Beltane The Smith
Part 5 out of 11
"I--aid thee? How--would'st have me company with such vile carrion? Not
I, forsooth. I am a soldier, free-born, and no serf like Walkyn or
villein like Roger. But sure you do but jest, brother, so will I laugh
But now, very suddenly, Beltane reached out his long arm and seizing
Giles in mighty hand, dragged him to his knees; and Giles, staring up
in amaze, looked into the face of the new Beltane whose blue eyes
glared 'neath frowning brows and whose lips curled back from gleaming
"Giles," said he softly, rocking the archer in his grasp, "O Giles
Brabblecombe o' the Hills, did I not save thy roguish life for thee?
Did not Walkyn and Roger preserve it to thee? So doth thy life belong
to Walkyn and to Roger and to me. Four men are we together, four
brothers in arms, vowed to each other in the fulfilment of a purpose--
is it not so?"
"Yea, verily, lord. Good men and true are we all, but see you not,
lord, these outlaws be lewd fellows--base-born--"
"See you not, Giles, these outlaws be men, even as we, who, like us,
can laugh and weep, can bleed and die--who can use their lives to
purpose good or evil, even as we. Therefore, since they are men, I will
make of them our comrades also, an it may be."
Thus saying, Beltane loosed Giles and turning to the table, fell to
eating again while the archer sat upon the floor nursing his bruised
arm and staring open-mouthed.
Quoth Beltane at last:
"We will seek out and talk with these outlaws to-night, Giles!"
"Talk with a pack of--yea, forsooth!" nodded Giles, rubbing his arm.
"I am minded to strike such a blow as shall hearten Sir Benedict for
the siege and shake Black Ivo's confidence."
"Aha!" cried Giles, springing up so that his link-mail jingled, "aha! a
sweet thought, tall brother! Could we fire another gibbet now--"
"Know you where the outlaws lie hid, Giles?"
"Nay, lord, none save themselves and Walkyn know that. Walkyn methinks,
was great among them once."
"And where is Walkyn?"
"So soon as ye slept, lord, he and Roger went forth according to thy
word. As for me, I stayed here to watch. From the spy-hole yonder you
may command the road a-wind in the valley, and unseen, see you, may
see. But come, an thy hunger be allayed, reach me thy hand that I may
file off those iron bracelets."
"Nay, let be, Giles. I will wear them henceforth until my vow be
Hereupon Beltane arose, and, climbing the ladder, looked forth through
a screen of leaves and underbrush and saw that from the fissure the
ground sloped steeply down, a boulder-strewn hill thick with gorse and
bramble, at whose base the road led away north and south until it was
lost in the green of the forest. Now as Beltane stood thus, gazing down
at the winding road whose white dust was already mellowing to evening,
he beheld one who ran wondrous fleetly despite the ragged cloak that
flapped about his long legs, and whose rough-shod feet spurned the dust
beneath them so fast 'twas a marvel to behold; moreover as he ran, he
bounded hither and thither, and with every bound an arrow sped by him
from where, some distance behind, ran divers foresters bedight in a
green livery Beltane thought he recognized; but even as Beltane grasped
the branches that screened him, minded to swing himself up to the
fellow's aid, the fugitive turned aside from the road and came leaping
up the slope, but, of a sudden, uttered a loud cry and throwing up his
hands fell face down upon the ling and so lay, what time came up one of
the pursuers that had outstripped his fellows, but as he paused, his
sword shortened for the thrust, up sprang the fugitive, a great axe
flashed and whirled and fell, nor need was there for further stroke.
Then, while the rest of the pursuers were yet a great way off, Walkyn
came leaping up the hill. Back from the ladder Beltane leapt and down
through the fissure came Walkyn to fall cat-like upon his feet, to
shake free the ladder after him, and thereafter to sit panting upon a
stool, his bloody axe betwixt his knees.
"Pertolepe's wolves!" he panted, "two of them have I--slain--within the
last mile," and grinning, he patted the haft of his axe.
"What news, Walkyn?"
"Death!" panted Walkyn, "there be five dead men a-swing from the
bartizan tower above Garthlaxton Keep, and one that dieth under the
torture e'en now, for I heard grievous outcry, and all by reason of thy
"Come you then from Garthlaxton?" quoth Beltane, frowning.
"Aye, lord. For, see you, 'twas market day, so went I to one I know
that is a swineherd, a trusty fellow that bringeth hogs each week unto
Garthlaxton. So did we change habits and went to Garthlaxton together,
driving the hogs before us. Thereafter, while he was away chaffering, I
sat me down in the outer bailey tending my beasts, yet with eyes and
ears wide and with my hand upon mine axe 'neath my cloak lest haply I
might chance within striking distance of Red Pertolepe. And, sitting
thus, I heard tell that he had marched out with all his array to join
Black Ivo's banner. Whereupon was I mightily cast down. But it chanced
the wind lifted my cloak, and one of the warders, spying mine axe, must
think to recognise me and gave the hue and cry; whereat I, incontinent,
fled ere they could drop the portcullis--and divers rogues after me.
Aha! then did I lead them a right merry dance by moor and moss, by
briar and bog, and contrived to slay of them five in all. But as to
Pertolepe, a malison on him! he is not yet to die, meseemeth. But, some
day--aye, some day!" So saying he kissed the great axe and setting it
by came to the table and fell to eating mightily while Giles sat hard
by busied with certain arrows, yet betwixt whiles watching Beltane who,
crossing to the bed of fern, laid him down thereon and closed his eyes.
But of a sudden he raised his head, hearkening to a whistle, soft and
melodious, near at hand.
"Aha!" exclaimed Giles, setting aside his arrows, "yonder should be
Roger--a hungry Roger and therefore surly, and a surly Roger is rare
sport to lighten a dull hour. Heaven send our Roger be surly!" So
saying, the archer went forth and presently came hasting back with
Roger at his heels scowling and in woeful plight. Torn and stained and
besprent with mud, his rawhide knee-boots sodden and oozing water, he
stood glowering at Giles beneath the bloody clout that swathed his
head, his brawny fist upon his dagger.
"No food left, say ye, Giles, no food, and I a-famishing? You and
Walkyn drunk up all the wine betwixt ye, and I a-perish--ha--so now
will I let it out again--" and out flashed his dagger.
"Nay, 'tis but the archer's folly," quoth Walkyn--"sit, man, eat,
drink, and speak us thy news."
"News," growled Roger, seating himself at table, "the woods be thick
with Pertolepe's rogues seeking my master, rogues known to me each one,
that ran to do my bidding aforetime--in especial one Ralpho--that was
my assistant in the dungeons once. Thrice did they beset me close, and
once did I escape by running, once by standing up to my neck in a pool,
and once lay I hid in a tree whiles they, below, ate and drank like
ravening swine--and I a-famishing. A murrain on 'em, one and all, say
I--in especial Ralpho that was my comrade once--may he rot henceforth--"
"Content you, Roger, he doth so!" laughed grim Walkyn and pointed to
"Forsooth, and is it so?" growled Roger, his scowl relaxing--"now will
I eat full and blithely, for Ralpho was an arrant knave."
Now when his hunger was somewhat assuaged, Roger turned and looked
where Beltane lay.
"My master sleepeth?" said he, his voice grown gentle.
"Nay, Roger, I lie and wait thy news," spake Beltane, his eyes yet
"Why then, 'tis war, master--battle and siege. The country is up as far
as Winisfarne. Black Ivo lieth at Barham Broom with a great company--I
have seen their tents and pavilions like a town, and yet they come, for
Ivo hath summoned all his powers to march against Thrasfordham. 'Twixt
here and Pentavalon city, folk do say the roads be a-throng with bows
and lances--lords and barons, knights and esquires, their pennons
"'Tis well!" sighed Beltane.
"Well, master--nay, how mean you?"
"That being at Barham Broom, they cannot be otherwhere, Roger. Saw you
Pertolepe's banner among all these?"
"Aye, master; they have set up his pavilion beside the Duke's."
"Tell me now," said Beltane, coming to his elbow, "how many men should
be left within Garthlaxton for garrison, think you?"
"An hundred, belike!" said Walkyn.
"Less," quoth Roger; "Garthlaxton is so strong a score of men have held
it ere now. 'Tis accounted the strongest castle in all the Duchy, save
"Truly 'tis very strong!" said Beltane thoughtfully, and lying down
again he closed his eyes and spake slow and drowsily--"Aye, 'tis so
strong, its garrison, being secure, should sleep sound o' nights. So
'twould be no great matter to surprise and burn it ere the dawn,
"Burn Garthlaxton!" cried the archer, and sprang up, scattering the
arrows right and left.
"Master!" stammered Roger, "master--"
As for Walkyn, he, having his mouth full and striving to speak, choked
"Lord--lord!" he gasped at last, "to see Garthlaxton go up in flame--O
blessed sight! Its blood-soaked walls crumble to ruin--ah, sweet, rare
sight! But alas! 'tis a mighty place and strong, and we but four--"
"There be outlaws in the wild-wood!" quoth Beltane.
"Ha!--the outlaws!" cried Giles, and clapped hand to thigh.
"Aye," nodded Beltane, "bring me to the outlaws."
"But bethink thee, tall brother--of what avail a thousand such poor,
ragged, ill-armed rogues 'gainst the walls of Garthlaxton? They shall
not tear you the stones with their finger-nails nor rend them with
their teeth, see'st thou!"
"To burn Garthlaxton!" growled Walkyn, biting at his fingers. "Ha, to
give it to the fire! But the walls be mighty and strong and the outlaws
scattered. 'Twould take a week to muster enough to attempt a storm, nor
have they engines for battery--"
"Enough!" said Beltane rising, his brows close drawn, "now hearken, and
mark me well; the hole whereby one man came out may let a thousand in.
Give me but an hundred men at my back and Garthlaxton shall be aflame
ere dawn. So, come now, Walkyn--bring me to the outlaws."
"But lord, these be very wild men, obedient to no law save their own,
and will follow none but their own; lawless men forsooth, governed only
by the sword and made desperate by wrong and fear of the rope--"
"Then 'tis time one learned them other ways, Walkyn. So now I command
thee, bring me to them--'tis said thou wert great among them once."
Hereupon Walkyn rose and taking up his mighty axe twirled it lightly in
his hand. "Behold, lord," said he, "by virtue of this good axe am I
free of the wild-wood; for, long since, when certain lords of Black Ivo
burned our manor, and our mother and sister and father therein, my twin
brother and I had fashioned two axes such as few men might wield--this
and another--and thus armed, took to the green where other wronged men
joined us till we counted many a score tall fellows, lusty fighters
all. And many of Ivo's rogues we slew until of those knights and
men-at-arms that burned our home there none remained save Red Pertolepe
and Gui of Allerdale. But in the green--love came--even to me--so I laid
by mine axe and vengeance likewise and came to know happiness until--upon
a day--they hanged my brother, and thereafter they slew--her--my wife
and child--e'en as ye saw. Then would I have joined the outlaws again.
But in my place they had set up one Tostig, a sturdy rogue and foul,
who ruleth by might of arm and liveth but for plunder--and worse. Him I
would have fought, but upon that night I fell in with thee. Thus, see
you, though I am free of the wild, power with these outlaws have I
none. So, an I should bring thee into their secret lurking-place,
Tostig would assuredly give thee to swift death, nor could I save thee--"
"Yet must I go," said Beltane, "since, while I live, vowed am I to free
Pentavalon. And what, think you, is Pentavalon? 'Tis not her hills and
valleys, her towns and cities, but the folk that dwell therein; they,
each one, man and woman and child, the rich and poor, the high and low,
the evil and the good, aye, all those that live in outlawry--these are
Pentavalon. So now will I go unto these wild men, and once they follow
my call, ne'er will I rest until they be free men every one. Each blow
they strike, the wounds they suffer, shall win them back to honourable
life, to hearth and home--and thus shall they be free indeed. So,
Walkyn, bring me to the outlaws!"
Then stood Walkyn and looked upon Beltane 'neath heavy brows, nothing
speaking, and turned him of a sudden and, striding forth of the cave,
came back bearing another great axe.
"Lord," said he, "thy long sword is missing, methinks. Take now this
axe in place of it--'twas my brother's once. See, I have kept it
bright, for I loved him. He was a man. Yet man art thou also, worthy,
methinks, and able to wield it. Take it therefore, lord Duke that art
my brother-in-arms; mayhap it shall aid thee to bring order in the
wild-wood and win Pentavalon to freedom. Howbeit, wheresoe'er thou dost
go, e'en though it be to shame and failure, I am with thee!"
"And I!" cried Giles, reaching for his bow.
"And I also!" quoth Roger.
HOW BELTANE SLEW TOSTIG AND SPAKE WITH THE WILD MEN
The sun was down what time they left the hill country and came out upon
a wide heath void of trees and desolate, where was a wind cold and
clammy to chill the flesh, where rank-growing rush and reed stirred
fitfully, filling the dark with stealthy rustlings.
"Master," quoth Roger, shivering and glancing about him, "here is
Hangstone Waste, and yonder the swamps of Hundleby Fen--you can smell
them from here! And 'tis an evil place, this, for 'tis said the souls
of murdered folk do meet here betimes, and hold high revel when the
moon be full. Here, on wild nights witches and warlocks ride shrieking
upon the wind, with goblins damned--"
"Ha, say ye so, good Roger?" quoth the archer, "now the sweet Saint
Giles go with us--amen!" and he crossed himself devoutly.
So went they in silence awhile until they were come where the sedge
grew thick and high above whispering ooze, and where trees, stunted and
misshapen, lifted knotted arms in the gloom.
"Lord," spake Walkyn, his voice low and awe-struck, "here is the marsh,
a place of death for them that know it not, where, an a man tread awry,
is a quaking slime to suck him under. Full many a man lieth 'neath the
reeds yonder, for there is but one path, very narrow and winding--
follow close then, and step where I shall step."
"Aye, master," whispered Roger, "and look ye touch no tree as ye go;
'tis said they do grow from the bones of perished men, so touch them
not lest some foul goblin blast thee."
So went they, following a narrow track that wound betwixt slow-stirring
sedge, past trees huddled and distorted that seemed to writhe and
shiver in the clammy air until, beyond the swamp, they came to a place
of rocks where ragged crags loomed high and vague before them. Now, all
at once, Walkyn raised a warning hand, as from the shadow of those
rocks, a hoarse voice challenged:
"Stand!" cried the voice, "who goes?"
"What, and is it thou, rogue Perkyn?" cried Walkyn, "art blind not to
"Aye," growled the voice, "but blind or no, I see others with thee."
"Good friends all!" quoth Walkyn.
"Stand forth that I may see these friends o' thine!" Drawing near,
Beltane beheld a man in filthy rags who held a long bow in his hand
with an arrow on the string, at sight of whom Roger muttered and Giles
held his nose and spat.
"Aha," growled the man Perkyn, peering under his matted hair, "I like
not the looks o' these friends o' thine--"
"Nor we thine, foul fellow," quoth Giles, and spat again whole-heartedly.
"How!" cried Walkyn fiercely, "d'ye dare bid Walkyn stand, thou dog's
meat? Must I flesh mine axe on thy vile carcase?"
"Not till I feather a shaft in thee," growled Perkyn, "what would ye?"
"Speak with Eric o' the Noose."
"Aha, and what would ye with half-hung Eric, forsooth? Tostig's our
chief, and Tostig's man am I. As for Eric--"
"Aye--aye, and what of Eric?" spake a third voice--a soft voice and
liquid, and a man stepped forth of the rocks with two other men at his
"Now well met, Eric o' the Noose," quoth Walkyn. "I bring promise of
more booty, and mark this, Eric--I bring also him that you wot of."
Now hereupon the man Eric drew near, a broad-set man clad in skins and
rusty mail who looked upon Beltane with head strangely askew, and
touched a furtive hand to his battered head-piece.
"Ye come at an evil hour," said he, speaking low-voiced. "Tostig
holdeth high feast and revel, for to-day we took a rich booty at the
ford beyond Bassingthorp--merchants out of Winisfarne, with pack-horses
well laden--and there were women also--in especial, one very fair. Her,
Tostig bore hither. But a while since, when he bade them bring her to
him, behold she had stabbed herself with her bodkin. So is she dead and
Tostig raging. Thus I say, ye come in an evil hour."
"Not so," answered Beltane. "Methinks we come in good hour. I am fain
to speak with Tostig--come!" and he stepped forward, but Eric caught
him by the arm:
"Messire," said he soft-voiced, "yonder be over five score lusty
fellows, fierce and doughty fighters all, that live but to do the will
of Tostig and do proclaim him chief since he hath proved himself full
oft mightiest of all--"
"Ah," nodded Beltane, "a strong man!"
"Beyond equal. A fierce man that knoweth not mercy, swift to anger and
joyful to slay at all times--"
"Why, look you," sighed Beltane, "neither am I a lamb. Come, fain am I
to speak with this Tostig."
A while stood Eric, head aslant, peering at Beltane, then, at a
muttered word from Walkyn, he shook his head and beckoning the man
Perkyn aside, led the way through a cleft in the rocks and up a
precipitous path beyond; and as he went, Beltane saw him loosen sword
Ever as they clomb, the path grew more difficult, until at last they
were come to a parapet or outwork with mantelets of osiers beyond,
cunningly wrought, above which a pike-head glimmered and from beyond
which a voice challenged them; but at a word from Eric the sentinel
stood aside and behold, a narrow opening in the parapet through which
they passed and so up another path defended by yet another parapet of
osiers. Now of a sudden, having climbed the ascent, Beltane paused and
stood leaning upon his axe, for, from where he now stood, he looked
down into a great hollow, green and rock-begirt, whose steep sides were
shaded by trees and dense-growing bushes. In the midst of this hollow a
fire burned whose blaze showed many wild figures that sprawled round
about in garments of leather and garments of skins; its ruddy light
showed faces fierce and hairy; it glinted on rusty mail and flashed
back from many a dinted head-piece and broad spear-head; and upon the
air was the sound of noisy talk and boisterous laughter. Through the
midst of this great green hollow a stream wound that broadened out in
one place into a still and sleepy pool upon whose placid surface stars
seemed to float, a deep pool whereby was a tall tree. Now beneath this
tree, far removed from the fire, sat a great swarthy fellow, chin on
fist, scowling down at that which lay at his feet, and of a sudden he
spurned this still and silent shape with savage foot.
"Oswin!" he cried, "Walcher! Throw me this useless carrion into the
pool!" Hereupon came two sturdy rogues who, lifting the dead betwixt
them, bore her to the edge of the silent pool. Once they swung and
twice, and lo, the floating stars shivered to a sullen splash, and
subsiding, rippled softly to the reedy banks.
Slowly the swarthy giant rose and stood upon his legs, and Beltane knew
him for the tallest man he had ever seen.
"Oswin," quoth he, and beckoned with his finger, "Oswin, did I not bid
thee keep watch upon yon dainty light o' love?" Now meeting the
speaker's baleful eye, the man Oswin sprang back, striving to draw
sword, but even so an iron hand was about his throat, he was lifted by
a mighty arm that held him a while choking and kicking above the silent
pool until he had gasped and kicked his life out 'midst shouts and
gibes and hoarse laughter; thereafter again the sullen waters quivered,
were still, and Tostig stood, empty-handed, frowning down at those
Then Beltane leapt down into the hollow and strode swift-footed, nor
stayed until he stood face to face with Tostig beside the sullen pool.
But swift as he had come, Roger had followed, and now stood to his
back, hand on sword.
"Aha!" quoth Tostig in staring amaze, and stood a while eying Beltane
with hungry gaze. "By Thor!" said he, "but 'tis a good armour and
should fit me well. Off with it--off, I am Tostig!" So saying, he drew
a slow pace nearer, his teeth agleam, his great hands opening and
shutting, whereat out leapt Roger's blade; but now the outlaws came
running to throng about them, shouting and jostling one another, and
brandishing their weapons yet striking no blow, waiting gleefully for
what might befall; and ever Beltane looked upon Tostig, and Tostig,
assured and confident, smiled grimly upon Beltane until the ragged
throng about them, watching eager-eyed, grew hushed and still. Then
"Put up thy sword, Roger," said he, "in very truth this Tostig is a
foul thing and should not die by thy good steel--so put up thy sword,
And now, no man spake or moved, but all stood rigid and scarce
breathing, waiting for the end. For Tostig, smiling no more, stood
agape as one that doubts his senses, then laughed he loud and long, and
turned as if to reach his sword that leaned against the tree and, in
that instant, sprang straight for Beltane's throat, his griping hands
outstretched; but swift as he, Beltane, letting fall his axe, slipped
aside and smote with mailed fist, and as Tostig reeled from the blow,
closed with and caught him in a deadly wrestling hold, for all men
might see Beltane had locked one arm 'neath Tostig's bearded chin and
that Tostig's shaggy head was bending slowly backwards. Then the
outlaws surged closer, a dark, menacing ring where steel flickered; but
lo! to Roger's right hand sprang Walkyn, gripping his axe, and upon his
left came Giles, his long-bow poised, a shaft upon the string; so stood
the three alert and watchful, eager for fight, what time the struggle
waxed ever more fierce and deadly. To and fro the wrestlers swayed,
locked in vicious grapple, grimly silent save for the dull trampling of
their feet upon the moss and the gasp and hiss of panting breaths;
writhing and twisting, stumbling and slipping, or suddenly still with
feet that gripped the sod, with bulging muscles, swelled and rigid,
that cracked beneath the strain, while eye glared death to eye. But
Beltane's iron fingers were fast locked, and little by little, slow but
sure, Tostig's swart head was tilting up and back, further and further,
until his forked beard pointed upwards--until, of a sudden, there brake
from his writhen lips a cry, loud and shrill that sank to groan and
ended in a sound--a faint sound, soft and sudden. But now, behold,
Tostig's head swayed loosely backwards behind his shoulders, his knees
sagged, his great arms loosed their hold: then, or he could fall,
Beltane stooped beneath and putting forth all his strength, raised him
high above his head, and panting, groaning with the strain, turned and
hurled dead Tostig down into the pool whose sullen waters leapt to a
mighty splash, and presently subsiding, whispered softly in the reeds;
and for a while no man stirred or spoke, only Beltane stood upon the
marge and panted.
Then turned he to the outlaws, and catching up his axe therewith
pointed downwards to that stilly pool whose placid waters seemed to
hold nought but a glory of floating stars.
"Behold," he panted, "here was an evil man--a menace to well-being,
wherefore is he dead. But as for ye, come tell me--how long will ye be
Hereupon rose a hoarse murmur that grew and grew--Then stood the man
Perkyn forward, and scowling, pointed at Beltane with his spear.
"Comrades!" he cried, "he hath slain Tostig! He hath murdered our
leader--come now, let us slay him!" and speaking, he leapt at Beltane
with levelled spear, but quick as he leapt, so leapt Walkyn, his long
arms rose and fell, and thereafter, setting his foot upon Perkyn's
body, he shook his bloody axe in the scowling faces of the outlaws.
"Back, fools!" he cried, "have ye no eyes? See ye not 'tis he of whom I
spake--he that burned Belsaye gallows and brake ope the dungeon of
Belsaye--that is friend to all distressed folk and broken men; know ye
not Beltane the Duke? Hear him, ye fools, hear him!"
Hereupon the outlaws stared upon Beltane and upon each other, and
fumbled with their weapons as men that knew not their own minds, while
Beltane, wiping sweat from him, leaned upon his axe and panted, with
the three at his elbow alert and watchful, eager for fight; but Perkyn
lay where he had fallen, very still and with his face hidden in the
Of a sudden, Beltane laid by his axe and reached out his hands.
"Brothers," said he, "how long will ye be slaves?"
"Slaves, forsooth?" cried one, "slaves are we to no man--here within
the green none dare gainsay us--we be free men, one and all. Is't not
"Aye! Aye!" roared a hundred voices.
"Free?" quoth Beltane, "free? Aye, free to wander hither and thither,
hiding forever within the wilderness, living ever in awe and dread lest
ye die in a noose. Free to go in rags, to live like beasts, to die
unpitied and be thrown into a hole, or left to rot i' the sun--call ye
this freedom, forsooth? Hath none among ye desire for hearth and home,
for wife and child--are ye become so akin to beasts indeed?"
Now hereupon, divers muttered in their beards and others looked askance
on one another. Then spake the man Eric, of the wry neck.
"Messire," quoth he, "all that you say is sooth, but what remedy can ye
bring to such as we. Say now?"
Then spake Beltane on this wise:
"All ye that have suffered wrong, all ye that be broken men--hearken!
Life is short and quick to escape a man, yet do all men cherish it, and
to what end? What seek ye of life--is it arms, is it riches? Go with
me and I will teach ye how they shall be come by. Are ye heavy-hearted
by reason of your wrongs--of bitter shame wrought upon the weak and
innocent? Seek ye vengeance?--would ye see tyrants die?--seek ye their
blood, forsooth? Then follow me!"
Now at this the outlaws began to murmur among themselves, wagging their
heads one to another and voicing their grievances thus:
"They cut off mine ears for resisting my lord's taxes, and for this I
would have justice!"
"They burned me in the hand for striking my lord's hunting dog!"
"I had a wife once, and she was young and fair; so my lord's son took
her and thereafter gave her for sport among his huntsmen, whereof she
died--and for this would I have vengeance!"
"They burned my home, and therein wife and child--and for this would I
"They cut off my brother's hands!"
"They put out my father's eyes!"
"And me they sought to hang to mine own roof-tree!--behold this crooked
neck o' mine--so am I Eric o' the Noose. Each one of us hath suffered
wrong, great or little, so live we outlaws in the green, lawless men in
lawless times, seeking ever vengeance for our wrongs. Who then shall
bring us to our desire, how shall our grievous wrongs be righted? An we
follow, whither would'st thou lead us?"
"By dangerous ways," answered Beltane, "through fire and battle. But by
fire men are purged, and by battle wrongs may be done away. An ye
follow, 'tis like some of us shall die, but by such death our brethren
shall win to honour, and home, and happiness, for happiness is all
men's birthright. Ye are but a wild, unordered rabble, yet are ye men!
'Tis true ye are ill-armed and ragged, yet is your cause a just one. Ye
bear weapons and have arms to smite--why then lurk ye here within the
wild-wood? Will not fire burn? Will not steel cut? He that is not
coward, let him follow me!"
"Aye," cried a score of harsh voices, "but whither--whither?"
"Be there many among ye that know Sir Pertolepe the Red?"
Now went there up a roar, deep-lunged and ominous; brawny fists were
shaken and weapons flashed and glittered.
"Ah--we know him--the Red Wolf--we know him--ah!"
"Then tell me," said Beltane, "will not steel cut? Will not fire burn?
Arise, I say, rise up and follow me. So will we smite Tyranny this
night and ere the dawn Garthlaxton shall be ablaze!"
"Garthlaxton!" cried Eric, "Garthlaxton!" and thereafter all men stared
on Beltane as one that is mad.
"Look now," said Beltane, "Sir Pertolepe hath ridden forth with all his
company to join Black Ivo's banner. Thus, within Garthlaxton his men be
few; moreover I know a secret way beneath the wall. Well, is't enough?
Who among ye will follow, and smite for freedom and Pentavalon?"
"That will I!" cried Eric, falling upon his knee.
"And I! And I!" cried others, and so came they to crowd eagerly about
Beltane, to touch his hand or the links of his bright mail.
"Lead us!" they cried, "come--lead us!"
"Nay first--hearken! From henceforth outlaws are ye none. Come now, one
and all, draw, and swear me on your swords:--To make your strength a
shelter to the weak; to smite henceforth but in honourable cause for
freedom, for justice and Pentavalon--swear me upon your swords to abide
by this oath, and to him that breaks it--Death. Swear!"
So there upon their knees with gleaming swords uplifted, these wild men
swore the oath. Then up sprang Walkyn, pointing to Beltane with his
"Brothers!" he cried, "behold a man that doeth such deeds as no man
ever did--that burned the gallows--burst ope the dungeon of Belsaye
and slew Tostig the mighty with naked hands! Behold Beltane the Duke!
Is he not worthy to be our leader--shall we not follow him?" Then came
a roar of voices:
"Aye--let us follow--let us follow!"
"On, then!" cried Walkyn, his glittering axe aloft. "To Garthlaxton!"
Then from an hundred brawny throats a roar went up to heaven, a cry
that hissed through clenched teeth and rang from eager lips, wilder,
fiercer than before. And the cry was:--
HOW THEY SMOTE GARTHLAXTON
It was in the cold, still hour 'twixt night and dawn that Beltane
halted his wild company upon the edge of the forest where ran a
water-brook gurgling softly in the dark; here did he set divers eager
fellows to fell a tree and thereafter to lop away branch and twig, and
so, bidding them wait, stole forward alone. Soon before him rose
Garthlaxton, frowning blacker than the night, a gloom of tower and
turret, of massy wall and battlement, its mighty keep rising stark and
grim against a faint light of stars. Now as he stood to scan with
purposeful eye donjon and bartizan, merlon and arrow-slit for gleam of
light, for glint of mail or pike-head, he grew aware of a sound hard
by, yet very faint and sweet, that came and went--a small and silvery
chime he could by no means account for. So crept he near and nearer,
quick-eyed and with ears on the stretch till he was stayed by the
broad, sluggish waters of the moat; and thus, he presently espied
something that moved in the gloom high above the great gateway,
something that stirred, pendulous, in the cold-breathing air of coming
Now as he peered upward through the gloom, came the wind, colder,
stronger than before--a chill and ghostly wind that flapped the heavy
folds of his mantle, that sighed forlornly in the woods afar, and
softly smote the misty, jingling thing above--swayed it--swung it out
from the denser shadows of scowling battlement so that Beltane could
see at last, and seeing--started back faint and sick, his flesh a-creep,
his breath in check 'twixt pale and rigid lips. And beholding what
manner of thing this was, he fell upon his knees with head bowed low
yet spake no prayer, only his hands gripped fiercely upon his axe;
while to and fro in the dark above, that awful shape turned and swung--
its flaunting cock's-comb dreadfully awry, its motley stained and rent
--a wretched thing, twisted and torn, a thing of blasting horror.
And ever as it swung upon the air, it rang a chime upon its little,
silver bells; a merry chime and mocking, that seemed to gibe at coming
Now in a while, looking upon that awful, dim-seen shape, Beltane spake
"O Beda!" he whispered, "O manly heart hid 'neath a Fool's disguise! O
Fool, that now art wiser than the wisest! Thy pains and sorrows have
lifted thee to heaven, methinks, and freed now of thy foolish clay thou
dost walk with angels and look within the face of God! But, by thine
agonies endured, now do I swear this night to raise to thy poor Fool's
body a pyre fit for the flesh of kings!"
Then Beltane arose and lifting high his axe, shook it against
Garthlaxton's frowning might, where was neither glint of armour nor
gleam of pike-head, and turning, hasted back to that dark and silent
company which, at his word, rose up from brake and fern and thicket,
and followed whither he led, a long line, soundless and phantom-like
within a phantom world, where a grey mist swirled and drifted in the
death-cold air of dawn. Swift and silent they followed him, these wild
men, with fierce eyes and scowling faces all set toward that mighty
keep that loomed high against the glimmering stars. Axe and bow, sword
and pike and gisarm, in rusty mail, in rags of leather and skins, they
crept from bush to bush, from tree to tree, till they were come to that
little pool wherein Beltane had bathed him aforetime in the dawn. Here
they halted what time Beltane sought to and fro along the bank of the
stream, until at last, within a screen of leaves and vines he found the
narrow opening he sought. Then turned he and beckoned those ghostly,
silent shapes about him, and speaking quick and low, counselled them
"Look now, this secret burrow leadeth under the foundations of the
keep; thus, so soon as we be in, let Walkyn and Giles with fifty men
haste to smite all within the gate-house, then up with portcullis and
down with drawbridge and over into the barbican there to lie in ambush,
what time Roger and I, with Eric here and the fifty and five, shall
fire the keep and, hid within the dark, raise a mighty outcry, that
those within the keep and they that garrison the castle, roused by the
fire and our shout, shall issue out amazed. So will we fall upon them
and they, taken by surprise, shall seek to escape us by the gate. Then,
Walkyn, sally ye out of the barbican and smite them at the drawbridge,
so shall we have them front and rear. How think you? Is it agreed?"
"Agreed! agreed!" came the gruff and whispered chorus.
"Then last--and mark this well each one--till that I give the word, let
no man speak! Let death be swift, but let it be silent."
Then, having drawn his mail-hood about his face and laced it close,
Beltane caught up his axe and stepped into the tunnel. There he kindled
a torch of pine and stooping 'neath the low roof, went on before. One
by one the others followed, Roger and Giles, Walkyn and Eric bearing
the heavy log upon their shoulders, and behind them axe and bow, sword
and pike and gisarm, a wild company in garments of leather and garments
of skins, soft-treading and silent as ghosts--yet purposeful ghosts
Soon came they to the iron door and Beltane stood aside, whereon the
mighty four, bending brawny shoulders, swung the log crashing against
the iron; thrice and four times smote they, might and main, ere rusted
bolt and rivet gave beneath the battery and the door swung wide. Down
went the log, and ready steel flashed as Beltane strode on, his torch
aflare, 'twixt oozing walls, up steps of stone that yet were slimy to
the tread, on and up by winding passage and steep-climbing stairway,
until they came where was a parting of the ways--the first still
ascending, the second leading off at a sharp angle. Here Beltane paused
in doubt, and bidding the others halt, followed the second passage
until he was come to a narrow flight of steps that rose to the stone
roof above. But here, in the wall beside the steps, he beheld a rusty
iron lever, and reaching up, he bore upon the lever and lo! the
flagstone above the steps reared itself on end and showed a square of
Then went Beltane and signalled to the others; so, one by one, they
followed him up through the opening into that same gloomy chamber where
he had lain in bonds and hearkened to wails of torment; but now the
place was bare and empty and the door stood ajar. So came Beltane
thither, bearing the torch, and stepped softly into the room beyond, a
wide room, arras-hung and richly furnished, and looking around upon the
voluptuous luxury of gilded couch and wide, soft bed, Beltane frowned
suddenly upon a woman's dainty, broidered shoe.
"Roger," he whispered, "what place is this?"
"'Tis Red Pertolepe's bed-chamber, master."
"Ah!" sighed Beltane, "'tis rank of him, methinks--lead on, Roger, go
you and Walkyn before them in the dark, and wait for me in the bailey."
One by one, the wild company went by Beltane, fierce-eyed and stealthy,
until there none remained save Giles, who, leaning upon his bow, looked
with yearning eyes upon the costly splendour.
"Aha," he whispered, "a pretty nest, tall brother. I'll warrant ye full
many a fair white dove hath beat her tender pinions--"
"Come!" said Beltane, and speaking, reached out his torch to bed-alcove
and tapestried wall; and immediately silk and arras went up in a puff
of flame--a leaping fire, yellow-tongued, that licked at gilded roof-beam
and carven screen and panel.
"Brother!" whispered Giles, "O brother, 'tis a sin, methinks, to lose
so much good booty. That coffer, now--Ha!" With the cry the archer
leapt out through the tapestried doorway. Came the ring of steel, a
heavy fall, and thereafter a shriek that rang and echoed far and near
ere it sank to a silence wherein a voice whispered:
"Quick, brother--the besotted fools stir at last--away!"
Then, o'erleaping that which sprawled behind the curtain, Beltane sped
along a passage and down a winding stair, yet pausing, ever and anon,
with flaring torch: and ever small fires waxed behind him. So came he
at last to the sally-port and hurling the blazing torch behind him,
closed the heavy door. And now, standing upon the platform, he looked
down into the inner bailey. Dawn was at hand, a glimmering mist wherein
vague forms moved, what time Walkyn, looming ghostly and gigantic in
the mist, mustered his silent, ghostly company ere, lifting his axe, he
turned and vanished, his fifty phantoms at his heels.
Now glancing upward at the rugged face of the keep, Beltane beheld thin
wisps of smoke that curled from every arrow-slit, slow-wreathing
spirals growing ever denser ere they vanished in the clammy mists of
dawn, while from within a muffled clamour rose--low and inarticulate
yet full of terror. Then Beltane strode down the zig-zag stair and came
forthright upon Roger, pale and anxious, who yet greeted him in joyous
"Master, I began to fear for thee. What now?"
"To the arch of the parapet yonder. Let each man crouch there in the
gloom, nor stir until I give word."
Now as they crouched thus, with weapons tight-gripped and eyes that
glared upon the coming day, a sudden trumpet brayed alarm upon the
battlements--shouts were heard far and near, and a running of mailed
feet; steel clashed, the great castle, waking at last, was all astir
about them and full of sudden bustle and tumult. And ever the clamour
of voices waxed upon the misty air from hurrying groups dim-seen that
flitted by, arming as they ran, and ever the fifty and five, crouching
in the dark, impatient for the sign, watched Beltane--his firm-set lip,
his frowning brow; and ever from belching arrow-slit the curling
smoke-wreaths waxed blacker and more dense. Of a sudden, out from the
narrow sally-port burst a huddle of choking men, whose gasping cries
pierced high above the clamour:
"Fire! Fire! Sir Fulk is slain! Sir Fulk lieth death-smitten! Fire!"
From near and far men came running--men affrighted and dazed with
sleep, a pushing, jostling, unordered throng, and the air hummed with
the babel of their voices.
And now at last--up sprang Beltane, his mittened hand aloft.
"Arise!" he cried, "Arise and smite for Pentavalon!" And from the gloom
behind him a hoarse roar went up: "Arise! Arise--Pentavalon!" Then,
while yet the war-cry thundered in the air, they swept down on that
disordered press, and the bailey rang and echoed with the fell sounds
of a close-locked, reeling battle; a hateful din of hoarse shouting, of
shrieks and cries and clashing steel.
Axe and spear, sword and pike and gisarm smote and thrust and swayed;
stumbling feet spurned and trampled yielding forms that writhed,
groaning, beneath the press; faces glared at faces haggard with the
dawn, while to and fro, through swirling mist and acrid smoke, the
battle rocked and swayed. But now the press thinned out, broke and
yielded before Beltane's whirling axe, and turning, he found Roger
beside him all a-sweat and direfully besplashed, his mailed breast
heaving as he leaned gasping upon a broadsword red from point to hilt.
"Ha, master!" he panted,--"'tis done already--see, they break and fly!"
"On!" cried Beltane, "on--pursue! pursue! after them to the gate!"
With axe and spear, with sword and pike and gisarm they smote the
fugitives across the wide space of the outer bailey, under the narrow
arch of the gate-house and out upon the drawbridge beyond. But here, of
a sudden, the fugitives checked their flight as out from the barbican
Walkyn leapt, brandishing his axe, and with the fifty at his back. So
there, upon the bridge, the fight raged fiercer than before; men smote
and died, until of Sir Pertolepe's garrison there none remained save
they that littered that narrow causeway.
"Now by the good Saint Giles--my patron saint," gasped Giles, wiping
the sweat from him, "here was a good and sweet affray, tall brother--a
very proper fight, _pugnus et calcibus_--while it lasted--"
"Aye," growled Walkyn, spurning a smitten wretch down into the moat,
"'twas ended too soon! Be these all in faith, lord?"
But now upon the air rose shrill cries and piercing screams that seemed
to split the dawn.
"O--women!" cried Giles, and forthwith cleansed and sheathed his sword
and fell to twirling his beard.
"Aha, the women!" cried a ragged fellow, turning about, "'tis their
turn--let us to the women--" But a strong hand caught and set him aside
and Beltane strode on before them all, treading swift and light until
he was come to the chapel that stood beside the banqueting hall. And
here he beheld many women, young and fair for the most part, huddled
about the high altar or struggling in the ragged arms that grasped
them. Now did they (these poor souls) looking up, behold one in
knightly mail stained and foul with battle, yet very young and comely
of face, who leaned him upon a mighty, blood-stained axe and scowled
'neath frowning brows. Yet his frown was not for them, nor did his blue
eyes pause at any one of them, whereat hope grew within them and with
white hands outstretched they implored his pity.
"Men of Pentavalon," said he, "as men this night have ye fought in
goodly cause. Will ye now forget your manhood and new-found honour, ye
that did swear to me upon your swords? Come, loose me these women!"
"Not so," cried one, a great, red-headed rogue, "we have fought to
pleasure thee--now is our turn--"
"Loose me these women!" cried Beltane, his blue eyes fierce.
"Nay, these be our booty, and no man shall gainsay us. How think ye,
Now Beltane smiled upon this red-haired knave and, smiling, drew a slow
pace nearer, the great axe a-swing in his mailed hand.
"Fellow," quoth he, kind-voiced, "get thee out now, lest I slay thee!"
Awhile the fellow glared upon Beltane, beheld his smiling look and
deadly eye, and slowly loosing his trembling captive, turned and strode
out, muttering as he went. Then spake Beltane to the shrinking women,
yet even so his blue eyes looked upon none of them. Quoth he:
"Ye are free to go whither ye will. Take what ye will, none shall
gainsay you, but get you gone within this hour, for in the hour
Garthlaxton shall be no more."
Then beckoning Walkyn he bade him choose six men, and turning to the
"These honourable men shall bring you safe upon your way--haste you to
be gone. And should any ask how Garthlaxton fell, say, 'twas by the
hand of God, as a sure and certain sign that Pentavalon shall yet arise
to smite evil from her borders. Say also that he that spake you this
was one Beltane, son of Beltane the Strong, heretofore Duke of
Pentavalon." Thus said Beltane unto these women, his brows knit, and
with eyes that looked aside from each and every, and so went forth of
HOW GILES MADE A MERRY SONG
Morning, young and fragrant, bedecked and brave with gems of dewy fire;
a blithe morning, wherein trees stirred whispering and new-waked birds
piped joyous welcome to the sun, whose level, far-flung beams filled
the world with glory save where, far to the south, a pillar of smoke
rose upon the stilly air, huge, awful, and black as sin--a writhing
column shot with flame that went up high as heaven.
"O merry, aye merry, right merry I'll be,
To live and to love 'neath the merry green tree,
Nor the rain, nor the sleet,
Nor the cold, nor the heat,
I'll mind, if my love will come thither to me."
Sang Giles, a sprig of wild flowers a-dance in his new-gotten,
gleaming bascinet, his long-bow upon his mailed shoulder, and, strapped
to his wide back, a misshapen bundle that clinked melodiously with
every swinging stride; and, while he sang, the ragged rogues about him
ceased their noise and ribaldry to hearken in delight, and when he
paused, cried out amain for more. Whereupon Giles, nothing loth, brake
"O when is the time a maid to kiss,
Tell me this, ah, tell me this?
'Tis when the day is new begun,
'Tis to the setting of the sun,
Is time for kissing ever done?
Tell me this, ah, tell me this?"
Thus blithely sang Giles the Archer, above the tramp and jingle of the
many pack-horses, until, being come to the top of a hill, he stood
aside to let the ragged files swing by and stayed to look back at
Now as he stood thus, beholding that mighty flame, Walkyn and Roger
paused beside him, and stood to scowl upon the fire with never a word
"How now," cried Giles, "art in the doleful dumps forsooth on so blithe
a morn, with two-score pack-horses heavy with booty--and Garthlaxton
aflame yonder? Aha, 'tis a rare blaze yon, a fire shall warm the heart
of many a sorry wretch, methinks."
"Truly," nodded Roger, "I have seen yon flaming keep hung round with
hanged men ere now--and in the dungeons beneath--I have seen--God
forgive me, what I have seen! Ha! Burn, accursed walls, burn! Full many
shall rejoice in thy ruin, as I do--lorn women and fatherless
children--fair women ravished of life and honour!"
"Aye," cried Giles, "and lovely ladies brought to shame! So,
"And," quoth frowning Walkyn, "I would that Pertolepe's rank carcass
smoked with thee!"
"Content you, my gentle Walkyn," nodded the archer, "hell-fire shall
have him yet, and groweth ever hotter against the day--content you. So
away with melancholy, be blithe and merry as I am and the sweet-voiced
throstles yonder--the wanton rogues! Ha! by Saint Giles! See where our
youthful, god-like brother rideth, his brow as gloomy as his hair is
"Ah," muttered Roger, "he grieveth yet for Beda the Jester--and he but
"Yet a man-like fool, methinks!" quoth the archer. "But for our tall
brother now, he is changed these latter days: he groweth harsh,
methinks, and something ungentle at times." And Giles thoughtfully
touched his arm with tentative fingers.
"Why, the torment is apt to change a man," said Walkyn, grim-smiling.
"I have tried it and I know."
Now hereupon Giles fell to whistling, Walkyn to silence and Roger to
scowling; oft looking back, jealous-eyed, to where Beltane rode a black
war-horse, his mail-coif thrown back, his chin upon his breast, his
eyes gloomy and wistful; and as often as he looked, Roger sighed amain.
Whereat at last the archer cried:
"Good lack, Roger, and wherefore puff ye so? Why glower ye, man, and
"Snort thyself!" growled Roger.
"Nay, I had rather talk."
"I had rather be silent."
"Excellent, Roger; so will I talk for thee and me. First will I show
three excellent reasons for happiness--_videlicit:_ the birds sing, I
talk, and Garthlaxton burns.--"
"I would thou did'st burn with it," growled Roger. "But here is a deed
shall live when thou and I are dust, archer!"
"Verily, good Roger, for here and now will I make a song on't for souls
unborn to sing--a good song with a lilt to trip it lightly on the
tongue, as thus:
"How Beltane burned Garthlaxton low
With lusty Giles, whose good yew bow
Sped many a caitiff rogue, I trow,
"How!" exclaimed Roger, "here be two whole lines to thy knavish self
and but one to our master?"
"Aye," grumbled Walkyn, "and what of Roger?--what of me?--we were
there also, methinks?"
"Nay, show patience," said Giles, "we will amend that in the next
"There Roger fought, and Walkyn too,
And Giles that bare the bow of yew;
O swift and strong his arrows flew,
"How think ye of that, now?"
"I think, here is too much Giles," said Roger.
"Forsooth, and say ye so indeed? Let us then to another verse:
"Walkyn a mighty axe did sway,
Black Roger's sword some few did slay,
Yet Giles slew many more than they,
"Here now, we have each one his line apiece, which is fair--and the
lines trip it commendingly, how think ye?"
"I think it a lie!" growled Roger.
"Aye me!" sighed the archer, "thou'rt fasting, Rogerkin, and an empty
belly ever giveth thee an ill tongue. Yet for thy behoof my song shall
be ended, thus:
"They gave Garthlaxton to the flame,
Be glory to Duke Beltane's name,
And unto lusty Giles the same,
"_Par Dex!_" he broke off, "here is a right good song for thee, trolled
forth upon this balmy-breathing morn sweet as any merle; a song for
thee and me to sing to our children one day, mayhap--so come, rejoice,
my rueful Rogerkin--smile, for to-day I sing and Garthlaxton is
"And my master grieveth for a Fool!" growled sulky Roger, "and twenty
and two good men slain."
"Why, see you, Roger, here is good cause for rejoicing also, for, our
youthful Ajax grieving for a dead Fool, it standeth to reason he shall
better love a live one--and thou wert ever a fool, Roger--so born and
so bred. As for our comrades slain, take ye comfort in this, we shall
divide their share of plunder, and in this thought is a world of
solace. Remembering the which, I gathered unto myself divers pretty
toys--you shall hear them sweetly a-jingle in my fardel here. As, item:
a silver crucifix, very artificially wrought and set with divers gems--
a pretty piece! Item: a golden girdle from the East--very sweet and
rare. Item: four silver candlesticks--heavy, Roger! Item: a gold hilted
dagger--a notable trinket. Item--"
A sudden shout from the vanward, a crashing in the underbrush beside
the way, a shrill cry, and three or four of Eric's ragged rogues
appeared dragging a woman betwixt them, at sight of whom the air was
filled with fierce shouts and cries.
"The witch! Ha! 'Tis the witch of Hangstone Waste! To the water with
the hag! Nay, burn her! Burn her!"
"Aye," cried Roger, pushing forward, "there's nought like the fire for
your devils or demons!"
Quoth the archer:
"_In nomen Dominum_--Holy Saint Giles, 'tis a comely maid!"
"Foul daughter of an accursed dam!" quoth Roger, spitting and drawing a
cross in the dust with his bow-stave.
"With the eyes of an angel!" said Giles, pushing nearer where stood a
maid young and shapely, trembling in the close grasp of one Gurth, a
ragged, red-haired giant, whose glowing eyes stared lustfully upon her
ripe young beauty.
"'Tis Mellent!" cried the fellow. "'Tis the witch's daughter that hath
escaped me thrice by deviltry and witchcraft--"
"Nay--nay," panted the maid 'twixt pallid lips, "nought am I but a poor
maid gathering herbs and simples for my mother. Ah, show pity--"
"Witch!" roared a score of voices, "Witch!"
"Not so, in sooth--in very sooth," she gasped 'twixt sobs of terror,
"nought but a poor maid am I--and the man thrice sought me out and
would have shamed me but that I escaped, for that I am very swift of
"She lured me into the bog with devil-fires!" cried Gurth.
"And would thou had'st rotted there!" quoth Giles o' the Bow, edging
nearer. Now hereupon the maid turned and looked at Giles through the
silken curtain of her black and glossy hair, and beholding the entreaty
of that look, the virginal purity of those wide blue eyes, the archer
stood awed and silent, his comely face grew red, grew pale--then, out
flashed his dagger and he crouched to spring on Gurth; but, of a
sudden, Beltane rode in between, at whose coming a shout went up and
thereafter a silence fell. But now at sight of Beltane, the witch-maid
uttered a strange cry, and shrinking beneath his look, crouched upon
her knees and spake in strange, hushed accents.
"Messire," she whispered, "mine eyes do tell me thou art the lord
"Aye, 'tis so."
"Ah!" she cried, "now glory be and thanks to God that I do see thee
hale and well!" So saying, she shivered and covered her face. Now while
Beltane yet stared, amazed by her saying, the bushes parted near by and
a hooded figure stepped forth silent and soft of foot, at sight of whom
all men gave back a pace, and Roger, trembling, drew a second cross in
the dust with his bow-stave, what time a shout went up:
"Ha!--the Witch--'tis the witch of Hangstone Waste herself!"
Very still she stood, looking round upon them all with eyes that
glittered 'neath the shadow of her hood; and when at last she spake,
her voice was rich and sweet to hear.
"Liar!" she said, and pointed at Gurth a long, white finger, "unhand
her, liar, lest thou wither, flesh and bone, body and soul!" Now here,
once again, men gave back cowering 'neath her glance, while Roger
crossed himself devoutly.
"The evil eye!" he muttered 'twixt chattering teeth, "cross thy
fingers, Giles, lest she blast thee!" But Gurth shook his head and
"Fools!" he cried, "do ye forget? No witch hath power i' the sun! She
can work no evil i' the sunshine. Seize her!--'tis an accursed hag--
seize her! Bring her to the water and see an she can swim with a stone
at her hag's neck. All witches are powerless by day. See, thus I spit
upon and defy her!"
Now hereupon a roar of anger went up and, for that they had feared her
before, so now grew they more fierce; a score of eager hands dragged at
her, hands that rent her cloak, that grasped with cruel fingers at her
long grey hair, bending her this way and that; but she uttered no groan
nor complaint, only the maid cried aloud most pitiful to hear, whereat
Giles, dagger in hand, pushed and strove to come at Gurth. Then Beltane
alighted from his horse and parting the throng with mailed hands, stood
within the circle and looking round upon them laughed, and his laugh
was harsh and bitter.
"Forsooth, and must ye war with helpless women, O men of Pentavalon?"
quoth he, and laughed again right scornfully; whereat those that held
the witch relaxed their hold and fain would justify themselves.
"She is a witch--a cursed witch!" they cried.
"She is a woman," says Beltane.
"Aye--a devil-woman--a notable witch--we know her of old!"
"Verily," cried one, "'tis but a sennight since she plagued me with
"And me with an ague!" cried another.
"She bewitched my shafts that they all flew wide o' the mark!" cried a
"She cast on me a spell whereby I nigh did perish i' the fen--"
"She is a hag--she's demon-rid and shall to the fire!" they shouted
"That doeth no man harm by day," said Beltane, "so by day shall no man
"Aye, lord," quoth Roger, "but how by night? 'tis by night she may work
her spells and blast any that she will, or haunt them with goblins
damned that they do run mad, or--"
"Enough!" cried Beltane frowning, "on me let her bewitchments fall;
thus, see you, an I within this next week wither and languish 'neath
her spells, then let her burn an ye will: but until this flesh doth
shrivel on these my bones, no man shall do her hurt. So now let there
be an end--free these women, let your ranks be ordered, and march--"
"Comrades all!" cried red-haired Gurth, "will ye be slaves henceforth
to this girl-faced youth? We have arms now and rich booty. Let us back
to the merry greenwood, where all men are equal--come, let us be gone,
and take these witches with us to our sport--"
But in this moment Beltane turned.
"Girl-faced, quotha?" he cried; and beholding his look, Gurth of a
sudden loosed the swooning maid and, drawing sword, leapt and smote at
Beltane's golden head; but Beltane caught the blow in his mailed hand,
and snapped the blade in sunder, and, seizing Gurth about the loins,
whirled him high in air; then, while all men blenched and held their
breath waiting the thud of his broken body in the dust, Beltane stayed
and set him down upon his feet. And lo! Gurth's cheek was pale, his eye
wide and vacant, and his soul sat numbed within him. So Beltane took
him by the throat, and, laughing fierce, shook him to and fro.
"Beast!" said he, "unfit art thou to march with these my comrades. Now
therefore do I cast thee out. Take thy life and go, and let any follow
thee that will--Pentavalon needeth not thy kind. Get thee from among
us, empty-handed as I found thee--thy share of treasure shall go to
Now even as Beltane spake, Gurth's red head sank until his face was
hidden within his hands; strong hands, that slowly clenched themselves
into anger-trembling fists. And ever as Beltane spake, the witch,
tossing back her long grey hair, looked and looked on him with bright
and eager eyes; a wondering look, quick to note his shape and goodly
size, his wide blue eyes, his long and golden hair and the proud, high
carriage of his head: and slowly, to her wonderment came awe and
growing joy. But Beltane spake on unheeding:
"Thou dost know me for a hunted man with a price upon my head, but thou
art thing so poor thy death can pleasure no man. So take thy life and
get thee hence, but come not again, for in that same hour will I hang
thee in a halter--go!" So, with drooping head, Gurth of the red hair
turned him about, and plunging into the green, was gone; then Beltane
looked awhile upon the others that stood shifting on their feet, and
with never a word betwixt them.
"Comrades," quoth he, "mighty deeds do lie before us--such works as
only true men may achieve. And what is a man? A man, methinks, is he,
that, when he speaketh, speaketh ever from his heart; that, being quick
to hate all evil actions, is quicker to forgive, and who, fearing
neither ghost nor devil, spells nor witchcraft, dreadeth only
dishonour, and thus, living without fear, he without fear may die. So
now God send we all be men, my brothers. To your files there--pikes to
the front and rear, bows to the flanks--forward!"
But now, as with a ring and clash and tramp of feet the ragged company
fell into rank and order, the witch-woman came swiftly beside Beltane
and, touching him not, spake softly in his ear.
"Beltane--Beltane, lord Duke of Pentavalon!" Now hereupon Beltane
started, and turning, looked upon her grave-eyed.
"What would ye, woman?" he questioned.
"Born wert thou of a mother chaste as fair, true wife unto the Duke thy
father--a woman sweet and holy who liveth but to the good of others:
yet was brother slain by brother, and thou baptised in blood ere now!"
"Woman," quoth he, his strong hands a-tremble, "who art thou--what
knowest thou of my--mother? Speak!"
"Not here, my lord--but, an thou would'st learn more, come unto
Hangstone Waste at the full o' the moon, stand you where the death-stone
stands, that some do call the White Morte-stone. There shalt thou
learn many things, perchance. Thou hast this day saved a witch from
cruel death and a lowly beggar-maid from shame. A witch! A beggar-maid!
The times be out a joint, methinks. Yet, witch and beggar, do we thank
thee, lord Duke. Fare thee well--until the full o' the moon!" So spake
she, and clasping the young maid within her arm they passed into the
brush and so were gone.
Now while Beltane stood yet pondering her words, came Roger to his
side, to touch him humbly on the arm.
"Lord," said he, "be not beguiled by yon foul witches' arts: go not to
Hangstone Waste lest she be-devil thee with goblins or transform thee
to a loathly toad. Thou wilt not go, master?"
"At the full o' the moon, Roger!"
"Why then," muttered Roger gulping, and clenching trembling hands, "we
must needs be plague-smitten, blasted and everlastingly damned, for
needs must I go with thee."
Very soon pike and bow and gisarm fell into array; the pack-horses
stumbled forward, the dust rose upon the warm, still air. Now as they
strode along with ring and clash and the sound of voice and laughter,
came Giles to walk at Beltane's stirrup; and oft he glanced back along
the way and oft he sighed, a thing most rare in him; at last he spake,
"Witchcraft is forsooth a deadly sin, tall brother?"
"Verily, Giles, yet there be worse, methinks."
"Worse! Ha, 'tis true, 'tis very true!" nodded the archer. "And then,
forsooth, shall the mother's sin cleave unto the daughter--and she so
wondrous fair? The saints forbid." Now hereupon the archer's gloom was
lifted and he strode along singing softly 'neath his breath; yet, in a
while he frowned, sudden and fierce: "As for that foul knave Gurth--ha,
methinks I had been wiser to slit his roguish weasand, for 'tis in my
mind he may live to discover our hiding place to our foes, and
perchance bring down Red Pertolepe to Hundleby Fen."
"In truth," said Beltane, slow and thoughtful, "so do I think; 'twas
for this I spared his life."
Now here Giles the Archer turned and stared upon Beltane with jaws
agape, and fain he would have questioned further, but Beltane's gloomy
brow forbade; yet oft he looked askance at that golden head, and oft he
sighed and shook his own, what time they marched out of the golden
glare of morning into the dense green depths of the forest.
HOW BELTANE MET WITH A YOUTHFUL KNIGHT
Now at this time the fame of Beltane's doing went throughout the Duchy,
insomuch that divers and many were they that sought him out within the
green; masterless men, serfs new-broke from thraldom, desperate fellows
beyond the law, thieves and rogues in dire jeopardy of life or limb:
off-scourings, these, of camp and town and village, hither come seeking
shelter with Beltane in the wild wood, and eager for his service.
In very truth, a turbulent company this, prone to swift quarrel and
deadly brawl; but, at these times, fiercer than any was Walkyn o' the
Axe, grimmer than any was Roger the Black, whereas Giles was quick as
his tongue and Eric calm and resolute: four mighty men were these, but
mightier than all was Beltane. Wherefore at this time Beltane set
himself to bring order from chaos and to teach these wild men the
virtues of obedience; but here indeed was a hard matter, for these were
lawless men and very fierce withal. But upon a morning, ere the sun had
chased the rosy mists into marsh and fen, Beltane strode forth from the
cave wherein he slept, and lifting the hunting horn he bare about his
neck, sounded it fierce and shrill. Whereon rose a sudden uproar, and
out from their caves, from sleeping-places hollowed within the rocks,
stumbled his ragged following--an unordered rabblement, half-naked,
unarmed, that ran hither and thither, shouting and rubbing sleep from
their eyes, or stared fearfully upon the dawn. Anon Beltane sounded
again, whereat they, beholding him, came thronging about him and
questioned him eagerly on all sides, as thus:
"Master, are we attacked forsooth?"
"Is the Red Pertolepe upon us?"
"Lord, what shall we do--?"
"Lead us, master--lead us!"
Then, looking upon their wild disorder, Beltane laughed for scorn:--
"Rats!" quoth he, "O rats--is it thus ye throng to the slaughter, then?
Were I in sooth Red Pertolepe with but a score at my back I had slain
ye all ere sun-up! Where be your out-posts--where be your sentinels?
Are ye so eager to kick within a hangman's noose?"
Now hereupon divers growled or muttered threateningly, while others,
yawning, would have turned them back to sleep; but striding among them,
Beltane stayed them with voice and hand--and voice was scornful and
hand was heavy: moreover, beside him stood Roger and Giles, with Walkyn
and Eric of the wry neck.
"Fools!" he cried, "for that Pentavalon doth need men, so now must I
teach ye other ways. Fall to your ranks there--ha! scowl and ye will
but use well your ears--mark me, now. But two nights ago we burned
down my lord Duke's great castle of Garthlaxton: think you my lord Duke
will not seek vengeance dire upon these our bodies therefore? Think ye
the Red Pertolepe will not be eager for our blood? But yest're'en, when
I might have slain yon knavish Gurth, I suffered him to go--and
wherefore? For that Gurth, being at heart a traitor and rogue ingrain,
might straightway his him to the Duke at Barham Broom with offers to
guide his powers hither. But when they be come, his chivalry and heavy
armed foot here within the green, then will we fire the woods about
them and from every point of vantage beset them with our arrows--"
"Ha! Bows--bows!" cried Giles, tossing up his bow-stave and catching
it featly--"Oho! tall brother--fair lord Duke, here is a sweet and
notable counsel. Ha, bows! Hey for bows and bills i' the merry
"So, perceive me," quoth Beltane, "thus shall the hunters peradventure
become the hunted, for, an Duke Ivo come, 'tis like enough he ne'er
shall win free of our ring of fire." Now from these long and ragged
ranks a buzz arose that swelled and swelled to a fierce shout.
"The fire!" they cried. "Ha, to burn them i' the fire!"
"But so to do," quoth Beltane, "rats must become wolves. Valiant men ye
are I know, yet are ye but a poor unordered rabblement, mete for
slaughter. So now will I teach ye, how here within the wild-wood we may
withstand Black Ivo and all his powers. Giles, bring now the book of
clean parchment I took from Garthlaxton, together with pens and ink-horn,
and it shall be henceforth a record of us every one, our names, our
number, and the good or ill we each one do achieve."
So there and then, while the sun rose high and higher and the mists of
dawn thinned and vanished, phantom-like, the record was begun. Two
hundred and twenty and four they mustered, and the name of each and
every Giles duly wrote down within the book in right fair and clerkly
hand. Thereafter Beltane numbered them into four companies; over the
first company he set Walkyn, over the second Giles, over the third
Roger, and over the fourth Eric of the wry neck. Moreover he caused to
be brought all the armour they had won, and ordered that all men should
henceforth go armed from head to foot, yet many there were that needs
must go short awhile.
Now he ordained these four companies should keep watch and watch day
and night with sentinels and outposts in the green; and when they
murmured at this he stared them into silence.
"Fools!" said he, "an ye would lie secure, so must ye watch constantly
against surprise. And furthermore shall ye exercise daily now, at the
spoke command, to address your pikes 'gainst charge of horse or foot,
and to that company adjudged the best and stoutest will I, each week,
give store of money from my share of booty. So now, Walkyn, summon ye
your company and get to your ward."
Thus it was that slowly out of chaos came order, yet it came not
unopposed, for many and divers were they that growled against this new
order of things; but Beltane's hand was swift and heavy, moreover,
remembering how he had dealt with Tostig, they growled amain but hasted
to obey. So, in place of idleness was work, and instead of quarrel and
riot was peace among the wild men and a growing content. Insomuch that
upon a certain balmy eve, Giles the Archer, lolling beside the fire
looking upon Black Roger, who sat beside him furbishing his mail-shirt,
spake his mind on this wise:
"Mark ye these lamb-like wolves of ours, sweet Roger? There hath been
no blood-letting betwixt them these four days, and scarce a quarrel."
ROGER. "Aye, this comes of my lord. My master hath a wondrous tongue,
GILES. "My brother-in-arms hath a wondrous strong fist, Rogerkin--"
ROGER. "Thy brother-in-arms, archer? Thine, forsooth! Ha!"
GILES. "Snort not, my gentle Roger, for I fell in company with him ere
he knew aught of thee--so thy snort availeth nothing, my Rogerkin.
Howbeit, our snarling wolves do live like tender lambs these days, the
which doth but go to prove how blessed a thing is a fist--a fist, mark
you, strong to strike, big to buffet, and swift to smite: a capable
fist, Roger, to strike, buffet and smite a man to the good of his
ROGER. "In sooth my master is a noble knight, ne'er shall we see his
equal. And yet, Giles, methinks he doth mope and grieve these days. He
groweth pale-cheeked and careworn, harsh of speech and swift to anger.
Behold him now!" and Roger pointed to where Beltane sat apart (as was
become his wont of late) his axe betwixt his knees, square chin propped
upon clenched fist, scowling into the fire that burned before his
"Whence cometh the so great change in him, think you, Giles?"
"For that, while I am I and he is himself, thou art but what thou art,
my Rogerkin--well enough after thy fashion, mayhap, but after all
thou art only thyself."
"Ha!" growled Roger, "and what of thee, archer?"
"I am his brother-in-arms, Rogerkin, and so know him therefore as a
wondrous lord, a noble knight, a goodly youth and a sweet lad. Some
day, when I grow too old to bear arms, I will to pen and ink-horn and
will make of him a ballade that shall, mayhap, outlive our time. A
notable ballade, something on this wise:--
"Of gentle Beltane I will tell,
A knight who did all knights excel,
Who loved of all men here below
His faithful Giles that bare the bow;
For Giles full strong and straight could shoot,
A goodly man was Giles to boot.
A lusty fighter sure was Giles
In counsel sage and full of wiles.
And Giles was handsome, Giles was young,
And Giles he had a merry--"
"How now, Roger, man--wherefore interrupt me?"
"For that there be too many of Giles hereabouts, and one Giles talketh
enough for twenty. So will I to Walkyn that seldom talketh enough for
So saying Roger arose, donned his shirt of mail and, buckling his sword
about him, strode incontinent away.
And in a while Beltane arose also, and climbing one of the many
precipitous paths, answered the challenge of sentinel and outpost and
went on slow-footed as one heavy in thought, yet with eyes quick to
heed how thick was the underbrush hereabouts with dead wood and bracken
apt to firing. Before him rose an upland crowned by a belt of mighty
forest trees and beyond, a road, or rather track, that dipped and wound
away into the haze of evening. Presently, as he walked beneath this
leafy twilight, he heard the luring sound of running water, and turning
thither, laid him down where was a small and placid pool, for he was
athirst. But as he stooped to drink, he started, and thereafter hung
above this pellucid mirror staring down at the face that stared up at
him with eyes agleam 'neath lowering brows, above whose close-knit
gloom a lock of hair gleamed snow-white amid the yellow. Long stayed he
thus, to mark the fierce curve of nostril, the square grimness of jaw
and chin, and the lips that met in a harsh line, down-trending and
relentless. And gazing thus upon his image, he spake beneath his
"O lady! O wilful Helen! thy soft white hand hath set its mark upon me;
the love-sick youth is grown a man, meseemeth. Well, so be it!" Thus
saying, he laughed harshly and stooping, drank his fill.
Now as he yet lay beside the brook hearkening to its pretty babel, he
was aware of another sound drawing nearer--the slow plodding of a
horse's hoofs upon the road below; and glancing whence it came he
beheld a solitary knight whose mail gleamed 'neath a rich surcoat and
whose shield flamed red with sunset. While Beltane yet watched this
solitary rider, behold two figures that crouched in the underbrush
growing beside the way; stealthy figures, that flitted from tree to
tree and bush to bush, keeping pace with the slow-riding horseman; and
as they came nearer, Beltane saw that these men who crouched and stole
so swift and purposeful were Walkyn and Black Roger. Near and nearer
they drew, the trackers and the tracked, till they were come to a place
where the underbrush fell away and cover there was none: and here,
very suddenly, forth leapt Roger with Walkyn at his heels; up reared
the startled horse, and thereafter the knight was dragged from his
saddle and Walkyn's terrible axe swung aloft for the blow, but Black
Roger turned and caught Walkyn's arm and so they strove together
furiously, what time the knight lay out-stretched upon the ling and
"Ha! Fool!" raged Walkyn, "loose my arm--what would ye?"
"Shalt not slay him," cried Roger, "'tis a notch--'tis a notch from my
accursed belt--shalt not slay him, I tell thee!"
"Now out upon thee for a mad knave!" quoth Walkyn.
"Knave thyself!" roared Black Roger, and so they wrestled fiercely
together; but, little by little, Walkyn's size and bull strength began
to tell, whereupon back sprang nimble Roger, and as Walkyn's axe
gleamed, so gleamed Roger's sword. But now as they circled warily about
each other, seeking an opening for blow or thrust, there came a rush of
feet, and Beltane leapt betwixt them, and bestriding the fallen knight,
fronted them in black and bitter anger.
"Ha, rogues!" he cried, "art become thieves and murderers so soon,
then? Would'st shed each other's blood for lust of booty like any other
lawless knaves, forsooth? Shame--O shame on ye both!"
So saying, he stooped, and lifting the unconscious knight, flung him
across his shoulder and strode off, leaving the twain to stare upon
each other shame-faced.
Scowling and fierce-eyed Beltane descended into the hollow, whereupon
up sprang Giles with divers others and would have looked upon and aided
with the captive; but beholding Beltane's frown they stayed their
questions and stood from his path. So came he to a certain cave
hollowed within the hill-side--one of many such--but the rough walls of
this cave Black Roger had adorned with a rich arras, and had prepared
also a bed of costly furs; here Beltane laid the captive, and sitting
within the mouth of the cave--beyond which a fire burned--fell to
scowling at the flame. And presently as he sat thus came Roger and
Walkyn, who fain would have made their peace, but Beltane fiercely bade
them to begone.
"Lord," quoth Walkyn, fumbling with his axe, "we found this knight hard
by, so, lest he should disclose the secret of this our haven--I would
have slain him--"
"Master," said Roger, "'tis true I had a mind to his horse and armour,
since we do such things lack, yet would I have saved him alive and cut
from my belt another accursed notch--"
"So art thou a fool, Roger," quoth Walkyn, "for an this knight live,
this our refuge is secret no longer."
"Ha!" sneered Beltane, "what matter for that an it shelter but
murderers and thieving knaves--"
"Dost name me murderer?" growled Walkyn.
"And me a thief, master?" sighed Roger, "I that am thy man, that would
but have borrowed--"
"Peace!" cried Beltane, "hence--begone, and leave me to my thoughts!"
Hereupon Walkyn turned and strode away, twirling his axe, but Roger
went slow-footed and with head a-droop what time Beltane frowned into
the fire, his scowl blacker than ever. But as he sat thus, from the
gloom of the cave behind him a voice spake--a soft voice and low, at
sound whereof he started and turned him about.
"Meseemeth thy thoughts are evil, messire."
"Of a verity, sir knight: for needs must I think of women and the ways
of women! To-night am I haunted of bitter memory."
Now of a sudden, the stranger knight beholding Beltane in the light of
the fire, started up to his elbow to stare and stare; then quailing,
shivering, shrank away, hiding his face within his mailed hands.
Whereat spake Beltane in amaze:
"How now, sir knight--art sick in faith? Dost ail of some wound--?"
"Not so--ah, God! not so. Those fetters--upon thy wrists, messire--?"
"Alack, sir knight," laughed Beltane, "and is it my looks afflict thee
so? 'Tis true we be wild rogues hereabout, evil company for gentle
knights. Amongst us ye shall find men new broke from the gallows-foot
and desperate knaves for whom the dungeon yawns. As for me, these gyves
upon my wrists were riveted there by folly, for fool is he that
trusteth to woman and the ways of woman. So will I wear them henceforth
until my work be done to mind me of my folly and of one I loved so much
I would that she had died ere that she slew my love for her."
Thus spake Beltane staring ever into the fire, joying bitterly to voice
his grief unto this strange knight who had risen softly and now stood
upon the other side of the fire. And looking upon him in a while.
Beltane saw that he was but a youth, slender and shapely in his rich
surcoat and costly mail, the which, laced close about cheek and chin,
showed little of his face below the gleaming bascinet, yet that little
smooth-skinned and pale.
"Sir knight," said Beltane, "free art thou to go hence, nor shall any
stay or spoil thee. Yet first, hear this: thou art perchance some
roving knight seeking adventure to the glory and honour of some fair
lady. O folly! choose you something more worthy--a horse is a noble
beast, and dogs, they say, are faithful. But see you, a woman's love is
a pitiful thing at best, while dogs and horses be a-plenty. Give not
thine heart into a woman's hand lest she tear it in her soft, white
fingers: set not thine honour beneath her shapely feet, lest she tread
it into the shameful mire. So fare thee well, sir knight. God go with
thee and keep thee ever from the love of woman!"
So saying Beltane rose, and lifting the bugle-horn he wore, sounded it;
whereon came all and sundry, running and with weapons brandished--but
Roger first of all.
To all of whom Beltane spake thus:
"Behold here this gentle knight our guest is for the nonce--entreat him
courteously therefore; give him all that he doth lack and thereafter
set him upon his way--"
But hereupon divers cast evil looks upon the knight, murmuring among
themselves--and loudest of all Walkyn.
"He knoweth the secret of our hiding-place!"
"'Tis said he knoweth the causeway through the fen!"
"He will betray us!"
"Dogs!" said Beltane, clenching his hands, "will ye defy me then? I say
this knight shall go hence and none withstand him. Make way, then--or
must I?" But now spake the youthful knight his gaze still bent upon
the flame, nor seemed he to heed the fierce faces and eager steel that
girt him round. "Nay, messire, for here methinks my quest is ended!"
"Thy quest, sir knight--how so?" Then the knight turned and looked
upon Beltane. Quoth he: "By thy size and knightly gear, by thy--thy
yellow hair, methinks thou art Beltane, son of Beltane the Strong?"
"Verily, 'tis so that I am called. What would you of me?" "This,
messire." Herewith the stranger knight loosed belt and surcoat and drew
forth a long sword whose broad blade glittered in the firelight, and
gave its massy hilt to Beltane's grasp. And, looking upon its shining
blade, Beltane beheld the graven legend "Resurgam." Now looking upon
this, Beltane drew a deep, slow breath and turned upon the youthful
knight with eyes grown suddenly fierce. Quoth he softly: "Whence had
you this, sir knight?" "From one that liveth but for thee." "Ah!"
said Beltane with scornful lip, "know ye such an one, in faith?" "Aye,
messire," spake the knight, low-voiced yet eager, "one that doth
languish for thee, that hath sent me in quest of thee bearing this thy
sword for a sign, and to bid thee to return since without thee life is
an emptiness, and there is none so poor, so heart-sick and woeful as
Helen of Mortain!" "Ah--liar!" cried Beltane, and reaching out fierce
hands crushed the speaker to his knees; but even so, the young knight
spake on, soft-voiced and calm of eye: "Greater than thine is her love
for thee, methinks, since 'tis changeless and abiding--Slay me an thou
wilt, but while I live I will declare her true to thee. Whatever hath
chanced, whate'er may chance, despite all doubts and enemies she doth
love--love--love thee through life till death and beyond. O my lord
Beltane--" "Liar!" spake Beltane again. But now was he seized of a
madness, a cold rage and a deadly. "Liar!" said he, "thou art methinks
one of her many wooers, so art thou greater fool. But Helen the
Beautiful hath lovers a-plenty, and being what she is shall nothing
miss thee: howbeit thou art surely liar, and surely will I slay thee!"
So saying he swung aloft the great blade, but even so the young knight
fronted the blow with eyes that quailed not: pale-lipped, yet smiling
and serene; and then, or ever the stroke could fall--an arm, bronzed
and hairy, came between, and Roger spake hoarse-voiced: "Master," he
cried, "for that thy man am I and love thee, shalt ne'er do this till
hast first slain me. 'Tis thus thou did'st teach me--to show mercy to
the weak and helpless, and this is a youth, unarmed. Bethink thee,
master--O bethink thee!" Slowly Beltane's arm sank, and looking upon
the bright blade he let it fall upon the ling and covered his face
within his two hands as if its glitter had blinded him. Thus did he
stand awhile, the fetters agleam upon his wrists, and thereafter fell
upon his knees and with his face yet hidden, spake: "Walkyn," said he,
"O Walkyn, but a little while since I named thee 'murderer'! Yet what,
in sooth, am I? So now do I humbly ask thy pardon. As for thee, sir
knight, grant thy pity to one that is abased. Had I tears, now might I
shed them, but tears are not for me. Go you therefore to--to her that
sent thee and say that Beltane died within the dungeons of Garthlaxton.
Say that I who speak am but a sword for the hand of God henceforth, to
smite and stay not until wrong shall be driven hence. Say that this was
told thee by a sorry wight who, yearning for death, must needs cherish
life until his vow be accomplished." But as Beltane spake thus upon
his knees, his head bowed humbly before them all, the young knight came
near with mailed hands outstretched, yet touched him not. "Messire,"
said he, "thou hast craved of me a boon the which I do most full and
freely grant. But now would I beg one of thee." "'Tis thine," quoth
Beltane, "who am I to gainsay thee?" "Messire, 'tis this; that thou
wilt take me to serve thee, to go beside thee, sharing thy woes and
perils henceforth." "So be it, sir knight," answered Beltane, "though
mine shall be a hazardous service, mayhap. So, when ye will thou shalt
be free of it." Thus saying he arose and went aside and sat him down
in the mouth of the cave. But in a while came Roger to him, his
sword-belt a-swing in his hand, and looked upon his gloomy face with eyes
full troubled. And presently he spake, yet halting in his speech and
timid: "Master," he said, "suffer me a question." "Verily," quoth
Beltane, looking up, "as many as thou wilt, my faithful Roger."
"Master," says Roger, twisting and turning the belt in hairy hands, "I
would but ask thee if--if I might cut another notch from this my
accursed belt--a notch, lord--I--the young knight--?" "You mean him
that I would have murdered, Roger? Reach me hither thy belt." So
Beltane took the belt and with his dagger cut thence two notches,
whereat quoth Roger, staring: "Lord, I did but save one life--the
young knight--" "Thou did'st save two," answered Beltane, "for had I
slain him, Roger--O, had I slain him, then on this night should'st have
hanged me for a murderer. Here be two notches for thee--so take back
thy belt and go, get thee to thy rest--and, Roger--pray for one that
tasteth death in life." So Roger took the belt, and turning softly,
left Beltane crouched above the fire as one that is deadly cold.
HOW BELTANE HAD NEWS OF ONE THAT WAS A NOTABLE PARDONER
Beltane awoke to the shrill notes of a horn and starting to sleepy
elbow, heard the call and challenge of sentinel and outpost from the
bank above. Thereafter presently appeared Giles (that chanced to be
captain of the watch) very joyously haling along a little man placid
and rotund. A plump little man whose sober habit, smacking of things
ecclesiastic, was at odds with his face that beamed forth jovial and
rubicund from the shade of his wide-eaved hat: a pilgrim-like hat,
adorned with many small pewter images of divers saints. About his waist
was a girdle where hung a goodly wallet, plump like himself and eke as
well filled. A right buxom wight was he, comfortable and round, who,
though hurried along in the archer's lusty grip, smiled placidly, and
spake him sweetly thus: "Hug me not so lovingly, good youth; abate--
abate thy hold upon my tender nape lest, sweet lad, the holy Saint
Amphibalus strike thee deaf, dumb, blind, and latterly, dead. Trot me
not so hastily, lest the good Saint Alban cast thy poor soul into a
hell seventy times heated, and 'twould be a sad--O me! a very sad thing
that thou should'st sniff brimstone on my account."
"Why, Giles," quoth Beltane, blinking in the dawn, "what dost bring
hither so early in the morning?"
"Lord, 'tis what they call a Pardoner, that dealeth in relics, mouldy
bones and the like, see you, whereby they do pretend to divers miracles
"Verily, verily," nodded the little man placidly, "I have here in my
wallet a twig from Moses' burning bush, with the great toe of Thomas a'
Didymus, the thumb of the blessed Saint Alban--"
"Ha, rogue!" quoth Giles, "when I was a monk we had four thumbs of the
good Saint Alban--"
"Why then, content you, fond youth," smiled the Pardoner, "my thumb is
"Oh, tall brother," quoth Giles, "'tis an irreverent knave, that maketh
the monk in me arise, my very toes do twitch for to kick his lewd and
sacrilegious carcase--and, lord, he would kick wondrous soft--"
"And therein, sweet and gentle lord," beamed the little buxom man,
"therein lieth a recommendation of itself. Divers noble lords have
kicked me very familiarly ere now, and finding me soft and tender have,
forthwith, kicked again. I mind my lord Duke Ivo, did with his own
Ducal foot kick me right heartily upon a time, and once did spit upon
my cloak--I can show you the very place--and these things do breed and
argue familiarity. Thus have I been familiar with divers noble lords--
and there were ladies also, ladies fair and proud--O me!"
"Now, by the Rood!" says Beltane, sitting up and staring, "whence had
you this, Giles?"
"My lord, 'twas found by the man Jenkyn snoring within the green,
together with a mule--a sorry beast! a capon partly devoured, a pasty--
well spiced! and a wine-skin--empty, alas! But for who it is, and
whence it cometh--"
"Sweet, courteous lord,--resplendent, youthful sir, I come from north
and south, from east and west, o'er land, o'er sea, from village green
and market-square, but lately from the holy shrine of the blessed Saint
Amphibalus. As to who I am and what--the universal want am I, for I do
stand for health, fleshly and spiritual. I can cure your diseases of
the soul, mind and body. In very sooth the Pardoner of Pardoners am I,
with pardons and indulgences but now hot from the holy fist of His
Holiness of Rome: moreover I have a rare charm and notable cure for the
worms, together with divers salves, electuaries, medicaments and
nostrums from the farthest Orient. I have also store of songs and
ballades, grave and gay. Are ye melancholic? Then I have a ditty merry
and mirthful. Would ye weep? Here's a lamentable lay of love and
languishment infinite sad to ease you of your tears. Are ye a sinner
vile and damned? Within my wallet lie pardons galore with powerful
indulgences whereby a man may enjoy all the cardinal sins yet shall his
soul be accounted innocent as a babe unborn and his flesh go without
penance. Here behold my special indulgence! The which, to him that
buyeth it, shall remit the following sins damned and deadly--to wit:
Lechery, perjury, adultery, wizardry. Murders, rapes, thievings and
slanders. Then follow the lesser sins, as--"
"Hold!" cried Beltane, "surely here be sins enough for any man."
"Not so, potent sir: for 'tis a right sinful world and breedeth new
sins every day, since man hath a rare invention that way. Here is a
grievous thing, alas! yet something natural: for, since men are human,
and human 'tis to sin, so must all men be sinners and, being sinners,
are they therefore inevitably damned!"
"Alas, for poor humanity!" sighed Beltane.
"Forsooth, alas indeed, messire, and likewise woe!" nodded the
Pardoner, "for thou, my lord, thou art but human, after all."
"Indeed at times, 'twould almost seem so!" nodded Beltane gravely.
"And therefore," quoth the Pardoner, "and therefore, most noble, gentle
lord, art thou most assuredly and inevitably--" The Pardoner sighed.
"Damned?" said Beltane.
"Damned!" sighed the Pardoner.
"Along with the rest of humanity!" nodded Beltane.
"All men be more prone to sin when youth doth riot in their veins,"
quoth the Pardoner, "and alas, thou art very young, messire, so do I
tremble for thee."
"Yet with each hour do I grow older!"
"And behold in this hour come I, declaring to thee there is no sin so
vile but that through me, Holy Church shall grant thee remission--at a
"A price, good Pardoner?"
"Why, there be sins great and sins little. But, youthful sir, for
thine own damnable doings, grieve not, mope not nor repine, since I,
Lubbo Fitz-Lubbin, Past Pardoner of the Holy See, will e'en now
unloose, assoil and remit them unto thee--"
"At a price!" nodded Beltane.
"Good my lord," spake Giles, viewing the Pardoner's plump person with a
yearning eye, "pray thee bid me kick him hence!"
"Not so, Giles, since from all things may we learn--with patience.
Here now is one that hath travelled and seen much and should be wise--"
"Forsooth, messire, I have been so accounted ere now," nodded the
"Dost hear, Giles? Thus, from his wisdom I may perchance grow wiser
than I am. So get thee back to thy duty, Giles. Begone--thy presence
doth distract us."
"Aye, base archer, begone!" nodded the Pardoner, seating himself upon
the sward. "Thy visage dour accordeth not with deep-seated thought--
take it hence!"
"There spake wisdom, Giles, and he is a fool that disobeys. So, Giles
Hereupon Giles frowned upon the Pardoner, who lolling at his ease,
snapped his fingers at Giles, whereat Giles scowled amain and scowling,
"Now, messire," quoth the Pardoner, opening his wallet, "now in the
matter of sinning, messire, an thou hast some pet and peculiar vice--
some little, pretty vanity, some secret, sweet transgression--"
"Nay, first," quoth Beltane, "'tis sure thou hast a tongue--"
"O infallibly, messire; a sweet tongue--a tongue attuned to cunning
phrases. God gave to women beauty, to flowers perfume, and to me--a
"Good Pardoner, a lonely wight am I, ignorant of the world and of its
ways and doings. So for thy tongue will I barter base coin--what can'st
tell me for this fair gold piece?"
"That fain would I have the spending on't, noble, generous sir."
"Anything ye will, messire: for since I am the want universal and gold
the universal need, needs must want need! And here is a rare-turned
"So thus do I wed need with want," nodded Beltane, tossing him the
coin. "Come now, discourse to me of worldly things--how men do trim
their beards these days, what sins be most i' the fashion, if Duke Ivo
sleepeth a-nights, whether Pentavalon city standeth yet?"
"Aha!" cried the Pardoner (coin safely pouched), "I can tell ye tales
a-plenty: sly, merry tales of lovely ladies fair and gay. I can paint
ye a tongue picture of one beyond all fair ladies fair--her soft,
white body panting-warm for kisses, the lure of her mouth, the
languorous passion of her eyes, the glorious mantle of her flame-like
hair. I'll tell of how she, full of witching, wanton wiles,
love-alluring, furtive fled fleet-footed from the day and--there amid
the soft and slumberous silence of the tender trees did yield her love
to one beyond all beings blest. Thus, sighing and a-swoon, did Helen
fair, a Duchess proud--"
"Ah!" cried Beltane, clenching sudden fist, "what base and lying babble
do ye speak? Helen, forsooth--dare ye name her, O Thing?"
Now before Beltane's swift and blazing anger the Pardoner's assurance
wilted on the instant, and he cowered behind a lifted elbow.
"Nay, nay, most potent lord," he stammered, "spit on me an ye will--
spit, I do implore thee, but strike me not. Beseech thee sir, in what
do I offend? The story runs that the proud and wilful lady is fled
away, none know wherefore, why, nor where. I do but read the riddle
thus: wherefore should she flee but for love, and if for love, then
with a man, and if with a man--"
"Enough of her!" quoth Beltane scowling, "woman and her wiles is of
none account to me!"
"How--how?" gasped the Pardoner, "of no account--! Woman--! But thou'rt
youthful--of no account--! Thou'rt a man very strong and lusty--! Of no
account, forsooth? O, Venus, hear him! Woman, forsooth! She is man's
aim, his beginning and oft-times his end. She is the everlasting cause.
She is man's sweetest curse and eke salvation, his slave, his very
tyrant. Without woman strife would cease, ambition languish, Venus pine
to skin and bone (sweet soul!) and I never sell another pardon and
starve for lack of custom; for while women are, so will be pardoners.
But this very week I did good trade in fair Belsaye with divers women--
three were but ordinary indulgences for certain small marital
transgressions; but one, a tender maid and youthful, being put to the
torment, had denounced her father and lover--"
"The torment?" quoth Beltane, starting. "The torment, say you?"
"Aye, messire! Belsaye setteth a rare new fashion in torments of late.
Howbeit, the father and lover being denounced before Sir Gui's
tribunal, they were forthwith hanged upon my lord Gui's new gibbets--"
"O--hanged?" quoth Beltane "hanged?"
"Aye, forsooth, by the neck as is the fashion. Now cometh this woeful
wench to me vowing she heard their voices i' the night, and, to quiet
these voices besought of me a pardon. But she had but two sorry silver
pieces and pardons be costly things, and when she could get no pardon,
she went home and that night killed herself--silly wench! Ha! my lord--
good messire--my arm--holy saints! 'twill break!"
"Killed herself--and for lack of thy pitiful, accursed pardon! Heard
you aught else in Belsaye--speak!" and Beltane's cruel grip tightened.
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