swayed toward him, hiding her face against him; and,
trembling also, Beltane caught her close within his arms and held her
to his heart.
"Dost thou love me so, indeed, my lady? Art thou mine own henceforth,
Helen the Beautiful?"
"Ah, love," she murmured, "in all my days ne'er have I loved other man
than thou, my Beltane. So now do I give myself to thee; in life and
death, in joy and sorrow, thine will I be, beloved!"
"As thou art mine, so am I thine, henceforth and forever."
And thus, kneeling together within the wilderness did they plight their
troth, low-voiced and tremulous, with arms that clasped and clung and
eager lips that parted but to meet again.
"Beltane," she sighed, "ah, Beltane, hold me close! I've wearied for
thee so long--so long; hold me close, beloved. See now, as thou dost
hate the pomp and stir of cities, so, for thy sake have I fled hither
to the wilderness, to live with thee amid these solitudes, to be thy
love, thy stay and comfort. Here will we live for each other, and, hid
within the green, forget the world and all things else--save only our
But now it chanced that, raising his head, Beltane beheld his long
sword leaning against a tree hard by, and beholding it thus, he
bethought him straightway of the Duke his father, of Pentavalon and of
her grievous wrongs; and his clasping hands grew lax and fell away and,
groaning, he bowed his head; whereat she started anxious-eyed, and
questioned him, soft and piteous:
"Is it thy wound? I had forgot--ah, love, forgive me! See here a pillow
for thy dear head--" But now again he caught her to him close and
fierce, and kissed her oft; and holding her thus, spake:
"Thou knowest I do love thee, my Helen? Yet because I love thee
greatly, love, alas, must wait awhile--"
"Wait?" she cried, "ah, no--am I not thine own?"
"'Tis so I would be worthy of thee, beloved," he sighed, "for know that
I am pledged to rest not nor stay until my task be accomplished or I
"O, Helen, 'tis a mighty task and desperate, and many perchance must
die ere this my vow be accomplished--"
"Thy vow? But thou art a smith, my Beltane,--what hath humble smith to
do with vows? Thou art my love--my Beltane the Smith!"
"Indeed," sighed Beltane, "smith was I aforetime, and therewithal
content: yet am I also son of my father, and he--"
"Hark!" she whispered, white hand upon his lips, "some one comes--
through the leaves yonder!" So saying she sprang lightly to her feet
and stood above him straight and tall: and though she trembled, yet he
saw her eyes were fearless and his dagger gleamed steady in her hands.
"Beltane, my love!" she said, "thou'rt so weak, yet am I strong to
defend thee against them all."
But Beltane rose also and, swaying on unsteady feet, kissed her once
and so took his sword, marvelling to find it so heavy, and drew it from
the scabbard. And ever upon the stilly air the rustle of leaves grew
"Beltane!" she sighed, "they be very near! Hearken! Beltane--thine am
I, in life, in death. An this be death--what matter, since we die
But, leaning on his sword, Beltane watched her with eyes of love yet
spake no word, hearkening to the growing stir amid the leaves, until,
of a sudden, upon the bank above, the underbrush was parted and a man
stood looking down at them; a tall man, whose linked mail glinted
evilly and whose face was hid 'neath a vizored casque. Now of a sudden
he put up his vizor and stepped toward them down the sloping bank.
Then the Duchess let fall the dagger and reached out her hands.
"Godric!" she sighed, "O Godric!"
OF THE TALE OF GODRIC THE HUNTSMAN
Thus came white-haired old Godric the huntsman, lusty despite his
years, bright-eyed and garrulous with joy, to fall upon his knees
before his lady and to kiss those outstretched hands.
"Godric!" she cried, "'tis my good Godric!" and laughed, though with
"O sweet mistress," quoth he, "now glory be to the kind Saint Martin
that I do see thee again hale and well. These many days have I followed
hard upon thy track, grieving for thee--"
"Yet here am I in sooth, my Godric, and joyful, see you!"
"Ah, dear my lady, thy wilfulness hath e'en now brought thee into dire
perils and dangers. O rueful day!"
"Nay, Godric, my wilfulness hath brought me unto my heart's desire. O
most joyful day!"
"Lady, I do tell thee here is an evil place for thee: they do say the
devil is abroad and goeth up and down and to and fro begirt in mail,
lady, doing such deeds as no man ever did. Pentavalon is rife with war
and rumours of war, everywhere is whispered talk of war--death shall be
busy within this evil Duchy ere long--aye, and even in Mortain,
perchance--nay, hearken! Scarce was thy flight discovered when there
came messengers hot-foot to thy guest, Duke Ivo, having word from Sir
Gui of Allerdale that one hath arisen calling himself son of Beltane
the Strong that once was Duke of Pentavalon, as ye know. And this is a
mighty man, who hath, within the week, broke ope my lord Duke Ivo's
dungeon of Belsaye, slain divers of my lord Duke's good and loyal
subjects, and burnt down the great gallows of my lord Duke."
"Ah!" sighed the Duchess, her brows knit thoughtfully, "and what said
Duke Ivo to this, Godric?"
"Smiled, lady, and begged instant speech with thee; and, when thou wert
not to be found, then Duke Ivo smiled upon thy trembling counsellors.
'My lords,' said he, 'I ride south to hang certain rogues and fools.
But, when I have seen them dead, I shall come hither again to woo and
wed the Duchess Helen. See to it that ye find her, therefore, else will
I myself seek her through the length and breadth of Mortain until I
find her--aye, with lighted torches, if need be!"
"And dare he threaten us?" cried the Duchess, white hands clenched.
"Aye, doth he, lady," nodded Godric, garrulous and grim. "Thereafter
away he rode, he and all his company, and after them, I grieving and
alone, to seek thee, dear my lady. And behold, I have found thee, the
good Saint Martin be praised!"
"Verily thou hast found me, Godric!" sighed the Duchess, looking upon
Beltane very wistfully.
"So now will I guide thee back to thine own fair duchy, gentle
mistress, for I do tell thee here in Pentavalon shall be woeful days
anon. Even as I came, with these two eyes did I behold the black ruin
of Duke Ivo's goodly gallows--a woeful sight! And divers tales have I
heard of this gallows-burner, how that he did, unaided and alone, seize
and bear off upon his shoulders one Sir Pertolepe--called the 'Red'--
Lord Warden of the Marches. So hath Duke Ivo put a price upon his head
and decreed that he shall forthright be hunted down, and thereto hath
sent runners far and near with his exact description, the which have I
heard and can most faithfully repeat an you so desire?"
"Aye me!" sighed the Duchess, a little wearily.
"As thus, lady. Item: calleth himself Beltane, son of Beltane, Duke of
Pentavalon that was: Item--"
"Beltane!" said the Duchess, and started.
"Item: he is very tall and marvellous strong. Item: hath yellow hair--"
"Yellow hair!" said the Duchess, and turned to look upon Beltane.
"Item: goeth in chain-mail, and about his middle a broad belt of gold
and silver. Item: beareth a great sword whereon is graven the legend--
lady, dost thou attend?--Ha! Saint Martin aid us!" cried Godric, for
now, following the Duchess's glance, he beheld Beltane leaning upon his
long sword. Then, while Godric stared open-mouthed, the Duchess looked
on Beltane, a new light in her eyes and with hands tight clasped, while
Beltane looking upon her sighed amain.
"Helen!" he cried, "O Helen, 'tis true that I who am Beltane the Smith,
am likewise son of Beltane, Duke of Pentavalon. Behold, the sword I
bear is the sword of the Duke my father, nor must I lay it by until
wrong is vanquished and oppression driven hence. Thus, see you, I may
not stay to love, within my life it must not be--yet-a-while," and
speaking, Beltane groaned and bowed his head. So came she to him and
looked on him with eyes of yearning, yet touched him not.
"Dear my lord," said she, tender-voiced, "thou should'st make a noble
duke, methinks: and yet alas! needs must I love my gentle Beltane the
Smith. And I did love him so! Thou art a mighty man-at-arms, my lord,
and terrible in war, meseemeth, O--methinks thou wilt make a goodly
"Mayhap," he answered heavily, "mayhap, an God spare me long enough.
But now must I leave thee--"
"Aye, but wherefore?"
"Thou hast heard--I am a hunted man with a price upon my head, by my
side goeth death--"
"So will I go also," she murmured, "ever and always beside thee."
"Thou? Ah, not so, beloved. I must tread me this path alone. As for
thee--haste, haste and get thee to Mortain and safety, and there wait
for me--pray for me, O my love!"
"Beltane--Beltane," she sighed, "dost love me indeed--and yet would
send me from thee?"
"Aye," he groaned, "needs must it be so."
"Beltane," she murmured, "Beltane, thou shalt be Duke within the week,
despite Black Ivo."
"Duke--I? Of Pentavalon?"
"Of Mortain!" she whispered, "an thou wilt wed me, my lord."
"Nay," stammered Beltane, "nay, outcast am I, my friends very few--to
wed thee thus, therefore, were shame--"
"To wed me thus," said she, "should be my joy, and thy joy, and
Pentavalon's salvation, mayhap. O, see you not, Beltane? Thou should'st
be henceforth my lord, my knight-at-arms to lead my powers 'gainst Duke
Ivo, teaching Mortain to cringe no more to a usurper--to free
Pentavalon from her sorrows--ah, see you not, Beltane?"
"Helen!" he murmured, "O Helen, poor am I--a beggar--"
"Beltane," she whispered, "an thou wed this lonely maid within the
forest, then will I be beggar with thee; but, an thou take to wife the
Duchess, then shalt thou be my Duke, lord of me and of Mortain, with
her ten thousand lances in thy train."
"Thou would'st give me so much," he sighed at last, "so much, my
"Nay," said she, with red lips curved and tender, "for this wide world
to me is naught without thee, Beltane. And I do need thy mighty arm--to
shelter me, Beltane, since Ivo hath defied me, threatening Mortain with
fire and sword. So when he cometh, instead of a woman he shall find a
man to withstand him, whose sword is swift and strong to smite and who
doeth such deeds as no man ever did; so shalt thou be my love, my lord,
my champion. Wilt not refuse me the shelter of thy strength, Beltane?"
Now of a sudden Beltane lifted his head and seized her in his arms and
held her close.
"So be it, my Helen. To wife will I take thee so soon as may be, to
hold thee ever in love and reverence, to serve thee ever, to live for
thee and for thee to die an needs be."
But now strode Godric forward, with hands outstretched in eager
"Lady," he cried, "O dear lady bethink thee, now, bethink thee, thy
choice is a perilous choice--"
"Yet is it my choice, Godric."
"But, O, dear my mistress--"
"O my faithful Godric, look now upon lord Beltane, my well-beloved who
shall be Duke of Mortain ere the moon change. Salute thy lord, Godric!"
So, perforce, came old Godric to fall upon his knee before Beltane, to
take his hand and swear the oath of fealty.
"Lord Beltane," said he, "son art thou of a mighty Duke; God send
Mortain find in thee such another!"
"Amen!" said Beltane.
Thereafter Godric rose and pointed up to the zenith.
"Behold, my lady," said he, "it groweth to noon and there is danger
hereabouts--more danger e'en than I had dreamed. Let us therefore haste
over into Mortain--to thy Manor of Blaen."
"But Godric, see you not my lord is faint of his wound, and Blaen is
"Not so, lady, 'tis scarce six hours' journey to the north, nay, I do
know of lonely bridle-paths that shall bring us sooner."
"To Blaen?" mused the Duchess. "Winfrida is there--and yet--and yet--
aye, let us to Blaen, there will I nurse thee to thy strength again, my
Beltane, and there shalt thou--wed with me--an it be so thy pleasure
in sooth, my lord."
So, in a while, they set off through the forest, first Godric to guide
them, then Beltane astride the great war-horse with the Duchess before
him, she very anxious for his wound, yet speaking oft of the future
with flushing cheek and eyes a-dream.
Thus, as the sun declined, they came forth of the forest-lands and
beheld that broad sweep of hill and dale that was Mortain.
"O loved Mortain!" she sighed, "O dear Mortain! 'Tis here there lived a
smith, my Beltane, who sang of and loved but birds and trees and
flowers. 'Tis here there lived a Duchess, proud and most disdainful,
who yearned for love yet knew naught of it until--upon a day, these
twain looked within each other's eyes--O day most blissful! Ah, sweet
By pleasant ways they went, past smiling fields and sleepy villages
bowered 'mid the green. They rode ever by sequestered paths, skirting
shady wood and coppice where birds sang soft a drowsy lullaby, wooing
the world to forgetfulness and rest; fording prattling brook and
whispering stream whose placid waters flamed to the glory of sunset.
And thus they came at last to Blaen, a cloistered hamlet beyond which
rose the grey walls of the ancient manor itself.
Now as they drew near, being yet sheltered 'mid the green, old Godric
halted in his stride and pointed to the highway that ran in the vale
"Lady," quoth he, "mine eyes be old, and yet methinks I should know yon
horseman that rideth unhelmed so close beside the lady Winfrida--that
breadth of shoulder! that length of limb! Lady, how think ye?"
"'Tis Duke Ivo!" she whispered.
"Aye," nodded Godric, "armed, see you, yet with but two esquires--"
"And with Winfrida!" said the Duchess, frowning. "Can it indeed be as I
have thought, betimes? And Blaen is a very solitary place!"
"See!" whispered Godric, "the Duke leaveth her. Behold him kiss her
hand! Ha, he summoneth his esquires. Hey now, see how they ride--sharp
spur and loose bridle, 'tis ever Ivo's way!"
Now when the Duke and his esquires were vanished in the dusk and the
sound of their galloping died away, the Duchess sprang lightly to the
sward and bidding them wait until she summoned them, hasted on before.
Thus, in a while, as Winfrida the Fair paced slowly along upon her
ambling palfrey, her blue eyes a-dream, she was suddenly aware of a
rustling near by and, glancing swiftly up, beheld the Duchess Helen
standing before her, tall and proud, her black brows wrinkled faintly,
her eyes stern and challenging.
"Lady--dear my lady!" stammered Winfrida--"is it thou indeed--"
"Since when," quoth the Duchess, soft-voiced yet menacing, "since when
doth Winfrida hold sly meeting with one that is enemy to me and to
"Enemy?--nay, whom mean you--indeed I--O Helen, in sooth 'twas but by
"Is this treason, my lady Winfrida, or only foolish amourette?"
"Sweet lady--'twas but chance--an you mean Duke Ivo--he came--I saw--"
"My lady Winfrida, I pray you go before, we will speak of this anon.
Come, Godric!" she called.
Then the lady Winfrida, her beauteous head a-droop, rode on before,
sighing deep and oft yet nothing speaking, with the Duchess proud and
stern beside her while Beltane and Godric followed after.
And so it was they came to the Manor of Blaen.
CONCERNING THE WILES OF WINFRIDA THE FAIR
Now in these days did my Beltane know more of joy and come more nigh to
happiness than ever in his life before. All day, from morn till eve,
the Duchess was beside him; each hour her changing moods won him to
deeper love, each day her glowing beauty enthralled him the more, so
that as his strength grew so grew his love for her.
Oft would they sit together in her garden amid the flowers, and she,
busied with her broidering needle, would question him of his doings,
and betimes her breast would heave and her dexterous hand tremble and
falter to hear of dangers past; or, talking of the future, her gracious
head would droop with cheeks that flushed most maidenly, until Beltane,
kneeling to her loveliness, would clasp her in his arms, while she,
soft-voiced, would bid him beware her needle.
To him all tender sweetness, yet to all others within the manor was she
the Duchess, proud and stately; moreover, when she met the lady
Winfrida in hall or bower, her slender brows would wrinkle faintly and
her voice sound cold and distant, whereat the fair Winfrida would bow
her meek head, and sighing, wring her shapely fingers.
Now it befell upon a drowsy afternoon, that, waking from slumber within
the garden, Beltane found himself alone. So he arose and walked amid
the flowers thinking of many things, but of the Duchess Helen most of
all. As he wandered slowly thus, his head bent and eyes a-dream, he
came unto a certain shady arbour where fragrant herb and climbing
blooms wrought a tender twilight apt to blissful musing. Now standing
within this perfumed shade he heard of a sudden a light step behind
him, and turning swift about, his eager arms closed upon a soft and
yielding form, and behold--it was Winfrida! Then Beltane would have
loosed his clasp, but her white hands reached up and clung upon his
broad shoulders, yet when she spake her voice was low and humble.
"My lord Beltane," she sighed, "happy art thou to have won the love of
our noble lady--aye, happy art thou! But as for me, alas! messire,
meseemeth her heart is turned 'gainst me these days; I, who was her
loved companion and childish play-fellow! So now am I very desolate,
wherefore I pray you speak with her on my behalf and win her to
forgiveness. Ah, messire, when thou shalt be Duke indeed, think kindly
on the poor Winfrida, for as I most truly love the Duchess--" here
needs must she sigh amain and turn aside her shapely head, and
thereafter spake, clear and loud: "so will I love thee also!" Then,
while he yet stood abashed by the touch of her and the look in her
eyes, she caught his hand to her lips and fled away out of the arbour.
But now as he stood staring after her beyond all thought amazed, a
white hand parted the leafy screen and the Duchess stood before him.
And behold! her slender brows were wrinkled faintly, and when she spake
her voice was cold and distant.
"Saw you the lady Winfrida, my lord?"
"Why truly," stammered Beltane, "truly I--she was here but now--"
"Here, my lord? Alone?"
"She besought me speak thee for her forgiveness; to remind thee of her
love aforetime, to--"
"Would'st plead for her, in sooth?"
"I would but have thee do her justice, Helen--"
"Think you I am so unjust, my lord?"
"Not so indeed. But she is so young--so fair--"
"Aye, she is very fair, my lord--there be--others think the same."
"Helen?" said he, "O Helen!"
"And thou dost plead for her--and to me, my lord! And with her kisses
yet burning thee!"
"She did but kiss my hand--"
"Thy hand, my lord! O aye, thy hand forsooth!"
"Aye, my hand, lady, and therewith named me 'Duke'!" quoth Beltane,
beginning to frown. Whereat needs must the Duchess laugh, very soft and
sweet yet with eyes aglow beneath her lashes.
"'Duke,' messire? She names thee so betimes, meseemeth. Thou art not
Duke yet, nor can'st thou ever be but of my favour!"
"And the time flieth apace," sighed Beltane, "and I have mighty things
to do. O, methinks I have tarried here overlong!"
"Ah--and would'st be going, messire?"
"'Tis so methinks my duty."
"Go you alone, messire--or goeth she with thee?"
"Ah, God! How dare ye so think?" cried Beltane, in anger so fierce and
sudden that though she fronted him yet smiling, she drew back a pace.
Whereat his anger fell from him and he reached out his hands.
"Helen!" said he, "O my Helen, what madness is this? Thou art she I
love--doth not thine heart tell thee so?" and fain would he have caught
her to him.
"Ah--touch me not!" she cried, and steel flickered in her hand.
"This--to me?" quoth he, and laughed short and bitter, and catching her
wrist, shook the dagger from her grasp and set his foot upon it.
"And hath it come to this--'twixt thee and me?" he sighed.
"O," she panted, "I have loved thee nor shamed to show thee my love.
Yet because my love is so great, so, methinks, an need be I might hate
thee more than any man!" Then, quick-breathing, flushed and trembling,
she turned and sped away, leaving Beltane heavy-hearted, and with the
dagger gleaming beneath his foot.
OF THE HUMILITY OF HELEN THE PROUD
Beltane, leaning forth of his lattice, stared upon the moon with
doleful eyes, heavy with sense of wrong and big with self-pity.
"I have dreamed a wondrous fair dream," said he within himself, "but
all dreams must end, so is my dream vanished quite and I awake, and
being awake, now will I arise and go upon my duty!" Then turned he to
his bed that stood beside the window and forthwith began to arm
himself; but with every lace he drew, with every strap he buckled, he
sighed amain and his self-pity waxed the mightier. He bethought him of
his father's sayings anent the love of women, and in his mind condemned
them all as fickle and light-minded. And in a while, being armed from
head to foot, in glistening coif and hauberk and with sword girt about
his middle, he came back to the lattice and leaned him there to stare
again upon the moon, to wait until the manor should be wrapped in sleep
and to grieve for himself with every breath he drew.
Being thus so profoundly occupied and, moreover, his head being thrust
without the window, he heard nought of the tap upon his chamber door
nor of the whispered sound of his name. Thus he started to feel a touch
upon his arm, and turning, beheld the Duchess.
She wore a simple robe that fell about her body's round loveliness in
sweetly revealing folds; her hair, all unbraided, was caught up 'neath
a jewelled fillet in careless fashion, but--O surely, surely, never had
she looked so fair, so sweet and tender, so soft and desirable as now,
the tear-drops yet agleam upon her drooping lashes and her bosom yet
heaving with recent grief.
"And--thou art armed, my lord?"
"I ride for Thrasfordham-within-Bourne this night, my lady."
"But I am come to thee--humbly--craving thy forgiveness, Beltane."
"Nought have I to forgive thee, lady--save that thou art woman!"
"Thou would'st not have me--a man, messire?"
"'Twould be less hard to leave thee."
"Thou art--leaving me then, Beltane?"
"Yea, indeed, my lady. The woes of Pentavalon call to me with a
thousand tongues: I must away--pray God I have not tarried too long!"
"But art yet weak of thy wound, Beltane. I pray thee tarry--a little
longer. Ah, my lord, let not two lives go empty because of the arts of
a false friend, for well do I know that Winfrida, seeing me coming to
thee in the garden, kissed thee of set purpose, that, beholding, I
"Is this indeed so, my lady?"
"She did confess it but now."
"Said she so indeed?"
"Aye, my lord, after I had--pulled her hair--a little. But O, my
Beltane, even when I thought thee base, I loved thee! Ah, go not from
me, stay but until to-morrow, and then shalt thou wed me for thine own!
Leave me not, Beltane, for indeed--I cannot live--without thee!"
So saying, she sank down upon his couch, hiding her face in the pillow.
Now came Beltane and leaned above her.
"Helen!" he whispered; and falling upon his knees, he set his arms
about her. Then lifted she her tearful face and looked upon him in the
moonlight; and lying thus, of a sudden reached out white arms to him:
and in her eyes was love, and on her quivering lips and in all the
yearning beauty of her, love called to him.
Close, close he caught her in his embrace, kissing her hard and fierce,
and her long hair came down to veil them in its glory. Then, trembling,
he lifted her in his arms and bore her forth of his chamber out into
the hall beyond, where lights flickered against arras-hung wall. There,
falling upon his knees before her, he hid his face within the folds of
"O Helen!" he groaned, "thou art--so beautiful--so beautiful that I
grow afraid of thee! Wed me this night or in mercy let me begone!"
And now did the Duchess look down upon him with eyes of wonder changing
to a great and tender joy, and stooping, put back his mail coif with
reverent hand and laid her cheek upon that bowed and golden head.
"Beltane," she whispered, "O Beltane of mine, now do I know thee indeed
for a true man and noble knight! Such love as thine honoureth us both,
so beloved, this night--within the hour, shalt thou wed with me, and I
joy to hear thee call me--Wife!"
Therewith she turned and left him there upon his knees.
OF WHAT BEFELL AT BLAEN
Late though the hour, full soon the manor was astir; lights glimmered
in the great hall where were gathered all the household of the Duchess,
her ladies, her tire-women, the porters and serving men, even to the
scullions--all were there, staring in wonderment upon the Duchess, who
stood before them upon the dais in a rich habit of blue and silver and
with her golden fillet on her brow.
"Good friends," said she, looking round upon them happy-eyed, "hither
have I summoned ye, for that this night, here before you all, 'tis my
intent to wed this noble knight Beltane, son of Beltane Duke of
Pentavalon aforetime, who shall henceforth be lord of me and of
Now did Winfrida the Fair start and therewith clench pink palms and
look quick-eyed upon my Beltane, noting in turn his golden hair, his
belt of silver and the great sword he bore: and, biting her red lip,
she stooped her beauteous head, frowning as one in sudden perplexity.
"So now," spake on the Duchess, "let us to the chapel where good Father
Angelo shall give us heaven's blessing upon this our union."
"Lady," said Godric, "Friar Angelo was summoned to the village this
night, nor is he come again yet."
"Then go fetch him," sighed the Duchess, "and O, Godric, hasten!"
Thereafter turned she to the assemblage, gentle-eyed.
"Friends," said she, "since I am greatly happy this night, so would I
have ye happy likewise. Therefore I decree that such as are serfs among
ye shall go free henceforth, and to such as are free will I give
grants of land that ye may come to bless this night and remember it
But now, even as they fell on their knees, 'mid cries of gratitude and
joyful acclaim, she, smiling and gracious, passed out of the hall: yet,
as she went, beckoned the lady Winfrida to follow.
Being come into her chamber, all three, the Duchess sank down beside
the open lattice and looked out upon the garden all bathed in the
tender radiance of the moon. Anon she sighed and spake:
"My lady Winfrida, on this my wedding night a new life dawns for
Mortain and for me, wherein old harms shall be forgiven and forgot, so
come--kiss me, Winfrida."
Then swiftly came the beauteous Winfrida to kneel at her lady's feet,
to clasp her lady's slender hand, to kiss it oft and bathe it in her
"O sweet my lady, am I indeed forgiven?"
"Aye, most truly."
"Am I again thy loved companion and thy friend?"
"So shall it be, Winfrida."
"Then, O dear Helen, as sign all is forgot and we lovers again, let us
pledge each other, here and now--to thy future happiness and glory."
"Aye, be it so," sighed the Duchess, "bring wine, for I am athirst."
Then turned she to the lattice again and Winfrida went lightly on her
errand. Now, yet gazing upon the moon, the Duchess reached out and drew
Beltane beside her.
"Dear my love," she whispered, "in but a little hour I shall be thine:
art happy in the thought? Nay," she sighed, white hands against his
mailed breast, "beloved, wait--kiss me not again until the hour be
passed. Lean here thy golden head and look with me upon the splendour
of the night. See the pale moon, how placid and serene, how fair and
stately she doth ride--"
"So may thy life be in coming years!" said Beltane.
"And wilt love me ever, Beltane, no matter what betide?"
"Ever and always, so long as thou art Helen. Nay, why dost tremble?"
"O my lord--see yonder--that cloud, how black--see how it doth furtive
creep upon the gentle moon--"
"'Tis a long way hence, my Helen!"
"Yet will it come. Ah, think you 'tis a portent? O would the gentle
Angelo were here--and yet, an he were come--methinks I might wish him
hence--for that, loving thee so, yet am I a maid, and foolish--ah, who
is here--not Angelo so soon? What, 'tis thou, Winfrida? Welcome--bring
hither the goblet."
So came Winfrida, and falling on her knee gave the goblet into her
lady's hand, who, rising, turned to Beltane looking on him soft-eyed
across the brimming chalice.
"Lord and husband," she breathed--"now do I drink to thy glory in arms,
to our future, and to our abiding love!" So the Duchess raised the
goblet to her lips. But lo! even as she drank, the thick, black cloud
began to engulf the moon, quenching her radiant light in its murky
gloom. So the Duchess drank, and handed the goblet to Beltane.
"To thee, my Helen, whom only shall I love until death and beyond!"
Then Beltane drank also, and gave the cup to Winfrida: but, even as he
did so, the Duchess uttered a cry and pointed with hand a-tremble:
"O Beltane, the moon--the moon that was so bright and glorious--'tis
gone, the cloud hath blotted it out! Ah, Beltane, what doth this
portend? Why do I tremble thus because the moon is gone?"
"Nay, my beloved," quoth Beltane, kissing those slender fingers that
trembled upon his lip and were so cold--so deadly cold, "dear Helen,
it will shine forth again bright and radiant as ever."
"Yet why is my heart so cold, Beltane, and wherefore do I tremble?"
"The night grows chill, mayhap."
"Nay, this cold is from within. O, I would the moon would shine!"
"Nay, let us speak of our future, my Helen--"
"The future?" she sighed, "what doth it hold? Strife and bitter war for
thee and a weary waiting for me, and should'st thou be slain--Ah,
Beltane, forgive these fears and vain imaginings. Indeed, 'tis most
unlike me to fear and tremble thus. I was ever accounted brave until
now--is't love, think you, doth make me coward? 'Tis not death I fear--
save for thy dear sake. Death? Nay, what have we to do with such, thou
and I--this is our wedding night, and yet--I feel as if this night--I
were leading thee--to thy--death--. O, am I mad, forsooth? Hold me
close, beloved, comfort me, Beltane, I--I am afraid." Then Beltane
lifted her in his arms and brought her to the hearth, and, setting her
in the fireglow, kneeled there, seeking to comfort her.
And now he saw her very pale, sighing deep and oft and with eyes
dilated and heavy.
"Beltane," said she slowly, "I grow a-weary, 'tis--the fire,
methinks." And smiling faintly she closed her eyes, yet sighed and
gazed upon him as one new waked. "Did I sleep?" she questioned
drowsily, "Beltane," she sighed, speaking low and thick--"I charge
thee, whatsoe'er the future doth bring--yet love me alway--or I,
Awhile she lay against him breathing deep and slow, then started of a
sudden, looking upon him vague-eyed.
"Beltane," she murmured, "art there, beloved? 'Tis dark, and my eyes--
heavy. Methinks I--must sleep awhile. Take me--to my women. I must
sleep--yet will I come to thee soon--soon, beloved." So Beltane brought
her to the door, but as he came thither the broidered curtain was
lifted and he beheld Winfrida, who ran to her mistress, kissing her oft
and sighing over her.
"Winfrida," sighed the Duchess, slumberous of voice, "I grow a-weary--I
must sleep awhile--"
"Aye, thou'rt overwrought, dear lady. Come, rest you until the holy
Angelo be come, so shalt be thine own sweet self anon."
And when the Duchess was gone, Beltane sat and stared upon the fire and
felt himself vaguely troubled, yet even so, as he watched the leaping
flame, his head nodded and he slept, yet sleeping, dreamed he heard the
Duchess calling him, and opening his eyes, found the fair Winfrida
"My lord Beltane," said she softly, "thy Duchess biddeth thee wait her
in the chapel--follow me, messire!" Now being yet heavy with sleep,
Beltane arose and followed her through an opening in the arras near by,
and down a narrow stair, stumbling often as he went and walking as one
in a dream. So by devious ways Winfrida brought him into a little
chapel, where, upon the altar, was a crucifix with candles dim-burning
in the gloom.
"Wait here, my lord," said Winfrida, "so will I go prepare my lady,
Friar Angelo doth stay to do his holy office." So speaking, Winfrida
turned and was gone. Then Beltane came unto the altar and, kneeling
there, leaned his heavy head upon the fair white altar cloth, and
kneeling thus, fell asleep--The altar beneath him seemed of a sudden
riven and split asunder and, while he gazed, behold the fair white
altar cloth grew fouled and stained with blood--new blood, that
splashed down red upon the white even as he watched. Then did Beltane
seek to rise up from his knees, but a heavy weight bore him ever down,
and hands huge and hairy gripped him fierce and strong. But beholding
these merciless hands, a sudden mighty rage came upon Beltane, and
struggling up, he stood upon his feet and drew sword; but the fierce
hands had crept up to his naked throat, cutting off his breath, the
sword was dashed from his loosening grasp, the weight about him grew
too much for his strength, it bore him down and down into a pitchy
gloom where all was very still. A wind, sweet and cool, breathed upon
his cheek, grass was below and trees above him, shadowy trees beyond
which a pallid moon rose high, very placid and serene. Now as Beltane
stared heavenward the moon was blotted out, a huge and hairy face
looked down in his, and hairy hands lifted him with mighty strength.
Then Beltane thought to see the Duchess Helen standing by in her gown
of blue and silver--
"Helen!" he whispered.
But she paid no heed, busied in fastening about her the nun's long
cloak that veiled her down from head to foot. So the mighty arms that
held Beltane bore him to a horse near by and across this horse he was
flung; thereafter the monster mounted also, and they moved off amid the
trees. Thus was Beltane borne from Blaen upon his wedding night--dazed,
bleeding and helpless in his bonds. Yet even so, ever as they went he
watched her who rode near by, now in moonlight, now in shadow, so
youthful and shapely, but with hood drawn low as she had worn it when
he bore her through the forest in his arms.
And ever as they went he watched the pale gleam of her hand upon the
bridle, or her little foot in its embroidered shoe, or the fold of her
blue gown with its silver needle-work. And ever the trouble in his
dazed brain grew the deeper; once, as they crossed a broad glade she
rode up close beside him, and beneath her hood he saw a strand of her
glorious hair, bright under the moon.
Then did he writhe and struggle in his bonds.
"Helen!" he cried, "O Helen!" ...
But a great hand, coarse and hairy, came upon his mouth, stopping the
cry and choking him to silence.
So they bore my Beltane southwards through the misty woods, on and ever
on, till with the dawn they were come to a castle great and very
strong, where battlement and tower frowned upon the paling stars.
But with the dawn, 'mid the gloom of the little chapel of Blaen, came
one who stood, haggard and pallid as the dawn, to stare wild-eyed upon
a great sword and upon a torn and blood-stained altar-cloth; and so
gazing, she shrank away back and back, crouching down amid the gloom.
When at last the sun arose, it glittered on a long broad blade, across
which, upon the rough pavement, lay one very silent and very still,
amid the tumbled glory of her hair.
HOW BELTANE BECAME CAPTIVE TO SIR PERTOLEPE
A horn, lustily winded, waked my Beltane from his swoon, waked him to a
glimmering world vague and unreal, where lights flared and voices
sounded, hoarse and faint, in question and answer. Thereafter, down
rattled drawbridge and up creaked portcullis, and so, riding 'neath a
deep and gloomy arch they came out into a courtyard, where were many
vague forms that flitted to and fro--and many more lights that glinted
on steel bascinet and hauberk of mail.
Now as Beltane lay helpless in his bonds he felt a hand among his hair,
a strong hand that lifted his heavy, drooping head and turned up his
face to the glare of the torches.
"How now, Fool!" cried a gruff voice, "here's not thy meat--ha, what
would ye--what would ye, Fool?"
"Look upon another fool, for fool, forsooth, is he methinks that cometh
so into Garthlaxton Keep." Now hereupon, opening unwilling eyes,
Beltane looked up into the face of Beda the Jester that bent above him
with a ring of steel-begirt faces beyond.
"Aha!" quoth the jester, clapping Beltane's pale and bloody cheek,
"here is a fool indeed--forsooth, a very foolish fool, hither come
through folly, for being great of body and small of wit, look you, his
folly hath hither brought him in shape of a hairy, ape-like fool--"
"Ape!" growled a voice, and the jester was seized in a hairy hand and
shaken till his bells jingled; and now Beltane beheld his captor, a
dwarf-like, gnarled and crooked creature, yet huge of head and with the
mighty arms and shoulders of a giant; a fierce, hairy monster, whose
hideousness was set off by the richness of his vesture. "Ape, quotha!"
he growled. "Dare ye name Ulf the Strong ape, forsooth? Ha! so will I
shake the flesh from thy bones!" But now, she who sat her horse near by
so proud and stately, reached forth a white hand, touching Ulf the
Strong upon the arm, and lo! in that moment, he loosed the breathless
jester and spake with bowed head: "Dear my lady, I forgot!" Then
turning to the grinning soldiery he scowled upon them. "Dogs," quoth
he, "go to your master and say Helen, Duchess of Mortain bringeth a
wedding gift to Ivo, called the Black. Behold here he that slew twenty
within the green, that burned down Black Ivo's goodly gallows, that
broke the dungeons of Belsaye and bore Red Pertolepe into the green,
behold him ye seek--Beltane, son of Beltane the Strong, heretofore
Duke of Pentavalon!"
Now hereupon arose a mighty turmoil and excitement, all men striving to
behold Beltane, to touch him and look upon his drooping face, but Ulf's
mighty hand held them back, one and all. And presently came hasting
divers esquires and knights, who, beholding Beltane, his costly mail,
his silver belt and golden hair, seized upon him right joyfully and
bore him into an inner ward, and threw him down upon the floor,
marvelling and rejoicing over him, while Beltane lay there fast bound
and helpless, staring up with frowning brow as one that strives to
think, yet cannot. Now suddenly the noise about him ceased, all voices
were hushed, and he was aware of one who stood near by, a doleful
figure swathed in bandages, who leaned upon the arm of a tall esquire.
And looking upon this figure, he saw it was Sir Pertolepe the Red.
"Ha, by the eyes of God!" quoth Sir Pertolepe, "'tis he himself--O
sweet sight--see, I grow better already! Who brought him, say you?"
"Lord, 'twas the Duchess Helen!" said one. "Helen!" cried Sir
Pertolepe, "Helen of Mortain?" "Aye, lord, as her wedding gift to our
lord Duke Ivo." Now hereupon Beltane's staring eyes closed, the great
muscles of his body twitched and writhed and stood out gnarled and
rigid awhile, then he sighed, a slow, hissing breath, and lay there
staring up wide-eyed at the vaulted roof again.
"Came she herself, Raoul?"
"Aye, good my lord."
"Why, then--admit her. God's love, messires, would ye keep the glorious
"Lord, she is gone--she and her ape-man both."
"Gone? Gone, forsooth? 'Tis strange, and yet 'tis like the wilful
Helen. Yet hath she left her wedding gift in my keeping. O a rare gift,
a worthy gift and most acceptable. Strip me off his armour--yet no, as
he came, so shall he bide until my lord Duke be come. Bring now
shackles, strong and heavy, bring fetters and rivets, so will I sit
here and see him trussed."
And presently came two armourers with hammers and rivets, and shackled
Beltane with heavy chains, the while Sir Pertolepe, sitting near,
laughed and spake him right jovially.
But Beltane suffered it all, uttering no word and staring ever straight
before him with wide, vague eyes, knitting his brow ever and anon in
troubled amaze like a child that suffers unjustly; wherefore Sir
Pertolepe, fondling his big chin, frowned.
"Ha!" quoth he, "let our Duke that hath no duchy be lodged secure--to
the dungeons, aye, he shall sleep with rats until my lord Duke Ivo come
to see him die--yet stay! The dungeons be apt to sap a man's strength
and spirit, and to a weak man death cometh over soon and easy. Let him
lie soft, feed full and sleep sound--let him have air and light, so
shall he wax fat and lusty against my lord Duke's coming. See to it,
So they led Beltane away jangling in his fetters, across divers
courtyards and up a narrow, winding stair and thrust him within a
chamber where was a bed and above it a loop-hole that looked out across
a stretch of rolling, wooded country. Now being come to the bed,
Beltane sank down thereon, and setting elbow to knee, rested his heavy
head upon his hand as one that fain would think.
"Helen!" he whispered, and so whispering, his strong fingers writhed
and clenched themselves within his yellow hair. And thus sat he all
that day, bowed forward upon his hand, his fingers tight-clenched
within his hair, staring ever at the square flagstone beneath his foot,
heedless alike of the coming and going of his gaoler or of the food set
out upon the bench hard by. Day grew to evening and evening to night,
yet still he sat there, mighty shoulders bowed forward, iron fingers
clenched within his hair, like one that is dead; in so much that his
gaoler, setting down food beside the other untasted dishes, looked upon
him in amaze and touched him.
"Oho!" said he, "wake up. Here be food, look ye, and, by Saint Crispin,
rich and dainty. And drink--good wine, wake and eat!"
Then Beltane's clutching fingers relaxed and he raised his head,
blinking in the rays of the lanthorn; and looking upon his rumpled
hair, the gaoler stared and peered more close.
"Methought thou wert a golden man, yet art silver also, meseemeth."
"Fellow," said Beltane harsh-voiced and slow, "Troy town was burned,
and here was great pity, methinks, for 'twas a fair city. Yet to weep
o'er it these days were a fond madness. Come, let us eat!"
But as Beltane uprose in his jangling fetters, the gaoler, beholding
his face, backed to the door, and slamming it shut, barred and fast
bolted it, yet cast full many a glance behind as he hasted down the
Then Beltane ate and drank, and thereafter threw himself upon his
narrow couch, but his fetters jangled often in the dark. Thus as he
lay, staring upwards into the gloom, he was aware of the opening of the
iron-clamped door, and beheld his gaoler bearing a lanthorn and behind
him Sir Pertolepe leaning on the arm of his favourite esquire, who,
coming near, looked upon Beltane nodding right jovially.
"Messire Beltane," quoth he, "thou did'st dare set up thyself against
Ivo our lord the Duke--O fool! 'Tis said thou hast sworn to drive him
forth of Pentavalon--seeking her to wife, O fool of fools! Did'st
think, presumptuous rogue, that she--the glorious Helen--that Helen
the Beautiful, whom all men desire, would stoop to thee, an outcast--
wolf's head and outlaw that thou art? Did'st dare think so, forsooth?
To-morrow, belike, my lord Duke shall come, and mayhap shall bring the
Duchess Helen in his train--to look upon the manner of thy dying--"
Now hereupon up started Beltane that his fetters clashed, and laughed
so sudden, so fierce and harsh, that Raoul the esquire clapped hand to
dagger and even Red Pertolepe started.
"Sweet lord," quoth Beltane, "noble messire Pertolepe, of thy boundless
mercy--of thy tender ruth grant unto me this boon. When ye shall have
done me to death--cut off this head of mine and send it to Helen--to
Helen the beautiful, the wilful--in memory of what befell at Blaen."
OF THE HORRORS OF GARTHLAXTON KEEP, AND HOW A DEVIL ENTERED INTO
Six days came and went, and during all this time Beltane spake word to
no man. Every evening came Sir Pertolepe leaning on the arm of Raoul
the esquire, to view his prisoner with greedy eyes and ply him with
jovial talk whiles Beltane would lie frowning up at the mighty roof-beams,
or sit, elbows on knee, his fingers clenched upon that lock of
hair that gleamed so strangely white amid the yellow.
Now upon the seventh evening as he sat thus, came Sir Pertolepe
according to his wont, but to-night he leaned upon the shoulder of Beda
the Jester, whose motley flared 'gainst rugged wall and dingy flagstone
and whose bells rang loud and merry by contrast with the gloom.
Quoth Sir Pertolepe, seated upon the bench and smiling upon Beltane's
"He groweth fat to the killing, seest thou, my Beda, a young man and
hearty, very hale and strong--and therefore meet for death. So strong a
man should be long time a-dying--an death be coaxed and managed well.
And Tristan is more cunning and hath more love for his craft than ever
had Black Roger. With care, Beda--I say with care, messire Beltane
should die from dawn to sundown."
"Alack!" sighed the jester, "death shall take him over soon, as thou
dost say--and there's the pity on't!"
"Soon, Fool--soon? Now out upon thee for a fool ingrain--"
"Forsooth, sweet lord, fool am I--mark these bells! Yet thou art a
"In that thou art a greater man, fair, sweet lord; greater in might,
greater in body, and greater in folly."
"Ha, would'st mock me, knave?"
"For perceive me, fair and gentle lord, as this base body of ours being
altogether thing material is also thing corruptible, so is it also a
thing finite, and as it is a thing finite so are its sensations, be
they of pleasure or pain, finite also--therefore soon must end. Now
upon the other hand--"
"How now? What babbling folly is here?"
"As I say, most potent lord, upon the other hand--as the mind, being
altogether thing transcendental, is also thing incorruptible, so is it
also a thing infinite, and being a thing infinite so are its sensations
infinite also--therefore everlasting."
"Ha, there's reason in thy folly, methinks. What more?"
"Bethink thee, lord, there be divers rogues who, having provoked thy
potent anger, do lie even now awaiting thy lordly pleasure. E'en now
irons be heating for them, moreover they are, by thy will, to suffer
the grievous torment of the pulleys and the wheel, and these, as I do
know, be sharp punishments and apt to cause prodigious outcry. Now, to
hear one cry out beneath the torture is an evil thing for youthful
ears--and one not soon forgot."
"Aye, aye, forsooth, I begin to see thy meaning, good Fool--yet say
"Let this thy prisoner be set within the cell above the torture
chamber, so, lying within the dark he must needs hear them cry below,
and in his mind shall he suffer as they suffer, every pang of racking
wheel and searing iron. And, because the mind is thing infinite--"
"Enough--enough! O most excellent Beda, 'tis well bethought. O, rare
Fool, so shall it be."
Forthwith Sir Pertolepe summoned certain of his guard, and,
incontinent, Beltane was dragged a-down the winding stair and
thereafter fast shut within a place of gloom, a narrow cell breathing
an air close and heavy, and void of all light. Therefore Beltane sat
him down on the floor, his back to the wall, staring upon the dark,
chin on fist. Long he sat thus, stirring not, and in his heart a black
void, deeper and more awful than the fetid gloom of any dungeon--a void
wherein a new Beltane came into being.
Now presently, as he sat thus, upon the silence stole a sound, low and
murmurous, that rose and fell yet never quite died away. And Beltane,
knowing what sound this was, clenched his hands and bowed his face upon
his knees. As he listened, this drone grew to a sudden squealing cry
that rang and echoed from wall to wall, whiles Beltane, crouched in
that place of horror, felt the sweat start out upon him, yet shivered
as with deadly cold, and ever the cries thrilled within the dark or
sank to whimpering moans and stifled supplications. And ever Beltane
hearkened to these fell sounds, staring blindly into the gloom, and
ever the new Beltane grew the stronger within him.
Hour after hour he crouched thus, so very silent, so very quiet, so
very still, but long after the groans and wailings had died to silence,
Beltane stared grim-eyed into the gloom and gnawed upon his fingers. Of
a sudden he espied a glowing spark in the angle of the wall to the
right--very small, yet very bright.
Now as he watched, behold the spark changed to a line of golden light,
so that his eyes ached and he was fain to shade them in his shackled
arm; and thus he beheld a flagstone that seemed to lift itself with
infinite caution, and, thereafter, a voice breathed his name.
"Messire--messire Beltane!" And now through the hole in the floor
behold a hand bearing a lanthorn--an arm--a shoulder--a shrouded head;
thus slowly a tall, cloaked figure rose up through the floor, and,
setting down the lanthorn, leaned toward Beltane, putting back the hood
of his mantle, and Beltane beheld Beda the Jester.
"Art awake, messire Beltane?"
"Aye!" quoth Beltane, lifting his head. "And I have used mine ears! The
wheel and the pulley are rare begetters of groans, as thou did'st
foretell, Fool! 'Twas a good thought to drag me hither--it needed but
this. Now am I steel, without and--within. O, 'tis a foul world!"
"Nay, messire--'tis a fair world wherein be foul things: they call them
'men.' As to me, I am but a fool--mark this motley--yet hither I
caused thee to be dragged that I might save those limbs o' thine from
wheel and pulley, from flame and gibbet, and set thee free within a
world which I do hold a fair world. Yet first--those fetters--behold
hammer and chisel! Oswin, thy gaoler, sleepeth as sweet as a babe, and
wherefore? For that I decocted Lethe in his cup. Likewise the guard
below. My father, that lived here before me (and died of a jest out of
season), was skilled in herbs--and I am his son! My father (that bled
out his life 'neath my lord's supper table) knew divers secret ways
within the thickness of these walls--so do I know more of Pertolepe's
castle than doth Pertolepe himself. Come, reach hither thy shackles and
I will cut them off, a chisel is swifter than a file--"
"And why would'st give me life, Fool?"
"For that 'tis a useful thing, messire, and perchance as sweet to thee
this night within thy dungeon as to me upon a certain day within the
green that you may wot of?" So speaking, Beda the Jester cut asunder
the chain that bound the fetters, and Beltane arose and stretched
himself and the manacles gleamed on each wide-sundered wrist.
Whereat the jester, sitting cross-legged upon the floor, looked up at
him and spake on this wise:
"Two days agone as I walked me in the green, dreaming such foolish
dreams as a fool may, there came, very suddenly, a sorry wight--a wild
man, very ragged--who set me his ragged arm about my neck and a sharp
dagger to my throat; and thus, looking him within the eyes, I knew him
for that same Roger from whose hand thou did'st save me aforetime.
'Beda,' says he, 'I am he that hanged and tortured men at my lord's
bidding: I am Roger, and my sins be many.' 'Then prithee,' says I,
'prithee, Roger, add not another to thy sins by cutting the throat of a
fool.' 'Needs must I,' says he, dolorous of voice, 'unless thou dost
answer me two questions.' 'Nay, I will answer thee two hundred an thou
leave my throat unslit,' says I. 'But two,' says Roger, sighing.
'First, doth Pertolepe hold him I seek?' 'Him?' says I. 'Him they call
Beltane?' says Roger, 'doth he lie prisoned within Garthlaxton?' 'He
doth,' quoth I. Now for thine other question. ''Tis this,' says Roger,
'Wilt aid us to win him free?' 'Why look ye, Roger,' says I, ''Tis only
a fool that seeketh aid of a fool--and fool am I.' 'Aye,' says Roger,
'but thou art a live fool; promise, therefore, or wilt be naught but a
dead fool.' 'Roger,' says I, 'thou did'st once try to slay me in the
green ere now.' 'Aye,' says Roger, 'and my lord Beltane saved thy
carcass and my soul.' 'Aye,' quoth I, 'and e'en a fool can repay. So
was I but now dreaming here within this boskage how I might perchance
win this same Beltane to life without thy scurvy aid, Black Roger.
Moreover, methinks I know a way--and thou spare me life to do it.'
'Aye, forsooth,' says Roger, putting away his dagger, 'thou wert ever a
fool of thy word, Beda--so now do I spare thy life, and sparing it, I
save it, and thus do I cut another accursed notch from my belt.' 'Why,
then,' says I, 'to-morrow night be at the riven oak by Brankton Thicket
an hour before dawn.' 'So be it, Beda,' says he, and so I left him
cutting at his belt. And lo, am I here, and within an hour it should be
dawn. Follow, messire!" So saying, Beda rose, and taking the lanthorn,
began to descend through the floor, having first shown how the
flagstone must be lowered in place. Thereafter, Beltane followed the
jester down a narrow stair built in the thickness of the wall, and
along a passage that ended abruptly, nor could Beltane see any sign of
door in the solid masonry that barred their way. Here Beda paused,
finger on lip, and extinguished the lanthorn. Then, in the dark a hinge
creaked faintly, a quivering hand seized Beltane's manacled wrist,
drawing him on and through a narrow opening that yawned suddenly before
them. Thereafter the hinge creaked again and they stood side by side
within a small chamber where was a doorway hung across with heavy
curtains beyond which a light burned. Now even as Beltane looked
thitherward, he heard the rattle of dice and a sleepy voice that cursed
drowsily, and shaking off the clutching, desperate fingers that strove
to stay him, he came, soft-treading, and peered through the curtains.
Thus he beheld two men that faced each other across a table whereon was
wine, with dice and store of money, and as they played, these men
yawned, leaning heavily upon the table. Back swept the curtains and
striding into the room Beltane stared upon these men, who, yet leaning
upon the table, stared back at him open-mouthed. But, beholding the
look in his blue eyes and the smile that curled his mouth, they
stumbled to their feet and sought to draw weapon--then Beltane sprang
and caught them each about the neck, and, swinging them wide-armed,
smote their heads together; and together these men sank in his grasp
and lay in a twisted huddle across the table among the spilled wine. A
coin rang upon the stone floor, rolled into a distant corner and came
to rest, the jester gasped in the shadow of the curtains; and so came
silence, broke only by the soft drip, drip of the spilled wine.
"O, mercy of God!" whispered the jester hoarsely at last, "what need
was there for this--they would have slept--"
"Aye," smiled Beltane, "but not so soundly as now, methinks. Come, let
Silently the jester went on before, by narrow passage-ways that
writhed and twisted in the thickness of the walls, up sudden flights of
steps until at length they came out upon a parapet whose grim
battlements scowled high in air. But as they hasted on, flitting
soft-footed 'neath pallid moon, the jester of a sudden stopped, and
turning, dragged Beltane into the shadows, for upon the silence came the
sound of mailed feet pacing near. Now once again Beltane brake from the
jester's clutching fingers and striding forward, came face to face with
one that bare a pike on mailed shoulder, and who, beholding Beltane,
halted to peer at him with head out-thrust; quoth he:
"Ha! stand! Stand, I say and speak me who thou art?"
Then Beltane laughed softly; said he:
"O fool, not to know--I am death!" and with the word, he leapt. Came a
cry, muffled in a mighty hand, a grappling, fierce yet silent, and
Beda, cowering back, beheld Beltane swing a writhing body high in air
and hurl it far out over the battlements. Thereafter, above the soft
rustle of the night-wind, a sound far below--a faint splash, and Beda
the Jester, shivering in the soft-stirring night wind, shrank deeper
into the gloom and made a swift motion as though, for all his folly, he
had crossed himself.
Then came Beltane, the smile still twisting his mouth; quoth he:
"Forsooth, my strength is come back again; be there any more that I may
deal withal, good Fool?"
"Lord," whispered the shivering jester, "methinks I smell the dawn--
So Beltane followed him from the battlements, down winding stairs,
through halls that whispered in the dark; down more stairs, down and
ever down 'twixt walls slimy to the touch, through a gloom heavy with
mildew and decay. On sped the jester, staying not to light the
lanthorn, nor once touching, nor once turning with helping hand to
guide Beltane stumbling after in the dark. Then at last, deep in the
clammy earth they reached a door, a small door whose rusted iron was
handed with mighty clamps of rusted iron. Here the jester paused to fit
key to lock, to strain and pant awhile ere bolts shrieked and turned,
and the door yawned open. Then, stooping, he struck flint and steel and
in a while had lit the lanthorn, and, looking upon Beltane with eyes
that stared in the pallor of his face, he pointed toward the yawning
"Messire," said he, "yonder lieth thy way to life and the world. As
thou did'st give me life so do I give thee thine. Thou wert, as I
remember thee, a very gentle, tender youth--to-night are three dead
"Reason, good Fool," said Beltane, "thou did'st see me borne in a
prisoner to Garthlaxton; now, tell me I pray, who was she that rode
"'Twas the Duchess Helen of Mortain, messire; I saw her hair, moreover--"
But lo, even as the jester spake, Beltane turned, and striding down the
tunnel, was swallowed in the dark.
HOW BELTANE TOOK TO THE WILD-WOOD
A faint glimmer growing ever brighter, a jagged patch of pale sky, a
cleft in the rock o'er-grown with bush and creeping vines; this Beltane
saw ere he stepped out into the cool, sweet air of dawn. A while he
stood to stare up at the sky where yet a few stars showed paling to the
day, and to drink in mighty breaths of the fragrant air. And thus,
plain to his ears, stole the ripple of running water hard by, and going
thitherward he stripped, and naked came down to the stream where was a
misty pool and plunged him therein. Now as he bathed him thus, gasping
somewhat because of the cold, yet glorying in the rush and tingle of
his blood, behold, the leaves parted near by, and uprising in his naked
might, Beltane beheld the face of one that watched him intently.
"Master!" cried a voice harsh but very joyful, "O dear, my lord!" And
Roger sprang down the bank and heedless of the water, plunged in to
catch Beltane's hands and kiss them. "Master!" he cried. And thus it
was these two met again. And presently, having donned clothes and
harness, Beltane sat down him beside the brook, head upon hand, staring
at the swift-running water, whiles Roger, sitting near, watched him in
a silent ecstasy.
"Whence come ye, Roger?"
"From Thrasfordham-within-Bourne, lord. Ho, a mighty place, great and
strong as Sir Benedict himself. And within Thrasfordham be many lusty
fighting men who wait thy coming,--for, master, Bourne, aye and all the
Duchy, doth ring with tales of thy deeds."
"Hath Sir Benedict many men?"
"Aye--within Thrasfordham five hundred and more."
"So few, Roger?"
"And mayhap as many again in Bourne. But, for Sir Benedict--a right
lusty knight in sooth, master! and he doth hunger for sight of thee. He
hath had me, with Walkyn and the archer, speak full oft of how we fired
the gibbet and roars mighty laughs to hear how thou didst bear off Sir
Pertolepe in the green--aye, Sir Benedict doth love to hear tell of
"Aye; and what of Duke Ivo--where is he now, Roger?"
"He hath reinforced Belsaye garrison and all the coast towns and
castles of the Marches, and lieth at Pentavalon, gathering his powers
to attack Thrasfordham, so men say, and hath sworn to burn it within
the year, and all therein save only Sir Benedict--him will he hang;
'tis so proclaimed far and wide."
"And do men yet come in to Sir Benedict?"
"Not so, master. Since Duke Ivo came they are afraid."
"Ha! And what of the outlaws--there be many wild men within the
"The outlaws--hey, that doth mind me. I, with Giles and Walkyn and the
young knight Sir Jocelyn brought down the outlaws upon Thornaby Mill.
But when we found thee not, we burned it, and thereafter the outlaws
vanished all within the wild-wood; Sir Jocelyn rode away a-singing
mighty doleful, and we three came to Thrasfordham according to thy
word. But when ye came not, master, by will of Sir Benedict we set
out, all three, to find thee, and came to a cave of refuge Walkyn wots
of: there do we sleep by night and by day search for thee. And behold,
I have found thee, and so is my tale ended. But now, in an hour will be
day, master, and with the day will be the hue and cry after thee. Come,
let us haste over into Bourne, there shall we be safe so long as
"True," nodded Beltane and rose to his feet. "Go you to Thrasfordham,
Roger, Sir Benedict shall need such lusty men as thou, meseemeth."
"Aye--but what of thee, master?"
"I? O, I'm for the wild-wood, to a wild life and wilder doings, being
myself a wild man, henceforth, lawful food for flame or gibbet, kin to
every clapper-claw rogue and rascal 'twixt here and Mortain."
"Nay master, within Thrasfordham ye shall laugh at Black Ivo and all
his powers--let us then to Thrasfordham, beseech thee!"
"Nay, I'm for the woods in faith, to seek me desperate rogues, wild men
whose lives being forfeit, are void of all hope and fear. So, get thee
to Sir Benedict and speak him this from me, to wit: that while he
holdeth Ivo in check before Thrasfordham, I will arise indeed and bring
with me flame and steel from out the wild-wood. When he shall see the
night sky aflame, then shall he know I am at work, and when by day he
heareth of death sudden and swift, then shall he know I am not idle.
Bid him rede me this riddle: That bringing from chaos order, so from
order will I bring chaos, that order peradventure shall remain. Haste
you into Bourne, Roger, and so--fare thee well!"
Now as he spake, Beltane turned on his heel and strode along beside the
brook, but even as he went, so went Roger, whereon Beltane turned
"Roger--Thrasfordham lieth behind thee!"
"Aye, master, but death lieth before thee!"
"Why then, death will I face alone, Roger."
"Nay, master--not while Roger live. Thy man am I--"
"Ha--wilt withstand me, Black Roger?"
"Thy man am I, to follow thee in life and go down with thee in death--"
Now hereupon Beltane came close, and in the dim light Black Roger
beheld the new Beltane glaring down at him fierce-eyed and with great
mailed fist clenched to smite; but even so Black Roger gave not back,
only he drew dagger and strove to set it in Beltane's iron fingers.
"Take this," quoth he, "for, an ye would be free of Roger, first must
ye slay him, master." So Beltane took the dagger and fumbled with it
awhile then gave it back to Roger's hand.
"Roger!" muttered he, his hand upon his brow, "my faithful Roger! So,
men can be faithful--" saying which he sighed--a long, hissing breath,
and hid his face within his mittened hand, and turning, strode swiftly
upon his way. Now in a while, they being come into the forest, Roger
touched him on the arm.
"Master," said he, "whither do ye go?"
"Nay, it mattereth not so long as I can lie hid a while, for I must
"Then can I bring thee to a place where none shall ever find thee--
Come, master!" So saying, Roger turned aside into the denser wood,
bursting a way through a tangle of brush, plunging ever deeper into the
wild until they came to a place where great rocks and boulders jutted
up amid the green and the trees grew scant. Day was breaking, and
before them in the pale light rose a steep cliff, whose jagged outline
clothed here and there with brush and vines loomed up before them,
barring their advance.
But at the foot of this cliff grew a tree, gnarled and stunted, the
which, as Beltane watched, Black Roger began to climb, until, being
some ten feet from the ground, he, reaching out and seizing a thick
vine that grew upon the rock, stepped from the tree and vanished into
the face of the cliff. But in a moment the leaves were parted and Roger
looked forth, beckoning Beltane to follow. So, having climbed the tree,
Beltane in turn seized hold upon the vine, and stumbling amid the
leaves, found himself on his knees within a small cave, where Roger's
hand met his. Thereafter Roger led him to the end of the cavern where
was a winding passage very rough and narrow, that brought them to a
second and larger cave, as Beltane judged, for in the dark his hands
could feel nought but space. Here Roger halted and whistled three
times, a melodious call that woke many a slumbering echo. And in a
while, behold a glow that grew ever brighter, until, of a sudden, a man
appeared bearing a flaming pine-torch, that showed a wide cave whose
rugged roof and walls glistened here and there, and whose rocky floor
ended abruptly in a yawning gulf from whose black depths came soft
murmurs and ripplings of water far below. Now, halting on the opposite
side of this chasm, the man lifted his flaming torch and lo! it was
Walkyn, who, beholding Beltane in his mail, uttered a hoarse shout of
welcome, and stooping, thrust a plank across the gulf. So Beltane
crossed the plank and gave his hand to Walkyn's iron grip and
thereafter followed him along winding, low-roofed passage-ways hollowed
within the rock, until they came to a cavern where a fire blazed, whose
red light danced upon battered bascinets and polished blades that hung
against the wall, while in one corner, upon a bed of fern, Giles o' the
Bow lay snoring right blissfully.
To him went Roger to shake him into groaning wakefulness and to point
with eager finger to Beltane. Whereat up sprang Giles and came running
with hands outstretched in welcome, yet of a sudden, paused and stood
staring upon Beltane, as did the others also, for the place was very
bright and moreover Beltane's mail-coif was fallen back. So they looked
on him all three, yet spake no word. Therefore Beltane sat him down
beside the fire and rested his head upon his hands as one that is
weary. Sitting thus, he told them briefly what had chanced, but of the
Duchess he said nothing. And in a while, lifting his head he saw them
watching him all three, and all three incontinent glanced otherwhere.
"Wherefore do ye stare upon me?"
"Why, as to that, good brother," said the archer, "'tis but that--that
we do think thee something--changed of aspect."
"Changed!" said Beltane, and laughed short and bitter, "aye, 'tis like
"Lord," quoth Walkyn, clenching mighty fists, "have they tormented
thee--was it the torture, lord?"
"Aye," nodded Beltane, "'twas the torture. So now good comrades, here
will I sleep awhile. But first--go forth with the sun and question all
ye may of Ivo and his doings--where he doth lie, and where his forces
muster--hear all ye can and bring me word, for methinks we shall be
busy again anon!" Then, throwing himself upon the bed of fern that
Roger had re-made, Beltane presently fell asleep. And while he slept
came the three, very silent and treading very soft, to look down upon
his sleeping face and the manacles that gleamed upon his wrists; and
behold, even as he slept, he groaned and writhed, his tender lips grown
fierce, a relentless, down-curving line--his jaws grim set, and between
his frowning brows a lock of silky hair that gleamed snow-white among
"The torture!" growled Roger, and so, soft as they came, the three
turned and left him to his slumber. But oft he moaned and once he spake
a word, sudden and fierce 'twixt clenched teeth.
And the word was:
OF THE PLACE OF REFUGE WITHIN THE GREEN
It was toward evening that Beltane awoke, and sitting up, looked about
him. He was in a chamber roughly square, a hollow within the rock part
natural and part hewn by hand, a commodious chamber lighted by a jagged
hole in the rock above, a fissure all o'er-grown with vines and
creeping plants whose luxuriant foliage tempered the sun's rays to a
tender green twilight very grateful and pleasant.
Now pendant from the opening was a ladder of cords, and upon this
ladder, just beneath the cleft, Beltane beheld a pair of lusty,
well-shaped legs in boots of untanned leather laced up with leathern
thongs; as for their owner, he was hidden quite by reason of the leafy
screen as he leaned forth of the fissure. Looking upon these legs,
Beltane knew them by their very attitude for the legs of one who watched
intently, but while he looked, they stirred, shifted, and growing lax,
became the legs of one who lounged; then, slow and lazily, they began
to descend lower and lower until the brown, comely face of Giles
Brabblecombe o' the Hills smiled down upon Beltane with a gleam of
white teeth. Cried he:
"Hail, noble brother, and likewise the good God bless thee! Hast slept
well, it lacketh scarce an hour to sundown, and therefore should'st
eat well. How say ye now to a toothsome haunch o' cold venison, in
faith, cunningly cooked and sufficiently salted and seasoned--ha? And
mark me! with a mouthful of malmsey, ripely rare? Oho, rich wine that I
filched from a fatuous friar jig-jogging within the green! Forsooth,
tall brother, 'tis a wondrous place, the greenwood, wherein a man shall
come by all he doth need--an he seek far enough! Thus, an my purse be
empty, your beefy burgher shall, by dint of gentle coaxing, haste to
fill me it with good, broad pieces. But, an my emptiness be of the
belly, then sweet Saint Giles send me some ambulating abbot or
pensive-pacing prior; for your churchmen do ever ride with saddle-bags
well lined, as I do know, having been bred a monk, and therefore with
a rare lust to creature comforts."
Now while he spake thus, the archer was busily setting forth the viands
upon a rough table that stood hard by, what time Beltane looked about
"'Tis a wondrous hiding-place, this, Giles!" quoth he.
"Aye, verily, brother--a sweet place for hunted men such as we. Here be
caves and caverns enow to hide an army, and rocky passage-ways, narrow
and winding i' the dark, where we four might hold all Black Ivo's
powers at bay from now till Gabriel's trump--an we had food enow!"
"'Tis a fair thought that, and I've heard there be many outlaws in the
"Yea, forsooth. And each and every a clapper-claw, a rogue in faith. O
very lewd, bloody-minded knaves see ye now, that would have slain me
three days agone but for my comrade Walkyn. Scurvy dogs, fit for the
halter they be, in faith!"
"Ha!" quoth Beltane, thoughtful of brow. "They be wild men, meseemeth?"
"Desperate knaves, one and all; and look ye, they would have slain--"
"Aye?" nodded Beltane.
"All the off-scourings of town and village--and look ye, they would--"
"Aye," said Beltane.
"Thieves, rogues and murderers, branded felons, runaway serfs and
"'Tis well," said Beltane, "so shall they be my comrades henceforth."
"Thy comrades!" stammered the archer, staring in amaze--"thy comrades!
These base knaves that would have hanged me--me, that am free-born like
my father before me--"
"So, peradventure, Giles, will we make them free men also. Howbeit this
day I seek them out--"
"Seek them--'tis death!"
"Death let it be, 'tis none so fearful!"
"They will slay thee out of hand--a wild rabblement, lawless and
"So would I bring order among them, Giles. And thou shalt aid me."
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