Beltane The Smith
Part 8 out of 11
In a while cometh Sir Jocelyn and the lady Winfrida, hand in hand,
aglow with happiness, yet with eyes moistly bright under the moon.
"Good comrade-in-arms," quoth Beltane, "Mortain lieth far hence; now
here is a goodly horse--"
"O!" cried Winfrida shrinking, "surely 'tis the horse that bore Sir
Gilles of Brandonmere in the lists at Barham Broom--"
"So now, my lady Winfrida, shall it bear thee and thy love to Mortain
and happiness--O loved Mortain! So mount, Jocelyn, mount! Haste to thy
happiness, man, and in thy joy, forget not Pentavalon, for her need is
great. And thou hast goodly men-at-arms! How think ye, messire?"
"Beltane," cried Sir Jocelyn gleefully, "Beltane, O dear my friend,
doubt me not--I do tell thee we shall ride together yet, when the
battle joins!" So saying, be sprang to saddle. Now turned Beltane to
aid the lady Winfrida to Sir Jocelyn's hold; but, even then, she fell
upon her knees, and catching his hand to her bosom, kissed it.
"Lord Beltane," said she, looking up 'neath glistening lashes--"as thou
hast dealt with me, so may heaven deal with thee. May thy sore heart
find solace until love find thee--and--dear my lord, I pray you where
is--he--the young knight that rode with thee--for where he is, there
"And thou dost know, too?"
"I knew her that day in the forest when I fled away, for though I would
have confessed my sin to thee, yet her cold scorn I could not have
borne. Where is she now, my lord?"
"Safe within Mortain, I pray."
"Then come you to Mortain. Come with us this night--ah! come you to
Now hereupon Beltane turned to look with yearning eyes towards the
gloom of the forest beyond which lay the soft and peaceful valleys of
fair Mortain, and she that called herself Fidelis, who had indeed been
so faithful in all things, so patient and enduring; and, as his eyes
yearned, so yearned the great passionate soul of him, insomuch that he
must needs fall a-trembling, whereat Roger the watchful drew a soft
pace nearer. So stood Beltane awhile, hands clenched, head bent,
staring ever northwards, his blood aglow with eager love, his heart
a-throb with passionate remorse.
"Come, my lord," breathed Winfrida, "O come--in Mortain is rest and
"Rest?" said Beltane softly, "solace and love--O sweet thought! Yet I
may not go hence, for here is sorrow and shame and suffering--sword
and fire and battle. So must I bide here in Pentavalon--with my duty."
So saying, he lifted Winfrida to Sir Jocelyn's ready clasp and
thereafter spake with head downbent: "An thou chance to see--her--
within Mortain, I pray you say that the blind doth see at last and is
gone to his duty, that, peradventure, he may be, some day, more worthy
her great love. And now fare ye well, good friends, God have ye ever in
His tender care. Come, Roger!"
Then Beltane turned him suddenly away, and with broad back set towards
Mortain, strode off across the desolate moor.
TELLETH HOW BELTANE WENT FORTH TO HIS DUTY
Silent went Beltane, his lips firm-set, his wistful eyes staring ever
before him, nor paused he once, nor once glanced back towards that
happy Mortain which held for him all that was fair and sweet and noble;
that pure and faithful heart wherein no evil could exist; that radiant
body in whose soft, white loveliness lay all the joy, all the happiness
the wide world might ever yield him.
And now, because of her proved innocence, he was uplifted by a great
and mighty joy, and therewith his step was light and swift; anon,
because of his base doubt of her, he writhed 'neath the sharp-gnawing
tooth of bitter remorse, and therewith his step grew heavy and slow.
Now was he proud of her so great love for him, and again, he knew a
profound and deep humility because of his so great unworthiness. Thus
went he, nothing speaking, now with flying feet, now with steps that
dragged, insomuch that watchful Roger fell to solemn wonderment, to a
furtive unease, and so, at last, to speech.
"Lord," quoth he in a voice of awe, but Beltane strode on unheeding,
whereat Roger's eyes grew round and his ruddy cheek pale, and clenching
his fist, he raised aloft his first and little fingers so that they
formed two horns, and with the horns he touched Beltane lightly on the
shoulder. "Master!" said he.
Then Beltane started, and turning, looked at Roger, whereupon Roger
immediately crossed his fingers.
"Ha, Roger, I was deep in my thoughts, what would ye?"
"Master, hast ever a pricking in the hairs of thy head?"
"Dost ever feel a tingling in the soles of thy feet?"
"Not so, in truth."
"Why then a shivering, quaking o' the back-bone?"
"Roger, man, what troubles thee now?"
"I do fear thou'rt be-devilled and moon-struck, master!"
"Betimes thou dost smile upon the moon--for no reason; scowl upon the
earth--for no reason; work with thy lips yet speak no word, and
therewith do bite thy fingers-ends, clench thy fists--and all for no
reason. Moreover, thou'rt quick and slow in thy gait, sighing gustily
off and on--so it is I do sweat for thee."
"Master," quoth Roger, glancing furtively about, "in my youth I did see
a goodly man be-devilled by horrid spells by an ancient hag that was a
noted witch, and he acted thus--a poor wight that was thereafter
damnably be-devilled into a small, black rabbit, see you--"
"Saw you all this indeed, Roger?"
"All but the be-devilling, master, for being young and sore frighted I
ran away and hid myself. But afterwards saw I the old woman with the
black rabbit in a cage--wherefore the vile hag was stoned to death, and
the black rabbit, that was her familiar, also--and very properly. And,
lord, because I do love thee, rather would I see thee dead than a
rabbit or a toad or lewd cur--wherefore now I pray thee cross thy
fingers and repeat after me--"
"Nay, my faithful Roger, never fear, here is no witchcraft. 'Tis but
that within the hour the blind doth see, the fool hath got him some
"Master, how mean you?"
"This night, Roger, I have learned this great truth: that white can
never be black, nor day night, nor truth lie--and here is great matter
for thought, wherefore as I walk, I think."
Now hereupon Black Roger halted and looked upon Beltane glad-eyed.
"Lord," he cried, "is it that ye do know the very truth at last--of Sir
Fidelis--that glorious lady, thy Duchess Helen?"
"Aye, the very truth at last, Roger."
"Ha!--'tis so I petitioned the good Saint Cuthbert this very night!"
"And lo! he hath answered thy prayer, Roger."
"Verily he regardeth poor Roger these days, master, e'en though my belt
doth yet bear many accursed notches."
"They shall be fewer anon, Roger; there be many poor souls for thee to
save in woeful Pentavalon."
Hereafter went they a while in silence, until of a sudden Roger halted
and clapped hand to thigh.
"Master, we go the wrong way, methinks."
"Not so, we be close upon the forest road, Roger."
"But thou dost know her faithful, master, pure and holy in mind and
body--at sure of this at last!"
"Aye," sighed Beltane, "at last!"
"Why then, lord, let us incontinent seek her out."
"She is in for Mortain, Roger, moreover--"
"Nay, master, forsooth she is--hum! aye, she's in Mortain, mayhap, but
'tis none so far to Mortain for such legs as thine and mine. And belike
we may--chance upon her by the way, or--or she with us, or both!"
"Even so, needs must I to my duty."
"Thy duty!--aye, master--thy duty is to woo her, wed her, take her to
thy arms and--"
"I tell thee, Roger, ne'er will I speak word of love to her until I
have proved myself in some sense fit and worthy. First will I free
Pentavalon as I did swear--"
"Nay, master, wed first thy Duchess, so shall she aid thee in thy vows,
"Enough!" cried Beltane, "think ye 'tis so easy to thus gainsay the
love that burns me? But shame were it that I, beggared in fortune, my
friends few, should wed her in my dire need, dragging thereby peaceful
Mortain to mine aid and the bloody arbitrament of battle. Moreover,
hast forgot the oath I sware--that nought henceforth should let or stay
"Master," sighed Roger, "there be times, methinks, thou dost swear
over-many oaths. Art man and woman full of youth and love, wherefore
not marry? Wherefore heed a vow here or there? Needs must I wrestle
with the good Saint Cuthbert in the matter."
But here Beltane fell again to meditation and Roger likewise. So came
they presently to the forest-road, and turning north towards Winisfarne
they strode on, side by side, in silence profound and deep. And of a
sudden upon this silence, rose a voice high-pitched and quavering:
"O ye that have eyes, have pity--show mercy on one that is maimed and
helpless, and creepeth ever in the dark."
HOW BLACK ROGER WON TO FULLER MANHOOD
Forthwith Beltane paused, and presently beheld one that sat by the
wayside--a man who crouched 'neath a dusty cloak and kept his white
head down-bent and who now reached out a hand to grope and grope for
the staff that lay near; wherefore Beltane took hold upon this hand and
raised the white-haired traveller, and thereafter put the cudgel in his
"Messire," said the blind man, "though I have no eyes I do know thee
young, for thy clasp is strong and quick with life, yet wondrous
gentle. God bless thee, youthful sir, for 'tis well to meet with
gentleness within a world so cruel. Tell me, I pray, doth this road
lead unto Belsaye town?"
"Verily," answered Beltane, "but 'tis a long day's march thither."
"Yet needs must I reach there, since I do bear a message. But, O young
messire, when cruel men put out mine eyes, the good God, in His sweet
clemency, made sharp mine ears. So do I know thy voice, methinks, for
voice of one who, long months since, did cherish me in my need and
hunger, and sent me unto the saintly Ambrose."
"Ha!" cried Beltane joyously, "and is it thou indeed? Tell me, how doth
my father?--is he well?--what said he?--how looked he? O, I do yearn
for word of him!"
"Thy father? How, young sir, is he indeed thy father? Then is thy name
Beltane, for I have heard him name thee oft--"
"Forsooth, and did he so? But how came you here, and wherefore?"
"To seek thee, lord Beltane, according to thy saintly father's word.
And the manner of it, thus: As we sat together of a certain fair noon
within Holy Cross Thicket, there came to us thither a woman, young,
methinks, and fair, for her speech was soft and wondrous sweet in mine
ears. And she did hail thy father 'Duke,' and thereafter spake thy name
full oft, and so they fell to many words, walking together up and down
before the hut. Anon, sudden and silent as she came, she was gone, and
thy father walked full long, praying oft as one that rejoiceth greatly,
and oft as one in deep perplexity. In a while cometh he to me and gave
me scrip and therewith food and money, and bade me seek thee in Belsaye
and speak thee thus: 'Tell Beltane, my well-beloved, that I, his
father, have heard of his great and knightly deeds and that I do glory
in them, praising God. Say that through him my youth and strength are
renewed and my great sin made easier to bear. Tell him that the woes of
Pentavalon draw to an end, and that ere long she shall arise above her
sorrows. Bid him be of good courage yet a little longer, for the lion
is waked at last, and the leopard also.' Behold now, messire, all's
said." And the blind man stood with down-bent head, one hand grasping
the staff, his other arm hid within his wide sleeve, what time Roger
watched him furtive and askance, and moreover, his bow-stave shook and
quivered in his grasp; as for Beltane, he stood as one lost in happy
thought, upon his lips a smile ineffably tender. Smiling yet, he turned
and touched the blind man's stooping shoulder. Quoth he:
"Greatly welcome is thy news and greatly would I thank thee. Pray you
now, how may I show my gratitude?"
"Messire, fain would I shelter me in Belsaye, for there is fire and
sword and battle on the marches. But the way is long, and on my road
hither two rogues took from me purse and scrip. Give me, therefore,
enough to bear me on my way."
"Aye, verily! Roger, thou dost bear the purse. Give him store of money
and some of our food--see that he lacketh for nothing, Roger." So
saying, Beltane turned him away and fell again to pondering his
Now at sound of Roger's name the blind man started round and fixed
Roger with the horror of his eyeless sockets, and, therewith, flung up
an arm as though fearing a blow; and behold! this arm was but a
mutilated stump, for hand was there none.
"Roger!" he whispered, "not Roger the Black? No, no! There be a many
Rogers. But who art thou dost bear such a name, and wherefore cower and
Then stood the blind man with head out-thrust and awful arm upraised,
before which Black Roger shrank and shrank to cower in the deeper
Of a sudden the blind man turned and coming beside Beltane, grasped him
by the mantle.
"Lord," he questioned, "who is he that trembleth before the maimed and
blind?--who is he that croucheth yonder?"
"Nay, fear ye nothing," said Beltane, "'tis none but my trusty Roger,
my good comrade in arms--comfort ye!" Then he beckoned Roger and took
the purse and gave to the blind man bounteously, saying:
"See now, when you shall come to Belsaye go you to Eric that hath
command of the town and to Giles that is captain of the archers, and
say that I, Beltane, will come to Belsaye within the week, and all our
company with me, God willing. Bid them be vigilant and watch for our
coming; let bows be strung and wall and turret manned night and day. So
now fare thee well, and God's hand guide thy sightless going."
Then the blind man blessed Beltane, and turning, forthwith set out upon
his way, and his staff tapped loud upon the forest-road. Right joyfully
Beltane strode on again, his mind ever busied with thought of his
father; but Roger's step was listless and heavy, so that Beltane must
needs turn to look on him, and straightway marvelled to see how he hung
his head, and that his ruddy cheek was grown wondrous pale and haggard.
"Roger?" quoth he, "art sick, Roger?"
"Sick, lord? nay--not sick, 'tis but that I--I--" But when he would
have said more his voice failed him, his lip fell a-quivering, and even
as Beltane stared in wonder, Black Roger groaned and flung himself upon
his knees, and hid his face within his hands.
"Why Roger! What ails thee, Roger, man?" said Beltane and laid a hand
upon his shoulder, whereat Roger groaned again and shrank away.
"Ah, lord, touch me not!" he cried, "unfit am I for hand of thine,
unfit and all unworthy--"
"Nay, good friend--"
"Master--master!" groaned Roger, and therewith a great cry brake from
him and he cast himself face downwards in the dust. "Unworthy am I to
be thy man, so must I leave thee this night--aye, leave thee! For O my
lord! yon poor blind man--'twas I--at the Red Pertolepe's command--
'twas I--did burn out his eyes and--cut off his hand--'twas I--I--Black
Roger! O Saint Cuthbert! O sweet Jesu! So all unworthy am I to be thy
And now great sobs shook him, fierce sobs and bitter, and he writhed
there in the dust, groaning in the agony of his remorse. Little by
little his passion spent itself, but still he lay there, yearning
mightily for sound of his master's voice or touch of his hand, yet
dared he not look up because of his abasement.
At last, whenas his sobs had ceased, he lifted his wretched head and
stared in wide-eyed wonder to see Beltane upon his knees, his mailed
hands clasped and his lips moving in silent prayer; when, his prayer
ended, he raised his head and straightway Roger's wonder grew, for
behold! the eyes of Beltane were wondrous gentle, his mouth sweet-curved
and tender, the old harsh lines of grim-curled lip and lowering
brow had vanished quite; and thus at last Black Roger saw again the
face of my Beltane that had smiled on him long since amid the green
across the prostrate form of poor Beda the Jester. So now, my Beltane
smiled, and smiling, reached forth his hand.
"Roger," said he, "by shame and agony some men do win to new life and
fuller manhood, and such a man, methinks, thou art. So hath God need of
thee, and from this the dust of thy abasement, mayhap, shall lift thee,
one day, high as heaven. Stand up, Roger, good my friend, stand up, O
man, for he only is unworthy that ne'er hath wept remorseful in the
dust for evil past and done."
Then Roger grasped that strong, uplifting hand, and stood upon his
feet, yet spake he no word; and presently they went on along the road
And Roger's habit was stained with dust, and on his cheek the mark of
bitter tears--but his head was high and manfully uplifted.
HOW THEY HAD NEWS OF WALKYN
Now went they in silence again for that Beltane dreamed of many things
while Roger marvelled within himself, oft turning to look on my
Beltane's radiant face, while ever his wonder grew; so oft did he turn
thus to gape and stare that Beltane, chancing to meet his look, smiled
and questioned him, thus:
"Why gape ye on me so, Roger man?"
"For wonder, master."
"To see thee so suddenly thyself again--truly Saint Cuthbert is a
"And thou a sturdy pray-er, good Roger."
"And most vile sinner, lord. Howbeit I have dared supplicate on thy
behalf and behold! thou art indeed thyself again--that same sweet and
gentle youth that smote me on my knavish mazzard with thy stout
quarter-staff in Shevening Thicket in the matter of Beda, Red
Pertolepe's fool--a dour ding, yon, master--forsooth, a woundy rap!"
Now fell they to thoughtful silence again, but oft Black Roger's stride
waxed uneven, and oft he stumbled in his going, wherefore Beltane
slackened his pace.
"What is it, Roger?"
"Naught but my legs, master. Heed 'em not."
"They be shorter than thine, lord, and love not to wag so fast. An thou
could'st abate thy speed a little--a very little, master, they shall
thank thee dearly."
"Art so weary, Roger?"
"Master, I was afoot ere sunrise."
"Why truly, Roger. Yet do I, to mine own selfish ends, keep thee from
thy slumber thus. Verily a selfish man, I!"
"Not so, master, indeed--"
"So now will we halt, and thou shalt to thy rest."
"Why then, lord, let us to the Hollow--it lieth scarce a mile through
the brush yonder, and 'twas there I did appoint for Walkyn to meet with
thee again--so shall we sleep secure; moreover I have a feeling--as it
were one calling us thither, a wondrous strange feeling, master! Mayhap
we shall come by news of Walkyn there--"
"'Tis well bethought, Roger. Come thy ways."
Forthwith turned they from the forest-road, and forcing their way
through a leafy tangle, presently came out into a ride, or narrow
glade; but they had gone only a very little distance when they espied
the red glow of a fire within a thicket hard by, and therewith the
sound of voices reached them:
"Three great bags, I tell thee!" cried one voice, high and querulous,
"three great, fair and goodly bags full crammed of sweet gold pieces!
All my lord Duke's revenue of Winisfarne and the villages adjacent
thereunto! Taxes, see ye, my lord Duke's taxes--and all stolen, reft,
and ravished from me, Guido, Steward and Bailiff of the northern
Marches, by clapper-claws and raveners lewd and damned! Woe's me for my
lord's good money-bags!"
"O, content thee!" spake another voice, sleepy and full-fed, "for, an
these monies were the Duke's they were not thine, and if they were not
thine thou wert not robbed, and, since thou wert not robbed, wherefore
groan and glower ye on the moon? Moreover, thou hast yet certain monies
thou didst--collect--from yon blind fellow, the which remindeth me I
have not yet my share. So pray thee now disburse, good steward."
Hereupon, ere Beltane could stay him, Roger slipped, soft-treading,
into the undergrowth; upon whose vanishing the air grew very suddenly
full of shouts and cries, of scuffling sounds and woeful pleadings; and
striding forward, Beltane beheld two men that crouched on bended knees,
while Roger, fierce and threatening, stood betwixt, a hairy hand upon
the throat of each. Now beholding Beltane, they (these gasping rogues)
incontinent beset him with whimpering entreaties, beseeching of him
their lives. Ragged knaves they seemed, and in woeful plight--the one a
lank fellow and saturnine, with long, down-trending, hungry nose; the
other a little man, plump and buxom, whose round eyes blinked woefully
in his round and rosy face as he bent 'neath Roger's heavy hand. Yet
spake he to Beltane in soft and soothing accents, on this wise:
"Resplendent sir, behold this thy most officious wight who doth my
tender throat with hurtful hand encompass--doubtless to some wise and
gracious end an he doth squeeze me thus at thy command. Yet, noble sir,
humbly would I woo of thee the mercy of a little more air, lest this
right noble youth do choke me quite!"
But hereupon the lank fellow cried out, bold and querulous:
"Take ye heed, for whoso dareth lay hand on me, toucheth the person of
Duke Ivo's puissant self!"
"Ha--say ye so?" growled Roger, and forthwith squeezed him until he
"Loose me, knave!" he panted, "Duke Ivo's Steward, I--Bailiff of the
northern Marches with--towns and villages--adjacent thereunto--"
"Unhand them, Roger," said Beltane, "entreat them gently--in especial
my lord Duke's Steward and Bailiff of the Marches, if so he be in very
"Yea my lord, in very truth!" cried the Bailiff. "But two days since in
ermined robe and chain of office, a notable man, I, courted by many,
feared by more, right well be-seen by all, with goodly horse betwixt my
knees and lusty men-at-arms at my beck and call. To-night, alas and
woe! thou see'st me a ragged loon, a sorry wight the meanest rogue
would scorn to bow to, and the very children jeer at--and all by reason
of a lewd, black-avised clapper-claw that doth flourish him a mighty
axe--O, a vile, seditious fellow ripe for the gallows."
"Ah! with an axe say'st thou, sir Bailiff?"
"O most infallibly an axe, messire--a ponderous axe with haft the
length of this my leg. A vilely tall, base, and most unseemly dog that
hath spoiled me of my lord's sweet money-bags, wherefore I yearn to see
him wriggle in a noose. To the which end I journey in these my rags,
unto my lord Duke on Barham Broom, with tale of wrong and outrage most
"And dared they rob thee indeed?" quoth Beltane, "and thou my lord
Duke's High Steward and Bailiff of the Marches! Come, sit ye down and
tell me of the matter--and Roger, methinks he shall talk the better an
thou keep thy fingers farther from his wind-pipe."
So down sat they together round the fire, and, what time the little
buxom man viewed Beltane 'twixt stealthy lids from golden spur to open
bascinet, the Bailiff fell to his tale, as followeth:
"Know then, good and noble sir knight, that I sat me, but two days
since, in right fair and goodly estate, my lackeys to hand, my men-at-arms
at my back (twenty tall fellows). I sat me thus, I say, within the
square at Winisfarne, whither, by sound of trumpet, I had summoned me
the knavish townsfolk to pay into my hand my lord Duke's rightful dues
and taxes, which folk it is my custom to call upon by name and one by
one. When lo! of a sudden, and all uncalled, comes me a great, tall
fellow, this same black-avised knave, and forthwith seized him one of
my lord's great money-bags, and when I would have denied him, set me
his axe beneath my very nose. Thereafter took he the bags all three and
scattered (O hateful--hateful sight!) my lord's good monies among the
base rabblement. And, when my lusty fellows sought to apprehend me this
rogue, he smote them dolefully and roared in hideous fashion 'Arise--
Pentavalon!' And straightway, at this lewd shout, forth of the crowd
leapt many other rogues bedight as gentle knights in noble mail,
cap-a-pie, and fell upon us and smote us dire, and stripped me of my
goodly apparel, and drave me forth of the town with stripes and blows
and laughter most ungentle. So here sit I, poor Guido, Steward and
Bailiff of the Marches, in most vile estate, very full of woe yet,
alack, empty of belly."
"But," says Beltane, shaking his head, "within thy pouch, methinks, a
blind man's money."
"How--a blind man?" gasped the Bailiff, "a blind man's monies, say'st
thou? Nay messire, in very truth."
"Search him, Roger."
Hereupon Roger, having straightway choked him to silence with the one
hand full soon had found the money with the other, and thereafter, he
loosed the Bailiff that he might get his breath again; the which he no
sooner had done than he fell to prayers and humble entreaties:
"Sir knight--right noble sir, sure thou wilt not take thus from a
woeful wight all that he hath."
"Nay," answered Beltane, "I take only from my lord Duke's Steward and
Bailiff of the Marches. And now," said he, turning upon the small,
round man, "thou hast marked me well, how say you, Pardoner?"
"First, most truly potent, wise, yet very youthful, noble sir, that for
all the world and all the glory thereof I would not anger thee."
"Hast good eyes, Pardoner, and art quick to heed."
"Nay, dull am I, sweet lord, aye, dull forsooth and slow beyond
"Would'st know me again? could'st bear my likeness in thy memory?"
"Never, lord. Never, O never! I swear it by the toe of the blessed
Didymus, by the arm of Saint Amphibalus thrice blessed, by--"
"Why then, Pardoner, behold here my belt of silver, my good,
long-bladed sword. And here--behold my yellow hair!" and off came bascinet,
and back fell mail-coif, whereat the Bailiff started and caught his
breath and stared on Beltane in sudden awe.
"Dost mark me well, Pardoner?"
"Aye, noble sir, verily and in truth do I. So, next time I think on
thee thou wilt be a squat man, middle-aged and black-haired. For, my
lord, a poor Pardoner I, but nought beside."
Then Beltane did on coif and bascinet and rose to his feet, whereat the
Bailiff cried out in sudden fear and knelt with hands upraised:
"Slay me not, my lord! O messire Beltane, spare my life nor think I
will betray thee, outlaw though thou art!"
"Fear not, sir Bailiff," answered Beltane, "thy life is safe from me.
But, when thou dost name me to thy lord, Duke Ivo, tell him that I
spake thee this: That, whiles I do lie within the green he shall not
sleep o' nights but I will be at work with fire and steel, nor rest nor
stay until he and the evil of him be purged from this my father's duchy
of Pentavalon--say I bid him remember this upon his pillow. Tell him
that whiles I do hold the woods my powers grow daily, and so will I
storm and burn his castles, one by one, as I did burn Garthlaxton. Say
I bid him to think upon these things what time he wooeth slumber in the
night. As to thee, thou wily Pardoner, when thou shalt come to betray
this our meeting, say that I told thee, that as Belsaye rose, and
Winisfarne, so shall town and village rise until Ivo and his like are
driven hence, or Beltane slain and made an end of. And so--fare ye
well! Come, Roger!" Then Beltane strode away with grim Roger at his
heels what time the Bailiff and the Pardoner stared in dumb amaze.
"Here," quoth the Pardoner at last, stroking his round chin, "here was
a man, methinks, wherefore are we yet alive!"
"Here," quoth the Bailiff, scratching his long nose, "here was a fool,
methinks, for that we are alive. A traitor, see ye, Pardoner, whose
yellow head is worth its weight in gold! Truly, truly, here was a very
fool!" So saying, he arose, albeit furtively, and slipping forthwith
into the shadow, crept furtively away until the fire-glow was lost and
hidden far behind him. Then, very suddenly, he betook him to his heels,
and coming to the forest-road, fled southwards towards Duke Ivo's great
camp that lay on Barham Broom.
OF JOLETTE, THAT WAS A WITCH
"Lord," said Roger, shaking his head, as they halted upon the edge of
the Hollow, "lord, 'twere better thou hadst let me strangle them; those
dogs will bay of thee to Black Ivo ere this time to-morrow!"
"'Tis so I hope, Roger."
"Could I but lure Black Ivo into the wild, Roger, where swamp and
thicket should fight for us! Could I but draw him hither after me, of
what avail the might of his heavy chivalry upon this narrow forest-road,
his close-ranked foot-men a sure mark for the arrows of our war-wise
foresters? Thus, our pikes in front, a charge in flank, his line
once pierced needs must follow confusion and disorder. Then press we
where his banner flieth, and, hemmed in by our pikes and gisarms and
Giles's bowmen, he once our prisoner or slain, his great army would
crumble and melt away, since they do serve but for base hire, whiles
we, though few, do smite amain for home and children. O Roger man,
could I but lure him into the green!"
"Yet methinks there is a surer way, master."
"How--as how, Roger?"
"Wed thou thy Duchess, and so bring down on him all the powers of
"Roger, dost well know my mind on this matter; prate ye no more!"
"Then will I pray, master--so I do warn thee! Forsooth, I will this
night fall to work upon the good saint and plague him right prayerfully
that thy Duchess may come and save thee and thy Duchy in despite of
thee, and having made thee Duke of Pentavalon with her lances,
thereafter make thee Duke of Mortain in her own sweet body, for as I do
But Beltane was already descending the steep path leading down into the
great green hollow that lay all silent and deserted 'neath the ghostly
moon, where nought stirred in the windless air, where bush and tree
cast shadows monstrous and distorted, and where no sound brake the
brooding quiet save the murmurous ripple of the brook that flowed to
lose itself in the gloomy waters of that deep and sullen pool.
Swift and sure-treading as only foresters might, they descended the
steep, and lured by some elfin fancy, Beltane must needs come to stand
beside the pool and to stare down into those silent waters, very dark
by reason of that great tree 'neath whose writhen branches Tostig the
outlaw had fought and died; so stood Beltane awhile lost in
contemplation, what time Roger, drawing ever nearer his master's elbow,
shivered and crossed himself full oft.
"Come away, master," said he at last, low-voiced, "I love not this pool
at any time, more especially at the full o' the moon. On such nights
ghosts do walk! Tostig was an ill man in life, but Tostig's ghost
should be a thing to fright the boldest--prithee, come away."
"Go get thee to thy rest, Roger. As for me, I would fain think."
"But wherefore here?"
"For that I am so minded."
"So be it, master. God send thy thoughts be fair." So saying, Roger
turned where, on the further side of the Hollow, lay those caves 'neath
the rocky bank wherein the outlaws had been wont to sleep. But, of a
sudden, Beltane heard a hoarse scream, a gasp of terror, and Roger was
back beside him, his naked broad-sword all a-shake in his trembling
hand, his eyes wide and rolling.
"Master--O master!" he whimpered, "ghosts! 'neath the tree--Tostig--
the Dead Hand!"
"Nay, what folly is here, Roger?"
"Lord, 'twas the Dead Hand--touched me--on the brow--in the shadow
yonder! Aye--on the brow--'neath the tree! O master, dead men are we,
'tis Tostig come to drag us back to hell with him!" And crouching on
his knees, Roger fell to desperate prayers.
Then Beltane turned whither Roger's shaking finger had pointed, and
strode beneath the great tree. And peering up through the dark, he
presently espied a shadowy thing that moved amid a gloom of leaves and
branches; and, beholding what it was, he drew sword and smote high
above his head.
Something thudded heavily upon the grass and lay there, mute and rigid,
while Beltane, leaning upon his sword, stared down at that fell shape,
and breathing the noxious reek of it, was seized of trembling horror;
nevertheless he stooped, and reaching out a hand of loathing in the
dimness, found the cord whereby it had swung and dragged the rigid,
weighty thing out into the radiance of the moon until he could see a
pallid face twisted and distorted by sharp and cruel death. Now in this
moment Roger sware a fierce, great oath, and forthwith kicked those
"Ha!" cried he, "methought 'twas Tostig his ghost come for to drag us
down into yon accursed pool--and 'tis naught but the traitor-rogue
"And dead, Roger!"
"Forsooth, he's dead enough, master--faugh!"
"And it availeth nothing to kick a dead man, Roger."
"Yet was he an arrant knave, master."
"And hath paid for his knavery, methinks!"
"A very rogue! a traitor! a rogue of rogues, master!"
"Then hath he the more need of our prayers, Roger."
"Prayers! How, lord, would'st pray for--this?"
"Nay, Roger, but thou shalt, since thou art potent in prayer these
days." So saying, Beltane knelt upon the sward and folded reverent
hands; whereupon Roger, somewhat abashed, having set his sword upright
in the ling as was his custom, presently knelt likewise, and clearing
his throat, spake aloud in this fashion:
"Holy Saint Cuthbert, thou see'st here all that is left of one that in
life was a filthy, lewd, and traitorous knave, insomuch that he hath,
methinks, died of roguery. Now, most blessed saint, do thy best for the
knavish soul of him, intercede on his behalf that he may suffer no more
than he should. And this is the prayer of me, Black Roger, that has
been a vile sinner as I have told thee, though traitor to no man, I
praise God. But, most blessed and right potent saint, while I am at the
ears of thee, fain would I crave thy aid on matter of vasty weight and
import. To wit, good saint: let now Sir Fidelis, who, as ye well know,
doth hide womanly beauties in ungentle steel--let now this brave and
noble lady muster forthwith all the powers within her Duchy of Mortain
--every lusty fellow, good saint--and hither march them to my master's
aid. Let her smite and utterly confound Black Ivo, who (as oft I've
told thee--moreover thine eyes are sharp), is but a rogue high-born,
fitter for gallows than ducal crown, even as this most unsavoury Gurth
was a rogue low-born. So when she hath saved my master despite himself,
sweet saint, then do thou join them heart and body, give them joy
abounding and happiness enduring, nor forget them in the matter of
comely children. So bring to woeful Pentavalon and to us all and every,
peace at last and prosperity--and to sorrowful Roger a belt wherein be
no accursed notches and a soul made clean. _In nomen Dominum, Amen!_"
"Master," quoth he, yet upon his knees and viewing Beltane somewhat
askance, "here is the best I can do for such as yon Gurth; will't
suffice, think ye?"
"Aye, 'twill serve, Roger. But, for the other matter--"
"Why see you, master, a man may freely speak his dear desires within
his prayers--more especially when his prayers are potent, as mine.
Moreover I warned thee--I warned thee I would pray for thee--and pray
for thee I have." Now hereupon Beltane rose somewhat hastily and turned
his back, what time Roger sheathed his sword.
Then spake Beltane, turning him to the pool again:
"We had store of tools and mattocks, I mind me. Go and look within the
caves if there be ever a one left, for now must we bury this poor
"Ha, must we pray for him--_and_ bury him, master?"
"And bury him, Roger."
Then Roger sighed and shook his head and so left Beltane, who fell
again to profound meditation; but of a sudden hearing a cry, he turned
to behold Roger running very fleetly, who, coming near, caught him by
the arm and sought to drag him away.
"Run!" he panted, "run, master--I ha' just seen a goblin--run, master!"
Now beholding the terror in Roger's eyes, Beltane unsheathed his sword.
"Show me, Roger," said he.
"Nay, lord--of what avail? Let's away, this place is rank o' deviltries
"Show me, Roger--come!"
Perforce, Roger led the way, very heedful to avoid each patch of
shadow, until they were come opposite that cave where aforetime Beltane
had been customed to sleep. Here Roger paused.
"Master," he whispered, "there is a thing within that groaneth--
goblin-groans, master. A thing very like unto a goblin, for I ha' seen it
--a pale thing that creepeth--holy saints, 'tis here again--hark to it!"
And in very truth Beltane heard a sound the which, soft though it was,
checked his breath and chilled his flesh; and, as he peered into the
gloomy recesses of the cavern, there moved something vague amid the
shadows, something that rose up slow and painfully.
Roger was down gasping on his knees, Beltane's hand was tight-clenched
upon the hilt of his sword, as out into the moonlight crept one, very
bent and feeble, shrouded in a long grey cloak; a pitiful figure, that,
leaning a hand upon the rock, slowly raised a drooping head. Then
Beltane saw that this was the witch Jolette.
A while she stood thus, one hand supporting her against the rocky bank,
the other hid within the folds of her long mantle.
"O my lord!" said she, low-voiced, "all day long my heart hath been
calling--calling to thee; so art come at last--thanks be to God--O my
Now as she spake, she reached out a hand to him so that the shrouding
mantle fell away; then, beholding what it had hid, Beltane let fall his
sword, and leaping forward, caught her within his arm.
"Ah!--thou'rt hurt!" he cried.
"My lord, I--strove to bind it up--I am cunning in herbs and simples--
but my hurt is too deep for any leechcraft. To-night--soon--I must die.
Lay me down, I pray thee. Thine arms are strong, lord Beltane, and--
very gentle. How, dost grieve for a witch, lord--for poor Jolette? Nay,
comfort ye--my life has been none so sweet I should dread to lose it."
"How cometh this?" he questioned gently, on his knees beside her.
"'Twas the Red Pertolepe's men--nay, messire, they have but killed me.
But O, my dear lord--heed me well. A week agone lord Pertolepe marched
hither seeking thee with a great company led by yon Gurth. And when he
found thee not he hanged Gurth, yet tarried here awhile. Then I,
knowing a secret path hither that none else do know, came and hearkened
to their councils. So do I know that he is marched for Winisfarne--"
"Ha, is this so!" cried Beltane, clenching his fist, "then will he hang
"Aye, 'tis like enough, messire. But--O heed me! He goeth for a deeper
purpose--list, Beltane--O list--he goeth to seize upon the noble and
saintly Abbess Veronica--to bear her captive unto Pentavalon city,
there to hold her hostage for--for thee, Beltane--for thee!"
"How mean you?"
"When he hath her safe, Duke Ivo, because he hath learned to fear thee
at last, will send envoys to thee demanding thou shalt yield up to him
the town of Belsaye and thy body to his mercy, or this fair and noble
lady Abbess shall be shamed and dishonoured, and know a death most
dire. And--ah! because thou art the man thou art, thou must needs yield
thyself to Ivo's cruel hands, and Belsaye to flame and ravishment."
"Not so," answered Beltane, frowning, "within Belsaye are many women
and children also, nor should these die that one might live, saintly
abbess though she be."
Now hereupon the witch Jolette raised herself, and set her two hands
passionately on Beltane's shoulders, and looked upon him great-eyed and
"Ah, Beltane--Beltane, my lord!" she panted, "but that I am under a
vow, now could I tell thee a thing would fire thy soul to madness--but,
O believe, believe, and know ye this--when Duke Ivo's embassy shall
tell thee all, thou--shalt suffer them to take thee--thou shalt endure
bonds and shame and death itself. So now thou shalt swear to a dying
woman that thou wilt not rest nor stay until thou shalt free this lady
Abbess, for on her safety doth hang thy life and the freedom of
Pentavalon. Swear, O swear me this, my lord Beltane, so shall I die in
peace. Swear--O swear!"
Now, looking within her glowing eyes, feeling the tremble of her
passionate-pleading hands, Beltane bowed his head.
"I swear!" said he.
"So now may God hear--this thy oath, and I--die in peace--"
And saying this, Jolette sank in his arms and lay a while as one that
swoons; but presently her heavy eyes unclosed and on her lips there
dawned a smile right wondrous to behold, so marvellous tender was it.
"I pray thee, lord, unhelm--that I may see thee--once again--thy golden
Wondering, but nothing speaking, Beltane laid by his bascinet, threw
back his mail-coif, and bent above her low and lower, until she might
reach up and touch those golden curls with failing hand.
"Lord Beltane!--boy!" she whispered, "stoop lower, mine eyes fail.
Hearken, O my heart! Even as thy strong arms do cradle me, so--have
these arms--held thee, O little Beltane, I--have borne thee oft upon my
heart--ere now. Oft have hushed thee to rosy sleep--upon this bosom.
'Twas from--these arms Sir Benedict caught thee on--that woeful day.
For I that die here--against thy heart, Beltane--am Jolette, thy
foster-mother--wilt thou--kiss me--once?"
So Beltane stooped and kissed her, and, when he laid her down, Jolette
the witch was dead.
Full long Beltane knelt, absorbed in prayer, and as he prayed, he wept.
So long knelt he thus, that at last cometh Roger, treading soft and
reverently, and touched him.
"Master!" he whispered.
Then Beltane arose as one that dreams and stood a while looking down
upon that pale and placid face, on whose silent lips the wondrous smile
still lingered. But of a sudden, Roger's fingers grasped his arm.
"Master!" he whispered again. Thereon Beltane turned and thus he saw
that Roger looked neither on him nor on the dead and that he pointed
with shaking finger. Now, glancing whither he pointed, Beltane beheld,
high on the bank above them, a mounted knight armed cap-a-pie, who
stared down at them through closed visor--a fierce and war-like figure
looming gigantic athwart the splendour of the sinking moon. And even as
they stared in wonder, a broad shield flashed, and knight and horse
HOW BELTANE FOUGHT WITH A DOUGHTY STRANGER
"Lord!" quoth Roger, wiping sweat from him, "yonder certes was Hob-gob!
Forsooth ne'er saw I night the like o' this! How think ye of yon
devilish things? Here was it one moment, and lo! in the twinkle of an
eye it is not. How think ye, master?"
"I do think 'twas some roving knight."
"Nay but, lord--how shall honest flesh and blood go a-vanishing away
into thin air whiles a man but blinketh an eye?"
"The ground hath sudden slope thereabouts, belike."
"Nay, yonder was some arch-wizard, master--the Man o' the Oak, or
Hob-gob himself. Saint Cuthbert shield us, say I--yon was for sure a
"Hark! Do spirits go in steel, Roger?" said Beltane, stooping for his
sword; for indeed, plain and loud upon the prevailing quiet was the
ring and clash of heavy armour, what time from the bushes that clothed
the steep a tall figure strode, and the moon made a glory in polished
shield, it gleamed upon close-vizored helm, it flashed upon brassart,
vanbrace and plastron. Being come near, the grim and warlike figure
halted, and leaning gauntleted hand upon long shield, stood silent a
while seeming to stare on Beltane through the narrow slit of his great
casque. But even as he viewed Beltane, so stared Beltane on him, on the
fineness of his armour, chain and plate of the new fashion, on his
breadth of shoulder and length of limb--from shining casque to
gleaming shield, whereon was neither charge nor blazon; and so at last,
spake my Beltane, very gentle and courteous:
"Messire, an thou be come in peace, now shalt thou be right welcome--"
"Peace!" quoth the knight loud and fierce, and his laughter rang hoarse
within his helm. "Peace, forsooth! Thou art a tall and seemly youth, a
youth fair spoken, and yet--ha! A belt of silver! And golden hair! And
yet--so very youthful! Art thou in very truth this famous rogue whose
desperate deeds do live on every tongue, who hath waked Duke Ivo from
his long-time security, insomuch that he doth yearn him for that yellow
head o' thine--art thou Beltane the Outlaw and Rebel?"
"'Tis so men do call me, messire."
"Verily, youth, methinks dost lie, for I have heard this outlaw is
beyond all men wild and fierce and weaveth him demoniac spells and
enchantments most accurst, whereby he maketh gate and door and mighty
portcullis to ope and yield before his pointed finger, and bolt and bar
and massy wall to give him passage when he will, as witness the great
keep of Garthlaxton that he did burn with hellish fire. I have heard he
doth commonly burn gibbets to warm him, and beareth off great lords
beneath his arm as I might a small coney and slayeth him three or four
with his every stroke. 'Tis said that he doth wax daily mightier and
more fierce, since he doth drink hot blood and batteneth on flesh o'
tender babes beneath the orbed moon--"
"Messire," said Beltane beginning to frown, "within thy wild and
foolish talk is this much truth, that I, with divers trusty comrades,
did indeed burn down the shameful gallows of Belsaye, and bore captive
a certain lordly knave. As for Garthlaxton, the thing was simple--"
"O boastful boy!" quoth the knight, tossing aside his shield, "O
beardless one, since thou dost proclaim thyself this desperate rogue,
here is reason just for some small debate betwixt us. Do on thy coif
forthwith, for now will I strive to make an end of thee," and speaking,
the knight unsheathed a long and ponderous sword.
"How an I fight thee not, sir knight?"
"Then must I needs belabour thee to the good of thy soul, sir outlaw.
So on with thy coif, I say!"
Incontinent ran Roger to fetch his bascinet the which Beltane slowly
fitted on above his hood of mail, and thereafter, albeit unwillingly,
fronted this doughty knight, foot to foot and point to point. Now
stepped they a moment about each other, light-treading for all their
weighty armour, and with long blades advanced; then, of a sudden they
closed, and immediately the air shivered to the ring and grind of
flashing, whirling steel. To and fro, and up and down they fought upon
the level sward what time Black Roger rubbed complacent hands,
grim-smiling and confident; and ever as they fought the stranger knight
laughed and gibed, harsh and loud, from behind his grimly casque.
"Ho!--fight, youth, fight!" cried he, "have done with love-taps! Sa-ha,
have at thee--fight, I say!" A panther-like side-leap, a whirl of
glimmering steel, and his long blade smote sparks from Beltane's
bascinet, whereat Roger's smile, incontinent, vanished, and his face
waxed suddenly anxious and long.
But fierce and fiercer the stranger knight beset my Beltane, the while
he lashed him with mocking tongue:
"Call ye this fighting, sir youthful outlaw? Doth thine arm fail thee
so soon? Tap not, I say, lest I grow angered and slay thee forthright!"
Then, blow for blow, did Beltane the mighty fall on right furiously,
but ever blade met blade whiles Roger danced on anxious feet, praying
for the end. Of a sudden, shouted he joyously, for, flashing high in
air, down came Beltane's long blade strong and true upon the knight's
helm--a fell, deep-dinting stroke that drave the stranger reeling back.
Fierce and swift leapt Beltane to smite again--came a shock of clashing
steel, a flurry of stroke and counter-stroke, and thereafter, a hoarse
shout of dismay from Roger: for Beltane stood as one dazed, staring
upon his empty right hand what time the knight boomed derisive laughter
through his vizor. Then sprang grim Roger, dagger aloft, but swifter
than he, the knight's sword swung; flat fell that long blade on Roger's
bascinet, wielded by an arm so strong that Roger, staggering aside,
rolled upon the ling, and thereafter, sat up, round-eyed and fearful:
"O master!" he panted, "here is none of--honest flesh and blood, 'tis--
Hob-gob himself, as I did warn thee. May Saint Cuthbert, Saint Bede,
"Go to--cease thy windy prattling, Roger Thick-pate!" spake the knight,
and letting fall his sword, he lifted his visor. And behold! a face
lean and hawk-like, with eyes quick and bright, and a smiling mouth
wry-twisted by reason of an ancient wound.
"Know ye me not, lord Beltane?" quoth he, with look right loving, "hast
forgot me indeed, most loved lad?" But swift came my Beltane, glad-eyed
and with arms out-flung in eager welcome.
"Sir Benedict!" he cried, "hast come at last? Now do I joy to see
"My lord," says Benedict, wagging mailed finger. "Ha, Beltane, canst
burn gibbets, storm mighty castles and out-face desperate odds, yet is
old Benedict thy master at stroke of sword still--though, forsooth,
hast dinted me my helm, methinks! O sweet lad, come to my arms, I've
yearned for thee these many days." Herewith Sir Benedict caught Beltane
within his close embrace, and patted him with gauntleted hands, and
laughed for very gladness.
"O foolish youth--O youthful fool!" quoth he, "surely thou of all fools
art greatest, a youthful, god-like fool! O mighty son of mighty father,
how mighty hath thy folly been! O lovely lad that hath attempted deeds
impossible, pitting thyself 'gainst Ivo and all his might! Verily,
Beltane, thou'rt the loveliest fool that ever man did love--"
"Nay, but dear messire," says Beltane as Sir Benedict stayed for
breath, "pray thee, where is thy meaning?"
"Sweet lad, I do but strive to tell thee thou'rt a fool, yet so glad am
I of thy foolish company the words do stick somewhat, but my meaning
shall be manifest--now mark me! Didst not carry off the Red Pertolepe
'neath the lances of his men-at-arms?"
"Aye, my lord."
"Didst not have thy hand on the throat of that cold, smiling rogue Sir
Gui of Allerdale?"
"And hold within thy grasp the life of that foul-living Gilles of
Brandonmere, whose father I slew twelve years agone, I thank God!"
"'Tis true, good Benedict."
"And didst not suffer these arch-knaves to live on and work their
pestilent wills, Beltane?"
"Sir, I did, but--"
"So art thrice a fool. When we see a foul and noxious worm, to tread it
under foot is a virtuous act. So when a man doth constant sin 'gainst
man and maid, to kill him--"
"Sir Gui and Gilles of Brandonmere have made an end of sinning,
"Why 'tis so I've heard of late, Beltane, and herein is some small
comfort; but Red Pertolepe is yet to slay--"
"Truly!" cried Beltane, clenching his fists, "and he marcheth on
Winisfarne, to burn and hang--"
"Content you, my lord Beltane, Waldron of Brand lieth in Winisfarne,
and I am here--"
"So doth my heart rejoice for thee, Benedict, thou right trusty and
doughty friend. But how came ye hither, and wherefore? Methought thee
yet in Thrasfordham!"
"Aha, dear lad, so doth Ivo at this moment, I pray God. A week agone
and, ere the investment was complete, wondrous news reached me from
Waldron of Brand, whose sire bore my pennon in thy noble father's wars.
And because I knew Waldron's word is ever less than his deed, and,
belike, that I grow weary of sieges (seven have I withstood within
these latter years) I, at dead of night, by devious and secret ways,
stole forth of Thrasfordham--dight in this armour new-fashioned (the
which, mark me! is more cumbrous than fair link-mail) howbeit, I got me
clear, and my lord Beltane, here stand I to aid and abet thee in all
thy desperate affrays, henceforth. Aha! methinks shall be great doings
within the greenwood anon!"
"Aye, but what of Thrasfordham? An Duke Ivo besiege it--"
"He shall find five hundred and more right doughty fellows, with Sir
Richard of Wark and Sir Brian of Shand (that were armour-bearers to thy
knightly sire) to keep him in play."
"And what would ye here, Sir Benedict?"
"Fight, Beltane, fight! Methinks he shall lack nothing for hard smiting
that rideth with thee--hey, boy, I do yearn amain for the shock of a
"My company is but small, alas!" sighed Beltane.
"'Tis so I've heard, my Beltane," quoth Sir Benedict, and smiling his
wry smile, he took a small hunting-horn that hung about his neck, "let
us therefore make it larger--"
"How so--how so, good Benedict?--Ha! mean you--"
So saying, Sir Benedict set the horn to his lip and winded it three
times loud and shrill, and thereafter stood with hand upraised. And lo!
upon the stillness a sound that grew and grew--a whisper, a rustling as
of strong wind in trees, and presently upon the high banks to north and
east and west a great company appeared, horse-men and footmen, whose
armour flashed 'neath the moon, while high o'er bascinet and helm rose
deadly pike and ponderous lance, rank upon rank, a very forest.
Quoth Sir Benedict loud-voiced, and pointing to the grim array:
"Behold, lord Duke, hither have I brought thee five hundred archers and
pike-men, with three hundred knights and men-at-arms, and each and
every a man well tried and chosen, all vowed to follow thee and smite
in Pentavalon's cause even as I, their lord, that do love thee for thy
noble father's sake and for thine own sweet and knightly worth!"
So saying, Sir Benedict fell upon his knee before that great assemblage
and caught Beltane's hand and kissed it; whereon, from those gleaming
ranks rose a deep and thunderous shout while lance and spear-head
Now looking from this right goodly array to the proud and war-like
figure that bent so humbly at his feet, Beltane's heart swelled amain
and all things grew blurred and misty in his sight.
"Sir Benedict," said he hoarse-voiced, "thou good and noble knight--O
Benedict, dear my friend, kneel not to me. For thy so great love, thy
faith and loyalty, fain would I thank thee--yet words be so poor, and
"Lord," said Benedict, "our camp lieth scarce three miles westward,
come, I pray thee--"
"Nay, first come ye, friend, and look upon a dead witch that was indeed
a noble woman."
So Beltane brought Sir Benedict where lay the dead Jolette, smiling yet
as though into the eyes of God. Now beholding her, Sir Benedict
beckoned Roger and bid him stimmon certain of his company, forthwith;
and when Roger hasted back with divers awestruck fellows at his heels,
they stood staring, amazed to behold these two great knights humbly
kneeling side by side to pray for the soul of her who, all her days,
had been scorned of men as the witch Jolette.
HOW THEY MARCHED FOR WINISFARNE
At peep of day the trumpets blew, and Beltane, starting up from
slumber, found the great camp all astir about him; the smoke of a
hundred watch-fires rose up into the stilly air of morning and made a
fragrant mist amid the trees beneath which armour glinted as guard
relieved guard and the new-waked companies mustered under arms. And
ever as the sun rose the bustle waxed and grew, with a coming and going
about the fires where the morning meal was preparing; here a mighty
furbishing of arms and armour, yonder a prodigious hissing and so-hoing
where chargers and pack-horses were picketed, line upon line--goodly
beasts that stamped and snorted and whinnied joyously--and everywhere
was noise and cheer of talk and laughter; yet everywhere was method and
a strict orderliness in all things, wherefore Beltane's very heart sang
Now as he stood thus, viewing all things keen-eyed and watchful, he was
presently aware of Sir Benedict and Black Roger who walked together
within a distant alley; and as they passed them to and fro Black Roger
talked amain, what time Sir Benedict seemed to hearken right solemn and
attentive, oft pausing to question him quick and eager, and oft to clap
hand to Roger's brawny back; and sometimes laughed he blithe and joyous
and sometimes hearkened with grizzled head a-droop, until a turn in the
glade hid them from sight.
Little by little, above the resinous fragrance of the fires rose other
scents more delectable to the nostrils of a hungry man, thus, waking
from his meditations Beltane turned him wistfully towards where, above
the nearest fire, a goodly cooking pot seethed and bubbled invitingly.
But even now a hand slipped within his arm and holding him thus, Sir
Benedict viewed him joyful-eyed and smiled on him his wry and twisted
"Beltane," said he, wagging his head, "O Beltane, thou wilt mind how
upon a time as I drank a bowl of milk with thee amid the green in
Mortain, I did warn thee that she had red hair and was like to prove a
Now hereupon my Beltane must needs catch his breath and flush to the
ears of him, and therewith strive to look at his ease, like the very
youth he was.
"How, messire, hath Roger babbled to thee?"
"Babbled?" quoth Sir Benedict, shaking his head, "nay, Roger is no
babbler of secret matters, for many do ken of thy love, Beltane--and I
am thy friend, so is thy happiness my happiness. Thus do I say God and
the sweet saints bless thee in thy love, dear lad, for a right noble
lady is Helen the Beautiful and meet to thine embracements. By her so
great love, by her proved faithfulness shalt thou yet win to
"Nay, dear my Benedict, first must Pentavalon win to peace."
"Aye, by Helen's noble love, for--"
"O Sir Benedict, I have sworn an oath!"
"Aye, sweet lad, but Roger hath prayed a prayer!"
"Hath he told thee so much, Benedict?"
"So much," quoth Sir Benedict, pressing his arm, "so much, O man, that
hereafter needs must I love thee and honour thee the more. Since man
art thou, my Beltane, for all thy so great youthfulness."
"Nay, Benedict, am none so youthful."
"Thy very speech doth prove thee so, yet, being boy, thou art forsooth
a man to-day."
"For that to-day I do know more of thee. 'Tis suffering, 'tis sorrow
nobly borne doth make the man, Beltane."
"Yon lock of hair showeth very white amid the gold, Beltane, but thou
art better man therefore, methinks. The fetters of thy dungeon yet
gleam upon thy wrists, Beltane. But truly I do think within thy prison
was forged the sword shall avenge our woes and free Pentavalon at
"Think you indeed, thou wise Benedict, that we by grief and sorrow do
rise to find our nobler selves?"
"Aye verily! 'Tis but by sorrow and suffering our strength or weakness
groweth manifest, Beltane."
"Yet--O Benedict--I did doubt her--plied her with scornful tongue and--
drave her lonely from me!"
"And dost grieve amain, and sorrow therefore, O youth!"
"Yea, indeed, indeed--sleeping and waking!"
"And do yearn to woo her to forgiveness on thy knees, to crush her in
thine arms and kiss her breath away, O Lover?"
"Aye, dear Sir Benedict, in such sort and so greatly that my passion
oft doth fright me, so fiercely do I yearn and long--yet tremble and
grow faint at thought of it!"
"Yet art thou here, bedight in arms, O man--thy yearning body far
removed from all temptation till thou hast proved thee worthy her
embrace! And thus it is I know thee for a man, my Beltane!"
"And thou, Benedict, thou hast yearned and trembled with love ere now,
thou hast been a lover once, methinks?" But here Sir Benedict fell to
silence, walking with face averted and gaze bent towards the dewy
grass, and quickened his steps until they were come nigh unto the camp.
Then lifted he his head; quoth he:
"My lord Beltane, how think you of this thy new-found company?"
"Men--ha! men, good Benedict--soldiers born and bred!"
"Forsooth, and 'neath mine own eye, Beltane. There is not one but I
have watched him in the stress of battle. Body o' me, but I have chosen
needfully, there is none but hath proved his worthiness! See you the
little man yonder, in half-mail with sword as great as himself--he that
pipeth shrill-voiced as a boy? 'Tis Prat who alone stood off a score
what time I lay wounded and pinned beneath my charger. Mark ye yon
lusty fellow beside him? 'Tis Cnut that, single-handed, hewed him a
path through Ivo's battle and bare away his own banner, the which doth
grace my hall at Thrasfordham e'en now. And yonder is Dirk that was a
slave, yet fighteth like a paladin. And there again is Siward, that
with his brother maintained the sallyport 'gainst Ivo's van what time
they drave us from the outer bailey. And yonder Cedric--but so could I
name them each and every--ha! there sounds the welcome tucket! Come,
let us break our fast, and there be many knights and esquires and
gentles of degree do wait to pay thee homage."
So presently came they into the midst of the camp, where, seated on the
mossy ling, hungry and expectant, were many noble lords and gentle
knights and esquires of degree, who, beholding Sir Benedict with
Beltane, rose up with one accord. Young men were these for the most
part, yet were there many grizzled heads and wrinkled brows among them--
grim lords of the old Duke's following much versed in war, calm of
judgment and wise in council; but one and all did they stare upon my
Beltane in wonder at his youth because of his so famous deeds.
Now spake to them Sir Benedict, short and soldier-like:
"My lords, this is he of whom ye all have heard, Beltane hight, son of
Beltane our Duke, for whom we together have held Thrasfordham so long
and painfully. My lord Beltane, of all the knights and nobles of the
Duke thy father's days, here do stand, sire or son, all that have
withstood Black Ivo. Behold here Sir Bertrand, that was thy father's
seneschal of Pentavalon City. Here, Sir John of Griswold whose sire
bare thy father's banner, wherefore Griswold is ashes long since. Here
Hubert of Erdington, that was thy father's marshal-of-the-field. Here,
Hacon of Trant, that was wont to lead thy father's vanward, and here,
Sir Brian of Hartismere, brother to Eric, called the Wry-neck. So now,
all's said, my lord, wherefore I pray, let us eat."
Forthwith down they sat together on the grass, all and sundry, and ate
and drank and laughed and talked, insomuch that in brake and thicket
near and far the birds carolled and chattered in pretty mockery.
"Lord Beltane," quoth Sir Benedict when the meal was ended, "ere I met
thee, 'twas my intent this hour to march on Winisfarne, according to my
promise to Waldron of Brand, how say you?"
"Forsooth," nodded Beltane, "as soon as ye will."
Thus, within the hour, the trumpets brayed 'to horse' and all was
seeming hurry and confusion; yet a confusion, this, governed by
soldierly method, so that, ere long, horsemen were mounted and footmen
in array what time Beltane, bedight in goodly vizored casque, with
lance and shield borne behind him, came where stood Sir Benedict beside
a great and noble war-horse.
Forthwith Beltane mounted, and forthwith from these well-ordered ranks
a great shout arose:
"Beltane--the Duke--the Duke!"
Now, reining in his eager beast, Beltane looked upon that stern array,
and as he looked his eye kindled and his heart swelled within him.
"O men!" said he, "I that ye do acclaim am but a man even as ye are
men, to bear with ye the heat and labour of the day. What ye must
endure that will I endure with you. Here stand I, ready to spill my
blood that Wrong may cease. Even as ye, I am prepared to adventure me,
life and limb, that Lust and Murder may cease to be and Innocence and
Truth may walk again all unashamed. So shall I lead ye into battles and
affrays desperate and bloody, where foes shall be a-many and we, few.
But we do fight for hearth and home, and the thought of this, methinks,
shall nerve us strong as giants. Yet is our way a perilous way, and
some of us, belike, must die. But, by the blood of such, this our
country is hallowed unto those that shall come after us, so shall our
memories teach others how to die--and better--how to live that this our
country may stand, hereafter, for all things great and noble. He that
dieth for home and children shall, mayhap, from the floor of heaven,
look down upon a great and happy people whose freedom he--by weary
marches, by pain of wounds, by sharp and sudden death--he himself hath
helped to purchase, and, in their peace and happiness, find an added
"O men! who would not be a man to fight in such just cause? Who would
not cherish life that he might lose it to such noble purpose?
"Now therefore, all ye that do love Pentavalon--follow!"
Thus saying, my Beltane wheeled his horse; and with rhythmic ring and
clash, together, rank on rank, horsemen and footmen, they followed hard
behind, a silent, grim array, with eyes that gleamed 'neath helm and
bascinet, and purposeful hands that griped full strong on lance and
spear-shaft, as, coming to the forest-road, they swung away northwards
WHAT THEY FOUND AT WINISFARNE
Two and two they rode--for the way was oft-times narrow--their flanks
well covered by light-armed archers who marched within the green, with
mounted archers far in their van and others in their rear.
A glory of sun dappled their way with dancing shadows, flowers were
a-bloom in bank and hedgerow, and birds carolled blithe in the fragrant
air, what time Sir Benedict rode beside Beltane, his ponderous casque
a-swing at saddle-bow; and oft he turned his grizzled head to view my
thoughtful Beltane as one might look upon a son, new-found.
Now in a while Beltane turned and meeting his look reached out to him
"Dear Benedict," said he, "how much--how very much I owe to thee. Thou
art methinks the greatest knight that e'er couched lance--"
"Save thy noble father!" quoth Sir Benedict with solemn nod.
"My father--you were his esquire and much-loved comrade, Benedict?"
"I was, Beltane."
"Knew you my mother well, also?"
"Thy mother? Why--aye, forsooth, I--knew thy mother--very well,
"What manner of woman was she, I pray?"
"The fairest and noblest these eyes have e'er beheld!"
"And purest! Hark ye, Beltane, and mark me well--there ne'er lived wife
of so stainless honour as the noble woman that bare thee!"
"And yet," sighed Beltane, with wrinkled brow, "within the garden of
"Thy father was a sick man, faint with wounds and spent with hardship.
All that day, as we rode unto Pentavalon City, he and I, his mind oft
wandered and he held wild talk in his fever. But hale was I, mind and
body, and I do know the Duke thy father fell to strange and sudden
madness upon that dreadful day, whereby came woe to Pentavalon, and
bitter remorse to him. This do I swear, thy mother was noble wife and
"Loved she my father?"
"Aye, verily--she was his wife! Thy father was a noble knight and
peerless--and oft warring on the marches, but methinks--she was
something lonely--at times, Beltane."
"Alas!" sighed Beltane, and again "Alas!" So fell they incontinent to
deep thought and rode full long in silence. But ever and anon as they
paced along together thus, Sir Benedict must needs lift his head to
gaze upon my Beltane, and his grim lips curved to smile infinite
tender, and in his eyes was growing wonder.
Quoth he at last:
"Beltane, d'ye mark this our silent company, not a stave have they
carolled since we set forth! But how shall a man sing and jest whose
heart is set on great emprise? Verily thy words have fired e'en this
shrivelled heart o' mine till I, even as they, methinks, do burn to
fight Pentavalon's cause, to shield her from woeful shame and--ha!--
such vile sights as yon!"
Now looking where Sir Benedict pointed, Beltane beheld a thing,
crookedly contorted, a-dangle from a knotted branch that jutted athwart
the way, insomuch that the must needs stoop, cowering in his saddle,
lest he touch the twisted feet of it.
"Dead three days I judge!" mused Sir Benedict. "Much is possible to the
Red Pertolepe in three days. And he hath a great and powerful
following, 'tis said!"
Quoth Beltane, pale-cheeked and frowning a little:
"So would I have it, Benedict--they shall be the more for us to smite!"
"I've heard he musters full three thousand, Beltane."
"What then, good Benedict? Yon poor, dead thing we passed but now was
worth a score of men to us--and there will be others--Sir Pertolepe
loveth to see men hang! So perchance, ere we come to Winisfarne, the
strength of thousands shall lie within these arms of ours."
"'Tis a fair thought, lad--aye, 'tis a right fair thought! May all the
poor souls done thus to sudden, cruel death, march within our slender
ranks and smite with us, shoulder to shoulder, henceforth!"
And now as they went, came they on many and divers signs of the Red
Pertolepe's passing; here a smouldering heap of ruin whereby lay pale,
stiff shapes half hidden in the grass--yonder a little child
outstretched as though asleep, save for wide eyes that looked so
blindly on the sun: and there, beyond, upon the white dust of the road,
great gouts and pools that had trickled from something sprawled among
And the soft wind crooned and whispered in the leaves--leaves that
parting, showed other shapes swung high in air, whose pallid faces
looked down on them, awful-eyed, from the tender green, faces drawn and
haggard, with teeth agleam or open mouths whence screams had come, but
very silent now until the Day of Judgment.
So rode they, with death above them and around, death in many hateful
shapes; and oft Sir Benedict bowed his head as one that prayed, the
while his strong hands knit themselves to iron fists; and oft from
those grim ranks behind a sound went up to heaven, a sound ominous and
low, that was like unto a moan.
Thus marched they, through heat and dust, through cool, green shadow,
splashing through noisy brook and shallow ford, until, as the sun
reached the zenith, they came to the brow of a hill and saw afar the
walls and roofs of the prosperous town of Winisfarne.
And ever as they drew nearer. Sir Benedict stared on it, his black
brows close-knit, and fingered his square chin as one puzzled.
"Beltane," quoth he at last, "'tis full ten years since I saw
Winisfarne, and yet--meseemeth--it looked not so! 'Tis as though I
missed somewhat, and yet--"
But now came Roger, a dusty figure, spurring from the rear:
"Master," he cried, pointing with eager finger, "O master, the keep--
where is the great keep that stood yonder?"
"Aye, verily--the keep!" nodded Sir Benedict, clapping mailed hand to
thigh, "and 'twas a great and mighty hold as I do mind me!"
Now looked they gloomily on each other and halted their array what time
Sir Benedict passed word for bows to be strung and every eye and every
ear to be strained right needfully; then moved they on again.
Betimes they reached the outskirts of the town, for defences it had
none, but no man moved therein and no sound reached them but the noise
of their own going. Thus, in a while, with hands tight-clenched and
lips firm-set they rode into the desolation of the market-place
befouled by signs of battle fierce and fell, while beyond, a mass of
charred ruin, lay all that was left of Winisfarne's once great and
Now above this ruin divers gibbets had been set up, and behold! these
gibbets each bore a heavy burden. Then Beltane lighted from his horse,
and going apart, laid by his casque and sat him down, his head bowed
betwixt his hands as one that is direly sick. In a while as he sat
thus, heedless of all things, cometh Roger.
"Master," said he, "saw ye the gibbets yonder?"
"I saw them, Roger."
"Upon those gibbets be divers of our good fellows, master. There is
Diccon and Peter of my company of pikes, and Gregory that was a fair
good bowman, and there be others also--and master, these be not hanged
"No, master! All these our men died in battle, as their wounds do
testify--they were dead men already when Pertolepe hanged them on his
gibbets. And Walkyn is not here, wherefore, methinks, he liveth yet.
And Pertolepe is not here, yet where Pertolepe is, there shall we
surely find Walkyn, for Walkyn hath sworn full oft--ha! master--
master, behold what cometh here--see, yonder!"
Then Beltane arose, and looking where Roger pointed, beheld a strange,
misshapen thing, half beast, half man, that ran wondrous fleetly
towards them, and, as it ran, flourished aloft a broken sword; now was
he lost to sight behind some bush or quick-set, now he bounded high
over stream or stone or fallen tree--nought was there could let or stay
him--until he came where stood Sir Benedict's outposts, to whose
conduct he yielded him forthwith and so was presently brought into the
A wild figure this, great and hairy of head and with the arms and
shoulders of a very giant; bedight was he in good link-mail, yet foul
with dirt and mire and spattered with blood from heel to head, and in
one great hand he griped still the fragment of a reddened sword. All
a-sweat was he, and bleeding from the hair, while his mighty chest
heaved and laboured with his running.
So stood he betwixt his brawny captors what time he panted hoarse and
loud, and stared about him fierce-eyed 'neath beetling brows. Thus, of
a sudden he espied my Beltane standing bare-headed in his youthful
might, whereon this monstrous man forthwith dashed aside his stalwart
guards as they had been babes, and ran towards Beltane with hairy hands
outstretched, whereon sprang Roger to front him, dagger a-gleam; but
lo! Roger was caught up in those mighty arms and shaken helplessly.
"Fool!" cried this grim fellow, "think ye I would harm Beltane that is
my most loved lord henceforth? I am Ulf, called the Strong, and, as
this my hateful body is strong, so is my love--lie there!" So saying,
Ulf laid Roger upon his back, and coming to Beltane, fell upon his face
before him and caught his mailed feet and kissed them.
"Lord Beltane," he cried, harsh-voiced, "thou seest I do love thee--yet
'twas I did bear thee captive to thy foe by command of one I love
beyond all others. But thou, lord Beltane, thou at peril of thy life
did save her from shame and fiery death when Ulf could not--so do I
love thee, lord Beltane, and will be thy slave henceforth, to love and
serve thee till I die--an thou wilt take me. Misshapen and unlovely ye
behold me--a vile thing that men would jeer at but that they fear to
die, for God who hath denied me all else, hath given me strength beyond
all men. Yet do I hate myself and do hide me from the eyes of my
fellows: but, an thou canst bear with me, canst suffer me beside thee
and be not ashamed of my unloveliness, then will I front all eyes
right boldly. Now lord, an thou wilt take Ulf for thy man, reach down
to me thy hand."
Then Beltane reached down and took Ulf's hairy hand in his.
"Ulf," said he, "thou that God hath blessed with such noble strength,
methinks 'neath thy grim shape thy heart is noble also, and thy soul,
mayhap, straight and lovely. So will I make thee brother in arms to my
faithful Roger, that ye two shall ride ever near me when the battle
Now Ulf the strong stood up erect upon his feet, and on his swart
cheeks great tears rolled, glistening.
"Lord!" said he, "O Beltane, my lord and master--" and bowed grim head
with sudden sob, whereat Beltane questioned him full hastily, as thus:
"Art wounded, Ulf! And whence come ye in such guise?"
"Lord," says Ulf, wiping off his tears and choking upon a sob, "I came
through Bloody Pertolepe's array."
"Through?--nay, how mean you?" questioned Beltane, the while Sir
Benedict and many wondering knights and esquires pressed round them in
"I mean through, lord, for Walkyn's need is dire. So burst I through
them--I had an axe but it brake in my hold, see you, even as this my
sword--alack, there is no weapon that I do not break! Howbeit here am
I, lord, hither come with word for one Sir Benedict of Bourne that did
covenant to meet with Walkyn here at Winisfarne!"
"Behold us here--speak on!" quoth Sir Benedict.
"Thus, then, saith Walkyn o' the Dene: That scarce had he stormed and
set fire to yonder prison-keep, than from the south cometh a great
company, the which he at the first did take for ye. But, in a while,
behold Sir Pertolepe's accursed Raven banner, the which giveth Walkyn
much to think. Now cometh to him one beyond all women noble and
gracious and holy (as I do know) the fair and stately Abbess Veronica,
who, years agone, did build and endow yon great and goodly abbey,
wherein all poor desolate souls should be cherished and comforted by
her and her saintly nuns, and where the stricken fugitive might find
sanctuary and peace and moreover be healed of his hurts. (All this know
I since I was fugitive, hurt and very woeful and found me solace
there.) So cometh this noble lady to Walkyn (and with her, I) and
speaketh him calm and sweetly, thus: 'Yonder rideth Sir Pertolepe that
is knight of noble birth, yet the rather would I trust myself and these
my good sisters in thy hands, O man! So do I pray thee when thou goest
hence, yield us the protection of thy strength, so shall heaven bless
thee!' Hereon Walkyn frowned and plucked his beard awhile, but
thereafter, came he to kneel and kiss her hand and swear to aid her the
while life him lasted. Then summoned he his company (lusty fellows all)
and called for thirty men that would remain to hold Red Pertolepe in
play what time he seeketh place of greater vantage well beknown to him.
Forthwith stood out one Tall Orson hight (a doughty fellow) and with
him nine and twenty other lusty fellows, right willing (and with them,
I) and thereafter Walkyn formeth his company (the nuns in the midst)
and marched in haste for Brand that is a lonely tower. Then did these
thirty (and with them I) shoot arrows amain on Pertolepe's vanguard
from every place of vantage hereabouts, and met them with right lusty
hand-strokes and stayed thus their advance until of the thirty there
none remained alive save seven (and of these, I). And, since we could
do no more, I (that do know this country from my misshapen youth)
brought these men by secret ways unto the Tower of Brand that is
desolate and a ruin, yet strong withal. And there lay Walkyn (that is a
notable fighter) keeping watch and ward within the tower what time he
waited thy succour. Now who so skilful and tender with our wounded as
this sweet and gracious lady Abbess! Next day, sure enough, cometh
Pertolepe with brave show of horse and foot (above three thousand,
lords) and straightway sendeth he a haughty fellow to demand
incontinent surrender--a loud-voiced knight whom Walkyn forthwith shot
and slew with his own hand. Whereat Sir Pertolepe waxed exceeding wroth
and came on amain and beset the tower on all sides, whereby they lost
others of their men, for Walkyn's fellows shot exceeding strong and
true (and with them, I). Then, O my lords, in all that fierce debate,
who so brave and calm, heartening wearied and wounded with gentle voice
and gentler hand, than this same noble lady Abbess! For two days lay we
besieged whereby our food and drink began to fail (for the well within
the tower is well-nigh dried up) yet none did eat or drink so sparingly
as this same holy Abbess. Now on this (the second day, lords) cometh
Pertolepe himself (under flag of truce, lords) and demands we yield to
him the body of this same lady Abbess (to our ransom) swearing on his
knightly word he then will march away forthwith, and seek our hurt no
more. And, to save our lives, fain would this brave lady have yielded
her to Pertolepe's hands. But Walkyn (mindful of his oath, lords),
leaning him from the battlement, spake Red Pertolepe defiantly, calling
him knave and liar, and therewith spat upon him, very fairly. Whereat
Pertolepe sware to hang us one and all and the battle joined again
fiercer than before. Therefore, on this the third day, seeing no hope
of succour, Walkyn made him ready to sally out (a right desperate
venture because of the women). Then spake I before them all, saying I
doubted not I might win through, and bring thee to their aid (an ye had
kept the tryst) would they but ply their shafts amain to cover me. The
which was so agreed. Then did this saintly lady Abbess set her white
hand on this my hateful head and prayed the sweet Christ to shield this
my monstrous body, and I thereafter being bedight in right good mail
(as thou seest) issued suddenly out of the tower whiles our foemen sat
at meat, and ran among them roaring dreadfully and smote amain full
many until my axe brake and I betook me to my sword and smote them as I
ran what time Walkyn's archers shot right furiously and well. Thus came
I through Bloody Pertolepe's array, and thus, lords, ye do behold a
something weary man and a mighty hungry one withal!"
Now came Sir Benedict to grasp Ulf's great hand.
"Forsooth, hast done a great and noble thing!" quoth he. "Thy twisted
body doth hide a great and manly soul, meseemeth, so ne'er shalt lack
for friend whiles Benedict doth live!"
And after Sir Benedict came many other knights and esquires of degree,
to bring him of their own viands and press upon him rich and goodly
wine. In so much that Ulf grew hot and awkward, and presently stole
away to eat with Roger in a quiet corner.
But now within the market-place was sound of song, of jest and
laughter, where bow-strings were looked to heedfully, sword-belts
buckled tighter, mail-coifs laced the closer, stirrup-chain and
saddle-girth carefully regarded, whiles ever and anon all eyes turned
where Beltane sat among the older knights, Sir Benedict beside him,
hearkening to their counsel. And presently he rose and lifted his hand,
whereat the trumpets blared and, thereafter, with ring of hoof and
tramp of foot, marched they forth of Winisfarne, the sun bright on helm
and shield, a right gallant array.
And at their head rode Ulf the Strong.
TELLETH OF THE ONFALL AT BRAND
By wild and lonely ways Ulf led them, through mazy thicket, o'er
murmurous rill, through fragrant bracken that, sweeping to their
saddle-girths, whispered as they passed; now rode they by darkling
wood, now crossed they open heath; all unerring rode Ulf the Strong,
now wheeling sharp and sudden to skirt treacherous marsh or swamp, now
plunging into the gloom of desolate woods, on and on past lonely pools
where doleful curlews piped, nor faltered he nor stayed until, as the
sun grew low, they climbed a sloping upland crowned by mighty trees and
thick with underbrush; here Ulf checked his horse and lifted long arm
in warning, whereon the company halted, hard-breathing, yet very
orderly and silent.
Forthwith down lighted Beltane with Sir Benedict and Ulf who pointed
before them with his finger.
"Lords," said he, "beyond yon trees is a valley and in the valley the
tower of Brand, the which you may see from the brush yonder--aha! and
hear also, methinks!"
And indeed the air was full of a strange droning sound that rose and
fell unceasing, a drowsy, ominous hum.
"Ah, Benedict," said Beltane, frowning a little, "I like not that
sound! Summon we our wisest heads, for here is matter for thought and
sudden action methinks!"
Hereupon Sir Benedict beckoned to his five chiefest knights and they
together followed Ulf's broad back up the slope until they were come
within the little wood; and ever as they advanced the strange hum grew
louder, hoarser--a distant roar, pierced, ever and anon, by sharper
sound, a confused din that was the voice of desperate conflict.
Presently Ulf brought them to the edge of the little wood and, parting
twig and leaf, they looked forth and down. And what they saw was this:
A little valley, wondrous green but very desolate-seeming, for here and
there stood ruined walls and charred timbers that once had been fair
dwellings; and in the midst of this small and ruined hamlet, a mighty
tower uprose, hoary and weather-beaten, yet stark and grim against the
sunset. All about this tower a great camp lay, set well out of bow-shot,
and 'twixt camp and tower were many men whose armour flashed,
rank on rank, and archers who, kneeling behind mantlets, shot amain at
battlement and loophole. Against the tower were two great ladders,
roughly fashioned and a-swarm with men; but ever as they strove to
reach the battlement a mighty axe whirled and swung and a long sword
flashed, and ever as they fell, so fell one of the besiegers.
"There stand Walkyn and Tall Orson!" quoth Ulf, biting his nails. "Ha!--
they be dour fighters--would I stood with them!"
"We come in due season, methinks!" said Sir Benedict, stroking his
square chin, "what is your counsel, my lords?"
Quoth young Sir John of Griswold:
"Let us to horse and sally out on them, the hill is with us and we
"Slay and be slain!" quoth Sir Benedict.
"Verily!" nodded grim Sir Bertrand, "dost speak like a very youth,
"Here, methinks," said Sir Benedict, "is work for pike and bow-string.
First break we their charge, then down on them in flank with shock and
might of all our lances."
"Ha! 'tis well be-thought, Benedict!" growled old Hubert of Erdington,
"so let me march with the pikes."
"Art silent, lord Beltane," quoth Sir Hacon, "dost agree?"
"Aye, truly," answered Beltane, rising, "but let our pikes march in V
formation, our mightiest men at the point of the V, and with archers
behind. Then, ere the foe do engage, let the V become an L, so shall we
oppose them two faces. Now, when Sir Pertolepe's chivalry charge, let
Sir Benedict with two hundred knights and men-at-arms spur in upon
their flank, driving them confused upon their main battle, what time I,
yet hid within the green, will sound my rallying note that Walkyn
knoweth of old, whereat he shall sally out upon their further flank.
Then will I, with my hundred horse, charge down upon their rear, so
should we have them, methinks? How say you, my lords?"
"Truly," quoth Sir Bertrand, closing his vizor, "thy father liveth
again in thee, methinks!"
Forthwith, pikemen and archers fell into array with Cnut at their head,
while behind the spreading ranks of pikes Prat and his archers were
ranged, bows strung and quivers slung before; and presently, at
Beltane's word, they swung forth of the sheltering green, fierce-eyed,
grim-lipped, bascinet and pike-head a-twinkle. Away they swung down the
slope, a stalwart company swift-treading and light, and in their midst
old Hubert of Erdington in his heavy armour, whose long sword flashed
as he flourished his farewell.
With rhythmic step and swing of broad mailed shoulders they marched
until they were come down into the valley. And now, as they advanced
swift and steady, rose shouts from besieged and besiegers; Sir
Pertolepe's trumpets brayed defiance and alarm, and of a sudden, forth
of his camp mailed horsemen rode rank upon rank, pennons a-flutter and
armour flashing in the sunset glare. But, as they mustered to the
charge, as shields flashed and lances sank, Sir Benedict's pikemen
wheeled, their ranks swung wide, and lo! the V was become an L. Now
from this L bows twanged and arrows flew amain above the kneeling
pikemen, what time Sir Pertolepe's trumpets blared the charge, and down
upon those slender ranks his heavy-armed chivalry thundered; horses
reared and fell, screaming, beneath the whistling arrow-shower, but on
swept the charge; those thin ranks bent and swayed 'neath the shock as
lance crossed pike, but these pike-butts rested on firm ground and upon
their deadly points, horses, smitten low, reared transfixed, and above
these rocking pikes steel flashed and flickered where the stout archers
plied their heavy broadswords, while, loud above the din, Sir Hubert's
voice boomed hoarse encouragement what time he thrust and smote above
the kneeling pikemen.
Now out from the green Sir Benedict paced astride his great black
charger, and behind him his two hundred steel-girt knights and
men-at-arms, their vizors closed, their shields slung before, the
points of their long and ponderous lances agleam high in air. Then
turned Sir Benedict and looked on their grimly ranks, glad-eyed:
"O sirs," quoth he, "who would not be a man to fight in such just
So saying, he smiled his wry and twisted smile and closed his vizor:
then, with shield addressed and feet thrust far within the stirrups he
lightly feutred his deadly lance; and behold! down swept every lance
behind him as, leaning low behind his shield, he shouted right
"Come ye, messires--lay on this day for Pentavalon!"
Forward bounded the great horses a-down the slope--away, away,
gathering speed with every stride--away, away, across the level with
flying rein and busy spur; and now a loud shouting and dire amaze among
Sir Pertolepe's battle with desperate wheeling of ranks and spurring of
rearing horses, while Sir Benedict's riders swept down on them, grim
and voiceless, fast and faster. Came a roaring crash beneath whose dire
shock Sir Pertolepe's ranks were riven and rent asunder, and over and
through their red confusion Sir Benedict rode in thunderous, resistless
might, straight for where, above their mid-most, close-set ranks,
fluttered and flew Sir Pertolepe's Raven banner. Now, in hot haste, Sir
Pertolepe launched another charge to check that furious onset, what
time he reformed and strengthened his main battle; but, with speed
unchecked, Sir Benedict's mighty ranks met them in full career--broke
them, flung them reeling back on Sir Pertolepe's staggering van and all
was wild disorder, above which roaring tumult the Raven banner reeled
and swayed and the fray waxed ever fiercer.
Now ran Beltane where stood Roger to hold his horse, with Ulf who
leaned upon a goodly axe and young Sir John of Griswold, who clenched
and wrung his mailed hands and bit upon his boyish lip and stamped in
"My lord," he cried, "my lord, suffer us to charge--ah! see--our good
Sir Benedict will be surrounded--cut off--"
"Nay, methinks he is too wise in war, he fighteth ever with calm head,
"But, messire, do but see--his charge is checked--see--see, he
yieldeth ground--he giveth back!"
"Aye, verily!" quoth Beltane, springing to saddle, "but behold how he
orders his line! O lovely knight! O wise Benedict! See you not his
wisdom now, Sir John? In his retreat he draweth Sir Pertolepe's main
battle athwart our line of charge, their flank exposed and open--to
horse, Sir John, to horse! Yet stir not until I give the word."
Forthwith sprang Sir John to saddle and Roger and Ulf also, what time
Beltane sat, his gaze upon the conflict, his bugle-horn in his hand; of
a sudden he clapped it to lip and sounded the old fierce rallying note.
High and shrill and loud it rang above the roar of battle, and lo!
distant and far, like an answer to the call, from the grim and battered
tower of Brand a mighty shout went up--"Arise! Arise!--Pentavalon!"
"Oho!" cried Roger, sitting close on Beltane's left, "list ye to that,
now! And see--ha! there cometh our long-legged Walkyn, first of them
all! See how they order their pikes--O master, they be sweet and
doughty fellows! See how Jenkyn's archers shoot--each man to the ear!"
Awhile sat Beltane watching, wide-eyed, while Sir Benedict, fighting
sword in hand, fell back and back before the furious onset of Sir
Pertolepe's main battle until he had drawn the fight mid-way. Then,
quick-breathing, my Beltane closed his vizor.
"Now!" cried he, "now, good comrades all, God willing, we have them.
Let each man choose his foe and smite this day for Liberty and
So saying, he levelled his lance, and a hundred lances sank behind him.
Spurs struck deep, horses reared, plunged, and sped away. Before their
galloping line rode Sir John of Griswold with Roger and Ulf: and before
He felt the wind a-whistle through the eye-vents of his casque, heard
the muffled thunder of the galloping hoofs behind mingled with the
growing din of battle; heard a shout--a roar of anger and dismay, saw a
confusion of rearing horses as Sir Pertolepe swung about to meet this
new attack, steadied his aim, and with his hundred lances thundering
close behind, drove in upon those bristling ranks to meet them shield
to shield with desperate shock of onset--felt his tough lance go home
with jarring crash--saw horses that reared high and were gone, lost
beneath the trampling fray, and found his lance shivered to the very
grip. Out flashed his sword, for all about him was a staggering press
of horses that neighed and screamed, and men who smote, shouting, and
were smitten; unseen blows battered him while he thrust and hewed, and
wondered to see his long blade so dimmed and bloody. And ever as he
fought, through the narrow vent of his casque he caught small and
sudden visions of this close-locked, desperate fray; of Ulf standing in
his stirrups to ply his whirling axe whose mighty, crashing blows no
armour might withstand; of grim Roger, scowling and fierce, wielding
ponderous broad-sword; of young Sir John of Griswold, reeling in his
saddle, his helpless arms wide-flung.
So cut they bloody path through Pertolepe's deep array, on and forward
with darting point and deep-biting edge, unheeding wounds or shock of
blows, until Beltane beheld the press yield, thin out, and melt away,
thereupon shouted he hoarse and loud, rode down a knight who sought to
bar his way, unhorsed a second, and wheeling his snorting charger,
wondered at the seeming quiet; then lifting his vizor, looked about
him. And lo! wheresoever his glance fell were men that crawled
groaning, or lay very mute and still amid a huddle of fallen horses,
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