Beltane The Smith
Part 9 out of 11
and, beyond these again, were other men, a-horse and a-foot, that
galloped and ran amain for the shelter of the green. Sir Pertolepe's
array was scattered up and down the valley--the battle was lost and
Now while he yet sat thus, dazed by the shock of blows and breathing
deep of the sweet, cool air, he beheld one rise up from where the
battle-wrack lay thickest, an awful figure that limped towards him,
holding aloft the broken shaft of an axe.
"Aha, lord Beltane!" cried Ulf, wiping sweat and blood from him, "there
be no more--left to smite, see you. The which--is well, for weapon--
have I none. This axe was the third this day--broken, see you! Alas!
there is no weapon I may use. Saw you Roger, lord, that is my comrade?"
"Nay, good Ulf--ha, what of him?"
"His horse was slain, lord. So fought he afoot, since when I saw him
"And where is Sir Benedict and Walkyn--O see you not Sir Benedict? mine
eyes are dazzled with the sun."
But now Ulf uttered a joyful cry and pointed with his axe-shaft.
"Yonder cometh Roger, lord, and with him the little archer, but whom
Very slowly they came, Roger and Prat the archer, up-bearing betwixt
them good Sir Hubert of Erdington, his harness hacked and broken, his
battered helm a-swing upon its thongs, his eyes a-swoon in the pallor
of his face.
Down sprang Beltane and ran to greet him and to catch his nerveless
"Lord Beltane," quoth he, faintly, "full oft have I shed my blood for--
Pentavalon--to-day I die, messire. But, as thou didst say--'tis well to
die--in cause so noble! My lord, farewell to thee!"
And with the word, even as he stood 'twixt Roger and the archer, the
stout old knight was dead. So they laid Hubert of Erdington very
reverently upon that trampled field he had maintained so well.
"A right noble knight, my lord," quoth Prat, shaking gloomy head, "but
for him, methinks our pikemen would have broke to their third onset!"
"There is no man of you hath not fought like ten men this day!" said
Beltane, leaning on his sword and with head a-droop. "Have we lost
many, know ye?"
"A fair good number, master, as was to be expected," quoth Roger,
cleansing his sword on a tuft of grass, "Sir John of Griswold fell
beside me deep-smitten through the helm."
"And what of Sir Benedict?"
"See yonder--yonder he rides, my lord!" cried Prat, "though methinks
you scarce shall know him." And he pointed where, on spent and weary
charger, one rode, a drooping, languid figure, his bright armour
bespattered and dim, his dinted casque smitten awry; slowly he rode
before his weary company until of a sudden espying Beltane, he uttered
a great and glad cry, his drooping shoulders straightened, and he rode
forward with mailed arms outstretched.
"Beltane!" he cried, "praise be to God! One told me thou wert down--art
well, sweet lad, and all unharmed? God is merciful!" And he patted
Beltane's mailed shoulder, what time blood oozed from his steel
gauntlet and his sobbing charger hung weary head and snorted purple
foam. "O lad," quoth he, smiling his wry smile, "here was an hour worth
living for--though Sir Bertrand is sore hurt and many do lie dead of my
"And here," sighed Beltane, "brave Hubert of Erdington--behold!"
"A gallant knight, Beltane! May I so valiantly die when that my time be
come. Truly 'twas a sharp debate what time it lasted, there be many
that will ride with us no more."
"And thou, my lord?" cried Beltane suddenly, "thy cheek so pale--
thou'rt hurt, Benedict!"
"Nought to matter, lad, save that it is my sword-arm: nay indeed, my
Beltane, 'twas but an axe bit through my vanbrace, 'twill heal within
the week. But take now my horn and summon ye our scattered company, for
I do lack the wind."
Knight and man-at-arms, limping and afoot, on horses weary and blown,
they came at the summons--archer and pike-man they came, a blood
be-spattered company; many were they that staggered, faint with wounds,
and many that sank upon the trampled grass a-swoon with weariness, but
in the eyes of each and every was the look of men that triumph.
Cnut was there, his bascinet gone, his fiery hair betousled: Tall Orson
was there, leaning on a bent and battered pike, and there his comrade,
Jenkyn o' the Ford, with many others that Beltane well remembered and
others whose faces he knew not. So formed they their battle-scarred
array what time Beltane viewed them with glowing eye and heart swelling
"Master!" cried Tall Orson of a sudden, "O master, us do be clean men
and goodly fighters as us did promise thee time 'gone i' the Hollow,
master, ye'll mind us as did promise so to be--I and Jenkyn as be my
"Aye, master!" cried Jenkyn o' the Ford, "aye, look'ee, we ha' kept our
word to thee as we did promise, look'ee master! So now, speak word to
us master, look'ee!"
"Ye men!" quoth Beltane, hoarse-voiced, "O my good comrades all, your
deeds this day shall speak when we are dust, methinks! Your foes this
day did muster three thousand strong, and ye do number scarce a
thousand--yet have ye scattered them, for that your cause is just--'tis
thus ye shall lift Pentavalon from shame and give to her peace at
Then Tall Orson shook aloft his battered pike and shouted amain, and on
the instant, others took up the cry--a hoarse roar that rolled from
rank to rank; lance and sword, axe and pike were flourished high in
air, and from these men who had marched so grimly silent all the day a
great and mighty shout went up:
"Arise, Pentavalon! Ha! Beltane--Pentavalon!" Now even as they shouted,
upon this thunderous roar there stole another sound, high and clear and
very sweet, that rose and swelled upon the air like the voices of
quiring angels; and of a sudden the shouting was hushed, as, forth of
the tower's gloomy portal the lady Abbess came, tall and fair and
saintly in her white habit, her nuns behind her, two and two, their
hands clasped, their eyes upraised to heaven, chanting to God a hymn of
praise and thanksgiving. Slow paced they thus, the stately Abbess with
head low-bended and slim hands clasped upon her silver crucifix until,
the chant being ended, she raised her head and beheld straightway Sir
Benedict unhelmed and yet astride his great charger. The silver
crucifix fell, the slim hands clasped themselves upon her bosom and the
eyes of the tall, white Abbess grew suddenly wide and dark: and even as
she gazed on him, so gazed Sir Benedict on her.
"Yolande!" said he, hoarse-voiced and low.
"Benedict!" she murmured.
Slowly Sir Benedict bowed his head, and turning, laid his hand on
Beltane's mailed shoulder.
"Lady," said he, "behold here Beltane--that is son to Beltane
heretofore Duke and Lord of Pentavalon!"
"Ah!" she whispered, "Beltane!" and of a sudden stretched out her arms
in passionate yearning gesture, then, covering her face, sank upon her
knees, "God pity me!" she sighed, "God pity me!" Thereafter she rose to
her stately height and looked on Beltane, gentle and calm-eyed.
"My lord Beltane," said she, "I have heard tell thou art a noble
knight, strong yet gentle--so should thy father be greatly blessed in
thee--and thy--mother also. God have thee ever in His keeping--
Now as she spake the name her soft voice brake, and turning, she stood
with head bowed upon her hands, and standing thus, spake again,
deep-voiced and soft:
"Sir Benedict, we are come to minister to the hurt, all is prepared
within the tower, let them be brought to us I pray, and--my lord,
forget not the sacred oath thou didst swear me--long years agone!"
HOW BELTANE HAD SPEECH WITH THE ABBESS
They found rich booty in Pertolepe's camp, with store of arms and
armour and many goodly horses, and thither Sir Benedict's wearied
followers betook them as night fell and knew blessed rest and sleep.
But in the tower of Brand lights gleamed where the Abbess and her
gentle nuns went to and fro among the wounded, ministering to their
wants; and far beyond the camp, armour glinted ever and anon against
the blackness of the surrounding woods, where outpost and sentinel kept
vigilant watch and ward. Though late the hour Beltane sat wakeful, chin
on fist, beside a glimmering watch-fire, oft turning his glance towards
the massy, weather-beaten tower, bethinking him of the noble lady
Abbess, of her strange looks and words, and so fell to brooding
thought. High overhead the moon rode, obscured by flying clouds, a wild
wrack up-whirling from the south: at fitful intervals was a wind that
moaned drearily 'mid the gloom of distant woods, a desolate sound that
sobbed upon the air, and dying to a wail, was gone. Now becoming aware
of this, Beltane raised his head, and looked up at the ominous heavens
and round about him. And thus he espied a light that hovered hither and
thither above the distant battle-field, a small light whose red flame
flashed back from cloven casque and riven shield, where eyes glared
unseeing and mouths gaped mute and dumb from a dark confusion whence
mailed arms stiffly rose with hands tight-clenched that seemed to
menace heaven, and rigid feet whose spurred heels yet gored the flanks
of rigid, fallen chargers; to and fro and up and down this small flame
leaped merrily, dancing from dead face to dead face but staying never,
a fiendish fire that seemed to mock the horror of wounds and gibe at
Now as he watched this devilish light, Beltane arose and reaching for
his sword went soft-footed to meet it, then paused, for the light was
moving towards him. Near and nearer it came, until, into the glow of
the fire, his betousled head wild and bare, his link-mail yet befouled
with battle, Walkyn strode, and hurling his torch upon the grass,
crushed it out 'neath his heel. Then came he to the fire and stood
there, arms crossed, frowning down at the flame.
"Greeting to thee, Waldron of Brand!"
Swift turned Walkyn, his gloomy scowl relaxed at Beltane's voice, and
stooping, he took and kissed my Beltane's hand.
"Whence come ye, Walkyn?"
"From going to and fro among the dead, seeking Pertolepe, master. Ha!
they do lie thick yonder, five hundred and twenty and three I counted
of Bloody Pertolepe's following. And in the woods do lie certain
others, that I, with divers of our company, pursued and cut off."
"And what of their wounded?"
"I saw none, master--nor have I seen Pertolepe. I have viewed all the
slain, but Pertolepe is not there, yet have I smitten and slain three
Pertolepes this day--hawks, see you, in eagle's feathers! So is my
work yet to do, and I grieve still for Pertolepe's head."
"Sit ye down, Walkyn, here with me beside the fire." Forthwith Walkyn
obeyed and stretching himself on the grass fell to toying with the
haft of his axe and scowling at the fire again.
"This was, methinks, thy father's tower and demesne of Brand, Walkyn?"
"Aye, lord, here was I born--yon ruined walls did hear my father's
groans--the screams of my mother and sister amid the flame. And Red
Pertolepe was there, and Gui of Allerdale and Roger and young Gilles of
Brandonmere--all were there with six other noble knights; but these six
we slew long since, my brother and I. All these were here that day--and
Sir Pertolepe--laughed--full loud, 'twas told me. So 'twere just he
should have died here to-day, methinks? 'Twas for this I lured him
hither--and he liveth yet!"
"But God is a just God, Walkyn! Now therefore leave him to God
"To God!" cried Walkyn, his eyes wild, his hands tight-clenched, "to
God!--ha! master, ye left him to God on a time and because of thee, I--
I that had my dagger at his rogue's throat--I, yearning to slay him,
did but mark him i' the brow--aye, forsooth, we left him to God and lo!
to-day he burneth, he slayeth and hangeth as was ever his wont--"
"God's time is not ours, Walkyn, but for the evil wrought by Sir
Pertolepe, Sir Pertolepe needs must answer when God so wills. So leave
him to the vengeance of God--lest the fire of thy vengeance consume
thee quite. Thou art strong, and few may cope with thee in fight, yet
hath vengeance fettered and made thee bond-slave. Forego thy vengeance
then, and be free, good comrade."
"Nay master, an I so do, what is left me?"
"The love of thy fellows, Walkyn. Thou art, forsooth, a man, so do I
love thee, and perchance within a new Pentavalon thou may'st come to
new fortune and honour. Thou shalt hold again thy father's lands--"
"To what end, lord? As ye do know, my wife and child do lie in nameless
grave, done to cruel death by dogs of Pertolepe: my brother rotted in a
noose--set there by Pertolepe. So am I a lonely man henceforth; one
thing only seek I of life, master."
"And that, Walkyn?"
"The head of Bloody Pertolepe!" So saying, Walkyn rose, and stood
scowling down at the fire again, whose glow shone ominous and red upon
the broad blade of the mighty axe that lay on the grass at his feet.
Now of a sudden forth from the shadows, swift and silent on his long
legs came crooked Ulf, and stooping, would have lifted the weapon, but
in that moment Walkyn snarled, and set his foot upon it.
"Off!" he growled, "touch not mine axe, thou vile mannikin--lest I
tread on thee!"
But scarce were the words spoken, than, with great back low-crouched,
Ulf sprang, and whirling mighty Walkyn aloft, mailed feet on high, held
him writhing above the fire: then, swinging about, hurled him, rolling
over and over, upon the ling; so lay Walkyn awhile propped on an elbow,
staring on Ulf with wide eyes and mouth agape what time, strung for
sudden action, Beltane sat cross-legged upon the green, looking from
one to the other.
"Mannikin?" roared Ulf, great hands opening and shutting, "unworthy to
touch axe of thine, thou pestilent beast! Dare ye so say to one gently
born, base fellow? Now will I break thee thine accursed axe--and thee
thereafter, an ye will!"
So saying, Ulf the Mighty caught up the axe and wheeling it full-armed,
smote and buried it in a young tree close by--wrenched it free and
smote again. And lo! with prodigious crack and rending of fibres the
tall tree swayed, crashing to earth. Now while Ulf yet stood to stare
amazed upon this wondrous axe, upon its sharp-glittering, flawless
edge, Walkyn had risen, dagger in hand; but even as he crouched to
spring, a voice spake--a gentle voice but commanding; and in the
fire-glow stood the white Abbess, tall and gracious, the silver
crucifix agleam upon her bosom.
"Children!" she sighed; and looking from scowling Walkyn to frowning
Ulf she reached a slim hand to each. "O children," said she, "lay by
your steel and give to me your hands!"
Fumbling and awkward, Walkyn sheathed his dagger while Ulf laid the
mighty axe upon the grass very tenderly, as it had been a sleeping
child; so came they both, shame-faced, unto the lady Abbess and gave
her each a hand. Holding them thus she looked with sad, sweet eyes from
one grim face to the other, and drew them nearer the fire.
"Walkyn, son of God," said she, "behold here Ulf whose valiant heart
and mighty strength have been our salvation! Ulf, child of Heaven, whom
God hath made so mighty, behold here brave Walkyn who did protect the
weak and helpless and fighteth for the right! Come then, as ye are
children of God, go ye in brotherly love together henceforth, and may
heaven bless ye, valiant sons!"
Thus saying, she set their hands one in another, and these hands
gripped and held.
Quoth Ulf, sighing:
"Forsooth, I did but mean to try the balance of thine axe, Walkyn. And
truly it is a mighty weapon and a peerless--one that even my strength
Quoth Walkyn, grim-smiling:
"There is in this world no axe like unto it save one that was my
brother's--and shall be thine henceforth, Ulf the Strong. Come now, and
I will give it unto thee." Then bent they reverently before the Abbess,
saluted Beltane and, side by side, strode away together.
"Would all feuds might so end, sweet son," sighed the Abbess, her
wistful eyes down-bent upon the fire.
"Would there were more sweet souls abroad to teach men reason!" quoth
"Why sit you here, my son, wakeful and alone and the hour so late?"
"For that sleep doth fly my wooing, holy mother."
"Then fain would I share thy vigil awhile."
Forthwith Beltane brought her a stool, rough and rudely fashioned, and
while she sat, he lay beside her in the firelight; and thus, despite
her hood and wimple, he saw her face was of a calm and noble beauty,
smooth and unwrinkled despite the silver hair that peeped forth of her
loosened hood. A while they sat thus, nothing speaking, he viewing her,
she gazing ever on the fire; at last:
"Thou'rt young, messire," she said wistfully, "yet in thy life hath
been much of strife, I've heard. Thou hast known much of hardship, my
son, and sorrow methinks?"
"So do I live for that fair day when Peace shall come again, noble
"Full oft have I heard tell of thee, my son, strange tales and
marvellous. Some do liken thee to a demon joying in slaughter, and
some to an archangel bearing the sword of God."
"And how think you, reverend mother?"
"I think of thee as a man, my son. I have heard thee named 'outlaw' and
'lawless ravener,' and some do call thee 'Beltane the Smith.' Now
"For that smith was I bred, lady."
"But thou'rt of noble blood, lord Beltane."
"Yet knew I nought of it until I was man grown."
"Thy youth--they tell me--hath been very lonely, my son--and desolate."
"Not desolate, for in my loneliness was the hermit Ambrose who taught
me many things and most of all, how to love him. So lived I in the
greenwood, happy and content, until on a day this saintly Ambrose told
me a woeful tale--so did I know this humble hermit for the noble Duke,
"Thy father! The Duke! A hermit! Told he of--all his sorrows, my son?"
"All, reverend mother, and thereafter bade me beware the falsity of
The pale cheek of the Abbess grew suddenly suffused, the slim hand
clenched rigid upon the crucifix at her bosom, but she stirred not nor
lifted her sad gaze from the fire.
"Liveth thy father yet, my son?"
"'Tis so I pray God, lady."
"'Tis so I've heard."
"Pray you not for--for her also?"
"I never knew my mother, lady."
"Alas! poor lonely mother! So doth she need thy prayers the more. Ah,
think you she hath not perchance yearned with breaking heart for her
babe? To have kissed him into rosy slumber! To have cherished his
boyish hurts and sorrows! To have gloried in his youthful might and
manhood! O sure there is no sorrow like the loneliness of desolate
motherhood. Would'st seek this unknown mother, lord Beltane?"
"Truly there be times when I do yearn to find her--and there be times
when I do fear--"
"Fear, my lord?"
"Holy mother, I learned of her first as one false to her vows,
light-minded and fickle from her youth--"
"O hath there been none to speak thee good of her--in all these years?"
"There was Jolette, that folk did call a witch, and there is Sir
Benedict that doth paint her pure and noble as I would have her. Yet
would I know for myself, fain would I be sure ere we do meet, if she is
but the woman who bore me, or the proud and noble mother I fain would
"Could'st not love her first and judge her after, my son? Could not her
very motherhood plead her cause with thee? Must she be weighed in the
balance ere thou yield her a son's respect and love? So many weary
years--'tis something hard, methinks! Nay, heed me not, my lord--seek
out thy mother, unbeknown--prove for thyself her worthiness or falsity,
prove for thyself her honour or her shame--'tis but just, aye, 'tis but
just in very truth. But I, beholding things with woman's eyes, know
only that a mother's love shrinketh not for any sin, but reacheth down
through shame and evil with sheltering arms outstretched--a holy thing,
fearless of sin, more lasting than shame and stronger than death
So saying, the lady Abbess rose and turned to look up at the lights
that burned within the tower.
"'Tis late, my lord," she sighed, "get thee now to thy rest, for I must
begone to my duty till the dawn. There be many sick, and good Sir
Bertrand lieth very nigh to death--he ne'er will see another dawn,
methinks, so needs must I away. Good night, sweet son, and in thy
prayers forget not thy--thy most unhappy mother!"
Then she lifted her hand and blessed him, and, ere he rose up from his
knees she set that white hand upon his bowed head and touched his
yellow hair--a light touch, furtive and shy, but a touch that was like
to a caress.
Thereafter, Beltane, coming into his hut of woven wattle, rolled
himself in his weather-worn mantle and presently fell to slumber.
TELLETH HOW SIR BENEDICT WENT A-FISHING
Next day Sir Bertrand died of his hurts, so they buried him beside
young Sir John of Griswold and sturdy old Hubert of Erdington and a
hundred and twenty and five others of their company who had fallen in
that desperate affray; therefore tarried they a while what time their
sick and wounded grew towards health and strength by reason of the
skill and tender care of the lady Abbess and her nuns.
Now on the afternoon of this day. Sir Benedict being sick a-bed of his
wound, Beltane sat in council among the oldest and wisest of the
knights, and presently summoned Walkyn and Ulf, Roger and Jenkyn o'
the Ford, speaking them on this wise:
"Good comrades, list ye now! These noble knights and I have hither
summoned ye for that ye are of good and approved courage and moreover
foresters born and cunning in wood-lore. As ye do know, 'tis our intent
to march for Belsaye so soon as our wounded be fit. But first must we
be 'ware if our road be open or no. Therefore, Walkyn, do ye and Ulf
take ten men and haste to Winisfarne and the forest-road that runneth
north and south: be ye wary of surprise and heedful of all things. You,
Roger and Jenkyn, with other ten, shall seek the road that runneth east
and west; marching due south you shall come to the northern road where
ye shall wait two hours (but no longer) for Walkyn. Ye are woodsmen!
Heed ye the brush and lower branches of the trees if any be broken,
mark well the track in dusty places and seek ye the print of feet in
marshy places, learn all ye may from whomsoever ye may and haste ye
hot-foot back with tidings good or ill. Is it understood?"
"Aye, lord!" quoth the four.
"And look'ee master," said Jenkyn, "there be my comrade Orson the
Tall, look'ee. His hurt is nigh healed and to go wi' us shall be his
cure--now, look'ee lord, shall he go wi' us?"
"Nay, Roger shall answer thee this, Jenkyn. So now begone and God speed
ye, good comrades all!" Hereupon the mighty four made their obeisance
and hasted away, rejoicing.
Now Sir Benedict's hurt had proved an evil one and deep, wherefore the
Abbess, in accent soft and tender, had, incontinent, ordered him to
bed, and there, within the silken tent that had been Sir Pertolepe's,
Beltane oft sat by, the while she, with slim and dexterous fingers,
washed and anointed and bound the ugly wound: many times came she,
soft-treading, gentle and gracious ever; and at such times Beltane
noticed that full often he would find her deep, sad gaze bent upon him;
he noticed also that though her voice was low and gentle, yet she spake
ever as one 'customed to obedience. Thus it was, that Sir Benedict
being ordered to his couch, obeyed the soft-spoke command, but being
kept there all day, grumbled (albeit to Beltane): being kept there the
second day he fell to muttered oaths and cursing (albeit to Beltane):
but at sunset he became unruly, in so much that he ventured to
remonstrate with the lady Abbess (albeit humbly), whereon she smiled,
and bidding Beltane reach her cup and spoon, forthwith mixed a
decoction and dosed Sir Benedict that he fell asleep and slumbered
Thus, during this time, Beltane saw and talked much with the lady
Abbess: oft went he to watch her among the sick and to aid her when he
might; saw how fierce faces softened when she bent to touch fevered
brow or speak them cheerily with smiling lip despite the deep and
haunting sadness of her eyes; saw how eagerly rough hands were
stretched forth to furtive touch her white habit as she passed; heard
harsh voices grow sudden soft and all unfamiliar--voices that broke in
murmurous gratitude. All this saw and heard he and failed not, morn and
eve, to kneel him at her feet to hear her bless him and to feel that
soft, shy touch among his hair.
So passed two days, but neither Roger, nor Walkyn, nor Ulf, nor indeed
any of the twenty chosen men had yet returned or sent word or sign,
wherefore Beltane began to wax moody and anxious. Thus it was that upon
a sunny afternoon he wandered beside a little rivulet, bowered in
alder and willow: here, a merry brook that prattled over pebbly bed and
laughed among stones and mossy boulders, there a drowsy stream that,
widening to dreamy pool, stayed its haste to woo down-bending branches
with soft, kissing noises.
Now as Beltane walked beside the stream, head a-droop and very
thoughtful, he paused of a sudden to behold one richly dight in
gambeson of fair-wrought leather artificially quilted and pinked, who
sat ensconced within this greeny bower, his back to a tree, one
bandaged arm slung about his neck and in the other hand a long
hazel-branch trimmed with infinite care, whereunto a line was tied.
"Sir Benedict!" cried Beltane, "methought thee asleep: what do ye so
far from camp and bed?"
"I fish, lad, I fish--I ply a tentative angle. Nay--save thy breath, I
have caught me nothing yet, save thoughts. Thoughts do flock a many,
but as to fish--they do but sniff my bait and flirt it with their
wanton tails, plague take 'em! But what o' fish? 'Tis not for fish
alone that man fisheth, for fishing begetteth thought and thought,
dreams--and to dream is oft-times sweet!"
"But--Benedict, what of the Abbess?"
"The Abbess? Ha, the Abbess, Beltane! Sweet soul, she sleepeth. At noon
each day needs must she sleep since even she is mortal and mortals must
sleep now and then. The Abbess? Come sit ye, lad, what time I tickle
the noses of these pestilent fish. Sit ye here beside me and tell me,
how think ye of this noble and most sweet lady?"
"That, for thy truancy, she will incontinent mix thee another sleeping
"Ha--then I'll never drink it!" quoth Sir Benedict, settling his
shoulder against Beltane and frowning at his line. "Am I a babe,
forsooth, to be dosed to slumber? Ha, by the foul fiend his black dam,
ne'er will I drink it, lad!"
"Then will she smile on thee, sad-eyed, and set it to thy lip, and woo
thee soft-voiced, so shalt thou swallow it every drop--"
"Not so--dear blood of all the saints! Must I be mewed up within an
accursed bed on such a day and all by reason of a small axe-stroke?
"She is wondrous gentle with the sick, Benedict--"
"She is a very woman, Beltane, and therefore gentle, a noble lady sweet
of soul and body! To die for such were joyful privilege, methinks, aye,
verily!" and Sir Benedict, forgetful of his line, drooped his head and
"And thou didst know her well--long years agone, Benedict?"
"Very well, Benedict?"
"She was 'Yolande' then, Benedict?"
"Aye," quoth Sir Benedict, lifting his head with a start and looking at
Beltane askance, "and to-day she is the lady Abbess Veronica!"
"That shall surely dose thee again and--"
"Ha! bones and body o' me, not so! For here sit I, and here angle I,
fish or no fish, thunder o' God, yes! Aye, verily, here will I sit till
I have caught me a fish, or weary and go o' my own free will--by
Beelzebub I vow, by Bel and the Dragon I swear it! And furthermore--"
Sir Benedict paused, tilted his head and glancing up, beheld the lady
Abbess within a yard of them. Gracious she stood in her long white
habit and shook her stately head in grave rebuke, but beholding his
abashed look and how the rod sagged in his loosened hold, her lips
parted of a sudden and her teeth gleamed in a smile wondrous young and
pleasant to see.
"O Benedict!" said she, "O child most disobedient! O sir knight! Is
this thy chivalry, noble lord--to steal away for that a poor soul
must needs sleep, being, alas! so very mortal?"
"Forsooth and indeed, dear my lady," quoth Sir Benedict, fumbling with
his angle, "the sun did woo me forth--and the wind, see you--the wind--"
"Nay, I see it not, my lord, but I did hear something of thy fearsome,
great oaths as I came hither."
"Oaths, lady?" said Sir Benedict, fingering his chin, "Forsooth and did
I so? Mayhap 'twas by reason that the fish, see you, the pestilent
fish--Ha! Saint Benedict! I have a bite!" Up sprang Sir Benedict,
quite forgetting his wounded arm, capering lightly to and fro, now in
the water, now out, with prodigious stir and splash and swearing oaths
galore, until, his pallid cheek flushed and bright eyes a-dance, he had
won the fish into the shallows and thence landed it right skilfully,
where it thrashed and leapt, flashing in the sun.
"Ha, Yolande!" he cried, "in the golden days thou wert ever fond of a
goodly trout fresh caught and broiled upon a fire of--"
"Benedict!" cried the Abbess, and, all forgetful of his hurt, caught
him by his wounded arm, "O Sir Benedict!" Now, man of iron though he
seemed, Sir Benedict must needs start and flinch beneath her hold and
grow livid by reason of the sharp pain of it; whereat she loosed him of
a sudden and fell away, white hands tight clasped together.
"Ah Benedict!--I have hurt thee--again!" she panted.
"Not so, 'twas when I landed the fish--my lady Abbess!" Now at this she
turned away and standing thus awhile very silent, presently raised her
hand, whereat came two of her gentle nuns.
"Dear my daughters," said she, "take now Sir Benedict unto the camp and
look to his hurt, anoint it as ye have seen me do. Go!"
Nothing speaking, Sir Benedict bowed him humbly to the stately Abbess
and went away between the two white-robed sisters and so was gone.
Slowly the Abbess turned to Beltane who had risen and was regarding her
with a new and strange intensity, and meeting that look, her own glance
wavered, sank, and she stood awhile gazing down into the murmurous
waters; and as she stood thus, aware of his deep-searching eyes, into
her pale cheek crept a flush that deepened and ever deepened.
"My lord," said she, very low and placid-seeming, "why dost thou look
on me so?"
And for all her stately calm, her hand, which had clenched itself upon
the silver crucifix, was woefully a-tremble. "What--is it--my lord
"A thought, noble lady."
"What is thy thought?"
"Lady, 'tis this--that, an I might find a mother such as thee, then
would I pay her homage on my knees, and love her and honour her for
what I do know her, praying God to make me worthy--!" So saying, he
came a step towards her, faltered, stopped, and reached out appealing
hands to her.
From red to white and from white to red again the colour flushed in
cheek and brow while the Abbess hearkened to his words; then she
looked on him with proud head uplifted and in her eyes a great and
wondrous light, quick and passionate her slim hands came out to meet
A sudden clamour in the air! A clash of arms! A running of swift feet
and Walkyn sprang betwixt them, his face grimed with dust and sweat,
his armour gone, his great axe all bloody in his hand: "Master!" he
cried, "in Winisfarne lieth Pertolepe with over a thousand of his
company, I judge--and in the woods 'twixt here and Winisfarne is Hollo
of Revelsthorne marching on us through the woods with full five
thousand of Ivo's picked levies, new come from Barham Broom!"
TELLETH HOW THEY MARCHED FROM THE VALLEY OF BRAND
Within the camp was prodigious stir, a fanfare of trumpets and hoarse
commands, where archers and pikemen, knights and men-at-arms were
mustering; but nowhere was hurry or confusion, wherefore Beltane's
heart rejoiced and he smiled glad-eyed as he came where, before Sir
Benedict and the assembled council, stood Roger and Ulf with fifteen of
their twenty men.
"Walkyn," said Sir Benedict, what time his esquire strapped and buckled
him into his bright armour, "where-abouts do they hold their march?"
"Scarce twenty miles from here due west, lord."
"Ha, and they come through the forest, ye say?" questioned Sir Brian,
"so shall they move more slowly, methinks."
"Why see you, messire," said Walkyn, "they march by way of Felindre
that was once a fair town, and from Felindre is a road that leadeth
through the wild unto this valley of Brand."
"So have we, I judge, 'twixt six and seven hours," quoth Hacon of
"Less, Hacon, less!" said Sir Benedict, beginning to stride up and down
in his clanking armour, "Sir Rollo ever rideth with busy spur, and he
will doubtless push on amain nor spare his men that he may take us
unprepared. Put it at five hours, Hacon, mayhap less!"
"'Tis so I pray!" said Beltane, glancing towards the glowing west, "and
in two hours it will be dark, my lords! Walkyn, thy company doth lack
for five, meseemeth?" "Aye, master--for five; two fell in Winisfarne
where I lay in bonds; other three were slain in the pursuit."
"Saw Sir Rollo aught of thee?"
"Nay, lord, we lay well hid."
"'Tis very well. Are they many?"
"Of horsemen I counted full three thousand, master."
"And I, lord," quoth Ulf, "did reckon over two thousand foot."
"'Tis a fairish company!" said Sir Brian.
"And I do lack my sword-arm!" sighed Sir Benedict, "but my left hath
served me well ere now."
"And Sir Pertolepe lieth yet in Winisfarne!" said Beltane thoughtfully.
"Aye," nodded Sir Benedict, "and shall march south to cut off our
retreat if haply any of us escape Sir Rollo's onfall."
"So should we strike camp and march forthright," said Sir Brian.
"March--aye, but whither?" questioned Sir Hacon. "We are threatened on
two fronts and for the rest, we have the trackless wilderness! Whither
would'st march, Brian?"
"South to Belsaye," answered Sir Benedict. "South through the wild
until we strike the western road by Thornaby. I with certain others
will form a rear-guard and hold Sir Rollo in play what time our main
body presses on at speed."
"Ha!" quoth Sir Hacon, "and what of Red Pertolepe? Truly our case is
desperate methinks, old comrade!"
"Why, 'tis not the first time we have out-faced desperate odds, Hacon!"
"Aye, verily, Benedict--thy cool head and cunning strategy have saved
us from dungeon and death a score of times, but then were we a chosen
company, swift at onfall or retreat, well mounted and equipped--
to-night we go hampered with our wounded and these lady nuns. So is our
case desperate, Benedict, and needeth desperate remedy--"
"And that, methinks, I've found, messire!" quoth Beltane, and rising
up he looked upon them all, his eye bright with sudden purpose. "Hark
ye, my lords! Great and valiant knights do I know ye, one and all--wise
in experience of battle and much versed in warlike stratagem beyond my
understanding; but this is the wild-wood where only wood-craft shall
advantage us. Within these wilds your tactics shall avail nothing nor
all your trampling chivalry--here must be foresters that may go silent
and unseen amid the leaves, 'neath whose trained feet no twig shall
snap, who smite unseen from brush and thicket and being wise in
wood-craft thus make the forest their ally. And, lords, I am a forester;
all my days the greenwood hath been my home, and in my loneliness I made
the trees my friends. So, I pray you, let me with three hundred chosen
foresters keep our rear to-night, and this night the forest shall fight
for us and Sir Rollo rue the hour he dared adventure him within the
green. Messires, how say you?"
"Why my lord, 'tis very well!" sighed Sir Benedict, glancing down at
his wounded arm, "I, for one, do agree right heartily."
"And I!" nodded Sir Brian.
"And I also!" quoth Sir Hacon, "though 'tis a far cry to Belsaye and I
love not to be pent within walls, and with Red Pertolepe threatening
our flank 'tis a very parlous case, methinks."
"And thou art ever at thy best where danger is, Hacon," said Sir
Benedict, "so will I give thee charge of our van-ward!" Now hereupon
Sir Hacon's gloom vanished and rising up, he smiled and forthwith did
on his great war-helm.
"Then it is agreed!" said Beltane and beckoned to Roger and Walkyn;
"Good friends, go now and choose three hundred trusty fellows, skilled
foresters all; look that each doth bear flint and steel for by yon
clouds I judge 'twill be a dark night. Let every fire within the camp
be quenched and the ground well cooled with water, that by the feel of
it none may know how long we have removed--see you to this, Ulf."
Now when the mighty three were gone about the business, their fifteen
lusty fellows at their heels, Beltane turned and pointed westward, and
lo! the sun was set.
"Messires," said he, "you were wise, methinks, to mount and away ere
the night fall. To-night, since the moon is hid, 'twill be very dark
amid the trees, therefore let Orson guide you--he is forest-bred and
well knoweth the way to Thornaby. Heaven prosper you, for in your
valiant keeping is the safety of--of our noble lady Abbess--and her
ladies. So mount, my lords, press on with what speed ye may, and God
aid us this night each and every--fare ye well!"
Presently the trumpets sounded and forthwith armour was buckled on,
horses saddled, while everywhere was stir and bustle of departure, what
time, within his osier hut, my Beltane was busily doing on his armour,
and, being in haste, making slow business of it; thrice he essayed to
buckle a certain strap and thrice it escaped him, when lo! came a slim
white hand to do it for him, and turning, he beheld the lady Abbess.
And in her eyes was yet that soft and radiant look, but nought said she
until Beltane stood armed from head to heel, until she had girt the
great sword about him; then she set her hands upon his shoulders:
"Beltane," said she soft-voiced, "thou didst yearn for thy mother, so
is she come to thee at last, dear son!" So saying, she drew him down
into her embrace. "O Beltane, son of mine, long, long have I waited--
aye, bitter, weary years, and oft-times in my sorrow I have dreamed of
this hour--the arms about thee are thy mother's arms!"
Now fell Beltane upon his knees and caught those white and gentle hands
and kissed them; quoth he:
"Mother--O dear my mother, ne'er did I know how deep had been my need
of thee until now. And yet, all unknowing, I have yearned for thee; in
my youth I did love all sweet and gentle things in thy stead--the
trees, the tender flowers, the murmurous brooks--these did I love in
place of thee for that mine heart did yearn and hunger for a mother's
tender love--" Here needs must she stoop, all soft whispers and tender
mother-cries, to kiss him oft, to lay her cheek upon his golden head
and murmur over him.
"And thou wilt love thy mother, Beltane--thou wilt love thy unknown
mother--now and always, for that she is thy mother?"
"I will love her and honour her now and always, for that my mother is a
sweet and noble woman!"
"And thou didst need me, Beltane, in thy lonely childhood thou didst
need me, and I--O God pity me--I was far from thee! But, dear my son,
because I could not cherish thee within these arms I strove to love and
cherish all motherless children for thy dear sake and to grieve for all
sorrowing mothers. So builded I the nunnery at Winisfarne and there
sought to bring solace and comfort to desolate hearts because my heart
was so desolate for thee, my babe, my Beltane. And I have prayed
unceasing unto God, and He, in His infinite mercy, hath given thee to
my arms again--"
A trumpet brayed harsh and loud near by, whereat those tender mother-arms
drew him closer yet within their sheltering embrace.
"Sweet son," she sighed, "methinks death is very near each one of us
to-night--but I have held thee to my heart, have felt thy kisses and
heard thy loving words--now if death come how shall it avail 'gainst
such love as ours? Sir Benedict telleth me thou hast chosen the post of
danger--'tis so I would have it, dear my son, and thy proud mother's
prayers go with thee--God keep thee--O God keep thee, my Beltane--ah,
there sounds again the clarion bidding me from thee! Kiss now thy
mother farewell, for alas! I must be gone!"
So presently Beltane brought the Abbess where stood Sir Benedict with
an easy-paced jennet for her use and his company formed up in column
beyond the camp. Then Beltane lifted the lady Abbess to the saddle and
with her hand yet clasped in his, reached the other to Sir Benedict.
"My lord of Bourne," said he, "dear my friend, to thy care I give this
lady Abbess, Duchess of Pentavalon--my well-beloved and noble mother.
O Benedict, no prouder son than I in all the world, methinks--nor one
so humble! God send we meet again anon, but now--fare ye well!" Saying
the which, Beltane caught his mother's hand to his lips, and turning
him suddenly about, hasted to Roger and Walkyn and the chosen three
hundred. And in a while, the nuns and wounded in their midst, Sir
Benedict's steel-clad column moved forward up the slope. First rode Sir
Hacon and his knights in the van and last Sir Benedict with his grim
men-at-arms to form a rear-ward, while archers and pikemen marched upon
their flanks. With ring of steel, with jingle of stirrup and
bridle-chain they swung away up the slope and plunging into the gloom of
the forest were gone; only Sir Benedict paused to turn in his saddle and
lift unwounded arm in salutation ere he too vanished into the shadows
of the wild-wood. Awhile stood Beltane before the three hundred, his
head bowed as one in meditation until the sound of voices, the ring
and clash of their companions' going was died away; then looked he at
the cloudy sky already deepening to evening, and round about upon the
"The wind is from the south, methinks!" said he.
"Aye, master," nodded Walkyn.
"South-westerly!" quoth Roger.
Now came Beltane and looked upon his company, tall, lusty fellows they,
whose bold, sun-tanned faces proclaimed them free men of the
forest-lands; and beholding their hardy look Beltane's eye brightened.
"Comrades," quoth he, "we be foresters all, and the wild-wood our home
and playground. But yonder from the west do march full five thousand of
Duke Ivo's knights and soldiery-men, they, of courts, of town and city,
so now will we teach them 'tis an ill thing to adventure them 'gainst
trained foresters within the green. List now--and mark me well, for, an
our plan do fail, there shall few of us live to see to-morrow's sun."
Then Beltane spake them plain and to the point, insomuch that when all
was said, these hardy foresters stood mute awhile, desperate fellows
though they were; then laughed they fierce and loud, and flourished
sword and bow-stave and so fell to clamourous talk.
Now did Beltane divide the three hundred into five companies of sixty;
over the first company he set Walkyn, over the second, Roger, over the
third, Ulf, over the fourth Jenkyn o' the Ford. Then spake he on this
"Walkyn, take now these sixty good fellows and march you north-westerly
yonder across the valley; let your men lie well hid a bow-shot within
the forest, but do you stay upon the verge of the forest and watch for
the coming of our foes. And when they be come, 'tis sure they will
plant outposts and sentinels within the green, so be ye wary to smite
outpost and sentinel suddenly and that none may hear within the camp
nor take alarm; when 'tis done, cry you thrice like unto a curlew that
we may know. Are all things understood?"
"Aye, lord!" they cried, one and all.
"Why then, be ye cautious each and every, for, an our foes do take
alarm, so shall it be our death. March, Walkyn--away!"
Forthwith Walkyn lifted his axe and strode off up the slope until he
and his sixty men had vanished quite into the glooming woods to the
"Jenkyn, didst hear my commands to Walkyn, so shalt thou do also--your
post doth lie to the east, yonder."
"Aye, master, and look'ee now--my signal shall be three owl-hoots,
So saying, Jenkyn turned, his sixty at his heels, and swung away until
they were lost to sight in the woods to the east.
"Ulf the Strong, thy post doth lie south-westerly, and Roger's
south-easterly; thus I, lying south, shall have ye on my left and right:
go get ye to your places, watch ye, and wait in patience for the
signals, and when time for action cometh, be swift and sure."
Away marched Roger and Ulf with their companies, and presently were
gone, and there remained within the little valley only Beltane and his
sixty men. Awhile he stood to look to the north and east and west but
nought saw he save the dense gloom of forest growing dark and ever
darker with evening. Then of a sudden turned he, and summoning his
company, strode away into the forest to the south.
Thus, as night fell, the valley of Brand lay deserted quite, and no
sound brake the pervading quiet save the wind that moaned feebly
through those dark and solitary woods wherein Death lay hid, so very
silent--so very patient, but Death in grim and awful shape.
HOW THE FOREST FOUGHT FOR THEM
A hum upon the night-wind, lost, ever and anon, in wailing gust, yet a
hum that never ceased; a sound that grew and grew, loud and ever more
loud until it seemed to fill the very night, a dreadful sound, ominous
and threatening, a sound to shake the boldest heart--the ring and
tramp of an armed, oncoming multitude.
Now, lying amid the leaves and fern with Cnut and the small man Prat
beside him. Beltane presently espied certain figures moving in the
valley below, stealthy figures that were men of Sir Rollo's van-ward.
Soft-creeping they approached the deserted camp, soft-creeping they
entered it; and suddenly their trumpets brayed loud and long, and,
dying away, gave place to the ring and trampling thunder of the
On they came, knights and men-at-arms, rank upon rank, company by
company, until the valley seemed full of the dull gleam of their armour
and the air rang loud with clash and jingle and the trample of
countless hooves. Yet still they came, horsemen and foot-men, and ever
the sound of them waxed upon the air, a harsh, confused din--and ever,
from the glooming woods above, Death stared down on them.
And now the trumpets blew amain, lights flickered and flared, as one by
one, fires were lighted whose red glow flashed back from many a helm
and shield and breast-plate, from broad gisarm and twinkling
lance-point, what time, above the confused hum, above stamping hooves
and clashing armour, voices shouted hoarse commands.
So, little by little, from chaos order was wrought, pack-horse and
charger were led away to be watered and picketed and gleaming figures
sank wearily about the many camp-fires where food was already
preparing. In a while, from the stir of the camp, bright with its many
watch-fires, divers small groups of men were detached, and, pike and
gisarm on shoulder, began to mount toward the forest at varying
Hereupon, Beltane reached out in the dark and touched the small man
Prat the Archer. Quoth he:
"Hither come their outposts, go now and bring up my company,--and bid
them come silently!"
Forthwith Prat sank down among the fern and was gone, while Beltane
watched, keen-eyed, where four men of Sir Hollo's outposts climbed the
slope hard by. And one was singing, and one was cursing, and two were
quarrelling, and all four, Beltane judged, were men aweary with long
marching. Thus, singing, cursing, quarrelling, came they to keep their
ward within these dark and silent woods, crashing through the
underbrush careless of their going and all unheeding the sombre,
stealthy forms that rose up so silently behind them and before from
brush and brake and thicket, creeping figures that moved only when the
night-wind moaned in the shivering leaves.
Beltane's dagger was out and he rose up from the fern, crouched and
strung for action--but from the gloom near by rose a sudden, strange
flurry amid the leaves, a whimpering sound evil to hear and swiftly
ended, a groan, a cry choked to strangling gasp and thereafter--
silence, save for the fitful wailing of the wind--a long, breathless
pause; then, high and clear rose the cry of an owl thrice repeated, and
presently small Prat was beside him in the fern again.
"Lord," said he softly, albeit panting a little, "these men were fools!
We do but wait our comrades' signals now." And he fell to cleansing his
dagger-blade carefully with a handful of bracken.
"Ha--list ye!" whispered Cnut, "there sounds Ulf's warning, methinks!"
And from the gloom on their left a frog croaked hoarsely.
A hundred watch-fires blazed in the valley below and around each fire
armour glittered; little by little the great camp grew to silence and
rest until nought was heard but the stamp and snorting of the many
horses and the cries of the sentinels below. But ever dagger in hand
Beltane strained eyes and ears northward across the valley, while big
Cnut bit his nails and wriggled beside him in the bracken, and small
Prat softly snapped his fingers; so waited they with ears on the
stretch and eyes that glared ever to the north.
At last, faint and far across the valley, rose the doleful cry of a
curlew thrice repeated, the which was answered from the east by the
hooting of an owl, which again was caught up like an echo, and repeated
thrice upon their right.
Then Beltane sheathed his dagger.
"Look," said he, "Cnut--Prat, look north and tell me what ye see!"
"Fire, my lord!" quoth Prat. "Ha! it burneth well--see, see how it
"And there again--in the east," said Cnut, "Oho! Jenkyn is busy--look,
"Aye, and Roger too!" said Beltane, grim-lipped, "our ring of fire is
well-nigh complete--it lacketh but for us and Ulf--to work, then!"
Came the sound of flint meeting steel--a sound that spread along the
ranks that lay unseen beyond Prat and Cnut. And behold--a spark! a
glow! a little flame that died down, leapt up, caught upon dry grass
and bracken, seized upon crackling twigs, flared up high and ever
fiercer--a devouring flame, hungry and yellow-tongued that licked along
the earth--a vengeful flame, pitiless and unrelenting--a host of fiery
demons that leapt and danced with crackling laughter changing little by
little to an angry roar that was the voice of awful doom.
Now of a sudden above the hiss of flame, from the valley of Brand a cry
went up--a shout--a roar of fear and amaze and thereafter rose a wild
clamour; a babel inarticulate, split, ever and anon, by frantic
trumpet-blast. But ever the dreadful hubbub waxed and grew, shrieks and
cries and the screaming of maddened horses with the awful, rolling
thunder of their fierce-galloping hooves!
Within that valley of doom Death was abroad already, Death in many dire
shapes. Proud knights, doughty archers and men-at-arms who had fronted
death unmoved on many a stricken field, wept aloud and crouched upon
their knees and screamed--but not so loud as those wild and maddened
horses, that, bursting all bonds asunder, reared and leapt with lashing
hooves, and, choked with rolling smoke-clouds, blinded by flame,
plunged headlong through and over the doomed camp, wave upon wave of
wild-flung heads and tossing manes. On they came, with nought to let or
stay them, their wild hooves trampling down hut of osier and silken
tent, spurning the trembling earth and filling the air with flying
clods; and wheresoever they galloped there was flame to meet them, so
swerved they, screaming their terror and fled round and round within
the valley. So raced they blindly to and fro and back and forth,
trampling down, maiming and mangling 'neath reddened, cruel hooves all
and every that chanced to lie athwart their wild career: on and ever on
they galloped until sobbing, panting, they fell, to be crushed 'neath
the thundering hooves behind.
Within the little valley of Brand Death was rife in many and awful
shapes that no eye might see, for the many watch-fires were scattered
and trampled out; but up from that pit of doom rose shrieks and cries
and many hateful sounds--sounds to pierce the brain and ring there
Thus Beltane, marching swift to the south at the head of his three
hundred foresters, heard nought of their joyful acclaim, heeded not
their triumph, saw nought of watchful Roger's troubled glances, but
went with head bowed low, with pallid cheek and eyes wide-staring, for
he saw yet again the fierce leap of those merciless flames and in his
ears rang the screams and cries of Sir Rollo's proud chivalry.
HOW THEY CAME TO BELSAYE FOR THE THIRD TIME
The sun was high as they came to the western road that led to the ford
at Thornaby, but upon the edge of the forest Beltane stopped of a
sudden to stare up at an adjacent tree.
"What is't, master?" questioned Roger, halting beside him.
"An arrow--and new-shot by the look of it!" said Beltane, gloomily.
"Aye master, and it hath travelled far--see, it hath scarce pierced the
"'Twas shot from the brush yonder, methinks," said Beltane, pointing to
the dense underwood that skirted the opposite side of the dusty
highway. "Reach me it down, Roger!" so saying Beltane stooped and hove
Roger aloft until he could grasp and draw the arrow from the tree.
"Here is no woodsman's shaft, master!" quoth Roger, turning the missile
over in his hand ere he gave it to Beltane, "no forester doth wing his
"True!" nodded Beltane, frowning at the arrow. "Walkyn, Ulf! here hath
been an ambushment, methinks--'tis a likely place for such. Let our
company scatter and search amid the fern hereabouts--"
But even as he spake came a cry, a clamour of voices, and Prat the
archer came frowning and snapping his restless fingers.
"My lord," said he, "yonder doth lie my good comrade Martin and three
other fellows of my archer-company that marched with Sir Benedict, and
all dead, lord, slain by arrows all four."
"Show me!" said Beltane.
And when he had viewed and touched those stark and pallid forms that
lay scattered here and there amid the bracken, his anxious frown
deepened. "These have been dead men full six hours!" quoth he.
"Aye, lord," says Prat, "and 'tis unmeet such good fellows should lie
here for beasts to tear; shall we bury them?"
"Not so!" answered Beltane, turning away. "Take their shafts and fall
to your ranks--we must march forthright!"
Thus soon the three hundred were striding fast behind Beltane, keeping
ever to the forest yet well within bow-shot of the road, and, though
they travelled at speed they went very silently, as only foresters
In a while Beltane brought them to those high wooded banks betwixt
which the road ran winding down to Thornaby Ford--that self-same hilly
road where, upon a time, the Red Pertolepe had surprised the lawless
company of Gilles of Brandonmere; and, now as then, the dark defile was
littered with the wrack of fight, fallen charges that kicked and
snorted in their pain or lay mute and still, men in battered harness
that stared up from the dust, all unseeing, upon the new day. They lay
thick within the sunken road but thicker beside the ford, and they
dotted the white road beyond, grim signs of Sir Benedict's stubborn
retreat. Hereupon Beltane halted his hard-breathing foresters and
bidding them rest awhile and break their fast, hasted down into the
roadway with Walkyn and Cnut and Black Roger.
"Aha!" cried Walkyn, pointing to divers of the slain that hampered
their going, "these be Pertolepe's rogues--"
"Aye," quoth Roger, throwing back his mail-coif, "and yonder lie four,
five--six of Sir Benedict's good fellows! It hath been a dour fight
hereabouts--they have fought every yard of the way!"
"Forsooth," nodded Cnut, "Sir Benedict is ever most fierce when he
retreats, look you." A while stood Beltane in that dark defile, the
which, untouched as jet by the sun's level beams, struck dank and
chill, a place of gloom and awful silence--so stood he, glancing from
one still form to another, twice he knelt to look more closely on the
dead and each time he rose thereafter, his brow was blacker and he
shivered, despite his mantle.
"'Tis strange," said he, "and passing strange that they should all lie
dead--not a living man among them! How think you Roger?"
"I think, lord, others have been here afore us. See you this knight
now, his gorget loosed off--"
"O messire!" said a faint voice hard by, "if ye have any pity save me
from the crone--for the love of Christ let not the hag slay me as she
hath so many--save me!"
Starting round, Beltane espied a pale face that glared up at him from a
thick furze-bush beside the way, a youthful face albeit haggard and
"Fear not!" said Beltane, kneeling beside the wounded youth, "thy life
is safe from us. But what mean you by talk of hag and crone?"
"Ah, messire, to-day, ere the dawn, we fell upon Sir Benedict of
Bourne--a seditious lord who hath long withstood Duke Ivo. But though
his men were few they fought hard and gained the ford ahead of us. And
in the fight I, with many others as ye see, was smitten down and the
fight rolled on and left us here in the dust. As I lay, striving to
tend my hurt and hearkening to the sighs and groans of the stricken, I
heard a scream, and looking about, beheld an ancient woman--busied with
her knife--slaying--slaying and robbing the dead--ah, behold her--with
the black-haired archer--yonder!"
And verily Roger stepped forth of the underwood that clothed the steep,
dragging a thing of rags and tatters, a wretched creature, bent and
wrinkled, that mopped and mowed with toothless chaps and clutched a
misshapen bundle in yellow, talon-like fingers, and these yellow
fingers were splotched horribly with dark stains even as were the rags
that covered her. She whined and whimpered querulously, mouthing
inarticulate plaints and prayers as Roger haled her along, with Cnut
and Walkyn, fierce and scowling, behind. Having brought her to Beltane,
Roger loosed her, and wrenching away her bundle, opened it, and lo! a
yellow-gleaming hoard of golden neck-chains, of rings and armlets, of
golden spurs and belt-buckles, the which he incontinent scattered at
Beltane's feet; whereon the gibbering creature screamed in high-pitched,
cracked and ancient voice, and, screeching, threw herself upon
the gold and fell to scrabbling among the dust with her gnarled and
bony fingers; and ever as she raked and raked, she screeched harsh and
high--a hateful noise that ended, of a sudden, in a wheezing sob, and
sinking down, she lay outstretched and silent, her wrinkled face in the
dust and a cloth-yard shaft transfixing her yellow throat.
So swift had death been dealt that all men fell back a pace and were
yet staring down at this awful dead thing when forth from the brush an
archer crawled painfully, his bow yet in his hand, and so lay, panting
loud and hoarse.
"Ha!" cried Cnut, "'tis lusty Siward of our archers! How now, Siward?"
"I'm sped, Cnut!" groaned Siward, "but yon hag lieth dead, so am I--
content. I've watched her slay John that was my comrade, you'll mind--
for his armlet. And--good Sir Hugh she stabbed,--yonder he lieth--him
she slew for--spurs and chain. When I fell I--dropped my bow--in the
brush, yonder--I have been two hours creeping--a dozen yards to--reach
my bow but--I got it at last--Aha!" And Siward, feebly pointing to the
ancient, dead woman, strove to laugh and so--died.
Then Beltane turned, and coming beside the wounded youth spake him
tender and compassionate.
"Young sir, we must hence, but first can I do aught forthee?"
"O messire, an I might--come to the river--water!"
Saying no word, Beltane stooped and lifting the young knight very
carefully, bore him down toward the ford.
"Messire," quoth the young knight, stifling his groans, "art very
strong and wondrous gentle withal!" Presently Beltane brought him
beside the river, and while the youth drank, laid bare an ugly wound
above the knee and bathed it with his hand, and, thereafter, tearing a
strip from his ragged cloak, he bound it tight above the hurt, (even as
he had seen Sir Fidelis do) and thus stayed the bleeding. Now while
this was a-doing, the young knight must needs talk.
"Ho!" cried he, "'twas a good fight, messire, and he who gave me this
was none other than Benedict of Bourne himself--whom our good Duke doth
fondly imagine pent up within Thrasfordham! O indeed 'twas Sir
Benedict, I saw his hawk-face plain ere he closed his vizor, and he
fought left-handed. Moreover, beside him I recognised the leaping dog
blazoned on the shield of Hacon of Trant--Oho, this shall be wondrous
news for Duke Ivo, methinks. But, faith, 'tis wonder how he escaped
Sir Rollo, and as for the outlaw Beltane we saw nought of him--Sir
Pertolepe vows he was not of this company--mayhap Sir Rollo hath him,
'tis so I pray--so, peradventure I shall see him hang yet! My grateful
thanks, messire, for thy tender care of me. At home I have a mother
that watcheth and prayeth for me--prithee tell me thy name that she may
remember it in her prayers?"
"I am called Beltane the Outlaw, sir knight--and I charge thee to heed
that thy bandage slip not, lest the bleeding start afresh--fare thee
well!" So saying, Beltane turned and went on across the ford what time
the young knight, propped upon weak elbow, stared after him wide of eye
Forthwith Beltane, setting horn to lip, sounded the rally, and very
soon the three hundred crossed the ford and swung off to the left into
Thus, heartened and refreshed by food and rest, they pressed on amain
southward through the forest with eyes and ears alert and on the strain;
what time grim Sir Benedict, riding with his rearguard, peered through
the dust of battle but saw only the threatening column of the foe upon
the forest road behind, rank upon rank far as the eye could reach, and
the dense green of the adjacent woods on either flank whence unseen
arrows whizzed ever and anon to glance from his heavy armour.
"Ha, Benedict!" quoth Sir Brian, "they do know thee, methinks, 'spite
thy plain armour--'tis the third shaft hath struck thee in as many
"So needs must I stifle and sweat within closed casque!" Sir Benedict
groaned. Upon his right hand Sir Brian rode and upon his left his
chiefest esquire, and oft needs must they wheel their chargers to front
the thunderous onset of Red Pertolepe's fierce van, at the which times
Sir Benedict laughed and gibed through his vizor as he thrust and smote
left-armed, parrying sword and lance-point right skilfully
nevertheless, since shield he bare none. Time and again they beat back
their assailants thus, until spent and short of wind they gave place to
three fresh knights.
"By Our Lady of Hartismere!" panted Sir Brian, "but thy left arm serves
thee well, Benedict!"
"'Tis fair, Brian, 'tis fair, God be thanked!" sighed Sir Benedict,
eyeing his reeking blade, "though I missed my thrust 'neath yon gentle
"Yet shore clean through his helm, my lord!" quoth young Walter the
"Why truly, 'tis a good blade, this of mine," said Sir Benedict, and
"Art doleful, Benedict?" questioned Sir Brian, "'tis not like thee when
steel is ringing, man."
"In very sooth, Brian, I hanker for knowledge of our Beltane--ha,
Walter!" he cried suddenly, "lower thy vizor, boy--down with it, I
"Nay, dear my lord, fain would I breathe the sweet, cool air--but a
The young esquire rose up stiffly in his stirrups, threw up gauntleted
hands and swaying from the high saddle, pitched down crashing into the
"Alas! there endeth my poor Walter!" sighed Sir Benedict.
"Aye, a shaft between the eyes, poor lad! A curse on these unseen
archers!" quoth Sir Brian, beckoning a pikeman to lead forward the
riderless horse. "Ha--look yonder, Benedict--we are beset in flank,
and by dismounted knights from the underwood. See, as I live 'tis the
nuns they make for!"
Nothing saying, Sir Benedict spurred forward beside his hard-pressed
company; in the midst of the column was dire tumult and shouting,
where, from the dense woods upon their left a body of knights sheathed
in steel from head to foot were cutting their way toward the lady
Abbess, who, conspicuous in her white habit, was soothing her
frightened palfrey. All about her a shouting, reeling press of Sir
Benedict's light-armed footmen were giving back and back before the
swing of ponderous axe and mace and sword, were smitten down and
trampled 'neath those resistless, steel-clad ranks.
"Ha! the Abbess!" they cried, "yield us the lady Abbess!" Into this
close and desperate affray Sir Benedict spurred, striving with voice
and hand to re-form his broken ranks, hewing him a path by dint of
sword until he had won beside the Abbess.
"Yolande!" he shouted above the din, "keep thou beside me close--close,
Yolande--stoop--ah, stoop thy head that I may cover thee--the debate
waxeth a little sharp hereabouts!" Even as he spake he reeled 'neath
the blow of a heavy mace, steadied himself, cut down his smiter, and
thrust and smote amain until the grim, fierce-shouting ranks gave back
before the sweep of that long sword.
"See, Yolande!" he panted, hard-breathing, "see yonder where my good
Hacon spurs in to our relief--ha, mighty lance!"
"Ah, Benedict," cried the Abbess, pale-lipped but calm of eye, "of what
avail? 'Tis me they seek, though wherefore I know not, so--dear
Benedict--let me go. Indeed, indeed 'tis best, so shall these fair
lives be saved--ah, sweet Jesu, 'tis horrible! See--O see how fast
they fall and die about us! I must go--I will go! My lord, let me pass--
loose my bridle--"
A hunting horn fiercely winded among the woods hard by! A confused roar
of harsh voices and forth of the green four terrible figures sprang,
two that smote with long-shafted axes and two that plied ponderous
broadswords; and behind these men were others, lean and brown-faced--
the very woods seemed alive with them. And from these fierce ranks a
mighty shout rent the air:
"Arise! Arise! Ha, Beltane--Pentavalon!"
Then did Sir Benedict, laughing loud and joyous, haste to re-form his
swaying ranks, the bloody gap in his column closed up and Sir
Pertolepe's knights, hemmed in thus, smote and were smitten and but
scant few were they that won them free. And presently, through that red
confusion brake Beltane with Roger and Ulf and Walkyn at his heels,
and, sword in hand, he sprang and caught the Abbess in a close embrace.
"Mother!" he cried.
"Dear, dear son of mine--and thou art safe? Thanks be to God who hath
heard the passion of thy mother's prayers!" Now Sir Benedict turned,
and wheeling his horse, left them together and so beheld Sir Hacon near
by, who, standing high in his stirrups, pointed to their rear.
"Benedict!" he panted, "ha, look--Brian is over-borne! Ho! a rescue--a
rescue to Sir Brian of Hartismere!" So shouting, he drave back into
the confusion of the staggering rear-guard with Sir Benedict spurring
behind. But, as Sir Benedict rode, pushing past the files of his halted
company, he felt hands that gripped either stirrup and glancing down
beheld Ulf the Strong on his one flank and grim Walkyn upon the other.
So came they where the road broadened out and where the battle raged
swaying and surging above the form of Sir Brian prostrate in the dust
where horsemen and footmen strove together in desperate grapple, where
knightly shields, aflare with proud devices, rang 'neath the blows of
Beltane's lusty foresters and Sir Benedict's veteran pikemen.
Then of a sudden Walkyn shouted fierce and loud, and sprang forward
with mighty axe whirled aloft.
"Ha--Pertolepe, turn!" he roared, "Ho, Bloody Pertolepe--turn, thou
dog! 'Tis I--'tis Waldron of Brand!" So cried he, and, plunging into
the thick of the affray, smote aside all such as barred his way until
he fronted Sir Pertolepe, who, astride a powerful mailed charger,
wielded a bloody mace, and who, hearing that hoarse cry, turned and met
the shearing axe with blazoned shield--and behold! the gorgeous shield
was split in twain; but even so, he smote in turn and mighty Walkyn was
beaten to his knee. Forth sprang Ulf, swift and eager, but Walkyn,
bounding up, shouldered him aside--his axe whirled and fell once, and
Sir Pertolepe's mace was dashed from his loosened hold--whirled and
fell again, and Sir Pertolepe's great casque was beaten from his head
and all men might see the ghastly, jagged cross that scarred his brow
beneath his fiery hair--whirled again, but, ere it could fall, knights
and esquires mounted and afoot, had burst 'twixt Walkyn and their
reeling lord, and Walkyn was dashed aside, shouting, cursing, foaming
with rage, what time Sir Pertolepe was borne out of the fight.
But the rear-guard was saved, and, with a hedge of bristling pikes
behind, Sir Benedict's sore-battered company marched on along the
forest-road and breathed again, the while their pursuers, staggered in
their onset, paused to re-form ere they thundered down upon that
devoted rear-guard once more. But Sir Benedict was there, loud-voiced
and cheery still despite fatigue, and Sir Hacon was there, his wonted
gloom forgotten quite, and Beltane was there, equipped with shield and
vizored war-helm and astride a noble horse, and there, too, was Roger,
grim and silent, and fierce Ulf, and Walkyn in black and evil temper;
"Ha--'tis ever so, his life within my very grasp, yet doth he escape
me! But one more blow and the Red Pertolepe had been in hell--"
"Yet, forsooth, didst save our rear-guard, comrade!" said Ulf.
"Aye--and what o' that? 'Twas Pertolepe's foul life I sought--"
"And there," quoth Beltane, "there spake Vengeance, and vengeance is
ever a foul thing and very selfish!" Now hereupon Walkyn's scowl
deepened, and, falling further to the rear, he spake no more.
"Beltane, dear my lad," said Sir Benedict as they rode together, "hast
told me nought of thy doings last night--what of Sir Rollo?"
"Nay, Benedict, ask me not yet, only rest ye assured Sir Rollo shall
not trouble us this side Belsaye. But pray, how doth our brave Sir
"Well enough, Beltane; he lieth in a litter, being tended by thy noble
lady mother. A small lance-thrust 'neath the gorget, see'st thou,
'twill be healed--Ha, they charge us again--stand firm, pikes!" So
shouting, Sir Benedict wheeled his horse and Beltane with him, and once
again the road echoed to the din of battle.
Thus all day long they fought their way south along the forest-road,
as, time and again, Sir Pertolepe's heavy chivalry thundered down upon
them, to check and break before that hedge of deadly pikes. So marched
this valiant rear-guard, parched with thirst, choked with dust, grim
with blood and wounds, until, as the sun sank westwards, the woods
thinned away and they beheld at last, glad-eyed and joyful, the walls
and towers of fair Belsaye town. Now just beyond the edge of the
woods, Sir Benedict halted his shrunken column, his dusty pikemen drawn
up across the narrow road with archers behind supported by his cavalry
to hold Sir Pertolepe's powers in check amid the woods what time the
nuns with the spent and wounded hasted on towards the city.
Hereupon Beltane raised his vizor and setting horn to lip, sounded the
rally. And lo! from the city a glad and mighty shout went up, the while
above the square and frowning keep a great standard arose and flapping
out upon the soft air, discovered a red lion on a white field.
"Aha, Beltane!" quoth Sir Benedict, "yon is a rare-sweet sight--behold
thy father's Lion banner that hath not felt the breeze this many a
"Aye, lords," growled Walkyn, "and yonder cometh yet another lion--a
black lion on red!" and he pointed where, far to their left, a red
standard flaunted above the distant glitter of a wide-flung battle
"Hast good eyes, Walkyn!" said Sir Benedict, peering 'neath his hand
toward the advancing host, "aye, verily--'tis Ivo himself. Sir
Pertolepe must have warned him of our coming."
"So are we like to be crushed 'twixt hammer and anvil," quoth Sir
Hacon, tightening the lacing of his battered casque.
"So will I give thee charge of our knights and men-at-arms--what is
left of them, alas!--to meet Black Ivo's banner, my doleful Hacon!"
spake Sir Benedict.
"Nay, Benedict," said Sir Hacon, grim-smiling, "my dole is but
caution!" So saying, he closed his vizor and rode away to muster his
chivalry to meet their new assailants the while Sir Benedict fell to
re-forming his scanty ranks of pikemen and archers. Meantime Beltane,
sitting his weary charger, glanced from Sir Pertolepe's deep array of
knights and men-at-arms that thronged and jostled each other in the
narrow forest-road to the distant flash and glitter of Duke Ivo's
mighty van-ward, and from these again to the walls of Belsaye. And as
he looked thither he saw the great drawbridge fall, the portcullis
raised, and the gates flung wide to admit the fugitives; even at that
distance he thought to recognise the Abbess, who paused to turn and
gaze towards him, as, last of all, she rode to safety into the city.
Then my Beltane sighed, and, closing his vizor, turned to find Ulf
beside him with Roger and Walkyn, who stood to watch the while Sir
Benedict rode to and fro, ordering his company for their perilous
retreat across the plain. Swift and silent his war-worn veterans fell
to their appointed ranks; his trumpets blew and they began to fall back
on Belsaye town. Grimly silent they marched, and ever Beltane gazed
where, near and ever more near, flashed and flickered Duke Ivo's
And now from the forest-road Sir Pertolepe's company marched, and
forming in the open, spurred down upon them.
"Stand firm, pikes!" roared Cnut.
"Aim low, archers!" squealed small Prat, and forthwith the battle
The weary rear-guard rocked and swayed beneath the onset, but Prat and
his archers shot amain, arrows whistled while pike and gisarm thrust
and smote, as, encompassed now on three sides, they fell back and back
towards the yawning gates of Belsaye; and ever as he fought, Beltane
by times turned to watch where Duke Ivo's threatening van-ward
galloped--a long line of gleaming shields and levelled lances gay with
the glitter of pennon and banderol.
Back and back the rear-guard staggered, hewing and smiting; twice
Beltane reeled 'neath unseen blows and with eyes a-swim beheld Roger
and Ulf, who fought at either stirrup: heard of a sudden shrieks and
cries and the thunder of galloping hooves; was aware of the flash of
bright armour to his left, rank upon rank, where charged Duke Ivo's
van-ward before whose furious onset Sir Benedict's weary pikemen were
hurled back--their centre swayed, broke, and immediately all was dire
uproar and confusion.
"Ah, Beltane--these be fresh men on fresh horses," cried Sir Benedict,
"but hey--body o' me--all's not lost yet--malediction, no! And 'tis
scarce half a mile to the gates. Ha--yonder rides lusty Hacon to stay
their rush--in upon them. Beltane--Ho, Pentavalon!"
Shouting thus, Sir Benedict plunged headlong into the raging fury of
the battle; but, as Beltane spurred in after him, his weary charger,
smitten by an arrow, reared up, screaming, yet ere he fell, Beltane,
kicking free of the stirrups, rolled clear; a mighty hand plucked him
to his feet and Ulf, roaring in his ear, pointed with his dripping axe.
And, looking whither he pointed, Beltane beheld Sir Benedict borne down
beneath a press of knights, but as he lay, pinned beneath his squealing
charger, Beltane leapt and bestrode him, sword in hand.
"Roger!" he shouted, "Ulf--Walkyn--to me!"
All about him was a swaying trample of horses and men, an iron ring
that hemmed him in, blows dinted his long shield, they rang upon his
helmet, they battered his triple mail, they split his shield in sunder;
and 'neath this hail of blows Beltane staggered, thrice he was smitten
to his knees and thrice he arose, and ever his long blade whirled and
"Yield thee, sir knight--yield thee!" was the cry.
"Ho, Roger!" he shouted hoarsely, "Ulf--Walkyn, to me!"
An axe bit through his great helm, a sword bent against his stout mail,
a knight spurred in upon him, blade levelled to thrust again, but
Beltane's deadly point darted upward and the snorting charger plunged
But now, as he fought on with failing arm, came a joyous roar on his
right where Ulf smote direly with bloody axe, upon his left hand a
broad-sword flickered where Roger fought silent and grim, beyond him
again, Walkyn's long arms rose and fell as he whirled his axe, and hard
by Tall Orson plied goring pike. So fought these mighty four until the
press thinned out and they had cleared them a space amid the battle,
the while Beltane leaned him, spent and panting, upon his reeking
Now, as he stood thus, from a tangle of the fallen near by a bent and
battered helm was lifted and Sir Benedict spake, faint and short of
"'Twas nobly done--sweet lad! 'Tis enough, methinks--there be few of
us left, I fear me, so--get thee hence--with such as be alive--hence,
Beltane, for--thy sweet mother's sake. Nay, heed not--old Benedict, I
did my best and--'tis a fitting couch, this--farewell to thee, my
Beltane--" So saying, Sir Benedict sank weakly to an elbow and from
elbow upon his face, and lay there, very still and mute.
"Master--master!" cried Roger, "we shall win to Belsaye yet, see--see,
Giles hath out-flanked them with his pikes and archers, and--ha! yonder
good Eric o' the Noose chargeth them home!"
But Beltane leaned him upon his sword very spent and sick, and stared
ever upon Sir Benedict's motionless form, his harness bent and hacked,
his proud helm prone in the trampled ling. Slowly, and with fumbling
hands, Beltane sheathed his sword, and stooping, raised Sir Benedict
upon his shoulder and strove to bear him out of the fight, but twice he
staggered in his going and would have fallen but for Roger's ready arm.
"Master," quoth he, "master, let me aid thee with him!" But nothing
saying, Beltane stumbled on until they came where stood Ulf holding a
riderless horse, on the which he made shift to mount with Roger's aid;
thereafter Ulf lifted Sir Benedict to his hold.
"And, pray you," said Beltane, slow and blurred of speech, "pray you
what of noble Sir Hacon?"
"Alack, lord," growled Ulf, "yonder is he where they lie so thick, and
slain, methinks,--yet will I bring him off--"
"Aye, lord," cried Tall Orson, great tears furrowing the grime of his
cheeks, "and little Prat do be killed--and lusty Cnut do be killed wi'
him--and my good comrade Jenkyn do lie smitten to death--O there do be
none of us left, methinks, lord!"
So, faint and heart-sick, with Sir Benedict limp across his saddle bow,
Beltane rode from that place of death; beside him went Roger, stumbling
and weary, and behind them strode mighty Ulf with Sir Hacon upon his
shoulder. In a while, as they went thus, Beltane, glancing back at the
fight, beheld stout Eric with the men of Belsaye, well mounted and
equipped, at fierce grapple with Duke Ivo's van-ward, what time Giles
and his archers supported by lusty pikemen, plied Sir Pertolepe's weary
forces with whizzing shafts, drawing and loosing marvellous fast.
So came they at last unto the gates of Belsaye town that were already
a-throng with many wounded and divers others of Sir Benedict's company
that had won out of the affray; now upon the drawbridge Beltane paused
and gave Sir Benedict and brave Hacon into kindly, eager hands, then,
wheeling, with Ulf and Roger beside him, rode back toward the battle.
And ever as they went came scattered groups of Sir Benedict's stout
rear-guard, staggering with weariness and limping with wounds, the
while, upon the plain beyond, Eric with his men-at-arms and Walkyn with
the survivors of the foresters and Giles with his archers and pikemen,
holding the foe in play, fell back upon the town, compact and orderly.
Thus, they in turn began to cross the drawbridge, archers and pikemen,
and last of all, the men-at-arms, until only Eric o' the Noose and a
handful of his horsemen, with Beltane, Roger and Ulf remained beyond
the drawbridge, whereon the enemy came on amain and 'neath their
furious onset brave Eric was unhorsed; then Beltane drew sword and with
Roger and Ulf running at either stirrup, spurred in to the rescue.
A shock of hard-smitten steel--a whirl and flurry of blows--a shout of
triumph, and, reeling in his saddle, dazed and sick, Beltane found
himself alone, fronting a bristling line of feutred lances; he heard
Roger shout to him wild and fearful, heard Walkyn roar at him--felt a
sudden shock, and was down, unhelmed, and pinned beneath his stricken
charger. Half a-swoon he lay thus, seeing dimly the line of on-rushing
lance-points, while on his failing senses a fierce cry smote:
"'Tis Beltane--the Outlaw! Slay him! Slay him!"
But now of a sudden and as one that dreamed, he beheld a tender face
above him with sad-sweet eyes and lips that bent to kiss his brow, felt
soft arms about him--tender arms that drew his weary head upon a
gentle bosom to hide and pillow it there; felt that enfolding embrace
tighten and tighten in sudden shuddering spasm, as, sighing, the lady
Abbess's white-clad arms fell away and her proud head sank beside his
in the dust.
And now was a rush and roar of fierce voices as over them sprang Roger
and Giles with Ulf and Eric, and, amid the eddying dust, axe and sword
swung and smote, while came hands strong yet tender, that bare Beltane
into the city.
Now beyond the gate of the city was a well and beside the well they
laid Beltane and bathed him with the sweet cool water, until at length
the mist vanished from his sight and thus he beheld the White Abbess
who lay upon a pile of cloaks hard by. And beholding the deadly pallor
of lip and cheek, the awful stains that spotted her white robe and the
fading light in those sad-sweet eyes, Beltane cried aloud--a great and
bitter cry, and fell before her on his knees.
"Mother!" he groaned, "O my mother!"
"Dear my Beltane," she whispered faintly, striving to kiss his hand,
"death is none so--painful, so grieve not thine heart for me, sweet
son. And how may a mother--die better than for her own--beloved son?
Beltane, if God--O if God in His infinite mercy--shall think me worthy
--to be--one of His holy angels, then will I be ever near thee when thy
way proveth dark--to comfort thee--to aid thee. O dear my son--I
sought thee so long--so long--'tis a little hard to leave thee--so
soon. But--God's will--fare thee well, I die--aye--this is death,
methinks. Beltane, tell thy father that I--O--dear my--my Beltane--"
So died the gracious lady Abbess that had been the proud Yolande,
Duchess of Pentavalon, wept and bemoaned by full many who had known
her tender care; and, in due season, she was laid to rest within the
fair Minster of Belsaye. And thereafter, Beltane took to his bed and
abode there many days because of his wounds and by reason of his so
great sorrow and heart-break.
But, that night, through the dark hours was strange stir and hum beyond
the walls of Belsaye, and, when the dawn broke, many a stout heart
quailed and many a cheek blanched to see a great camp whose fortified
lines encompassed the city on all sides, where lay Ivo the Black Duke
to besiege them.
TELLETH SOMEWHAT OF THE WOES OF GILES O' THE BOW
Six days and nights my Beltane kept his bed, seeing and speaking to no
man; and it is like he would have died but for the fostering care of
the good Friar Martin who came and went softly about him, who watched
and tended and prayed over him long and silently but who, perceiving
his heart-sickness, spake him not at all. Day in and day out Beltane
lay there, heedless of all but his great sorrow, sleeping little and
eating less, his face hid in his pillow or turned to the wall, and in
all this time he uttered no word nor shed a single tear.
His wounds healed apace but his soul had taken a deeper hurt, and day
and night he sorrowed fiercely for his noble mother, wherefore he lay
thus, heeding nought but his great grief. But upon the seventh night,
he dreamed she stood beside his couch, tall and fair and gracious, and
looked down on him, the mother-love alight within her sweet, sad eyes.
Now within her hand she bare his sword and showed him the legend graven
upon the bright steel:
And therewith she smiled wondrous tender and put the great weapon into
his grasp; then stooped and kissed him, and, pointing upward with her
finger, was gone.
And now within his sleep his anguished heart found solacement in slow
and burning tears, and, sleeping yet, he wept full bitterly, insomuch
that, sobbing, he awoke. And lo! beneath his right hand was the touch
of cold steel and his fingers clenched tight upon the hilt of his great
Then my Beltane arose forthwith, and finding his clothes near by, clad
himself and did on his mail, and, soft-treading, went forth of his
narrow chamber. Thus came he where Friar Martin lay, deep-breathing in
his slumber, and waking him not, he passed out into the dawn. And in
the dawn was a gentle wind, very cool and grateful, that touched his
burning brow and eyes like a caress; now looking up to heaven, where
stars were paling to the dawn, Beltane raised the hilt of his sword
and pressed it to his lips.
"O blessed mother!" he whispered, "God hath surely found thee worthy to
be one of His holy angels, so hast thou stooped from heaven to teach to
me my duty. Thus now will I set by my idle grieving for thee, sweet
saint, and strive to live thy worthy son--O dear my mother, who, being
dead, yet liveth!"
Then Beltane sheathed his sword and went softly up the narrow stair
that led to the battlements.
It was a bleak dawn, full of a thick, low-lying mist beyond the walls,
but within this mist, to north and south and east and west, was a faint
stir, while, ever and anon, rose the distant cry of some sentinel
within Duke Ivo's sleeping camp, a mighty camp whose unseen powers held
the fair city in deadly grip. In Belsaye nothing stirred and none waked
at this dead hour save where, high on the bartizan above the square and
mighty keep, the watchman paced to and fro, while here and there from
curtain wall and massy tower, spear-head and bascinet gleamed.
Slow and light of foot Beltane climbed the narrow stair that led up to
one of the two square towers that flanked the main gate, but, being
come thither, he paused to behold Giles, who chancing to be captain of
the watch, sat upon a pile of great stones beside a powerful mangonel
or catapult and stared him dolefully upon the lightening east: full oft
sighed he, and therewith shook despondent head and even thus fell he to
soft and doleful singing, groaning to himself 'twixt each verse, on
"She will not heed her lover's moan,
His moped tear, his deep-fetched groan,
So doth he sit, and here alone
("With three curses on this foul mist!)
"The little fishes fishes woo,
Birds blithe on bough do bill and coo,
But lonely I, with sad ado
("And may Saint Anthony's fire consume Bernard, the merchant's round,
"'Tis sure a maid was made for man,
'Twas e'en so since the world began,
Yet doleful here, I only can
("And may the blessed saints have an eye upon her tender slumbers!")
Here Giles paused to sigh amain, to fold his arms, to cross his legs,
to frown and shake gloomy head; having done the which, he took breath
and sang again as followeth:--
"Alack-a-day, alas and woe!
Would that Genevra fair might know
'Tis for her love Giles of the Bow
But now, chancing to turn and espy Beltane, Giles fell suddenly
abashed, his comely face grew ruddy 'neath its tan and he sprang very
nimbly to his feet:
"Ha, tall brother--good brother," he stammered, "noble lord, God den to
ye--hail and good morrow! Verily and in faith, by Saint Giles (my
patron saint, brother) I do rejoice to see thee abroad again, as will
our surly Rogerkin that doth gloom and glower for thee and hath hung
about thy chamber door morn and noon and night, and our noble Sir
Benedict and Walkyn--but none more unfeignedly than Giles that doth
grow glad because of thee--"
"That is well," quoth Beltane, seating himself upon the battlement,
"for verily thy song was vastly doleful, Giles!"
"My song, lord, my song? Ha--hum! O verily, my song is a foolish song
or the song of a fool, for fool am I, forsooth--a love-lorn fool; a
doleful fool, a very fool of fools, that in my foolish folly hath set
his foolish heart on thing beyond reach of such base fool as I. In a
word, tall brother, I'm a fool, _videlicet_--a lover!"
"Truly, hast the speech and outward seeming of your approved lover,
Giles," nodded Beltane.
"Aye, verily!" sighed Giles, "aye, verily--behold my beard, I have had
no heart to trim it this sennight! Alack, I--I that was so point-de-vice
am like to become a second Diogenes (a filthy fellow that never washed
and lived in a foul tub!). As for food, I eat no more than the
chameleon that doth fill its belly with air and nought else, foolish
beast! I, that was wont to be a fair figure of a man do fall away to
skin and bone, daily, hourly, minute by minute--behold this leg, tall
brother!" And Giles thrust out a lusty, mailed limb. "Here was a leg
once--a proper shapely leg to catch a woman's eye--see how it hath
shrunk, nay, faith, 'tis hidden in mine armour! But verily, my shanks
will soon be no thicker than my bowstave! Lastly I--I that loved
company and good cheer do find therein abomination these days, so do I
creep, like moulting fowl, brother, to corners dark and dismal and
there make much ado--and such is love, O me!"
"Doth the maid know of thy love?"
"Nay lord, good lack, how should she?--who am I to speak of it? She is
a fair lady and noble, a peerless virgin, while I--I am only Giles--
poor Giles o' the Bow, after all!"
"Truly, love is teaching thee wisdom, Giles," said Beltane, smiling.
"Indeed, my lord, my wisdom teacheth me this--that were I the proudest
and noblest in the land yet should I be unworthy!" and Giles shook
miserable head and sighed again full deep.
"Who is she, Giles?"
"She is Genevra, daughter to the Reeve! And the Reeve is a great man in
Belsaye and gently born, alas! And with coffers full of good broad
pieces. O would she were a beggar-maid, the poorest, the meanest, then
might I woo her for mine own. As it is, I can but look and sigh--for
speak me her I dare not--ha, and there is a plump fellow!" Here Giles
clenched bronzed fist. "A round and buxom fellow he, a rich merchant's
son doth woo her boldly, may speak with her, may touch her hand! So do
I ofttimes keep him shooting at the butts by the hour together and
therein do make me some small amend. Yet daily do I mope and pine, and
pine and mope--O tall brother, a most accursed thing is this love--and
dearer than my life, heigho!"
"Nay, pluck up thy heart, thou'rt a man, Giles."
"Aye, verily, but she is a maid, brother, therein lieth vasty
difference, and therefore do I fear her for her very sweetness and
purity--fear her? Faith, my knees do knock at sound of her voice, her
very step doth set me direly a-tremble. For she is so fair--so pure and
nigh the angels, that I--alack! I have ever been a something light
fellow in matters of love--forget not I was bred a monk, noble brother!
Thus, brother, a moping owl, I--a very curst fellow, gloomy and silent
as the grave, saving my breath for sighs and groans and curses fell,
wherefore I have builded me a 'mockery' above the wall and there-from
do curse our foes, as only a churchman may, brother."
"Nay, how mean you, Giles?" questioned Beltane, staring.
"Follow me, lord, and I will show thee!" So saying, Giles led the way
down to the battlement above the great gates, where was a thing like
unto a rough pulpit, builded of massy timbers, very stout and strong,
and in these timbers stood many arrows and cross-bow bolts.
"Here, lord," quoth Giles, "behold my 'mockery' wherefrom it is my wont
and custom to curse our foes thrice daily. The which is a right good
strategy, brother, in that my amorous anguish findeth easement and I do
draw the enemy's shafts, for there is no man that heareth my
contumacious dictums but he forthwith falleth into rageful fury, and an
angry fellow shooteth ever wide o' the mark, brother. Thus, thrice
daily do we gather a full sheaf of their ill-sped shafts, whereby we
shall not lack for arrows an they besiege us till Gabriel's trump--
heigho! Thus do I live by curses, for, an I could not curse, then would
my surcharged heart assuredly in sunder burst--aye me!"
Now whiles they sat thus in talk, up rose the sun, before whose joyous
beams the stealthy mists slunk away little by little, until Beltane
beheld Duke Ivo's mighty camp--long lines of tents gay with fluttering
pennon and gonfalon, of huts and booths set well out of bowshot behind
the works of contravallation--stout palisades and barriers with
earthworks very goodly and strong. And presently from among these
booths and tents was the gleam and glitter of armour, what time from
the waking host a hum and stir arose, with blare and fanfare of trumpet
to usher in the day: and in a while from the midst of the camp came the
faint ring and tap of many hammers.
Now as the mists cleared, looking thitherward, Beltane stared wide-eyed
to behold wooden towers in course of building, with the grim shapes of
many powerful war-engines whose mighty flying-beams and massy
supporting-timbers filled him with great awe and wonderment.
"Ha!" quoth Giles, "they work apace yonder, and by Saint Giles they
lack not for engines; verily Black Ivo is a master of siege tactics--
but so is Giles, brother! See where he setteth up his mangonels,
trebuchets, perriers and balistae, with bossons or rams, towers and
cats, in the use of the which he is right cunning--but so also is
Giles, brother! And verily, though your mangonels and trebuchets are
well enough, yet for defence the balista is weapon more apt, methinks,
as being more accurate in the shooting and therefore more deadly--how
think you, lord?"
"Indeed Giles, being a forester I could scarce tell you one from
"Ha--then you'll know nought of their nature and use, lord?"
"Nought, Giles. Ne'er have I seen their like until now."
"Say ye so, brother?" cried Giles full eager, his brown eyes a-kindle,
"say ye so in very truth? Then--an it be so thy wish--I might instruct
thee vastly, for there is no man in the world to-day shall discourse
you more fluent and learned upon siege-craft, engines and various
tormenta than I. So--an it be thy wish, lord--?"
"It is my wish: say on, Giles."
"Why then firstly, lord, firstly we have the great Mangon or mangonel,
_fundis fundibula_, that some do also term _catapultum_, the which
worketh by torsion and shall heave you great stones of the bigness of a
man fully two hundred yards an it be dry weather; next is the
Trebuchet, like to the mangon save that it swingeth by counterpoise;
next cometh the Balista or Springald that worketh by tension--a pretty
weapon! and shall shoot you dart or javelin so strong as shall
transpierce you six lusty fellows at a time, hauberk and shield, like
so many fowl upon a spit--very sweet to behold, brother! Then have we
the Bore or Cat that some again do name _musculus_ or mouse for that it
gnaweth through thick walls--and some do call this hog, sow, _scrofa_
or _sus_, brother, and some again, _vulpes_.
"And this Cat is a massy pole that beareth a great and sharp steel
point, the which, being mounted within a pent-house, swingeth merrily
to and fro, much like to a ram, brother, and shall blithely pick you a
hole through stone and mortar very pleasing to behold. Then we have
the Ram, _cancer testudo_, that battereth; next we have the Tower or
Beffroi that goeth on wheels--yonder you shall see them a-building. And
these towers, moving forward against your city, shall o'ertop the walls
and from them archers and cross-bowmen may shoot into your town what
time their comrades fill up and dam your moat until the tower may come
close unto your walls. And these towers, being come against the wall,
do let fall drawbridges over which the besiegers may rush amain and
carry your walls by assault. Lastly, there be Mantlets--stakes wattled
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