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Beltane The Smith by Jeffery Farnol

Part 11 out of 11

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shall see the woods alight with--the gleam of their armour!"

Nothing saying, Beltane arose and went soft-treading from the chamber,
past the blood and horror of the breach, and climbing the flanking
tower beside the gate, looked to the north. And there he beheld a
mighty company that marched forth of the woods, rank upon rank, whose
armour, flashing in the early sun, made a dazzling splendour against
the green. Company by company they mustered on the plain, knights and
men-at-arms with footmen and archers beyond count.

And presently, before this deep array, two standards were advanced--a
white banner whereon was a red lion and a banner on whose blue ground
black leopards were enwrought.

Now as Beltane gazed upon this glorious host he felt a gentle hand
touch him and turning, beheld the Duchess Helen, and her cheek showed
pale with her long night vigil.

"My Beltane," said she, flushing 'neath his regard, "lord Duke of
Mortain, behold yonder thy goodly powers of Mortain that shall do thy
bidding henceforth--look yonder, my lord Duke!"

"Duke!" quoth Beltane, "Duke of Mortain--forsooth, and am I so indeed?
I had forgot this quite, in thy beauty, my Helen, and did but know that
I had to wife one that I do love beyond all created things. And now,
beloved, thy sweet eyes do tell me thy night was sleepless."

"Mine eyes--ah, look not on them, Beltane, for well I know these poor
eyes be all red and swollen with weeping for thee--though indeed I
bathed them ere I sought thee--"

"Sweet eyes of love!" said he, setting his arm about her, "come let me
kiss them!"

"Ah, no, Beltane, look yonder--behold where salvation cometh--"

"I had rather look where my salvation lieth, within these dear eyes--
nay, abase them not. And didst weep for me, and wake for me, my Helen?"

"I was so--so fearful for thee, my lord."

"Aye, and what more?"

"And very sorrowful--"

"Aye, and what more?"


"Aye, sweet my wife--but what more?"

"And--very lonely, Beltane--"

Then my Beltane caught her close and kissed her full long, until she
struggled in his embrace and slipping from him, stood all flushed and
breathless and shy-eyed. But of a sudden she caught his hand and
pointed where, before the glittering ranks of Mortain's chivalry, a
herald advanced.

"Look, Beltane," she said, "oh, look and tell me who rideth yonder!"

Now behind this herald two knights advanced, the one in glittering
armour whose shield was resplendent with many quarterings, but
beholding his companion, Beltane stared in wondering awe; for lo! he
saw a tall man bedight in sable armour who bore a naked sword that
flashed in the sun and who bestrode a great, white charger. And because
of Friar Martin's dying words, Beltane stood awed and full of amaze.

Nearer and nearer they came until all men might read the cognizance
upon the first knight's resplendent shield and know him for one Sir
Jocelyn, lord of Alain, but his companion they knew not, since neither
charge nor blazon bore he of any sort. Of a sudden the herald set
clarion to lip and blew a challenge that was taken up and answered from
within the camp, and forth came Duke Ivo, bare-headed in his armour
and with knights attendant, who, silencing the heralds with a gesture,
spake loud and fierce.

"Sir Jocelyn, lord of Alain, why come ye against me in arms and so
ungently arrayed, wherefore come ye in such force, and for what?"

Then answered Sir Jocelyn:

"My lord Ivo, thou wert upon a time our honoured guest within Mortain,
thou didst with honeyed word and tender phrase woo our fair young
Duchess to wife. But--and heed this, my lord!--when Helen the
Beautiful, the Proud, did thy will gainsay, thou didst in hearing of
divers of her lords and counsellors vow and swear to come one day and
seek her with flaming brands. So here to-day stand I and divers other
gentles of Mortain--in especial this right noble lord--to tell thee
that so long as we be men ne'er shalt set foot across our marches.
Lastly, we are hither come to demand the safe conduct from Belsaye of
our lady Duchess Helen, and such of the citizens as may choose to
follow her."

"So!" quoth Duke Ivo, smiling and fingering his long, blue chin, "'tis
war ye do force on me, my lord of Alain?"

"Nay, messire," answered Sir Jocelyn, "that must be asked of this sable
knight--for he is greater than I, and leadeth where I do but follow."

Now hereupon the black knight paced slowly forward upon his great,
white horse nor stayed until he came close beside Duke Ivo. Then
reining in his charger, he lifted his vizor and spake in voice deep and

"O thou that men call Ivo the Duke, look upon this face--behold these
white hairs, this lined brow! Bethink thee of the innocent done to
cruel death by thy will, the fair cities given to ravishment and flame--
and judge if this be just and sufficient cause for war, and bitter
war, betwixt us!"

Now beholding the face of the speaker, his proud and noble bearing, his
bold eyes fierce and bright and the grim line of nose and chin, Duke
Ivo blenched and drew back, the smile fled from his lip, and he stared
wide of eye and breathless.

"Beltane!" quoth he at last, "Beltane--ha! methought thee dusty bones
these many years--so it is war, I judge?"

For answer Duke Beltane lifted on high the long sword he bore.

"Ivo," said he, "the cries and groans of my sorrowful and distressed
people have waked me from my selfish griefs at last--so am I come for
vengeance on their innocent blood, their griefs and wrongs so long
endured of thee. This do I swear thee, that this steel shall go
unsheathed until I meet thee in mortal combat--and ere this sun be set
one of us twain shall be no more."

"Be it so," answered Black Ivo, "this night belike I shall hang thee
above the ruins of Belsaye yonder, and thy son with thee!" So saying,
he turned about and chin on fist rode into his camp, where was mounting
and mustering in hot haste.

"Beltane," spake the Duchess, clasping Beltane's hand, "dost know at

"Aye," answered he with eyes aglow, "But how cometh my noble father

"I sought him out in Holy Cross Thicket, Beltane. I told him of thy
valiant doings and of thy need of instant aid, and besought him to take
up arms for thee and for me and for dear Mortain, and to lead my army

But Beltane, falling before her on his knee spake quick and passionate:

"O Helen--Helen the Beautiful! without thee I had been nought, and less
than nought! Without thee, Pentavalon had groaned yet 'neath cruel
wrong! Without thee--O without thee, my Helen, I were a thing lost and
helpless in very truth!"

Now hereupon, being first and foremost a woman, young and loving and
passionate, needs must she weep over him a little and stoop to cherish
his golden head on her bosom, and holding it thus sweetly pillowed, to
kiss him full oft and thereafter loose him and blush and sigh and turn
from his regard, all sweet and shy demureness like the very maid she

Whereat Beltane, forgetful of all but her loveliness, heedful of nought
in the world but her warm young beauty, rose up from his knees and,
trembling-mute with love, would have caught her to his eager arms; but
of a sudden cometh Giles, breathless--hasting up the narrow stair and,
all heedless of his lord, runneth to fling himself upon his knees
before the Duchess, to catch her robe and kiss it oft.

"O dear and gracious lady!" he cried, "Genevra hath told me! And is it
true thou hast promised me a place within thy court at fair Mortain--is
it true thou wilt lift me up that I may wed with one so much o'er me in
station--is it true thou wilt give me my Genevra, my heart's desire--
all unworthy though I be--I--O--" And behold! Giles's ready tongue
faltered for very gratitude and on each tanned cheek were bright,
quick-falling tears.

"Giles," said she, "thou wert true and faithful to my lord when his
friends were few, so methinks thou should'st be faithful and true to
thy sweet Genevra--so will I make thee Steward and Bailiff of Mortain
an my lord is in accord--"

"Lord," quoth Giles brokenly, "ere thou dost speak, beseech thee hear
this. I have thought on thy saying regarding my past days--and grieved
sorely therefore. Now an ye do think my shameful past beyond
redemption, if these arms be too vile to clasp her as my wife, if my
love shall bring her sorrow or shame hereafter, then--because I do
truly love her--I will see her no more; I will--leave her to love one
more worthy than I. And this I do swear thee, master--on the cross!"

Quoth Beltane:

"Giles, he that knoweth himself unworthy, if that his love be a true
love, shall by that love make himself, mayhap, worthier than most. He
that loveth so greatly that in his love base self is forgot--such a
man, methinks, doth love in God-like fashion. So shall it be as my lady
hath said."

Then Giles arose, and wiping off his tears strove to speak his thanks
but choked upon a sob instead, and turning, hasted down the turret

Now presently within the city Sir Benedict's trumpets Hew, and looking
from the battlement Beltane beheld Sir Hacon mustering their stout
company, knights and men-at-arms, what time Roger and Walkyn and Ulf
ordered what remained of their pikemen and archers.

"Beloved!" sighed Beltane, drawing his Duchess within his arm, "see
yonder, 'tis horse and saddle--soon must I leave thee again."

Now did she sigh amain, and cling to him and droop her lovely head, yet
when she spake her words were brave:

"My Beltane, this love of mine is such that I would not have thee fail
in duty e'en though this my heart should break--but ah! husband, stay
yet a little longer, I--I have been a something lonely wife hitherto,
and I--do hate loneliness, Beltane--" A mailed foot sounded upon the
stone stair and, turning about, they beheld a knight in resplendent
armour, blazoned shield slung before.

"Greeting to thee, my lord Duke of Mortain, and to thy lovely lady
wife," spake a cheery voice, and the speaker, lifting his vizor,
behold! it was Sir Benedict. "I go in mine own armour to-day, Beltane,
that haply thy noble father shall know me in the press. Ha, see where
he ordereth his line, 'twas ever so his custom, I mind me--in four
columns with archers betwixt. Mark me now lad, I have brought thee here
a helm graced with these foolish feathers as is the new fashion--white
feathers, see you--that my lady's sweet eyes may follow thee in the

"For that, dear Benedict," cried she, "for that shalt kiss me, so off
with thy great helm!" Forthwith Sir Benedict did off his casque, and
stooping, kissed her full-lipped, and meeting Beltane's eye, flushed
and laughed and was solemn all in a moment.

"Ah, Beltane, dear lad," quoth he, "I envy thee and grieve for thee! To
possess such a maid to wife--and to leave her--so soon! May God bring
thee safe again to her white arms. Ah, youth is very sweet, lad, and
love--true love is youth's fair paradise and--body o' me, there sound
our tuckets! See where Ivo formeth his main battle--and yonder he
posteth a goodly company to shut us up within the city. So must we wait
a while until the battle joins--thy noble father is wondrous wise in
war--O verily he hath seen, behold how he altereth his array! O wise

Now Duke Ivo threw out a screen of archers and horsemen to harass the
powers of Mortain what time he formed his battle in three great
companies, a deep and formidable array of knights and men-at-arms whose
tall lances rose, a very forest, with pennons and banderols a-flutter
in the gentle wind of morning. Far on the left showed the banner of
his marshal Sir Bors; above his right battle flew the Raven banner of
Sir Pertolepe the Red, and above his main battle rose his own standard--
a black lion on a red field. So mustered he his powers of Pentavalon,
gay with stir of pennons and rich trappings; the sun flashed back from
ponderous casques and bascinets innumerable and flamed on blazoned
shields. And beholding their might and confident bearing, Beltane
clenched nervous hands and his mouth grew hard and grim, so turned he
from this formidable host to where, just beyond the woods, his father's
banner flew beside the leopards of Mortain. Conspicuous upon his white
charger he beheld Duke Beltane, a proud and warlike figure, who sat his
stamping war-horse deep in converse with Sir Jocelyn, while behind were
the dense ranks of Mortain. Suddenly, Sir Jocelyn wheeled his charger
and galloped along Mortain's front, his rich armour glittering, until
he halted at the head of that knightly company posted upon the left.

Meantime, Black Ivo's archers advancing, fell into arrow formation and
began to ply the Mortain ranks with clouds of shafts and bolts 'neath
which divers men and horses fell--what time Black Ivo's massed columns
moved slowly forward to the attack--yet Duke Beltane, sitting among his
knights, stirred not, and the army of Mortain abode very silent and
still. But of a sudden Duke Beltane wheeled his horse, his sword
flashed on high, whereat trumpets brayed and on the instant Sir Jocelyn
wheeled off to the left, he and all his company, and gathering speed
began to skirt Duke Ivo's advanced pikemen and archers, and so rode
down upon those men of Pentavalon who were drawn up against Belsaye.
Hereupon Black Ivo would have launched a counter-charge to check Sir
Jocelyn's attack, but his advanced lines of cross-bowmen and archers
hampered him. Once again Duke Beltane's sword flashed up, the first
line of Mortain's great array leapt forward and with levelled lances
thundered down upon Black Ivo's ranks, scattering and trampling down
his archers; but as they checked before the serried pikes behind, forth
galloped Duke Beltane's second line and after this a third--
o'erwhelming Ivo's pikemen by their numbers, and bursting over and
through their torn ranks, reformed, and, spurring hard, met Ivo's rank
with crashing shock in full career. And, behind this raging battle,
Duke Beltane rode at the head of his reserves, keen-eyed and watchful,
what time Sir Jocelyn was hotly engaged upon the left, nigh unto the
town itself.

"Ah, Beltane!" sighed the Duchess, shivering and covering her face--
"'tis horrible, horrible--see how they fall!"

"Nay, my brave Fidelis, heed rather how valiant Sir Jocelyn and his
knights drive in their advanced lines--ha! Benedict, see how he breaks
their array--an he can but turn their flank--"

"Nay, Beltane--yonder cometh the Raven banner where Pertolepe spurreth
in support--"

"Aye, but yonder doth my father launch yet another charge--ha!
Benedict, let us out and aid them--the way lieth open beyond the
drawbridge an we can but turn Ivo's flank!" quoth Beltane looking ever
upon the battle, "O, methinks the time is now, Benedict!"

With Helen's soft hand a-tremble in his, Beltane hasted down from the
tower and Sir Benedict followed, until they were come to the square
where, amid the joyful acclaim of the populace, their small and hardy
following were drawn up; and, as they came, from townsfolk and soldiery
a shout arose:

"Beltane--the Duke--the Duke!"

"My lord Duke of Mortain," quoth Sir Benedict, "I and thy company do
wait thee to lead us."

But Beltane smiled and shook his head.

"Not so, my lord of Bourne, thou art so cunning in war and hast led us
so valiantly and well--shalt lead us to this battle, the which I pray
God shall be our last! As for me, this day will I march with the
foresters--so mount, my lord."

Hereupon, from foresters, from knights and men-at-arms another shout
arose what time Sir Benedict, having knelt to kiss the Duchess Helen's
white hand, found it woefully a-tremble.

"Alas, my lady Helen," said he, "methinks thine is the harder part this
day. God strengthen thy wifely heart, for God, methinks, shall yet
bring him to thine embrace!" So saying, Sir Benedict mounted and rode
to the head of his lances, where flew his banner. "Unbar the gates!" he
cried. And presently the great gates of Belsaye town swung wide, the
portcullis clanked up, the drawbridge fell, and thus afar off they
beheld where, 'mid swirling dust-cloud the battle raged fierce and

And behold a sorry wight who hobbled toward them on a crutch, so begirt
and bandaged that little was to see of him but bright eyes.

"O Sir Hacon!" cried the Duchess, "did I not bid thee to thy bed?"

"Why truly, dear my lady, but since I may not go forth myself, fain
would I see my good comrades ride into the battle--faith, methinks I
might yet couch a lance but for fear of this thy noble lady, my lord
Beltane--aye me, this shall be a dismal day for me, methinks!"

"Nay, then I will keep thee company, good Sir Hacon!" smiled the
Duchess a little tremulously, "shalt watch with me from the bartizan
and tell me how the day goeth with us."

And now Sir Benedict lifted aloft his lance, the trumpet sounded, and
with ring and tramp he with his six hundred knights and men-at-arms
rode forth of the market-square, clattering through the narrow street,
thundering over the drawbridge, and, forming in the open, spurred away
into the battle.

Then Beltane sighed, and kneeling, kissed his lady's white hands:

"Beloved," spake he low-voiced, "e'en now must I go from thee, but
howsoever fortune tend--thine am I through life--aye, and beyond."

"Beltane," she whispered 'twixt quivering lips, "O loved Beltane, take
heed to thy dear body, cover thee well with thy shield since thy hurts
are my hurts henceforth and with thee thou dost bear my heart--O risk
not my heart to death without good cause!" So she bent and kissed him
on the brow: but when he would have risen, stayed him. "Wait, my lord!"
she whispered and turning, beckoned to one behind her, and lo! Genevra
came forward bearing a blue banner.

"My lord," said the Duchess, "behold here thy banner that we have
wrought for thee, Genevra and I."

So saying, she took the banner and gave it into Beltane's mailed hand.
But as he arose, and while pale-cheeked Genevra, hands clasped upon
the green scarf at her bosom, looked wet-eyed where the archers stood
ranked, forth stepped Giles and spake quick and eager.

"Lord!" said he, "to-day methinks will be more hard smiting than chance
for good archery, wherefore I do pray let me bear thy standard in the
fight--ne'er shall foeman touch it whiles that I do live--lord, I pray

"Be it so, Giles!" So Giles took the banner whiles Beltane fitted on
his great, plumed helm; thereafter comes Roger with his shield and Ulf
leading his charger whereon he mounted forthwith, and wheeling, put
himself at the head of his pikemen and archers, with Roger and Ulf
mounted on either flank and Giles bestriding another horse behind.

Yet now needs must he turn to look his last upon the Duchess standing
forlorn, and beholding the tender passion of her tearless eyes he
yearned mightily to kiss them, and sighed full deep, then, giving the
word, rode out and away, the blue standard a-dance upon the breeze; but
his heart sank to hear the clash and clang of gate and portcullis,
shutting away from him her that was more to him than life itself.

Now when they had gone some way needs must he look back at Belsaye, its
battered walls, its mighty towers; and high upon the bartizan he beheld
two figures, the one be-swathed in many bandages, and one he knew who
prayed for him, even then; and all at once wall and towers and distant
figures swam in a mist of tears wherefore he closed his bascinet, yet
not before Giles had seen--Giles, whose merry face was grim now and
hard-set, and from whose bright bascinet a green veil floated.

"Lord," said he, blinking bright eyes, "we have fought well ere now,
but to-day methinks we shall fight as ne'er we fought in all our days."

"Aye," nodded Beltane, "verily, Giles, methinks we shall!"

Thus saying, he turned and looked upon the rolling battle-dust and
settling his feet within the stirrups, clenched iron fingers upon his
long sword.



All day long the din and thunder of battle had roared upon the plain;
all day the Duchess Helen with Sir Hacon at her side had watched the
eddying dust-clouds rolling now this way, now that, straining anxious
eyes to catch the gleam of a white plume or the flutter of the blue
banner amid that dark confusion. And oft she heard Sir Hacon mutter
oaths half-stifled, and oft Sir Hacon had heard snatches of her
breathless prayers as the tide of battle swung to and fro, a desperate
fray whence distant shouts and cries mingled in awful din. But now, as
the sun grew low, the close-locked fray began to roll southwards fast
and ever faster, a mighty storm of eddying dust wherein armour gleamed
and steel glimmered back and forth, as Duke Ivo and his proud array
fell back and back on their last stronghold of Pentavalon City.
Whereupon Sir Hacon, upon the bartizan, cursed no more, but forgetful
of his many wounds, waxed jubilant instead.

"Now, by Holy Rood!" he cried, "see, lady--they break--they break!
'Twas that last flanking onset! None but Beltane the Strong could have
marshalled that last charge--drawing on Black Ivo to attempt his
centre, see you, and crushing in his flanks--so needs must their main
battle fall back or meet attack on two sides! Oho, a wondrous crafty
leader is Duke Beltane the Strong! See--ha, see now how fast he driveth
them--and southward--southward on Pentavalon town!"

"So do I thank God, but see how many--O how many do lie fallen by the

"Why, in battle, most gentle lady, in battle men must needs fall or
wherefore should battles be? Much have I seen of wars, lady, but ne'er
saw eyes sterner fray than this--"

"And I pray God," spake the Duchess, shivering, "these eyes may ne'er
look upon another! O 'tis hateful sight--see--look yonder!" and she
pointed where from the awful battle-wrack reeled men faint with wounds
while others dragged themselves painfully across the trampled ground.

"Why, 'twas a bloody business!" quoth the knight, shaking his bandaged

"Sir Hacon," said the Duchess, frowning and pale, "I pray you summon me
the Reeve, yonder." And when the Reeve was come, she spake him very
soft and sweet:

"Messire, I pray you let us out and aid the poor, stricken souls

"But lady, the battle is not yet won--to open our gates were unwise,

"Good Reeve, one died but lately whom all men loved, but dying, Friar
Martin spake these words--'I see Belsaye rich and happy, her gates ever
open to the woeful and distressed.' Come, ope the gates and let us out
to cherish these afflicted."

Thus presently forth from Belsaye rode the Duchess Helen, with Sir
Hacon beside her and many of the townsfolk, hasting pale-cheeked and
trembling to minister unto the hurt and dying, and many there were that
day who sighed out their lives in blessings on her head.

But meantime the battle roared, fierce and furious as ever, where Black
Ivo's stubborn ranks, beset now on three sides, gave back sullenly,
fighting step by step.

And amid the blood and dust, in the forefront of that raging tumult, a
torn and tattered blue banner rocked and swayed, where Beltane with
Giles at his right hand led on his grim foresters, their ranks woefully
thinned and with never a horse among them. But Roger was there, his
face besmeared with blood that oozed 'neath his dinted bascinet, and
Ulf was there, foul with slaughter, and there was Walkyn fierce and
grim, while side by side amid the trampling pikemen behind, Jenkyn and
Tall Orson fought. And presently to Beltane came Walkyn, pointing
eagerly to their left.

"Master," he cried, "yonder flaunteth Pertolepe's banner, beseech thee
let us make thitherward--"

"Not so," quoth Beltane, stooping 'neath the swing of a gisarm, "O
forget thy selfish vengeance, man, and smite but for Pentavalon this
day--her foes be many enow, God wot! Ho!" he roared, "they yield! they
yield! Close up pikes--in, in--follow me!" Forward leapt he with Roger
beside him and the blue banner close behind, and forward leapt those
hardy foresters where the enemy's reeling line strove desperately to
stand and re-form. So waxed the fight closer, fiercer; griping hands
fumbled at mailed throats and men, locked in desperate grapple, fell
and were lost 'neath the press; but forward went the tattered banner,
on and on until, checking, it reeled dizzily, dipped, swayed and
vanished; but Roger had seen and sprang in with darting point.

"Up, man," he panted, covering the prostrate archer with his shield,
"up, Giles, an ye can--we're close beset--"

"But we be here, look'ee Roger--'tis we, look'ee!" cried a voice

"Aye, it do be us!" roared another voice, and Roger's assailants were
borne back by a line of vicious-thrusting pikes.

"Art hurt, Giles?"

"Nay," quoth the archer, getting to unsteady legs, "but they've spoiled
me Genevra's veil, methinks--and our flag is something smirched, but,
as for me, I'll sing ye many a song yet!"

"Then here's twice I've saved thee, Giles, so art two accursed notches
from my--"

A mace beat Roger to his knees, but, ere his assailant could strike
again, Giles's broadsword rose and fell.

"So are we quits, good Roger!" he cried, "Ha, see--they break! On,
pikes, on! Bows and bills, sa-ha!"

Up rose the dust, forward swept the battle as Black Ivo's hosts gave
back before the might of Mortain; forward the blue banner reeled and
staggered where fought Beltane fierce and untiring, his long shield
hacked and dinted, his white plumes shorn away, while ever his hardy
foresters smote and thrust on flank and rear. Twice Black Roger fell
and twice Giles leapt 'twixt him and death, and perceiving his haggard
eyes and the pallor of his grimed and bloody cheek, roared at him in
fierce anxiety:

"Fall out, Roger, fall out and rest ye, man!"

"Not whiles I can stand, archer!"

"Art a fool, Roger."

"Belike I am, Giles--"

"And therefore do I love thee, Rogerkin! Ha, bear up man, yonder is
water--a muddy brook--"

"O blessed Saint Cuthbert!" panted Roger.

Now before them was a water-brook and beyond this brook Black Ivo's
harassed columns made a fierce and desperate rally what time they
strove to re-form their hard-pressed ranks; but from Duke Beltane's
midmost battle the trumpets brayed fierce and loud, whereat from a
thousand parched throats a hoarse cry rose, and chivalry and foot, the
men of Mortain charged with levelled lance, with goring pike, with
whirling axe and sword, and over and through and beyond the brook the
battle raged, sweeping ever southwards.

Presently before them the ground sloped sharply down, and while Beltane
shouted warning to those behind, his voice was drowned in sudden
trumpet-blast, and glancing to his left, he beheld at last all those
knights and men-at-arms who had ridden with his father in their reserve
all day--a glittering column, rank on rank, at whose head, his sable
armour agleam, his great, white charger leaping 'neath the spur, Duke
Beltane rode. Swift and sure the column wheeled and with lances couched
thundered down upon Black Ivo's reeling flank.

A crash, a sudden roaring clamour, and where had marched Black Ivo's
reserve of archers and pikemen was nought but a scattered rout. But on
rode Duke Beltane, his lion banner a-flutter, in and through the
enemy's staggering columns, and ever as he charged thus upon their
left, so charged Sir Jocelyn upon their right. Then Beltane leaned him
on his sword, and looking down upon the battle, bowed his head.

"Now praise be to God and his holy saints!" quoth he, "yonder is
victory at last!"

"Aye, master," said Roger hoarsely, "and yonder as the dust clears you
shall see the walls and towers of Pentavalon City!"

"And lord--lord," cried Walkyn, "yonder--in their rear--you shall see
Red Pertolepe's accursed Raven banner! Why tarry we here, lord? See,
their ranks break everywhere--'twill be hot-foot now for the city
gates--ha, let us on, master!"

"Aye, verily," quoth Beltane, looking westward, "it groweth to sunset
and the city is yet to storm. To your ranks, there--forward!"

Now as they advanced, Beltane beheld at last where, high above
embattled walls and towers, rose Pentavalon's mighty keep wherein he
had been born; and, remembering his proud and gentle mother, he drooped
his head and grieved; and bethinking him of his proud and gentle Helen,
he took fresh grip upon his sword, and lengthening his stride, looked
where Black Ivo's broken columns, weary with battle, grim with blood
and wounds, already began to ride 'neath the city's frowning gateway,
while hard upon their straggling rearguard Duke Beltane's lion banner
fluttered. A desperate hewing and thrusting in the narrow gateway, and
Black Ivo's shattered following were driven in and the narrow streets
and alleys of the town full of battle and slaughter. Street by street
the town was won until before them loomed the mighty keep of
Pentavalon's ducal stronghold. Outer and inner bailey were stormed and
so at last came they, a desperate, close-fighting company, into the
great tilt-yard before the castle.

Now of a sudden a shout went up and thereafter was a great quiet--a
silence wherein friend and foe, panting and weary, stood alike at gaze.
And amid this expectant hush the two Dukes of Pentavalon fronted each
other. No word said they, but, while all eyes watched them, each took
lance and riding to the extremity of the courtyard, wheeled, and
couching their lances, spurred fiercely against each other. And now men
held their breath to behold these two great knights, who, crouched low
in their saddles, met midway in full career with crash and splintering
shock of desperate onset. Duke Beltane reeled in his stirrups,
recovered, and leaning forward stared down upon his enemy, who,
prostrate on his back, slowly lifted gauntleted hand that, falling
weakly, clashed upon the stones--a small sound, yet plain to be heard
by reason of that breathless hush.

Slow and stiffly Duke Beltane dismounted, and reeling in his gait, came
and knelt beside Black Ivo and loosed off his riven helm. Thereafter,
slow and painfully, he arose, and looking round upon all men, spake

"God--hath judged--betwixt us this day!" said he, "and to-day--
methinks--He doth summon me--to judgment--" Even as he spake he lifted
his hands, struggling with the lacing of his helmet, staggered, and
would have fallen, wherefore Beltane sprang forward. Yet one there was
quicker than he, one whose goodly armour, smirched and battered, yet
showed the blazon of Bourne.

"Benedict!" quoth Duke Beltane feebly, "faithful wert thou to the last!
O Benedict, where is my noble son!"

"Father!" cried Beltane, "thou hast this day won Pentavalon from her
shame and misery!" But the Duke lay very still in their arms and spake
no word.

So, when they had uncovered his white head, they bore him tenderly into
the great banqueting hall and laid him on goodly couch and cherished
him with water and wine, wherefore, in a while, he opened swooning

"Beltane!" he whispered, "dear and noble son--thy manhood--hath belike
won thy father's soul to God's mercy. So do I leave thee to cherish all
those that--have known wrong and woe--by reason of my selfish life!
Dear son, bury me with thy--noble mother, but let me lie--at her feet,
Beltane. O had I been less selfish--in my sorrow! But God is merciful!
Benedict--kiss me--and thou, my Beltane--God calleth me--to rest. _In
manus tuas--Domine!_" Then Duke Beltane, that had been the Hermit
Ambrose, clasped his mailed hands and smiling wondrous glad and tender,
yielded his soul to God.

In a while Beltane came forth into the courtyard and beheld Sir Jocelyn
mustering their knightly prisoners in the ward below, for, with Black
Ivo's death, all resistance was ended. And now the trumpets blared,
rallying their various companies, but Beltane abode very full of
sorrowful thoughts. To him presently cometh Giles yet grasping the blue
standard befouled with dust and blood, the which he laid reverently at
Beltane's feet.

"Lord," said he, "my trust is ended. See, yonder standeth our company
of foresters!" and he pointed where a single rank of grimed and weary
men lay upon the hard flag-stones or leaned on their battered weapons.

"Giles--O Giles, is this all?"

"Aye, lord, we muster but seventy and one all told, and of these Tall
Orson lieth dead yonder in Jenkyn's arms, and Roger--poor Roger is
a-dying, methinks--and Ulf and Walkyn are not."

But even as he spake he turned and started, for, from the ward below a
hunting horn brayed feebly.

"'Tis our forester's rally, master!" quoth he, "and see--Jesu, what men
are these?" For into the courtyard, followed by many who gaped and
stared in wonderment, six men staggered, men hideously stained and
besplashed from head to foot, and foremost came two. And Walkyn was one
and Ulf the Strong the other.

Now as he came Walkyn stared in strange, wild fashion, and choked often
in his breathing, and his mailed feet dragged feebly, insomuch that he
would have fallen but for Ulf's mighty arm. Being come where Beltane
stood with Sir Benedict and many other wondering knights and nobles,
Walkyn halted and strove to speak but choked again instead. In one hand
bare he his great axe, and in the other a torn and stained war-cloak.

"Lord," quoth he in sobbing breaths, "a good day for thee--this--lord
Duke--a good day for Pentavalon--a joyous day--blessed day for me--
You'll mind they slew mother and father and sister, lord--brother and
wife and child? Empty-hearted was I and desolate therefore, but--to-day,
ha, to-day I die also, methinks. So, an ye will, lord Duke--keep
thou mine axe in memory--of Walkyn--'tis a goodly axe--hath served me
well today--behold!"

Now as he spake he loosed a corner of the war-cloak, and from its
grimed and ghastly folds there rolled forth into the red light of the
cleanly sun a thing that trundled softly across the pavement and
stopping, shewed a pallid face crowned with red hair, 'neath which upon
the brow, betwixt the staring eyes, was a jagged scar like to a cross.

Now while all men stared upon this direful thing, holding their
breaths, Walkyn laughed loud and high, and breaking from Ulf's clasp,
staggered to where it lay and pointed thereto with shaking finger.

"Behold!" he cried, "behold the head of Bloody Pertolepe!" Therewith he
laughed, and strove to kick it with feeble foot--but staggered instead,
and, loosing his axe, stretched wide his long arms and fell, face

"Bloody Pertolepe--is dead!" he cried, and choked; and choking--died.



It was not the piping of throstle or sweet-throated merle that had
waked my Beltane, who with slumberous eyes stared up at carven canopy,
round him upon rich arras, and down upon embroidered bed-covering and
silken pillow, while through the narrow lattice the young sun played
upon gilded roof-beam and polished floor. So lay Beltane, blinking
sleepy eyes and hearkening to a soft and melodious whistling from the
little garden below his casement.

Being thus heavy with sleep, he wondered drowsily what great content
was this that filled him, and wherefore? Wondering yet, he sighed, and
because of the sun's radiance, closed slumberous eyes again and would
have slept; but, of a sudden the whistling ceased, and a rich, sweet
voice fell to gentle singing.

"Hark! in the whisper of the wind
Love calleth thee away,
Each leaf a small, soft voice doth find,
Each pretty bird doth cry in kind,
O heart, haste north to-day."

Beltane sat up broad awake, for Blaen lay to the north, and in Blaen--
But Giles was singing on:

"Youth is quick to speed away,
But love abideth ever.
Fortune, though she smile to-day,
Fickle is and will not stay,
But true-love changeth never.

"The world doth change, as change it must,
But true-love changeth never.
Proud ambition is but dust,
The bow doth break, the sword doth rust,
But love abideth ever."

Beltane was leaning half out of the casement, of the which fact who so
unconscious as Giles, busily furbishing armour and bascinet.

"Giles!" he cried, "O Giles--rouse ye, man!"

"How, lord--art awake so early?" questioned Giles, looking up innocent
of eye.

"Was it not for this thou didst sing, rogue Giles? Go now, bid Roger
have three horses saddled, for within the hour we ride hence."

"To Mortain, lord?" questioned Giles eagerly.

"Aye, Giles, to Mortain--north to Blaen; where else should we ride

So saying, Beltane turned back into his sumptuous chamber and fell to
donning, not his habiliments of state, but those well-worn garments,
all frayed by his heavy mail. Swift dressed he and almost stealthily,
oft pausing to glance into the empty garden below, and oft staying to
listen to some sound within the massy building. And thus it was he
started to hear a soft knocking at the door, and turning, beheld Sir

"Forsooth, art up betimes, my lord Duke," quoth he, bright eyes
a-twinkle, "and verily I do commend this so great zeal in thee since
there be many and divers matters do need thy ducal attention--matters
of state and moment--"

"Matters of state?" saith Beltane, something troubled.

"There be many noble and illustrious lords come in to pay thee homage
and swear to thee divers fealty oaths--"

"Then must they wait, Benedict."

"Wait, my lord--men so illustrious! Then this day a deputation waiteth
on thee, merchants and what not--"

"These must wait also, Benedict--" saith Beltane, his trouble growing.

"Moreover there is high festival at the minster with much chanting and
glorification in thy behalf--and 'tis intended to make for thee a
triumphal pageant--fair maidens to strow flowers beneath thy horse's
feet, musicians to pleasure thee with pipe and tabor--and--"

"Enough, enough, Benedict. Prithee why must I needs endure this?"

"Such things do wait upon success, Beltane, and moreover thou'rt Duke!
Aye, verily thou'rt Duke! The which mindeth me that, being Duke, it
behoveth thee--"

"And yet, Benedict, I do tell thee that all things must wait awhile,
methinks, or better--do you attend them for me--"

"Nay--I am no Duke!" quoth Sir Benedict hastily.

"Yet thou art my chiefest counsellor and lord Seneschal of Pentavalon.
So to thy wise judgment I do entrust all matters soever--"

"But I have no warranty, thou cunning boy, and--"

"Shalt have my bond, my ducal ring, nay, the very crown itself, howbeit
this day--"

"Wilt ride for Mortain, O lover?" said Sir Benedict, smiling his wry

"Aye, verily, dear Benedict, nor shall aught under heaven let or stay
me--yet how knew ye this, Benedict?"

"For that 'tis so my heart would have prompted had I been so blessed as
thou art, dear my Beltane. And knowing thou needs must to thy beauteous
Helen, I have a meal prepared within my chamber, come your ways and let
us eat together."

So came they to a handsome chamber hard by where was spread a goodly
repast whereto they did full justice, though talking much the while,
until one tapped lightly upon the door, and Roger entered bearing
Beltane's new-burnished mail.

"Nay, good Roger," said Beltane, smiling, "need for that is done
methinks; we ride light to-day!" But Sir Benedict shook wise head.

"My lord 'tis true our wars be ended I thank God, and we may sheathe
our swords at last, but the woods be full of Black Ivo's scattered
soldiery, with outlaws and other masterless men."

"Ha, verily, lords," quoth Roger, "there shall many turn outlaw,

"Then must we end outlawry!" said Beltane, frowning.

"And how would'st do it, Beltane?"

"Make an end of the game laws, Benedict--throw wide the forests to all
who will--"

"But master, thus shall every clapper-claw rogue be free to kill for
his base sport thy goodly deer, or belike a hart of ten, fit for sport
of kings--"

"Well, let them in this thing be kings. But I do hold a man's life
dearer than a stag's. So henceforth in Pentavalon the woods are free--I
pray you let this be proclaimed forthwith, my lord."

Quoth Sir Benedict, as with Roger's aid Beltane did on his armour:

"There is a postern beyond the pleasaunce yonder shall bring you forth
of the city and no man the wiser."

"Why, then, bring ye the horses thither, Roger, and haste ye!"

Now when Roger was gone, Sir Benedict arose and setting his hands on
Beltane's shoulders questioned him full serious:

"Mean ye forsooth to make the forests free, Beltane?"

"Aye, verily, Benedict."

"This shall cause much discontent among the lords--"

"Well, we wear swords, Benedict! But this I swear, whiles I am Duke,
never again shall a man hang for killing of my deer. Moreover, 'tis my
intent forthwith to lower all taxes, more especially in the market
towns, to extend their charters and grant them new privileges."

"Beltane, I fear thy years shall be full of discord."

"What matter, an my people prosper? But thou art older and much wiser
than I, Benedict, bethink thee of these things then, I pray, and judge
how best such changes may be 'stablished, for a week hence, God
willing, I summon my first council. But now, dear Benedict, I go to
find my happiness."

"Farewell, my lord--God speed thee, my Beltane! O lad, lad, the heart
of Benedict goeth with thee, methinks!" and Sir Benedict turned
suddenly away. Then Beltane took and clasped those strong and able

"Benedict," said he, "truer friend man never had than thou, and for
this I do love thee--and thou art wise and valiant and great-hearted,
and thou didst love my noble mother with a noble love, and for this do
I love thee best of all, dear friend."

Then Benedict lifted his head, and like father and son they kissed each
other, and together went forth into the sweet, cool-breathing morn.

Beyond the postern were Giles and Black Roger with the horses, and
Giles sang blithe beneath his breath, but Roger sighed oft and deep.

Now being mounted, Beltane reined close beside Sir Benedict and smiled
full joyous and spake him thus, low-voiced:

"Dear Benedict, to-day one that loveth thee doth ride away, but in a
week two that love thee shall return. And needs must these two love
thee ever and always, very greatly, Benedict, since but for thee they
had not come to their joy." So saying, he touched spur to flank and
bounded away, with Giles and Roger spurring behind.

Soon were they free of the city and reaching that rolling down where
the battle had raged so lately, Beltane set his horse to a stretching
gallop, and away they raced, over upland and lowland until they beheld
afar to their right the walls and towers of Belsaye. But on they rode
toward the green of the woods, and ever as they rode Giles sang full
blithely to himself whiles Roger gloomed and sighed; wherefore at last
the archer turned to clap him on the shoulder.

"What aileth thee, my Rogerkin?" quoth he.

"Ha," growled Roger, "the world waggeth well with thee, Giles, these
days, but as for me--poor Roger lacketh. Saint Cuthbert knoweth I have
striven and likewise plagued him sore upon the matter, and yet my
belt--my accursed belt yet beareth a notch--behold!"

"Why, 'tis but a single notch, Roger."

"Yet a notch it is, forsooth, and how shall my heart go light and my
soul clean until I have a belt with notches not one?"

"Belike thou hast forgot some of the lives thou didst save, Roger--mine
thou didst save four times within the battle, I mind me--"

"Nay, 'twas but twice, Giles."

"Why, then 'twas thrice, Roger--the banner hampered me and--"

"'Twas but twice, alack!" sighed Roger, "Saint Cuthbert knoweth 'twas
but twice and being a very watchful saint may not be cheated, Giles."

"Why then, Roger, do ye beset him in prayer, so, while thou dost hold
him in play thus, I will snick away thy solitary notch so sweetly he
shall never know--"

"Alack, 'twill not avail, Giles. I must needs bear this notch with me
unto the grave, belike."

"Nay, Roger, I will to artifice and subtle stratagem on thy behalf as--
mark me! I do know a pool beside the way! Now if I slip within the pool
and thou should'st pull me from the pool--how then? Ha--'tis well
bethought, let's do't!"

"Were it any but Saint Cuthbert!" sighed Roger, "but I do thank thee
for thy kindly thought, Giles."

Now after this went they some way in silence, Beltane riding ahead very
full of thought, and his companions behind, the one smiling and
debonair, the other frowning and sad.

"Forsooth," quoth Giles at last, "as thou sayest, Roger, the world
waggeth well with me. Hast heard, belike, our lady Duchess hath been
pleased to--"

"Aye, I've heard, my lord Bailiff--who hath not?"

"Nay, I did but mention it to two or three," quoth Giles. "Moreover our
lord doth smile on me these days, though forsooth he hath been familiar
with me since first I found him within the green--long ere he found
thee, Rogerkin! I rode a white ass, I mind me, and my lord walked
beside me very fair and soft-spoken, whereupon I called him--Sir Dove!
O me--a dove, mark you! Since when, as ye know, we have been comrades,
he and I, nay, brothers-in-arms, rather! Very close in his counsels!--
very near to all his thoughts and actions. All of the which cometh of
possessing a tongue as ready as my wit, Rogerkin!"

Now as he hearkened, Roger's frown grew blacker and his powerful hand
clenched upon the bridle.

"And yet," quoth Giles, "as I am in my lord's dear friendship, so art
thou in mine, Roger, man, nor in my vaulting fortunes will I e'er
forget thee. Belike within Mortain shalt aid me in my new duties, or
shall I speak my lord on thy behalf?"

"Ha!" cried Roger suddenly, "first tell me this, my lord Steward and
high Bailiff of Mortain, did the Duke my master chance ever to take thy
hand, to wet it with his tears and--kiss it?"

"Art mad, Roger! Wherefore should my lord do this?"

"Aye," nodded Roger, "wherefore?"

And when Giles had whistled awhile and Roger had scowled awhile, the
archer spake again:

"Hast never been in love, Roger?"

"Never, Saint Cuthbert be praised!"

"Then canst know nought of the joy and wonder of it. So will I make for
thee a song of love, as thus: open thine ears and hearken:

"So fair, so sweet, so pure is she
I do thank God;
Her love an armour is to me
'Gainst sorrow and adversity,
So in my song right joyfully
I do thank God for love.

"Her love a cloak is, round me cast,
I do thank God;
To cherish me 'gainst fortunes blast.
Her love, forgetting evils past,
Shall lift me up to heaven at last,
So I thank God for love."

"Here is a fair song, methinks; dost not wonder at love now, Roger, and
the glory of it?"

"I wonder," quoth Roger, "how long thou shalt believe all this when
thou art wed. I wonder how long thou wilt live true to her when she is
thy wife!"

Now hereupon the archer's comely face grew red, grew pale, his bronzed
hands flew to his belt and leapt on high, gripping his dagger; but
Roger had seen, his fingers closed on the descending wrist and they
grappled, swaying in their saddles.

Grim and silent they slipped to earth and strove together on the ling.
But Roger had Giles in a cruel wrestling-hold, wrenched him, bent him,
and bearing him to earth, wrested away the dagger and raised it above
the archer's naked throat. And Giles, lying powerless beneath, looked
up into Roger's fierce scowling face and seeing no pity there, his pale
cheek grew paler and in his eyes came an agony of broken hopes; but his
gaze quailed not and when he spake, his voice was firm.

"Strike true, comrade!" said he.

The hand above him wavered; the dagger was dashed aside and covering
his face, Black Roger crouched there, his broad shoulders and powerful
figure quaking and shivering. Then Giles arose and stepping to his
dagger, came back with it grasped in his hand.

"Roger!" said he.

Quoth Roger, his face still hidden:

"My throat is bare also, archer!"

"Roger--comrade, give to me thy belt!"

Now at this Roger looked up, wondering.

"My belt?" quoth he, "what would ye, Giles?"

"Cut away thy last notch, Roger--thy belt shall go smooth-edged
henceforth and thy soul clean, methinks."

"But I meant to slay thee, Giles."

"But spared me, Roger, spared me to life and--love, my Rogerkin. O
friend, give me thy belt!"

So Roger gave him the belt, wherefrom Giles forthwith cut the last
notch, which done, they together, like mischievous lads, turned to look
where their lord rode far ahead; and beholding him all unconscious and
lost in thought, they sighed their relief and mounting, went on

Now did Roger oft glance at Giles who kept his face averted and held
his peace, whereat Roger grew uneasy, fidgeted in his saddle, fumbled
with the reins, and at last spake:


"Aye, Roger!"

"Forgive me!"

But Giles neither turned nor spake, wherefore contrite Roger must needs
set an arm about him and turn him about, and behold, the archer's eyes
were brimming with great tears!

"O Giles!" gasped Roger, "O Giles!"

"Roger, I--I do love her, man--I do love her, heart and soul! Is this
so hard to believe, Roger, or dost think me rogue so base that true
love is beyond me? 'Tis true I am unworthy, and yet--I do verily love
her, Roger!"

"Wilt forgive me--can'st forgive me, Giles?"

"Aye, Roger, for truly we have saved each other's lives so oft we must
needs be friends, thou and I. Only thy words did--did hurt me, friend--
for indeed this love of mine hath in it much of heaven, Roger. And--
there be times when I do dream of mayhap--teaching--a little Giles--to
loose a straight shaft--some day. O sweet Jesu, make me worthy, amen!"

And now Beltane glancing up and finding the sun high, summoned Giles
and Roger beside him.

"Friends," said he, "we have journeyed farther than methought. Now let
us turn into the boskage yonder and eat."

So in a while, the horses tethered, behold them within a leafy bower
eating and drinking and laughing like the blithe foresters they were,
until, their hunger assuaged, they made ready to mount. But of a sudden
the bushes parted near by and a man stepped forth; a small man he,
plump and buxom, whose quick, bright eyes twinkled 'neath his wide-eaved
hat as he saluted Beltane with obeisance very humble and lowly. Quoth he:

"Right noble and most resplendent lord Duke Beltane, I do most humbly
greet thee, I--Lubbo Fitz-Lubbin, past Pardoner of the Holy See--who
but a poor plain soul am, do offer thee my very insignificant, yet most
sincere, felicitous good wishes."

"My thanks are thine. Pardoner. What more would you?"

"Breath, lord methinks," said Giles, "wind, my lord, after periods so
profound and sonorous!"

"Lord Duke, right puissant and most potential, I would but tell thee
this, to wit, that I did keep faith with thee, that I, by means of this
unworthy hand, did set thee beyond care, lift thee above sorrow, and
gave to thee the heaven of thy most warm and earnest desires."

"How mean you, Pardoner?"

"Lord Duke, when thou didst bestow life on two poor rogues upon a time,
when one rogue stole away minded to betray thee to thine enemy, the
second rogue did steal upon the first rogue, and this second rogue bare
a small knife whereof the first rogue suddenly died. And thus Duke Ivo,
thine enemy, came not before Belsaye until thou and thy company were
safe within its walls. So by reason of this poor second rogue,
Pentavalon doth rejoice in freedom. To-day is singing on every village
green--happiness is in the very air, for 'tis Pentavalon's Beltane, and
Beltane is a sweet season; so doth this poor second rogue find him
recompense. Verily art well named, lord Beltane, since in thee
Pentavalon's winter is passed away and spring is come--O happy season
of Beltane, O season of new beginnings and new hopes! So, my lord
Beltane, may it ever be Beltane with thee, may it be sweet spring ever
within thy noble heart. God keep thee and farewell."

So saying the Pardoner turned about, and plunging into the dense green,
was gone.

"A pestilent wordy fellow, lord," quoth Giles, "one of your windy
talkers that talketh that no other talker may talk--now give me a good
listener, say I."

"And yet," said Beltane, swinging to saddle, "spake he truly I wonder?
Had Ivo been a little sooner we had not been here, methinks!"

On they rode, through sun and shadow, knee and knee, beneath leafy
arches and along green glades, talking and laughing together or plunged
in happy thought.

Quoth Beltane of a sudden:

"Roger, hast heard how Giles waxeth in fortune these days?"

"And methinks no man is more worthy, master. Giles is for sure a man of

"Aye--more especially of tongue, Roger."

"As when he did curse the folk of Belsaye out o' their fears, master.
Moreover he is a notable archer and--"

"Art not envious, then, Roger?"

"Not I, master!"

"What would'st that I give unto thee?"

"Thy love, master."

"'Tis thine already, my faithful Roger."

"And therewithal am I content, master."

"Seek ye nought beside?"

"Lord, what is there? Moreover I am not learned like Giles, nor ready
of tongue, nor--"

"Art wondrous skilled in wood-lore, my Rogerkin!" quoth Giles.
"Forsooth, lord, there is no man knoweth more of forestry than my good
comrade Roger!"

"So will I make of him my chiefest huntsman, Giles--"

"Master--O master!" gasped Roger.

"And set thee over all my foresters of Pentavalon, Roger."

"Why master, I--forsooth I do love the greenwood--but lord, I am only
Roger, and--and how may I thank thee--"

"Come!" cried Beltane, and spurred to a gallop.

Thus rode they through the leafy by-ways, avoiding town and village;
yet oft from afar they heard the joyous throb of bells upon the air, or
the sound of merry voices and happy laughter from village commons where
folk rejoiced together that Ivo's iron yoke was lifted from them at
last. But Beltane kept ever to the woods and by-ways, lest, being
recognised, he should be stayed longer from her of whom he dreamed,
bethinking him ever of the deep, shy passion of her eyes, the soft
tones of her voice, the clinging warmth of her caress, and all the
sweet, warm beauty of her. Betimes they crossed the marches into
Mortain, but it was late evening ere they saw at last the sleepy manor
of Blaen, its white walls and steepy roofs dominated by its one square
watch-tower, above which a standard, stirring lazily in the gentle
air, discovered the red lion of Pentavalon.

And now Beltane's breath grew short and thick, his strong hand trembled
on the bridle, and he grew alternate hot and cold. So rode they into
the echoing courtyard whither hasted old Godric to welcome them, and
divers servants to take their horses. Being ushered forthwith into the
garden, now who so silent and awkward as my Beltane, what time his lady
Duchess made known to him her gentle ladies, among whom sweet Genevra,
flushed of cheek, gazed breathless upon Giles even as Giles gazed upon
her--who so mumchance as Beltane, I say, who saw and heard and was
conscious only of one among them all. And who so stately, so
calm-voiced and dignified as this one until--aye, until they stood alone
together, and then--

To see her sway to his fierce arms, all clinging, yearning womanhood,
her state and dignity forgotten quite! To hear her voice soft and low
and all a-thrill with love, broken with sighs and sinking to
passionate-whispered questioning:

"And thou art come back to me at last. Beltane! Hast brought to me my
heart unharmed from the battle, beloved! And thou didst take no hurt--
no hurt, my Beltane? And art glad to see--thy--wife, Beltane? And dost
love me--as much as ever, Beltane? O wilt never, never leave me
desolate again, my lord--art thou mine--mine henceforth as I am thine,
Beltane? And wilt desire me ever near thee, my lord?"

"Helen," said he, "O my 'Helen the Beautiful'--our wars be ended, our
time of waiting is done, I thank God! So am I here to claim thee,
beloved. Art glad to be in mine arms--glad I am come to--make thee mine
own at last, Helen?"

"I had died without thee, Beltane--I would not live without thee now,
my Beltane. See, my lord, I--O how may I speak if thus you seal my
lips, Beltane? And prithee how may I show thee this gown I wear for
thee if thou wilt hold me so--so very close, Beltane?"

And in a while as the moon rose she brought him into that bower he well
remembered and bade him admire the beauty of her many flowers, and he,
viewing her loveliness alway, praised the flowers exceeding much yet
beheld them not at all, wherefore she chid him, and yet chiding,
yielded him her scarlet mouth. Thus walked they in the fragrant garden
until Genevra found them and sweet-voiced bid them in to sup. But the
Duchess took Genevra's slender hands and looked within her shy, sweet

"Art happy, sweet maid?" she questioned.

"O dear my lady, methinks in all this big world is none more happy than
thy grateful Genevra."

"Then haste thee back to thy happiness, dear Genevra, to-morrow we will
see thee wed."

And presently came they within a small chamber and here Beltane did off
his armour, and here they supped together, though now the lady Helen
spake little and ate less, and oft her swift-flushing cheek rebuked the
worshipping passion of his eyes; insomuch that presently she arose and
going into the great chamber beyond, came back, and kneeling at his
feet, showed him a file.

"Beltane," said she, "thou didst, upon a time, tell poor Fidelis
wherefore thy shameful fetters yet bound thy wrists--so now will thy
wife loose them from thee."

Then, while Beltane, speaking not, watched her downbent head and busy
hands, she filed off his fetters one by one, and kissing them, set them

But when she would have risen he prevented her, and with reverent
fingers touched the coiled and braided glory of her hair.

"O Helen," he whispered, "loose me down thy hair."

"Nay, dear Beltane--"

"My hands are so big and clumsy--"

"Thy hands are my hands!" and she caught and kissed them.

"Let down for me thy hair, beloved, I pray thee!"

"Forsooth my lord and so I will--but--not yet."

"But the--the hour groweth late, Helen!"

"Nay--indeed--'tis early yet, my lord--nay, as thou wilt, my Beltane,
only suffer that I--I leave thee a while, I pray."

"Must I bide here alone, sweet wife?"

"But indeed I will--call thee anon, my lord."

"Nay, first--look at me, my Helen!"

Slowly, slowly she lifted her head and looked on him all sweet and

"Aye, truly--truly thine eyes are not--a nun's eyes, Helen. So will I
wait thy bidding." So he loosed her and she, looking on him no more,
turned and hasted into the further chamber.

And after some while she called to him very soft and sweet, and he,
trembling, arose and entered the chamber, dim-lighted and fragrant.

But now, beholding wherefore she had left him, his breath caught and he
stood as one entranced, nor moved, nor spake he a while.

"O Helen!" he murmured at last, "thou art glorious so--and with thy
long hair--"

But now, even as he came to her, the Duchess Helen put out the little
silver lamp. But in the moonlit dusk she gave her lips to his, and her
tender arms were close about him.

"Beltane," she whispered 'neath his kiss, "dear my lord and husband,
here is an end at last of sorrow and heart-break, I pray."

"Here--my Helen, beginneth--the fulness of life, methinks!"

Now presently upon the stillness, from the court below, stole the notes
of a lute and therewith a rich voice upraised in singing:

"O when is the time a maid to kiss?
Tell me this, now tell me this.
'Tis when the day is scarce begun,
'Tis from the setting of the sun.
Is time for kissing ever done,
Tell me this, now tell me this."


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