Beltane The Smith
Part 6 out of 11
"Indeed--indeed that will I, good news, sweet news--O my lord, loose
"Thine arm, good Pardoner--thine arm? Aye, take it back, it availeth me
nothing--take it and cherish it. To part with a pardon for but two
silver pieces were a grave folly! So pray you forgive now my
ungentleness and speak my thy good, sweet tidings." But hereupon, the
Pardoner feeling his arm solicitously, held his peace and glowered
sullenly at Beltane, who had turned and was staring away into the
distance. So the Pardoner sulked awhile and spake not, until, seeing
Beltane's hand creep out towards him, he forthwith fell to volubility.
"'Tis told in Belsaye on right good authority that a certain vile
knave, a lewd, seditious rogue hight Beltane that was aforetime a
charcoal-burner and thereafter a burner of gibbets--as witness my lord
Duke's tall, great and goodly gallows--that was beside a prison breaker
and known traitor, hath been taken by the doughty Sir Pertolepe, lord
Warden of the Marches, and by him very properly roasted and burned to
death within his great Keep of Garthlaxton."
"Roasted, forsooth?" said Beltane, his gaze yet afar off; "and,
forsooth, burned to ashes; then forsooth is he surely dead?"
"Aye, that is he; and his ashes scattered on a dung-hill."
"He was but a charcoal-burning knave, 'tis said--a rogue base-born and
a traitor. Now hereupon my lord, the good lord Sir Gui, my lord Duke's
lord Seneschal of Belsaye--"
"Forsooth," sighed Beltane, "here be lords a-plenty in Pentavalon!"
"Hereupon the noble Sir Gui set a close watch upon the townsfolk
whereby he apprehended divers suspected rogues, and putting them to the
torture, found thereby proofs of their vile sedition, insomuch that
though the women held their peace for the most part, certain men
enduring not, did confess knowledge of a subterraneous passage 'neath
the wall. Then did Sir Gui cause this passage to be stopped, and four
gibbets to be set up within the market-place, and thereon at sunset
every day did hang four men, whereto the towns folk were summoned by
sound of tucket and drum: until upon a certain evening some six days
since (myself standing by) came a white friar hight Friar Martin--well
known in Belsaye, and bursting through the throng he did loud-voiced
proclaim himself the traitor that had oped and shown the secret way
into the dungeons unto that charcoal-rogue for whose misdeeds so many
folk had suffered. So they took this rascal friar and scourged him and
set him in the water-dungeons where rats do frolic, and to-night at
sunset he dieth by slow fire as a warning to--Ah! sweet, noble, good my
lord, what--what would ye--" for Beltane had risen and was looking down
at the crouching Pardoner, suddenly haggard, pallid-lipped, and with
eyes a-glare with awful menace; but now the Pardoner saw that those
eyes looked through him and beyond--living eyes in a face of death.
"Messire--messire!" quavered the Pardoner on trembling knees; but
Beltane, as one that is deaf and blind, strode forward and over him,
and as he went set his bugle to his lips and sounded a rallying note.
Forthwith came men that ran towards him at speed, but now was there no
outcry or confusion and their mail gleamed in the early sun as they
fell into their appointed rank and company.
Then Beltane set his hands unto his eyes and thereafter stared up to
the heavens and round about upon the fair earth as one that wakes from
a dream evil and hateful, and spake, sudden and harsh-voiced:
"Now hither to me Walkyn, Giles and Roger. Ye do remember how upon a
time we met a white friar in the green that was a son of God--they call
him Brother Martin? Ye do remember brave Friar Martin?"
"Aye, lord, we mind him!" quoth the three.
"Ye will remember how that we did, within the green, aid him to bury a
dead maid, young and fair and tender--yet done to shameful death?"
"Verily master--a noble lady!" growled Walkyn.
"And very young!" said Roger.
"And very comely, alas!" added Giles.
"So now do I tell thee that, as she died--snatched out of life by
brutal hands--so, at this hour, even as we stand idle here, other maids
do suffer and die within Belsaye town. To-day, as we stand here, good
Friar Martin lieth within the noisome water-dungeons where rats do
"Ha! the pale fox!" growled Walkyn. "Bloody Gui of Allerdale that I do
live but to slay one day with Pertolepe the Red--"
"Thou dost remember, Roger, how, within the Keep at Belsaye I sware an
oath unto Sir Gui? So now--this very hour--must we march on Belsaye
that this my oath may be kept." But here a murmur arose that hummed
from rank to rank; heads were shaken and gruff voices spake on this
"Belsaye? 'Tis a long day's march to Belsaye--"
"'Tis a very strong city--very strongly guarded--"
"And we muster scarce two hundred--"
"The walls be high and we have no ladders, or engines for battery and
"Forsooth, and we have here much booty already--"
"Ha--booty!" cried Beltane, "there spake tall Orson, methinks!"
"Aye," cried another voice, loud and defiant, "and we be no soldiers,
master, to march 'gainst walled cities; look'ee. Foresters are we, to
live secure and free within the merry greenwood. Is't not so, good
"And there spake Jenkyn o' the Ford!" quoth Beltane. "Stand forth
Orson, and Jenkyn with thee--so. Now hearken again. Within Belsaye men
--aye, and women too! have endured the torment, Orson. To-day, at
sundown, a noble man doth burn, Jenkyn."
"Why, look'ee, master," spake Jenkyn, bold-voiced yet blenching from
Beltane's unswerving gaze, "look'ee, good master, here is no matter for
honest woodsmen, look'ee--"
"Aye," nodded tall Orson, "'tis no matter of ours, so wherefore should
"And ye have swords, I see," quoth Beltane, "and thereto hands
wherewith to fight, yet do ye speak, forsooth, of booty, and fain would
lie hid secure within the green? So be it! Bring forth the record,
Giles, and strike me out the names of Orson and Jenkyn, the which,
being shaped like men, are yet no men. Give therefore unto each his
share of booty and let him go hence." So saying, Beltane turned and
looked upon the close-drawn ranks that murmured and muttered no more.
"Now, and there be any here among us so faint-hearted--so unworthy as
this Orson and Jenkyn, that do hold treasure and safety above flesh and
blood--if there be any here, who, regarding his own base body, will
strike no blow for these distressed--why, let him now go forth of this
our company. O men! O men of Pentavalon, do ye not hear them, these
woeful ones--do ye not hear them crying to us from searing flame, from
dungeon and gibbet--do ye not hear? Is there one, that, remembering the
torments endured of groaning bodies, the dire wrongs of innocence
shamed and trampled in the mire--lives there a man that will not
adventure life and limb and all he doth possess that such things may be
smitten hence and made an end of for all time? But if such there be,
let him now stand forth with Orson here, and Jenkyn o' the Ford!"
Thus spake Beltane quick and passionate and thereafter paused, waiting
their answer; but no man spake or moved, only from their grim ranks a
growl went up ominous and deep, and eyes grown bright and fierce glared
upon tall Orson and Jenkyn o' the Ford, who shuffled with their feet
and fumbled with their hands and knew not where to look.
"'Tis well, 'tis well, good comrades all!" spake Beltane in a while,
"this night, mayhap, shall we, each one, achieve great things. Go now,
dig ye a pit and therein hide such treasure as ye will and thereafter
arm ye at points, for in the hour we march. Eric, see each doth bear
with him food, and Giles, look that their quivers be full."
So saying, Beltane turned and coming to his sleeping-place, forthwith
began to don his armour. And presently he was aware of Orson and Jenkyn
standing without the cave and each with look downcast; and eke they
fumbled with their hands and shuffled with their feet and fain were to
speak yet found no word. But at last spake Jenkyn humbly and on this
"Master, here come I, look'ee, with Orson that is my comrade, look'ee--"
"Nay, go get thee to thy 'booty'!" says Beltane, busied with his
"Nay, but look'ee master, we be--"
"No men!" quoth Beltane, "thus would I be free of ye both--so get you
"But good master," spake Orson, "we do ha' changed our minds--it do be
a direful thing to burn, and if they do ha' tormented maids--"
"'Tis no matter of thine," quoth Beltane. "So go thy ways and meddle
"But master, look'ee now, we be stout men, and look'ee, we be full of
lust to fight--O master, let us go! Kneel, Orson, bend--bend thy long
shanks, look'ee--" and forthwith on their knees fell Jenkyn and tall
Orson with pleading eyes and eager hands outstretched.
"O master, look'ee, let us go!"
"Aye, we do ha' changed our minds, master!"
"Then be it so!" said Beltane, "and I pray ye be ever faithful to your
minds!" Then took they Beltane's hand to kiss and thereafter up they
sprang and went rejoicing to their company.
And, within the hour, mail and bascinet agleam, the two hundred and
twenty and four marched forth of the hollow with step blithe and free,
and swung away through the green till the sound of voice and laughter,
the ring and clash of their going was died away and none remained, save
where, cross-legged upon the sward, his open wallet on his knee, the
round and buxom Pardoner sat to cherish a bruised arm and to stare from
earth to heaven and from heaven to earth with eyes wider and rounder
even than was their wont and custom.
HOW THEY CAME TO BELSAYE
Through broad glades deep-hid within the wild; by shady alleyway and
leafy track they held their march south and by east, a close,
well-ordered company striding long and free and waking the solitudes to
a blithe babblement of laughing echoes. And who among them all so merry
as Giles o' the Bow at the head of his sturdy archers? Oft trolling
some merry stave or turning with some quip or jape upon his tongue, but
with eyes quick to mark the rhythmic swing of broad, mail-clad
shoulders, eyes critical, yet eyes of pride. Who so grimly eager as
mighty Walkyn, his heavy axe lightly a-swing, his long legs schooling
themselves to his comrade's slower time and pace? Who so utterly
content as Black Roger, oft glancing from Beltane's figure in the van
to the files of his pike-men, their slung shields agleam, their spears
well sloped? And who so gloomy and thoughtful as Beltane, unmindful of
the youthful knight who went beside him, and scarce heeding his
soft-spoke words until his gaze by chance lighted upon the young
knight's armour that gleamed in the sun 'neath rich surcoat; armour of
the newest fashion of link, reinforced by plates of steel, gorget and
breast, elbow and knee, and with cunningly jointed sollerets. Moreover,
his shield was small and light according with the new fashion, and bare
the blazon of two hands, tight clasped, and the legend: "Semper
Now viewing all this with a smith's knowledgful eye, quick to note the
costly excellence of this equipment, Beltane forthwith brake silence:
"How do men name thee, sir knight?"
Hereupon, after some delay, the young knight made answer:
"Messire, the motto I bear upon my shield is a good motto methinks. So
shalt call me Fidelis an ye will, my lord."
"So be it, Sir Faithful," saying which Beltane fell to deep thought
"I pray you, my lord," quoth Fidelis, "wherefore so sad, so full of
gloom and thought?"
"I seek how we may win through the gates of Belsaye, Sir Fidelis, for
they go strongly guarded night and day; yet this day, ere sunset, ope
to us they must. But how--how?"
"My lord," spake Sir Fidelis, "I have heard say that few may go where
many oft-times may not. Let first some two or three adventure it, hid
'neath some close disguise--"
"A disguise!" cried Beltane, "Ha--a disguise. 'Tis well bethought, good
Fidelis. Forsooth, a disguise! And 'twill be market day!" Thereafter
Beltane strode on, head bent in frowning thought, nor spake again for a
space. And ever the files swung along behind in time to a marching song
carolled blithe in the rich, sweet voice of Giles. At length Beltane
raised his head and beholding the sun well-risen, halted his company
beside a stream that flowed athwart their way, and sitting thereby,
summoned to him the four--namely, Walkyn and Roger, Giles and Eric of
the wry neck; and while they ate together, they held counsel on this
BELTANE. "How think ye of this our adventure, comrades all?"
GILES. "Forsooth, as a man do I think well of it. Ho! for the twang of
bowstrings! the whirr and whistle of well-sped shafts loosed from the
ear! Ha! as an archer and a man 'tis an adventure that jumpeth with my
desire. But--as a soldier, and one of much and varied experience, as
one that hath stormed Belsaye ere now--with divers other towns, cities,
keeps, and castles beyond number--as a soldier, I do think it but a
gloomy business and foredoomed to failure--"
BELTANE. "And wherefore?"
GILES. "Method, tall brother, method precise and soldier-like. War is a
very ancient profession--an honourable profession and therefore to be
treated with due reverence. Now, without method, war would become but a
scurvy, sorry, hole-and-corner business, unworthy your true soldier. So
I, a soldier, loving my profession, do stand for method in all things.
Thus, would I attack a city, I do it _modo et forma:_ first, I set up
my mantelets for my archers, and under cover of their swift shooting I
set me up my mangonels, my trebuchets and balistae: then, pushing me
up, assault the walls with cat, battering-ram and sap, and having made
me a breach, would forthwith take me the place by sudden storm."
ROGER. "Ha, bowman! here is overmuch of thee, methinks! And dost speak
like a very archer-like fool--and forsooth, a foolish archer to boot.
Sure, well ye know that engines for the battery have we none--"
GILES. "Verily! So shall we none of Belsaye, methinks. Lacking engines,
we lack for all--no method, no city! Remember that, dolt Rogerkin!"
ROGER. "Nay, I remember Garthlaxton aflame, the gallows aflare, and the
empty dungeon. So, an we go up 'gainst Belsaye again, shall we surely
take it. Remember these, long-winded Giles, and being a soldier, be ye
BELTANE. "What think you, Walkyn?"
WALKYN. (patting his axe) "Of Gui of Allerdale, master."
BELTANE. "And you, Eric?"
ERIC. "That where thou dost go, messire, we follow."
BELTANE. "'Tis well. Now here beside me sitteth Sir Fidelis, who though
methinks the most youthful of us all, hath a head in council wiser than
us all. For he hath spoke me that whereby though few in number and
lacking engines for battery, Giles--we yet may win through the walls of
Belsaye ere sun-down. Know you this country, Walkyn?"
WALKYN. "As my hand, lord."
BELTANE. "Is there a village hereabouts?"
WALKYN. "Aye, five miles west by south is Brand-le-Dene. But there is
a mill scarce a mile down stream, I wot."
BELTANE. "A mill? 'Twill serve--go ye thither. Here is money--buy
therewith four hats and smocks the like that millers wear, and likewise
four meal-sacks well stuffed with straw."
WALKYN. (rising) "Smocks, master? Straw and meal-sacks?"
BELTANE. "And haste, Walkyn. We must be far hence within the hour."
Forthwith up rose Walkyn and summoning divers of his company strode
away down stream, what time Giles, staring after him in wonderment,
thereafter shook his head at Roger. Quoth he:
"Tall brother and lord, now do I see that our Roger burneth for
knowledge, panteth for understanding, and fain would question thee but
that his mouth is full-crammed of meat. Yet do his bulging eyes
supplicate the wherefore of smocks, and his goodly large ears do twitch
for the why of sacks. O impatient Rogerkin, bolt thy food, man, gulp--
swallow, and ask and importune my lord thyself!"
"Not I--not I!" quoth Roger, "an my master lacketh for a smock or a
sack, for me is no question of wherefore or why, so long as he doth
"But the straw, Roger," said Giles, glancing askew at Beltane, "an thou
should'st plague my lord with questions, how think ye then he shall
answer of this straw?"
"Thus, thou crafty Giles," answered Beltane. "Belsaye is strong, but
strength may be, perchance, beguiled. So may a miller's smock hide a
shirt of mail, and straw, I have heard, will burn." "Oho, a wile!"
cried Giles, "Aha! some notable wile! What more?"
"More shalt thou know, mayhap, in Belsaye market-place."
And when Beltane had handled the well-worn smocks, had viewed the
bulging meal-sacks that Walkyn and his fellows brought him, he arose.
At his word the company fell to their ranks and forthwith swung off
again south and by east, what time Giles carolled blithely, and divers
chorused lustily: while Roger whistled and even grim Walkyn (bethinking
him of Gui of Allerdale) rumbled hoarsely in his hairy throat.
So the miles passed unheeded until, as the sun declined, they left the
wild country behind; wherefore Beltane commanded all men to a strict
silence and thus came they betimes to the edge of the woods, and
halting within the green, beheld afar across the plain, the walls of
fair Belsaye town.
"We are well to time," quoth Beltane, glancing from sinking sun to
lengthening shadow, "we have yet an hour to sunset, but in this hour
much have we to do! Hark ye now!" and drawing the four about him, he
spake them thus: "Walkyn and Roger and Eric shall into the town with me
in miller's guise, each bearing his sack of flour, what time you,
Giles, with Sir Fidelis and all our power bide here well hid till such
time as ye shall see a smoke within Belsaye. And when ye see this
smoke, rise up and make you ready one and all, yet stir not from the
green till that ye hear my bugle-horn sound our rallying-note. Then
come ye on amain, and being within the city, charge ye where my horn
shall sound. How now, is't agreed?"
"Aye, lord!" nodded Giles, "'tis an excellent strategy in faith, and
yet 'twere wiser methinks to suffer me in Roger's place: for being
guileful in war, so should I be a very beguiling miller, whereas Roger,
an we plastered him with flour, would ne'er be other than Rogerkin the
"Nay Giles, thy post is here. Let your bows be strung and ready, but
set your pikes to the fore--and Giles, watch! Walkyn, bring now the
So saying, Beltane tightened his belt, drew on his hood of mail and
laced it close, and turning, found Sir Fidelis close by to aid him with
the hooded smock; and Beltane wondered to see him so pale and his
slender hands a-tremble.
So the smocks were donned, with straw about their legs bound by withies
as was the custom, and taking the sacks upon their shoulders, they
turned aside into the green and were gone.
HOW GUI OF ALLERDALE CEASED FROM EVIL
Sir Gui of Allerdale, lord Seneschal of Belsaye town, rode hawk on fist
at the head of divers noble knights and gentle esquires with verderers
and falconers attendant. The dusty highway, that led across the plain
to the frowning gates of Belsaye, was a-throng with country folk
trudging on foot or seated in heavy carts whose clumsy wheels creaked
and groaned city-wards; for though the sun was far declined, it was
market-day: moreover a man was to die by the fire, and though such
sights were a-plenty, yet 'twas seldom that any lord, seneschal,
warden, castellan or--in fine, any potent lord dowered with right of
pit and gallows--dared lay hand upon a son of the church, even of the
lesser and poorer orders; but Sir Gui was a bold man and greatly
daring. Wherefore it was that though the market-traffic was well nigh
done, the road was yet a-swarm with folk all eager to behold and watch
how a white friar could face death by the flame. So, on horse and
afoot, in creaking cart and wain, they thronged toward the goodly city
Sir Gui rode at a hand-pace, and as he rode the folk drew hastily aside
to give him way, and bent the knee full humbly or stood with bowed
heads uncovered to watch him pass; but 'neath bristling brows, full
many an eye glared fiercely on his richly-habited, slender figure,
marking his quick, dark glance, the down-curving, high-bridged nose of
him with the thin lips and the long, pointed chin below.
Thus rode he, assured in his might and confident, heedless alike of
the glory of day fast drawing into evening, of the green world whose
every blade and leaf spake of life abundant, and of these trampling
folk who bent so humbly at his passing, their cheeks aglow with health;
thus, heeding but himself and his own most dear desires, how should he
mark the four tall and dusty miller's men whose brawny backs were
stooped each beneath its burden? And how should he, confident in his
strength and might, hale and lusty in his body, come to think on death
sharp and swift? Thus Sir Gui of Allerdale, lord Seneschal of Belsaye
town, rode upon his way, with eyes that glowed with the love of life,
and tongue that curled 'twixt smiling lips as one that savoured its
sweetness or meditated coming joys. Perceiving the which, two youthful
esquires that rode near by nudged elbows, and set their heads together.
"I know yon look--aha! 'tis the goldsmith's fair young wife. There have
been lovers who loved love ere now--Pan, see you, and Jove himself they
say: but Pan was coy, and Jove--"
"Hist, he beckons us!"
So came these young esquires beside Sir Gui who, tapping the dust from
his habit with soft white hand, spake soft-voiced and sweet.
"Ride on, sirs, and bid our careful warden stay awhile the execution of
this traitorous friar. Let the square be lined with pikes as is our
custom: let the prisoner be chained unto his stake see you, but let all
things stay until I be come. There will be many folk in Belsaye,
meseemeth, well--let them wait, and stare, and whisper, and--wait, till
I be come!"
Forward spurred the young esquires to do as was commanded, joyful to
see the confusion that marked their swift career and making good play
of their whips on the heads and shoulders of such as chanced to be
within reach; in especial upon a mighty fellow in floured smock that
bare a sack on his shoulder and who, stung with the blow, cried a curse
on them in voice so harsh and bold that folk shrank from his
neighbourhood, yet marvelled at his daring. Being come anon within the
city Sir Gui dismounted beside the gate, and giving horse and falcon to
an esquire, beckoned to him a grizzled man-at-arms; now as he did so, a
tall miller passed him by, and stumbling wearily, set down his sack
against the wall and panted.
"Bare you the letter as I commanded, Rolf?"
"Aye, my lord."
"What said she?"
"Wept, my lord."
"Spake she nought?"
"Nought, my lord."
"Lieth the goldsmith deep?"
"Above the water-dungeons, my lord."
"And she wept, say you? Methinks the goldsmith shall go free to-morrow!"
So saying, Sir Gui went on into the city, and as he went, his smile was
back again, and his tongue curved red betwixt his lips. And presently
the tall miller hoisted his burden and went on into the city also;
turned aside down a narrow passage betwixt gloomy houses, and so at
last out into the square that hummed with a clamour hushed and
expectant. But my lord Seneschal, unheeding ever, came unto a certain
quiet corner of the square remote and shady, being far removed from the
stir and bustle of the place; here he paused at an open doorway and
turned to look back into the square, ruddy with sunset--a careless
glance that saw the blue of sky, the heavy-timbered houses bathed in
the warm sunset glow, the which, falling athwart the square, shone red
upon the smock of a miller, who stooping 'neath his burden, stumbled
across the uneven cobble-stones hard by. All this saw Sir Gui in that
one backward glance; then, unheeding as ever, went in at the doorway
and up the dark and narrow stair. But now it chanced that the miller,
coming also to this door, stood a while sack on shoulder, peering up
into the gloom within; thereafter, having set down his burden in
stealthy fashion, he also turned and glanced back with eyes that
glittered in the shadow of his hat: then, setting one hand within his
smock, he went in at the door and, soft-footed began to creep up that
dark and narrow stair. She sat in a great carven chair, her arms
outstretched across the table before her, her face bowed low between,
and the setting sun made a glory of her golden hair. Of a sudden she
started, and lifting her head looked upon Sir Gui; her tears,
slow-falling and bitter, staining the beauty of her face.
"My lord--ah, no!" she panted, and started to her feet.
"Dear and fair my lady--fear not. Strong am I, but very gentle--'tis
ever my way with beauty. I do but come for my answer." And he pointed
to a crumpled parchment that lay upon the table.
"O, good my lord," she whispered, "I cannot! If thou art gentle indeed
"He lieth above the water-dungeons, lady!" sighed Sir Gui.
"Ah, the sweet Christ aid me!"
"To-morrow he goeth to death, or lieth in those round, white arms.
Lady, the choice is thine: and I pray you show pity to thy husband who
loveth thee well, 'tis said." Now hereupon she sobbed amain and fell
upon her knees with arms outstretched in passionate appeal--but lo! she
spake no word, her swimming eyes oped suddenly wide, and with arms yet
outstretched she stared and stared beyond Sir Gui in so much that he
turned and started back amazed--to behold one clad as a dusty miller, a
mighty man whose battered hat touched the lintel and whose great bulk
filled the doorway--a very silent man who looked and looked with neck
out-thrust, yet moved not and uttered no word. Hereupon Sir Gui spake
quick and passion-choked:
"Fool--fool! hence, thou blundering fool. For this shalt be flayed
alive. Ha!--hence, thou dusty rogue!" But now this grim figure stirred,
and lifting a great hand, spake hoarse and low:
"Peace, knight! Hold thy peace and look!" The wide-eaved hat was tossed
to the floor and Sir Gui, clenching his hands, would have spoken but
the harsh voice drowned his words: "How, knight, thou that art Bloody
Gui of Allerdale! Dost thou not know me, forsooth? I am Waldron, whose
father and mother and sister ye slew. Aye, Waldron of Brand am I,
though men do call me Walkyn o' the Dene these days. Brand was a fair
manor, knight--a fair manor, but long since dust and ashes--ha! a merry
blaze wherein father and mother and sister burned and screamed and
died--in faith, a roguish blaze! Ha! d'ye blench? Dost know me,
Then Sir Gui stepped back, drawing his sword; but, even so, death leapt
at him. A woman, wailing, fled from the chamber, a chair crashed to the
floor; came a strange, quick tapping of feet upon the floor and
thereafter rose a cry that swelled louder to a scream--louder to a
bubbling shriek, and dying to a groaning hiss, was gone.
And, in a while, Walkyn, that had been Waldron of Brand, rose up from
his knees, and running forth of the chamber, hasted down the dark and
HOW THE FOLK OF BELSAYE TOWN MADE THEM AN END OF TYRANNY
The market-place was full of the stir and hum of jostling crowds; here
were pale-faced townsfolk, men and women and children who, cowed by
suffering and bitter wrong, spake little, and that little below their
breath; here were country folk from village and farmstead near and far,
a motley company that talked amain, loud-voiced and eager, as they
pushed and strove to see where, in the midst of the square beyond the
serried ranks of pike-men, a post had been set up; a massy post, grim
and solitary, whose heavy chains and iron girdle gleamed ominous and
red in the last rays of sunset. Near by, upon a dais, they had set up a
chair fairly gilded, wherein Sir Gui was wont to sit and watch justice
done upon the writhing bodies of my lord Duke's enemies. Indeed, the
citizens of Belsaye had beheld sights many and dire of late, wherefore
now they blenched before this stark and grisly thing and looked
askance; but to these country folk such things were something newer,
wherefore they pushed and strove amid the press that they might view it
nearer--in especial two in miller's hooded smocks, tall and lusty
fellows these, who by dint of shoulder and elbow, won forward until
they were stayed by the file of Sir Gui's heavy-armed pikemen.
Thereupon spake one, close in his fellow's ear:--
"Where tarries Walkyn, think you?" said Beltane below his breath.
"Master, I know not--he vanished in the press but now--"
"He watcheth our meal-sacks. Shall I not go bid him strike flint and
steel? The time were fair, methinks?"
"Not so, wait you until Sir Gui be come and seated in his chair of
state: then haste you to bold Eric and, the sacks ablaze, shout 'fire;'
so will I here amid the press take up the cry, and in the rush join
with ye at the gate. Patience, Roger."
And now of a sudden the throng stirred, swayed and was still; but from
many a quivering lip a breath went up to heaven, a sigh--a whispered
groan, as, through the shrinking populace, the prisoner was brought. A
man of Belsaye he, a man strong and tender, whom many had loved full
well. Half borne, half dragged betwixt his gaolers, he came on
stumbling feet--a woeful shivering thing with languid head a-droop; a
thing of noisome rags that told of nights and days in dungeon black and
foul; a thing whose shrunken nakedness showed a multitude of small
wounds, slow-bleeding, that spoke of teeth little yet vicious, bold
with hunger in the dark; a miserable, tottering thing, haggard and
pinched, that shivered and shook and stared upon all things with eyes
vacant and wide.
And thus it was that Beltane beheld again Friar Martin, the white friar
that had been a man once, a strong man and a gentle. They brought him
to the great post, they clasped him fast within the iron band and so
left him, shivering in his chains with head a-droop. Came the sound of
muffled weeping from the crowd, while high above, in sky deepening to
evening, a star twinkled. Now in a while the white friar raised his
heavy head and looked round about, and lo! his eyes were vacant no
longer, and as folk strove to come more nigh, he spake, hoarse-voiced
"O children, grieve not for me, for though this body suffer a little,
my soul doth sit serene. What though I stand in bonds, yet doth my soul
go free. Though they burn my flesh to ashes yet doth my soul live on
forever. So grieve not your hearts for me, my children, and, for
yourselves, though ye be afflicted even as I--fear ye nothing--since I,
that ye all do know for a truthful man, do tell ye 'tis none so hard to
die if that our hearts be clean. What though ye suffer the grievous
horror of a prison? Within the dark ye shall find God. Thus I amid the
dreadful gloom of my deep dungeon did lie within the arms of God,
nothing fearing. So, when the fire shall sear me, though this my flesh
may groan, God shall reach down to me through smoke and flame and lift
my soul beyond. O be ye therefore comforted, my children: though each
must die, yet to the pure in heart death is none so hard--"
Thus spake Friar Martin, shivering in his bonds, what time the crowd
rocked and swayed, sobbing aloud and groaning; whereat Sir Gui's
pikemen made lusty play with their spear-shafts.
Then spake Beltane, whispering, to Roger, who, sweating with
impatience, groaned and stared and gnawed upon his fingers:
"Away, Roger!" And on the instant Roger had turned, and with brawny
shoulders stooped, drove through the swaying press and was gone.
Now with every moment the temper of the crowd grew more threatening;
voices shouted, fists were clenched, and the scowling pike-men, plying
vicious spear-butts, cursed, and questioned each other aloud: "Why
tarries Sir Gui?"
Hereupon a country fellow hard by took up the question:
"Sir Gui!" he shouted, "Why cometh not Sir Gui?"
"Aye!" cried others, "where tarries Sir Gui?" "Why doth he keep us?"
"Where tarries Sir Gui?"
"Here!" roared a voice deep and harsh, "Way--make way!" And suddenly
high above the swaying crowd rose the head and shoulders of a man, a
mighty man in the dusty habit of a miller, upon whose low-drawn hood
and be-floured smock were great gouts and stains evil and dark; and
now, beholding what manner of stains these were, all men fell silent
and blenched from his path. Thus amid a lane of pallid faces that
stared and shrank away, the tall miller came unto the wondering pike-men
--burst their ranks and leapt upon the dais where stood the gilded
"Ho! soldiers and men-at-arms--good people of Belsaye--call ye for Gui
in sooth? hunger ye for sight of Bloody Gui of Allerdale in faith? Why
then--behold!" and from under his be-dabbled smock he drew forth a
head, pale as to cheek and hair, whose wide eyes stared blindly as it
dangled in his hairy hand; and now, staring up at this awful, sightless
thing--that brow at whose frown a city had trembled, those pallid lips
that had smiled, and smiling, doomed men and women to torment and
death--a hush fell on Belsaye and no man spoke or stirred.
Then, while all folk stood thus, rigid and at gaze, a wild cry was
heard, shivering the stillness and smiting all hearts with sudden
"Aye, fire!" roared the miller, "see yonder!" and he pointed where a
column of thick smoke mounted slowly upon the windless air. But with
the cry came tumult--a hurry of feet, shouts and yells and hoarse
commands; armour clashed and pike-heads glittered, down-sweeping for
the charge. Then Walkyn laughed, and hurling the pale head down at the
nearest soldiery, drew from his smock his mighty axe and swung it, but
lo! 'twixt him and the pike-men was a surging, ravening mob that
closed, front and rear, upon knight and squire, upon pike-man and
man-at-arms, men who leapt to grip mailed throats in naked hands, women
who screamed and tore. And one by one, knight and squire, and man-at-arms,
smiting, shrieking, groaning, were dragged down with merciless hands,
to be wrenched at, torn, and trampled 'neath merciless feet, while high
and clear above this fierce and dreadful clamour rose the shrill
summons of a horn.
And lo! a shout--a roar--drowning the shrieks of dying men, the
screams of vengeful women, "Arise--arise--Pentavalon!" Came a rush of
feet, a shock, and thereafter a confused din that rose and fell and,
gradually ceasing, was lost in a sudden clamour of bells, fierce-pealing
in wild and joyous riot.
"Aha! 'tis done--'tis done!" panted Roger, stooping to cleanse his
blade, "spite of all our lack of method, Giles--'tis done! Hark ye to
those joy-bells! So doth fair Belsaye shout to all men she is free at
last and clean of Gui and all his roguish garrison--"
"Clean?" quoth Giles. "Clean, forsooth? Roger--O Roger man, I have
seen men die in many and diver ungentle ways ere now, but these men--
these men of Gui's, look--look yonder! O sweet heaven keep me ever from
the tearing hands of vengeful mothers and women wronged!" And turning
his back on the littered market square, Giles shivered and leaned him
upon his sword as one that is sick.
"Nay," said Black Roger, "Gui's black knaves being rent in pieces,
Giles, we shall be saved the hanging of them--ha! there sounds my
lord's horn, and 'tis the rallying-note--come away, Giles!"
Side by side they went, oft stepping across some shapeless horror,
until in their going they chanced on one that knelt above a child,
small and dead. And beholding the costly fashion of this man's armour,
Roger stooped, and wondering, touched his bowed shoulder:
"Sir Fidelis," said he, "good young messire, and art thou hurt,
"Hurt?" sighed Sir Fidelis, staring up great-eyed, "hurt? Nay, behold
this sweet babe--ah, gentle Christ--so innocent--and slain! A tender
babe! And yonder--yonder, what dire sights lie yonder--" and sighing,
the youthful knight sank back across Black Roger's arm and so lay
speechless and a-swoon.
Quoth Roger, grim-smiling:
"What, Giles, here's one that loveth woman's finger-work no more than
thou!" Thus saying, he stooped and lifting the young knight in his
arms, bore him across the square, stumbling now and then on things
dim-seen in the dark, for night was at hand.
So thus it was that the folk of fair Belsaye town, men and women with
gnashing teeth and rending hands, made them an end of Tyranny, until
with the night, there nothing remained of proud Sir Gui and all his
lusty garrison, save shapeless blotches piled amid the gloom--and that
which lay, forgotten quite, a cold and pallid thing, befouled with red
and trampled mire; a thing of no account henceforth, that stared up
with glazed and sightless eyes, where, remote within the sombre
firmament of heaven, a great star glowed and trembled.
HOW THEY LEFT BELSAYE
Lanthorns gleamed and torches flared in the great square of Belsaye
where panting, shouting townsfolk thronged upon Beltane and his company
with tears of joy, with laughter loud and high-pitched, with shouts and
wild acclaim; many there were who knelt to kiss their sun-browned
hands, their feet, the very links of their armour. And presently came
Giles o' the Bow, debonair and smiling, a woman's scarf about his
brawny throat, a dozen ribands and favours tied about each mailed arm.
"Lord," quoth he, "tall brother, I have been fairly kissed by full a
score of buxom dames--the which is excellent good, for the women of
Belsaye are of beauty renowned. But to kiss is a rare and notable
science, and to kiss well a man should eat well, and forsooth, empty am
I as any drum! Therefore prithee let us eat, that I may uphold my
reputation, for, as the learned master Ovidius hath it, '_osculos_'--"
But from the townsfolk a shout arose:
"Comes the Reeve! 'Tis good master Cuthbert! Way for the Reeve!"
Hereupon the crowd parting, a tall man appeared, his goodly apparel
torn, his long white hair disordered, while in his hand he yet grasped
a naked sword. Stern his face was, and lined beyond his years, moreover
his broad shoulders were bowed with more than age; but his eye was
bright and quick, and when he spake, his voice was strong and full.
"Which, I pray, is chiefest among ye?"
"That am I," quoth Beltane.
"Messire," said the Reeve, "who and what men ye are I know not, but in
the name of these my fellow-citizens do I thank ye for our deliverance.
But words be poor things, now therefore, an it be treasure ye do seek
ye shall be satisfied. We have suffered much by extortion, but if gold
be your desire, then whatsoever gold doth lie in our treasury, the
half of it is freely thine."
"O most excellent Reeve!" cried Giles, "forsooth, a very proper spirit
"Good master," spake Beltane, quelling the archer with a look, "these
my comrades hither came that a noble man should not perish, and that
Sir Gui of Allerdale should cease from evil, and behold, 'tis done! So
I pray you, give us food and shelter for the night, for with the dawn
we march hence."
"But--O tall brother!" gasped Giles, "O sweet lord, there was mention
made of treasure! A large-souled Reeve--a Reeve with bowels! 'Treasure'
quoth he, and likewise 'gold!' And these be matters to excogitate upon.
Moreover, _pecunioe obediunt omnia_, brother."
"Money, forsooth!" quoth Beltane bitterly; "now out upon thee, Giles--
how think ye money shall avail the like of us whose lives are forfeit
each and every, whose foes be many and strong, who must ever be on our
ward, quick to smite lest we be smitten--money, forsooth! So, good
master Reeve, keep thy useless treasure, and, in its stead, give to us
good steel--broadswords, sharp and well-tempered and stout link-mail--
give of these to such as lack."
"But--O brother," says Giles, "with gold may we gain all these."
"Verily, Giles, but gaining all without gold we lack not for gold, nor
have the added fear of losing it. He that would gain wealth must first
win freedom, for without freedom the richest is but a sorry slave. So
give us steel, good master Reeve."
Now from Giles' archers and divers others beside a growl went up,
spreading from rank to rank, what time Beltane clenched his hands,
frowning ever blacker. Then forth stepped Jenkyn o' the Ford with tall
Orson, which last spake with voice uplift:
"Master," quoth he, "us do love gold--but fighting men us do be, and if
'steel' says you--'steel' says we!"
"Aye," nodded Jenkyn, "so look'ee master, here stands I wi' Orson my
comrade look'ee, for witness that to-day we be better men than these
But here, of a sudden, rose the shrill bray of a trumpet without the
walls, a long flourish, loud and imperious; and at the sound a silence
fell, wherein divers of the townsfolk eyed each other in fear swift-born,
and drew nearer to the white-haired Reeve who stood leaning heavily upon
his sword, his head stooped upon his broad chest. And in
the silence, Giles spake:
"Now, by the ever-blessed Saint Giles, there spake the summons of
Robert of Hurstmanswyke--I know his challenge of old--ha, bows and
bills!" So saying he bent and strung his bow.
"Aye," nodded Roger, loosening sword in sheath, "and Sir Robert is a
dour fighter I've heard."
"So soon!" groaned the Reeve, "so very soon! Now God pity Belsaye!"
"Amen!" quoth Giles, fidgeting uneasily with his bow, "forsooth, Sir
Robert is a very potent lord--God help us all, say I!"
"And Sir Robert likewise," quoth Roger, "for methinks an he come within
Belsaye he is like to stay in Belsaye--mind ye Sir Gui, and mark ye my
master's look!" And he pointed where Beltane stood near by, chin in
fist, his eye bright and purposeful, his mouth grim-smiling; even as
they watched he beckoned Walkyn and Eric to him and spake certain
commands what time the trumpet brayed again in summons fierce and
"Good master Reeve," quoth Beltane, as Walkyn and Eric, obedient to his
word, moved into the square to right and left, each with his company,
"there is one without that groweth impatient. Let us therefore parley
with him from the battlement above the gate."
"Ah, messire," sighed the Reeve, "to what end? 'Tis Sir Robert's
summons, and well I know he will demand speech with my lord Gui--alas
for us and for Belsaye town!"
"Nay," answered Beltane, "be comforted. Answer as I shall direct and
fear ye nothing. Come your ways."
Now when Roger turned and would have followed, Giles plucked him by the
"Roger," quoth he, "Sir Robert will demand speech of Gui of Allerdale,
mark ye that, my Rogerkin. Nor will he speak to any but Sir Gui--for a
great lord and proud is Robert of Hurstmanswyke. Ha, what think ye,
"I think perchance he must go dumb then--come, let us follow."
"Nay, but speak he must--since he may tell us much, aye, and speak he
shall. So come, my Rogerkin, hither with me!"
"With thee, Giles? And wherefore?"
"A wile, sweet Roger, a notable wile--a wile of wiles. Hush! speak not,
but come--for mark this:
"In faith a cunning man is Giles
In counsel sage and full of wiles!"
"So come, Rogerkin!" So saying, he gripped stout Roger's arm and
plunged into the crowd.
Being come out upon the battlement above the gate, Beltane, with the
Reeve beside him, peering down through the dark, beheld beyond the
moat, a knight supported by four esquires, and beyond these Beltane
counted thirty lances what time the Reeve, steadying his voice,
Hereupon the knight spake:
"Ha! do ye stir at last, dogs! Open in the Duke's name--'tis I, Robert,
lord of Hurstmanswyke, with message to the lord Seneschal, Sir Gui, and
captives from Bourne!"
Then, grim-smiling in the dusk, Beltane spake: "Now greeting and
fair greeting to thee, my lord, and to thy captives. Hath Thrasfordham
fallen so soon?"
"Thrasfordham, fool! 'tis not yet invested--these be divers of
Benedict's spies out of Bourne, to grace thy gibbets. Come, unbar--down
with the drawbridge; open I say--must I wait thy rogue's pleasure?"
"Not so, noble lord. Belsaye this night doth welcome thee with open
arms--and ye be in sooth Sir Robert of Hurstmanswyke."
"Ha, do ye doubt me, knave? Dare ye keep me without? Set wide the
gates, and instantly, or I will see thee in a noose hereafter. Open!
Open! God's death! will ye defy me? gate ho!"
So Beltane, smiling yet, descended from the battlement and bade them
set wide the gates. Down creaked drawbridge; bars fell, bolts groaned,
the massy gates swung wide--and Sir Robert and his esquires, with his
weary captives stumbling in their jangling chains, and his thirty
men-at-arms riding two by two, paced into Belsaye market square; the
drawbridge rose, creaking, while gates clashed and bar and chain
rattled ominously behind them. But Sir Robert, nothing heeding, secure
in his noble might, scowled about him 'neath lifted vizor, and summoned
the Reeve to his stirrup with imperious hand:
"How now, master Reeve," quoth he, "I am in haste to be gone: where
tarries Sir Gui? Have ye not warned him of my coming? Go, say I crave
instant speech with him on matters of state, moreover, say I bring
fifty and three for him to hang to-morrow--go!"
But now, while the Reeve yet stood, pale in the torchlight, finding
nought to say, came Beltane beside him.
"My lord," quoth he, "fifty and three is a goodly number; must they all
"To-morrow? Aye--or whensoever Sir Gui wills."
"Ah, fair lord," says Beltane, "then, as I guess, these fifty and three
shall assuredly live on awhile, since Sir Gui of Allerdale will hang
men no more."
"Ha, dare ye mock me, knave?" cried Sir Robert, and clenching iron hand
he spurred upon Beltane, but checked as suddenly, and pointed where,
midst the shrinking populace, strode one in knightly armour, whose
embroidered surcoat bore the arms, and whose vizored helm the crest of
Sir Gui of Allerdale. Now beholding this silent figure, a groan of fear
went up, divers men sank crouching on their knees, the Reeve uttered a
hoarse gasp and covered his face, while even Beltane, staring wide-eyed,
felt his flesh a-creep. But now Sir Robert rode forward:
"Greeting, lord Seneschal!" said he, "you come betimes, messire, though
not over hastily, methinks!"
"Forsooth," quoth the figure, his voice booming in his great war-helm,
"forsooth and verily there be three things no man should leave in
haste: _videlicit_ and to wit: his prayers, his dinner and his lady.
None the less came I hither to give thee greeting, good my lord."
"My lord Seneschal, what manner of men be these of thine?"
"O fair sir, they be ordinary men, rogues, see you, and fools--save
one, a comely man this, an archer unequalled, hight Giles o' the Bow, a
man of wit, very full of strategies and wiles."
"Aye, but what of yon tall knave, now," said Sir Robert, pointing at
Beltane, "who is he?"
"Forsooth, a knave, my lord, an arrant knave with long legs."
"He will look well on a gibbet, methinks, Sir Gui."
"Indeed, my lord he might grace the gallows as well as you or I."
"The rogue telleth me that you will hang men no more."
"Ha, said he so forsooth? dared he so asperse mine honour? Ha, here is
matter for red-hot irons, the pincers and the rack, anon. But come, Sir
Robert--thou dost bear news, belike; come your ways and drink a goblet
"Nay, my lord, I thank thee, but I must hence this night to Barham
Broom. But for my news, 'tis this: the out-law men call Beltane, hath,
by devilish arts, sacked and burned Garthlaxton Keep."
"Why, this I knew; there is a lewd song already made thereon, as thus:
"They gave Garthlaxton to the flame,
Be glory to Duke Beltane's name,
And unto lusty Giles the same,
"Forsooth, a naughty song, a very gallows' song, in faith. Pray you,
"There hath come unto the Duke one hight Gurth--a hang-dog rogue that
doth profess to know the lurking-place of this vile outlaw, and
to-morrow at sunset, Sir Pertolepe and I with goodly force march into
the green. So now must I hence, leaving with thee these captives from
Bourne that you shall hang above the walls for a warning to all such
outlaws and traitors. Lastly, my lord Seneschal, drink not so deep
a-nights, and so, fare thee well."
Now as he yet spake rose the shrill notes of a horn, and turning about,
Sir Robert beheld men whose mail glistened in the torchlight and whose
long pikes hemmed him in close and closer what time a fierce shout went
up: "Kill!" "Kill!"
"Ho, treason!" he roared, and grasped at his sword hilt; but down came
Roger's heavy broadsword upon Sir Robert's helm, beating him to earth
where Walkyn's mighty foot crushed him down and his axe gleamed bright.
Then, while the air rang with shouts and cries and the clatter of
trampling hoofs, a white figure leapt and bestrode the fallen knight,
and Walkyn glared down into the pale face of Friar Martin.
"Forbear, Walkyn, forbear!" he cried, and speaking, staggered for very
weakness and would have fallen but Walkyn's long arm was about him. And
ever the uproar grew; the grim ranks of archers and pikemen drew closer
about Sir Robert's shrinking men-at-arms what time the townsfolk,
brandishing their weapons, shouted amain, "Kill! Kill!"
Now Roger's blow had been full lusty and Sir Robert yet lay a-swoon,
seeing which, divers of his company, casting down their arms, cried
aloud for quarter; whereat the townsfolk shouted but the fiercer: "Slay
them! Kill! Kill!" But now, high above this clamour, rose the shrill
note of Beltane's horn bidding all men to silence. Hereupon there came
to him the white friar, who, looking earnestly upon his mailed face,
uttered a sudden glad cry and caught his hand and kissed it; then
turned he to the surging concourse and spake loud and joyously:
"Stay, good people of Belsaye! O ye children of affliction, spill not
the blood of these thine enemies, but look, rather, upon this man! For
this is he of whom I told ye in the days of your tribulation, this is
he who burned the shameful gallows, who brake open the dungeon and hath
vowed his life to the cause of the oppressed and weak. Behold now the
son of Beltane the Strong and Just! Behold Beltane, our rightful Duke!"
Now went there up to heaven a great and wild acclaim; shouts of joy and
the thunderous battle-cry "Arise! Arise! Pentavalon!" Then, while all
eyes beheld and all ears hearkened, Beltane spake him, plain and to the
point, as was his custom:
"Behold now, men of Belsaye, these our enemies do cry us mercy, and
shall we not bestow it? Moreover one living hostage is better than two
foemen slain. Entreat them gently, therefore, but let me see them
lodged secure ere I march hence."
But hereupon came many of the townsfolk with divers counsellors and
chief men of the city who, kneeling, most earnestly prayed Beltane to
abide for their defence.
"Good my lord," quoth the Reeve, "bethink thee, when Duke Ivo shall
hear of our doings he will seek bitter vengeance. Ah, my lord, 'twas
but five years agone he stormed Belsaye and gave it up to pillage--and
on that day--my wife--was slain! And when he had set up his great
gallows and hanged it full with our men, he vowed that, should Belsaye
anger him again, he would burn the city and all within it and, O my
lord, my lord--I have yet a daughter--Ah, good my lord, leave us not
to ravishment and death!"
"Aye, go not from us, my lord!" cried the others. "Be thou our leader
henceforth!" and thereto they besought him with eager cries and with
But Beltane shook his head; quoth he:
"Look now, as men are born into the world but for the good of man, so
must I to my duty. And methinks, this is my duty: to do such deeds as
shall ring throughout this sorrowful Duchy like a trumpet-blast,
bidding all men arise and take hold upon their manhood. Garthlaxton is
no more, but there be many castles yet to burn whose flames, perchance,
shall light such a fire within the souls of men as shall ne'er be
quenched until Wrong and Tyranny be done away. So must I back to the
wild-wood to wild and desperate doings. But, as for ye--I have heard
tell that the men of Belsaye are brave and resolute. Let now the memory
of wrongs endured make ye trebly valiant to maintain your new-got
liberty. If Duke Ivo come, then let your walls be manned, for 'tis
better to die free men than trust again to his mercy."
"Verily, lord," said the Reeve, "but we do lack for leaders. Our
provost and all our captains Duke Ivo hanged upon his gallows. Beseech
thee, then, give to us a leader cunning in war."
"That will I," answered Beltane, "on this condition--that every able
man shall muster under arms each day within the market-square."
"It shall be done, my lord."
Then summoned he Eric of the wry neck, together with Giles who came
forthwith, being yet bedight in Sir Gui's harness.
"Eric, I have marked thee well; methinks thou art one long bred to arms
and learned in war?"
"My lord Beltane, in other days I was the Duke thy father's High
Constable of all the coast-wise towns."
"Ha--say'st thou so in sooth? Then now do I make thee lord Constable of
Belsaye. As to thee, Giles, thou guileful rogue, hast full oft vaunted
thyself a soldier of experience, so now am I minded to prove thee and
thy methods. How if I give thee charge over the bowmen of Belsaye?"
"Why first, sweet, tall brother, first will I teach them to draw a bow,
pluck a string, and speed a shaft as never townsman drew, plucked or
sped--in fine, I will teach them to shoot: and, thereafter, devoutly
pray the good Saint Giles (that is my patron saint) to send us Black
Ivo and his dogs to shoot at!"
"So be it. Choose ye now each ten men of your companies that shall
abide here with ye what time I am away--yet first mark this: In your
hands do I leave this fair city, to your care I give the lives and
well-being of all these men and women and children. Come now, lay here
your hands upon my sword and swear me to maintain Belsaye to the last
man 'gainst siege or storm, so long as life be in you!"
Now when they had sworn, Beltane turned him to the Reeve:
"Good sir," quoth he, "I pray you loose now the captives from their
chains. Let your prisoners be secured, and for the rest, let us now eat
and drink lest we famish."
Thus in a while, Sir Robert of Hurstmanswyke, dazed and bewildered, and
his four esquires, together with his thirty men-at-arms, stripped of
armour and weapons, were led away and lodged secure beneath the keep.
Now it chanced that as Beltane stood apart with head a-droop as one in
thought, there came to him Sir Fidelis and touched him with gentle
"My lord Beltane," said he softly, "of what think you?"
"Of Pentavalon, and how soonest her sorrows may be done away."
"Lovest thou Pentavalon indeed, messire?"
"Aye, truly, Fidelis."
"Then wherefore let her suffer longer?"
"Suffer? Aye, there it is--but how may I bring her woes to sudden end?
I am too weak, her oppressors many, and my men but few--"
"Few?" quoth Sir Fidelis, speaking with head low-stooped. "Few,
messire? Not so. Ten thousand lances might follow thee to-morrow an
thou but spake the word--"
"Nay," sighed Beltane, "mock me not, good Fidelis, thou dost know me a
lonely man and friendless--to whom should I speak?"
"To one that loveth thee now as ever, to one that yearneth for thee
with heart nigh to breaking--to Helen--"
"Ah!" quoth Beltane, slow and bitter, "speak word to Helen the
Beautiful--the Wilful--the Wanton? No, a thousand times! Rather would I
perish, I and all my hopes, than seek aid of such as she--"
"Lovest thou Pentavalon indeed, messire? Nay, methinks better far thou
dost love thy cold and cruel pride--so must Pentavalon endure her
grievous wrongs, and so do I pity her, but--most of all--I pity thee,
Now would Beltane have answered but found no word, and therefore fell
to black and bitter anger, and, turning on his heel, incontinent strode
away into the council-hall where a banquet had been spread. Frowning,
he ate and drank in haste, scarce heeding the words addressed to him,
wherefore others grew silent also; and thereafter, his hunger assuaged,
strode he out into the square and summoned his company.
"Men of Pentavalon," spake he loud and quick, "howso poor and humble ye
be, henceforth ye shall go, each and every, equipped in knightly mail
from foot to head, your man's flesh as secure as flesh of any potent
lord or noble of them all. Henceforth each man of us must fight as
valiantly as ten. Now, if any there be who know the manage of horse and
lance, let him step forth." Hereupon divers stepped out of the ranks,
and Beltane counted of these fifty and two.
"Master Reeve," spake Beltane, "give now for guerdon instead of gold,
horses and equipment for these my comrades, stout lances and mail
complete with goodly bascinets."
"It shall be done, my lord."
"Roger, in thy command I set these fifty lances. See now to their
arming, let them be mounted and ready with speed, for in this hour we
"Aye, master," cried Roger, his eyes a-dance, "that will I, moreover--"
"Walkyn, to thee I give the pikes henceforth. As for our archers--
Giles, which now think you fittest to command?"
"Why truly, brother--my lord, if one there be can twang a lusty bow and
hath a cool and soldier-like head 'tis Jenkyn o' the Ford, and after
him Walcher, and after him--"
"Jenkyn, do you henceforth look to our archers. Are these matters heard
and known among ye?"
"Aye!" came the thunderous answer.
"'Tis well, for mark me, we go out to desperate doings, wherein
obedience must be instant, wherein all must love like brothers, and,
like brothers, fight shoulder to shoulder!"
Now came there certain of the citizens to Beltane, leading a great and
noble war-horse, richly caparisoned, meet for his acceptance. And thus,
ere the moon rose, equipped with lance and shield and ponderous,
vizored casque, Beltane, gloomy and silent, with Sir Fidelis mounted
beside him, rode forth at the head of his grim array, at whose tramp
and jingle the folk of Belsaye shouted joyful acclaim while the bells
rang out right joyously.
OF BELTANE'S BLACK AND EVIL MOOD, AND HOW HE FELL IN WITH THE WITCH OF
It was very dark upon the forest road, where trees loomed gigantic
against the pitchy gloom wherein dim-seen branches creaked and swayed,
and leaves rustled faint and fitful in the stealthy night-wind; and
through the gloom at the head of his silent company Beltane rode in
frowning thought, his humour blacker than the night.
Now in a while, Sir Fidelis, riding ever at his elbow, ventured speech
"Art very silent, messire. Have I angered thee, forsooth? Is aught
amiss betwixt us?"
Quoth Beltane, shortly:
"Art over-young, sir knight, and therefore fond and foolish. Is a man a
lover of self because he hateth dishonour? Art a presumptuous youth--
and that's amiss!"
"Art thou so ancient, messire, and therefore so wise as to judge 'twixt
thy hates and loves and the abiding sorrows of Pentavalon?" questioned
Fidelis, low-voiced and gentle.
"Old enough am I to know that in all this world is no baser thing than
the treachery of a faithless woman, and that he who seeketh aid of
such, e'en though his cause be just, dishonoureth himself and eke his
cause. So God keep me from all women henceforth--and as for thee, speak
me no more the name of this light wanton."
"My lord," quoth Sir Fidelis, leaning near, "my lord--whom mean you?"
"Whom should I mean but Mortain Helen--Helen the Beautiful--"
Now cried Sir Fidelis as one that feels a blow, and, in the dark, he
seized Beltane in sudden griping fingers, and shook him fiercely.
"And dare ye name her 'wanton!'" he cried. "Ye shall not--I say ye
shall not!" But, laughing, Beltane smote away the young knight's hold
and laughed again.
"Is this light lady's fame so dear to thee, poor, youthful fool?" said
he. "Aye me! doubt not her falsity shall break thy heart some day and
teach thee wisdom--"
A shout among the woods upon their right, a twinkling light that came
and went amid the underbrush, and Walkyn appeared, bearing a lighted
"Lord," he growled, "here has been devil's work of late, for yonder a
cottage lieth a heap of glowing ashes, and upon a tree hard by a dead
man doth swing."
"Learned ye aught else, Walkyn?"
"Nothing, save that a large company passed here yesterday as I judge.
Horse and foot--going south, see you," and he held his torch to the
"Going south--aye, Walkyn, to Barham Broom, methinks. Here is another
debt shall yet be paid in full, mayhap," quoth Beltane grimly.
The jingling column moved on again, yet had gone but a little way when
Sir Fidelis, uttering a cry, swerved his horse suddenly and sprang to
"What now?" questioned Beltane, staring into the murk.
"My lord--my lord, a woman lieth here, and--ah, messire--she is dead!"
"O, a woman?" quoth Beltane, "and dead, say you? Why then, the world
shall know less of evil and treachery, methinks. Come--mount, sir
knight, mount, I say, and let us on!"
But Sir Fidelis, on his knees beside that silent, dim-seen form, heeded
him not at all, and with reverent, folded hands, and soft and tender
voice, spake a prayer for the departed soul. Now hereupon Beltane knew
sudden shame and swift remorse, and bowed his head also, and would have
prayed--yet could not; wherefore his black mood deepened and his anger
grew more bitter.
"Mount, mount, sir knight!" cried he harshly. "Better to seek
vengeance dire than mumble on thy knees--mount, I say!"
Forthwith Sir Fidelis arose, nothing speaking, and being in the saddle,
reined back and suffered Beltane to ride alone. But in a while, Beltane
perceiving himself thus shunned, found therein a new grievance and
fiercely summoned Sir Fidelis beside him.
"Wherefore slink ye behind me?" he demanded.
Then spake Sir Fidelis in voice full low and troubled:
"My lord Beltane, 'twas said thou wert a noble knight--very strong and
"Ha! dost think such report a lie, mayhap?"
"Alas!" sighed the young knight; and again "alas!" and therewith a
great sob brake from him.
Of a sudden, from the gloom beside the way rose a woman's scream, and
thereafter a great and fierce roar; and presently came Walkyn with his
torch and divers of his men, dragging a woman in their midst, and lo!
it was the witch of Hangstone Waste.
Now she, beholding Beltane's face beneath his lifted vizor, cried out
for very joy:
"Now heaven bless thee, Duke Beltane! Ah, my lord--hear me!"
"What would ye? What seek ye of such as I?"
But hereupon Black Roger spurred beside Beltane, his eyes wide and
fearful in the shadow of his helm, his strong, mailed hand a-tremble on
"Beware, my lord, beware!" he cried, "'tis nigh the midnight hour and
she a noted witch--heed her not lest she blight thy fair body, lest
"Peace, Roger! Now speak, woman--what would ye?"
"A life, my lord!"
"Ah, the blessed saints forfend--I feared so!" gasped Roger.
But now the witch turned and looked on Roger, and he incontinent
crossed himself and fell thenceforth to mumbling prayers beneath his
"Lord Duke, for that I am but a woman poor and helpless, now would I
beseech thine aid for--"
"Nay, tell me first, whence come ye?"
"From Barham Broom, messire. Ah! spare aid for one that lieth in peril
of death--the maid Mellent--they do proclaim her witch--they will burn
"O--a woman!" quoth Beltane, wrinkling his brows; and beholding Sir
Fidelis watching him, straightway frowned the blacker.
"Nay, messire, hear me!" cried the witch, "ah, turn not away! This
maid, indeed, is not of common blood--a lady is she of birth and wide
"Why then," said Beltane, heedful ever of the young knight's burning
glance, "why then is she more apt for treachery and evil."
"Not so, my lord; weak is she and beset by cruel enemies. I found her,
a stranger, wandering lonely in the green, and she, being sick of heart
and brain, spake wild words of a great wrong, vainly done and suffered,
and of an abiding remorse. And when I had nursed her into health she
told me a wondrous tale. So, lord Beltane, do I know that in her hands
thy happiness doth lie."
"Not so!" sighed Beltane. "Happiness and I are strangers henceforth--"
But here once again came a hoarse and angry roar with the sound of
desperate struggling amid the leaves hard by, whence came Jenkyn and
Orson with divers others, dragging a strange, hairy, dwarf-like
creature, great and shaggy of head and with the arms and shoulders of a
giant; smirched was he in blood from a great wound above the brow and
his rich habit was mired and torn. Now looking upon this monstrous
creature that writhed and struggled mightily with his captors, groaning
and roaring betimes, Beltane felt his flesh a-creep with swift and
pregnant memory, and straightway beset the witch with fierce question:
"Woman, what thing is this?"
"My lord, 'tis naught but poor Ulf, a natural, messire, very strong and
faithful, that hath fought mightily and is nigh slain in our defence--
see how he bleeds! Let them not harm him, my lord!"
"Yet have I seen him ere this, methinks."
"But for the maid Mellent--thou wilt not let her burn--and for thy
"Mine, forsooth! How mean you?"
"'Twas yester-eve we were beset hereabouts by a lewd company, and
brought unto their lord, Sir Grilles of Brandonmere--a man beyond all
other men base and vile--who, beholding her so young and fair would
have forced her to his will."
"Ha!--methinks Sir Gilles doth live too long!"
"So to save her from his violence, I discovered to him her name and
high estate, whereupon at first he would fain have her wed with him.
But, angered by her scorn, he bore her with him to Duke Ivo at Barham
Broom, and me also. And there I heard her denounced as witch, by whose
spells thou, lord Beltane, wert freed of thy duress and Garthlaxton
utterly destroyed. Thus, to-morrow she must burn, unless one can be
found to champion her cause and prove her innocent by trial of combat.
So, when they had let me go I came seeking thee, my lord, since 'tis
said thou art a very strong man and swift to aid the defenceless." Now
glancing aside upon Sir Fidelis, Beltane beheld him leaning forward
with his lips apart and slender hands tight-clasped; whereupon he
frowned and shook his head.
"A woman!" quoth he, "nay, I had rather fight in a dog's cause."
"Forsooth!" cried Roger, "for rogue is he and fool that would champion
a vile witch."
"Why, then, let us on, lord," growled Walkyn. "Why tarry we here?"
But now, as the witch sank upon the road with pleading hands uplifted,
Sir Fidelis rode beside her and, stooping, caught her outstretched
hands; quoth he:
"Of what avail to plead with such as these? So will I adventure me on
behalf of this poor maid."
"Enough!" cried Beltane. "Walkyn, march ye one and all for Hundleby
Fen--wait me there and let your watch be strict. But, an I come not
within two days from now, then hie you each and every to reinforce Eric
and Giles in Belsaye. As for Roger, he rideth with me to Barham Broom."
"Ha, lord!--wilt fight, then, in the witch's cause?" cried Walkyn.
"Aye, forsooth, though--forsooth I had rather fight in a dog's cause,
for a dog, see you, is a faithful beast."
"To Barham Broom?" quoth Roger, staring. "Thou and I, master, to Black
Ivo--alone?" And speaking, he loosened sword in scabbard.
"My lord Beltane," cried Sir Fidelis, beholding him with shining eyes,
"an thou wilt do this noble thing, suffer me beside thee!"
"Not so, messire," answered Beltane, shaking his head, "art over young
and tender, methinks--go, get thee back to her that sent thee--keep
thou thy fond and foolish dream, and may thy gentle heart go unbroken.
So saying, Beltane wheeled about and rode away with Roger at his heels.
HOW BELTANE FOUGHT FOR ONE MELLENT THAT WAS A WITCH.
Barham Broom was gay with the stir of flags and streamers, where, above
broidered pavilion and silken tent, pennons and banderoles, penoncels
and gonfalons fluttered and flew, beyond which long lines of smaller
tents stretched away north and south, east and west, and made up the
camp of my lord Duke Ivo.
Beyond the confines of this great and goodly camp the lists had been
formed, and here from earliest dawn a great concourse had been
gathering; villein and vassal, serf and freedman from town and village:
noble lords and ladies fair from castle hall and perfumed bower, all
were here, for to-day a witch was to die--to-day, from her tortured
flesh the flame was to drive forth and exorcize, once and for all, the
demon who possessed her, by whose vile aid she wrought her charms and
spells. So country wenches pushed and strove amid the throng, and
dainty ladies leaned from canopied galleries to shudder with dread or
trill soft laughter; but each and every stared at one who stood alone,
'twixt armed guards, so young and fair and pale within her bonds, oft
turning piteous face to heaven or looking with quailing eye where stake
and chain and faggot menaced her with awful doom. And ever the kindly
sun rose high and higher, and ever the staring concourse grew.
Now, of a sudden the clarions rang out a point of war, and all voices
were hushed, as, forth into the lists, upon his richly-caparisoned
charger, my lord Duke Ivo rode, followed by his chiefest lords and
barons; and as he rode, he smiled to himself full oft as one that
meditates a hidden jest. Being come where the witch stood, her
disordered garments rent by vicious handling, striving to veil her
beauty in her long, dark hair, my lord Duke reined in his pawing steed
to sit a while and look down at her 'neath sleepy lids; and, ever as he
looked, his arching nostrils fluttered above curling lip, and ever he
fingered his long, blue-shaven chin.
"Alack!" cried he at last, "'tis a comely wench, and full young,
methinks, to die so soon! But witchcraft is a deadly sin, abhorred by
man and hateful unto God--"
"My lord--my lord," spake the witch swift and passionate yet trembling
'neath his sleepy gaze, "thou knowest I am no witch indeed--thou
"Nay, nay," quoth the Duke, shaking his head, and coming more near he
stooped and spake her, low-voiced, "nay, she thou would'st name was a
lady proud, soft and white, with hair bright and glorious as the sun--
in sooth a fair lady--yet something too ambitious. But thou, though of
her size and shape, art of a dark and swarthy hue and thy hair black,
meseemeth. Of a verity thou art only the witch Mellent, and so, by
reason of thy sun-browned skin and raven hair--aye, and for thy
witchcraft--thou, alack! must die--unless thou find thee a champion.
Verily I fear me no man will dare take up thy cause, for Sir Gilles is
a lusty man and famous at the joust. Moreover--my will is known in the
matter, so do I fear there none shall come to fight on thy behalf.
Alack! that one should die so young!"
"Ah, my lord--my lord Ivo," she whispered, eager and breathless, "show
me a little mercy. For that, to be thy Duchess, I denied thee thy
desire in the past, let me now be prisoned all my days, an it be thy
will--but give me not to the fire--ah, God--not the fire! Pity--pity
me for what I did for thee--be merciful--"
"Did, wench--did?" quoth the Duke, gently. "Now when spake I with witch
ere this? 'Tis true there was a lady--something of thy seeming--who, to
gain much, promised much, and--achieved me nothing. So now do I know
thee far one Mellent, a notable witch, that shall this day instead of
ducal crown, wear crown of flame. Alack!--and so, farewell!"
Thus speaking, my lord Duke rode on up the lists, where stood certain
noble lords to hold his stirrup and aid him to earth; so mounted he to
his place 'neath broidered canopy, and many a fair cheek blanched, and
many a stout knight faltered in his speech, beholding that slow-creeping,
stealthy smile and the twitch of those thin nostrils.
Now once again the trumpet blew, and a herald stepped forth:
"God save ye, lord Duke," he cried, "ye noble lords and ladies fair--
good people all, God save ye. Know that before you here assembled, hath
been brought one Mellent--that hath been denounced a notable witch and
sorceress, who, by her fiendish arts and by the aid of demons foul and
damned, doth seek the hurt of our lord the Duke, whom God and the
saints defend. Forasmuch as this witch, yclept Mellent, did, by her
unhallowed spells and magic, compass and bring about the escape from
close duress of one Beltane, a notable outlaw, malefactor and enemy to
our lord the Duke; and whereas she did also by aid of charms,
incantations and the like devilish practices, contrive the sack,
burning and total destruction of my lord Duke's good and fair castle of
Garthlaxton upon the March. Now therefore it is adjudged that she be
taken and her body burned to ashes here before you. All of which
charges have been set forth and sworn to by this right noble lord and
gallant knight Sir Gilles of Brandonmere--behold him here in person."
Hereupon, while the trumpets brayed a flourish and fanfare, forth rode
Sir Gilles upon a mighty charger, a grim and warlike figure in his
shining mail and blazoned surcoat, his ponderous, crested war-helm
closed, his long shield covering him from shoulder to stirrup, and his
lance-point twinkling on high.
Then spake again the herald loud and clear: "Good people all, behold
Sir Gilles of Brandonmere, who cometh here before you prepared to
maintain the truth and justice of the charges he hath made--unto the
death, 'gainst any man soever, on horse or on foot, with lance,
battle-axe or sword. Now if there be any here do know this witch Mellent
for innocent, if there be any here dare adventure his body for her
innocence and run the peril of mortal combat with Sir Gilles, let him
now stand forth."
And immediately the trumpets sounded a challenge. Thereafter the herald
paced slowly round the lists, and behind him rode Sir Gilles, his
blazon of the three stooping falcons plain for all men to see, on
gleaming shield and surcoat.
North and south, and east and west the challenge was repeated, and
after each the trumpet sounded a warlike flourish, yet no horseman
paced forth and no man leapt the barriers; and the witch Mellent
drooped pale and trembling betwixt her warders. But, of a sudden she
opened swooning eyes and lifted her heavy head; for, from the distant
woods, faint as yet and far, a horn brayed hoarsely--three notes,
thrice repeated, defiant and warlike. And now, among the swaying
crowds rose a hum that grew and grew, while ever and anon the horn rang
out, fiercely winded--and ever it sounded nearer: until, of a sudden,
out from the trees afar, two horsemen galloped, their harness bright
in the sunshine, helm and lance-point twinkling, who, spurring knee
and knee, thundered over the ling; while every tongue grew hushed, and
every eye turned to mark their swift career.
Tall were these men and lusty, bedight from head to foot in glistening
mail, alike at all points save that one bare neither shield nor lance,
and 'neath his open bascinet showed a face brown and comely, whereas
his companion rode, his long shield flashing in the sun, his head and
face hid by reason of his ponderous, close-shut casque. Swift they
rode, the throng parting before them; knee and knee together they leapt
the palisade, and reining in their horses, paced down the lists and
halted before the pale and trembling captive. Then spake the knight,
harsh-voiced behind his vizor:
Forthwith the black-haired, ruddy man set a hunting horn to his lips,
and blew thereon a flourish so loud and shrill as made the very welkin
Now came pursuivants and the chief herald, which last made inquisition
"Sir Knight, crest hast thou none, nor on thy shield device, so do I
demand name and rank of thee, who thus in knightly guise doth give this
bold defiance, and wherefore ye ride armed at points. Pronounce,
Then spake the tall knight loud and fierce, his voice deep-booming
within the hollow of his closed casque.
"Name and rank have I laid by for the nonce, until I shall have
achieved a certain vow, but of noble blood am I and kin unto the
greatest--this do I swear by Holy Rood. To-day am I hither come in arms
to do battle on behalf of yon innocent maid, and to maintain her
innocence so long as strength abide. And furthermore, here before ye
all and every, I do proclaim Sir Gilles of Brandonmere a shame and
reproach unto his order. To all the world I do proclaim him rogue and
thief and wilful liar, the which (God willing) I will here prove upon
his vile body. So now let there be an end of words. Sound, Roger!"
Hereupon he of the ruddy cheek clapped horn to lip and blew amain until
his cheek grew redder yet, what time the heralds and pursuivants and
marshals of the field debated together if it were lawful for a nameless
knight to couch lance 'gainst one of noble blood. But now came Sir
Gilles himself, choking with rage, and fuming in his harness.
"Ha, thou nameless dog!" cried he, brandishing his heavy lance, "be
thou serf or noble, art an errant liar--so will I slay thee out of
hand!" Thus saying, he reined round the great roan stallion he
bestrode, and galloped to one end of the lists. Now spake Black Roger
low-voiced, and his hand shook upon his bridle:
"Master, now do I fear for thee. Sir Gilles is a mighty jouster and
skilled withal, moreover he rideth his famous horse Mars--a noble beast
and fresh, while thine is something wearied. And then, master, direst
of all, she thou would'st champion is a witch--"
"That worketh no evil by day, Roger. So do I charge thee, whatsoe'er
betide, look to the maid, take her across thy saddle and strive to
bring her to safety. As for me, I will now with might and main seek to
make an end of Sir Gilles of Brandonmere."
So saying, Beltane rode to the opposite extremity of the lists.
And now, while the trumpets blared, the two knights took their ground,
Sir Gilles resplendent in lofty crest and emblazoned surcoat, the three
stooping falcons conspicuous on his shield, his mighty roan charger
pawing the ling with impatient hoof; his opponent, a gleaming figure
astride a tall black horse, his round-topped casque unadorned by plume
or crest. So awhile they remained, very still and silent, what time a
single trumpet spake, whereat--behold! the two long lances sank feutred
to the charge, the broad shields flashed, glittered and were still
again; and from that great concourse a sound went up--a hum, that
swelled, and so was gone.
The maid Mellent had sunk upon her knees and was praying desperate
prayers with face upturned to heaven; but none was there to mark her
now amid that silent gathering--all eyes were strained to watch those
grim and silent horsemen that fronted each other, the length of the
lists between; even Duke Ivo, leaning on lazy elbow, looked with
glowing eye and slow-flushing cheek, ere he let fall his truncheon.
And, on the instant, shrill and fierce the trumpets brayed, and on the
instant each knight struck spurs, the powerful horses reared, plunged,
and sprang away at speed. Fast and faster they galloped, their riders
low-stooped above the high-peaked saddles, shields addressed and lances
steady, with pounding hooves that sent the turves a-flying, with
gleaming helms and deadly lance-points a-twinkle; fast and ever faster
they thundered down upon each other, till, with a sudden direful crash,
they met in full career with a splintering of well-aimed lances, a
lashing of wild hooves, a rearing of powerful horses, staggering and
reeling beneath the shock. And now a thunderous cry went up, for the
tall black horse, plunging and snorting, went down rolling upon the
sward. But his rider had leapt clear and, stumbling to his feet, stood
swaying unsteadily, faint and dazed with the blow of Sir Gilles' lance
that had borne down the great black horse and torn the heavy casque
from his head. So stood Beltane, unhelmed, staring dazedly from heaving
earth to reeling heaven; yet, of a sudden, shook aloft the fragment of
his splintered lance and laughed fierce and loud, to behold, 'twixt
reeling earth and sky, a great roan stallion that foamed upon his bit
'neath sharp-drawn rein, as, swaying sideways from the lofty saddle,
Sir Gilles of Brandonmere crashed to earth, transfixed through shield
and hauberk, through breast and back, upon the shaft of a broken lance.
High over him leapt Beltane, to catch the roan's loose bridle, to swing
himself up, and so, with stirrups flying and amid a sudden clamour of
roaring voices, to thunder down the lists where Roger's heavy sword
flashed, as smiting right and left, he stooped and swung the maid
Mellent before him.
"Ride, Roger--ride! Spur--spur!" shouted Beltane above the gathering
din, and shouting, drew his sword, for now before them, steel glittered
and cries rang upon the air:
"'Tis Beltane the outlaw! Seize him--slay him! 'Tis the outlaw!"
But knee and knee, with loose rein and goading spur rode they, and
nought could avail and none were quick enough to stay that headlong
gallop; side by side they thundered over the ling, and knee and knee
they leapt the barrier, bursting through bewildered soldiery,
scattering frighted country-folk, and so away, over gorse and heather
and with arrows, drawn at a venture, whistling by them. Betimes they
reached the shelter of the woods, and turning, Beltane beheld a
confusion of armed men, a-horse and a-foot, what time borne upon the
air came a sound hoarse and menacing, a sound dreadful to hear--the
sound of the hue and cry.
FURTHER CONCERNING THE MAID MELLENT; AND OF THE HUE AND CRY
Fast they galloped 'neath the trees, stooping ever and anon to avoid
some low-swung branch; through grassy rides and sunny glades, until all
sound of pursuit was died away. So, turning aside into the denser
green, Beltane stayed, and sprang down to tighten the great roan's
saddle-girths, strained in the encounter. Now as he was busied thus,
came the maid Mellent, very pale 'neath her long black hair, and spake
him low-voiced and humble:
"My lord Beltane, thou, at peril of thy body, hath saved to-day a
sorrowful maid from the fiery torment. So to prove my gratitude and
sorrow for past ill--now will I tell thee that in saving me, thou hast
saved one that for ambition's sake, once did thee grievous wrong."
"Thou!" saith Beltane, staring in amaze, "ne'er hast thou seen me until
"Verily, messire--O messire, thou hast indeed seen me ere this and--to
my bitter sorrow--for I who speak am the lady Winfrida--"
"Nay--nay--" stammered Beltane, "here is thing impossible--thy
"'Tis but a wile that many women do know, messire, a device of the
witch Jolette (that is no witch, but a noble woman) a device whereby I
might lie hid awhile. O indeed, indeed I who speak to thee am the
wicked Winfrida--Winfrida the Sorrowful!" Now herewith she sank before
him on her knees and bowed her face within her hands, and Beltane saw
that she trembled greatly. "My lord," she whispered, "now must I
confess a thing beyond all words shameful, and though I fear death, I
fear thy anger more. If, therefore, when I have spoke thee all, thou
wilt slay me, then--O my lord--I pray thee--let death come swift--"
"Master!" cried Roger of a sudden, "I hear horses--they be after us
already! Mount--mount and let us ride--Hark! they come this way!"
"Aye!" nodded Beltane, drawing his sword, "yet here is but one
methinks--list, Roger--leave him to me!" So waited they all three, what
time the slow-pacing hoofs drew near and nearer, until, peering through
the leaves, they beheld a knight, who rode low-stooping in his saddle,
to mark their tracks plain upon the tender grass. Forth stepped
Beltane, fierce and threatening, his long sword agleam, and so paused
to scowl, for the knight raised his head of a sudden and lo! 'twas Sir
"Now what seek ye here, sir knight?" saith Beltane, nothing gentle.
"Thee, my lord," quoth Fidelis, meek of aspect, "to share thy perils
according to thy word. Put up thy sword, messire, thou wilt not harm
thy companion in arms?"
Now Beltane, finding nought to say, scowled sulkily to earth, and thus
saw nothing of the eyes so deep and tender that watched him 'neath the
shadow of the young knight's bascinet, nor the smile so sad and wistful
that curled his ruddy lips, nor all the lithe and slender grace of him
as he swayed to the impatient movements of the powerful animal he
bestrode; but it chanced that Winfrida's eyes saw all this, and being a
woman's eyes, beheld that which gave her breathing sudden pause--turned
her red--turned her pale, until, with a gasp of fear she started, and
uttering a cry, low and inarticulate, sped fleet-footed across the
glade and was gone.
Quoth Beltane, staring:
"Now what aileth the maid, think ye? But 'tis no matter--we are well
quit of her, meseemeth." So saying, he turned to behold Roger flat upon
his belly and with his ear to the ground.
"Master," cried he, "master, there be horsemen i' the forest
hereabouts--a great company!"
"Why then, do you mount, Roger, and hie thee with Sir Fidelis hot-foot
to Walkyn at Hundleby Fen. Bid him set our bowmen in every place of
vantage, and let every man stand to arms. So mayhap, Roger, will we
this day make hunted men of them that hunt!" So saying, Beltane swung
"Aye--aye--but what o' thee, master?"
"Mark ye this horse, Roger. Thou hast said 'twas of good speed and
endurance, and methinks 'tis sooth. Howbeit, now shall he prove thy
word, for here I wait the hunters, and to-day will I, keeping ever out
of bow-shot, lead them through every quag, every bog and marsh 'twixt
here and Hundleby Fen, and of those that follow still, thou and Walkyn
and our merry men shall make an end, I pray God. So let all lie well
hid, and watch for my coming. And now--farewell to thee, Roger."
"But, master," quoth Roger, waxing rueful, "in this thou must run dire
perils and dangers, and I not with thee. So pray thee let Sir Fidelis--
hard!--Ha!--now God aid us--hark to that! Master, they've loosed the
dogs on us!"
Even as he spake, very faint and far as yet but plain to hear above the
leafy stirring, the deep baying of a hound came down the wind.
"Hunting-dogs, master! Ride--ride!" quoth Roger, wiping sweat from him,
"O sweet Christ forgive me, for I have hunted down poor rogues with
such ere now--"
"Forsooth, Roger, and now is their turn to hunt thee, mayhap. Howbeit,
ride you at speed, and you, sir knight also, get you gone, and
whatsoever betide, Roger, wait you at Hundleby Fen for me. Go--obey
me!" So, looking upon Beltane with eyes of yearning, Black Roger
perforce wheeled and rode out into the glade, and striking spurs to his
eager steed, galloped swiftly away. Now turned Beltane upon Sir
"How, messire--are ye not gone?"
Then answered Sir Fidelis, his drooping head averted:
"Thou seest, my lord--I go beside thee according to thy word--"
"Presumptuous youth, I want thee not!"
"The day will yet come, perchance, my lord--and I can be patient--"
"Ha--dost defy me?"
"Not so, my lord--nor do I fear thee. For I do know thee better than
thyself, so do I pity thee--pity thee--thou that art so mighty and yet
so weak. Thou art a babe weeping in a place of shadows, so will I go
beside thee in the dark to soothe and comfort thee. Thou art a noble
man, thy better self lost awhile 'neath sickly fancies--God send they
soon may pass. Till then I can be very patient, my lord Beltane."
Now did Beltane stare with eyes of wonder upon Sir Fidelis who managed
his fretting charger with a gracious ease, yet held his face ever
averted. While, upon the stilly air, loud and more loud rose the fierce
baying of the hounds.
Said Beltane at last:
"Messire, thou dost hear the hounds?"
"In faith, my lord, I tremble to be gone, but an thou dost tarry, so
"Death shall follow hard after us this day, Sir Fidelis."
"Why then, an death o'ertake us--I must die, messire."
"Ha,--the hounds have winded us already, methinks! Hark!--Hark to
them!" And in truth the air was full of their raving clamour, with,
ever and anon, the shouts and cries of those that urged them on.
"Hast a noble horse, Sir Fidelis. Now God send he bear thee well this
day, for 'twill be hard and cruel going. Come--'tis time, methinks!"
Thus speaking, Beltane gave his horse the rein and forth they rode
together out into the broad and open glade, their armour glinting in
the sun; and immediately the dogs gave tongue, louder, fiercer than
before. Now looking back. Beltane beheld afar many mounted men who
shouted amain, flourishing lance and sword, while divers others let
slip the great dogs they held in leash; then, looking up the glade
ahead, and noting its smooth level and goodly length, Beltane smiled
grimly and drew sword. "Sir Fidelis," said he, "hast a mace at thy
saddle-bow: betake thee to it, 'tis a goodly weapon, and--smite hard.
'Twill be the dogs first. Now--spur!"
Forward bounded the two high-mettled steeds, gathering pace with every
stride, but the great hounds came on amain, while beyond, distant as
yet, the hunters rode--knight and squire, mounted bowman and man-at-arms
they spurred and shouted, filling the air with fierce halloo.
Slowly the hounds drew nearer--ten great beasts Beltane counted--that
galloped two and two, whining and whimpering as they came.
Now of a sudden Beltane checked in his career, swerved, swung the
plunging roan, and with long blade agleam, rode in upon the racing pack
to meet their rush with deadly point and deep-biting edge; a slavering
hound launched itself at his throat, its fangs clashing on the stout
links of his camail, but as the great beast hung thus, striving to drag
him from the saddle, down came the mace of Sir Fidelis and the snarling
beast fell to be crushed 'neath the trampling hoofs of the war-horse
Mars. And now did the mighty roan prove himself a very Mars indeed,
for, beset round about by fierce, lean shapes that crouched and leapt
with cruel, gleaming fangs, he stamped and reared and fought them off,
neighing loud defiance. Thus, with lashing hoof, with whirling mace and
darting sword fought they, until of the hounds there none remained save
three that limped painfully to cover, licking their hurts as they went.
But other foes were near, for as Beltane reined his snorting steed
about, he swayed in his stirrups 'neath the shock of a cross-bow bolt
that glanced, whirring, from his bascinet, and in that moment Sir
Fidelis cried aloud:
"My lord, my lord! alas, my poor horse is death-smitten!" Glancing
round. Beltane beheld Sir Fidelis slip to earth as his charger, rearing
high, crashed over, his throat transfixed by a cloth-yard shaft. Now
did their many pursuers shout amain, fierce and joyful, goading their
horses to swifter pace what time Beltane frowned from them to Sir
Fidelis, who stood, mailed hands tight-clasped, watching Beltane eager
"Ah!" cried Beltane, smiting hand to thigh in bitter anger, "now is my
hope of ambush and surprise like to be marred by reason of thee, sir
knight, for one horse may never carry us twain!"
"Why then, I can die here, my lord, an it be so thy will!" spake Sir
Fidelis, his pale lips a tremble, "yet is thy horse strong and--O in
sooth I did yearn--for life. But, an thou wilt give me death--"
"Come!" cried Beltane hoarsely. "Come, wherefore tarry ye?"
Now leapt Sir Fidelis to the saddle of his fallen steed and snatched
thence a wallet, whereat Beltane fell a-fuming, for bolts and arrows
began to whirr and hum thick and fast. "Come--mount, sir knight--mount
ye up behind me. Thy hand--quick! thy foot on my foot--so! Now set thy
two arms fast about me and see thou loose me not, for now must we ride
for the wild--brush and thicket, stock and stone, nought must let or
stay us--so loose me not, sir knight!"
"Ah--not while life remain, messire Beltane!" said the young knight
quick-breathing, and speaking, took Beltane within two mailed arms that
clasped and clung full close. Then, wheeling sharp about, Beltane
stooping low, struck sudden spurs and they plunged, crashing, into the
HOW THEY RODE INTO THE WILDERNESS
Fast galloped the good horse, bursting through underbrush and thicket
with the roar of the pursuit following ever distant and more distant;
and ever Beltane spurred deeper into those trackless wilds where few
dare adventure them by reason of evil spirits that do haunt these
solitudes (as they do say) and, moreover, of ravening beasts.
Strongly and well the good horse bore them, what time the sun waxed
fierce and hot, filling the woods with a stifling heat, a close,
windless air dank and heavy with the scent of leaves and bracken. The
hue and cry had sunk long since, lost in distance, and nought broke the
brooding silence but the stir of their going, as, checking their
headlong pace, Beltane brought the powerful animal to slow and leisured
gait. And presently, a gentle wind arose, that came and went, to fan
brow and cheek and temper the sun's heat.
And now, as they rode through sunlight and shadow, Beltane felt his
black mood slowly lifted from him and knew a sense of rest, a content
unfelt this many a day; he looked, glad-eyed, upon the beauty of the
world about him, from green earth to an azure heaven peeping through a
fretted screen of branches; he marked the graceful, slender bracken
stirring to the soft-breathing air, the mighty boles of stately trees
that reached out sinuous boughs one to another, to touch and twine
together amid a mystery of murmuring leaves. All this he saw, yet
heeded not at all the round-mailed arms that clasped him in their soft
embrace, nor the slender hands that held upon his girdle.
So rode they through bosky dell and dingle, until the sun, having
climbed the meridian, sank slowly westwards; and Sir Fidelis spake
"Think you we are safe at last, my lord?"
"Fidelis," saith Beltane, "Yest're'en did'st thou name me selfish,
to-day, a babe, and, moreover, by thy disobedience hast made my schemes
of no avail--thus am I wroth with thee."
"Yet doth the sun shine, my lord," said Sir Fidelis, small of voice.
"Ha--think you my anger so light a thing, forsooth?"
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