Part 7 out of 11
"Messire, I think of it not at all."
"By thy evil conduct are we fugitives in the wilderness!"
"Yet is it a wondrous fair place, messire, and we unharmed--which is
well, and we are--together, which is--also well."
"And with but one beast to bear us twain!"
"Yet he beareth us strong and nobly, messire!"
"Fidelis, I would I ne'er had seen thee."
"Thou dost not see me--now, lord--content you, therefore," saith
Fidelis softly, whereat Beltane must needs twist in the saddle, yet saw
no more than a mailed arm and shoulder.
"Howbeit," quoth Beltane, "I would these arms o' thine clasped the
middle of any other man than I."
"Forsooth, my lord? And do they crush thee so? Or is it thou dost pine
"Neither, youth: 'tis for thy youth's sake, for, though thou hast
angered me full oft, art but a very youth--"
"Gramercy for my so much youthfulness, my lord. Methinks I shall be
full long a-growing old--"
"Heed me, sir knight, 'tis a fell place this, where direful beasts do
"Nathless, messire, my youthfulness is but where it would be--"
"Aye, forsooth, and there it is! Where thou would'st be--thou,
forsooth! Art indeed a wilful youth and very headstrong. And wherefore
"To cheer thee in thy loneliness, my lord."
"Thou shalt reproach me for my youth and quarrel with me when thou
"Am I of so ill humour, indeed?"
"Look within thyself, my lord."
Now here they rode a while in silence; but presently Beltane turned him
again in the saddle and saw again only arm and shoulder. Quoth he:
"Fidelis, art a strange youth and a valiant--and yet, thy voice--thy
voice hath betimes a--a something I love not--a note of softness that
mindeth me of bitter days."
"Then heed it not, my lord; 'tis but that I grow a-weary, belike."
Here silence again, what time Beltane fell to frowning and Sir Fidelis,
head a-slant, to watching him furtive-eyed, yet with lips that curved
to wistful smile.
"Came you in sooth from--the Duchess Helen, Fidelis?"
"In truth, my lord."
"Dost love her--also?"
"Aye, my lord--also!"
"Then alas for thee, poor youthful fool, 'twere better I had left thee
to thy death, methinks, for she--this wilful Helen--"
"My lord," cried Sir Fidelis, "nought will I hear to her defame!"
"Fidelis, art a gentle knight--but very young, art fond and foolish,
so, loving this light lady, art doubly fool!"
"Wherein," saith Fidelis, "wherein, my lord, thou art likewise fool,
"Verily," nodded Beltane, "O verily fool am I, yet wise in this--that I
do know my folly. So I, a fool, would counsel thee in thy folly thus--
give not thy heart to Helen's faithless keeping--stoop not to her
wanton lure--ha! what now?" For, lithe and swift, Sir Fidelis had
sprung to earth and had seized the great roan's bridle, and checking
him in his stride, faced Beltane with cheeks suffused and flaming eyes.
"Shame, messire--O shame!" he cried. "How vile is he that would, with
lying tongue, smirch the spotless honour of any maid. And, as to Helen,
I do name thee liar!--liar!"
"Would'st quarrel with me in matter so unworthy?"
"Enough!" quoth Fidelis, "unworthy art thou to take her name within thy
lips--enough!" So saying Sir Fidelis stepped back a pace and drew his
Now Beltane, yet astride the mighty roan that snuffed the fragrant air
and stooped to crop the tender herbage, looked upon the youthful
paladin 'neath wrinkled brow, and pulled his lip as one in doubt. Anon
he sighed and therewith smiled and shook his head.
"O Fidelis, now do I see that I must needs love thee some day. Fidelis,
art a fool, but a right sweet fool, so do I humbly sue thy foolish
pardon, and, as to Helen, may she prove worthy thy sweet faith and I
thy love and friendship. So, fair knight, put up thy sword--come, mount
and let us on. Sir Mars, methinks, doth snuff water afar, and I do
yearn me for the cool of it."
So in a while they rode on again, yet presently Sir Fidelis, meek-voiced,
preferred a sudden question, thus:
"Lord, fain would I know why thou dost contemn her so--"
"Nay," sighed Beltane, "here is a tale un-meet thy tender years. Speak
we of other things--as thus, wherefore didst keep our lives in jeopardy
to bring away the wallet that cumbereth thy hip?"
"For that within doth lie, first--our supper--"
"O foolish youth, these woods do teem with food!"
"A neat's tongue, delicately seasoned--"
"O!" said Beltane.
"'Twixt manchets of fair white bread--"
"Ah!" said Beltane.
"With a small skin of rare wine--"
"Enough!" quoth Beltane. "These be things forsooth worth a little
risk. Now do I thirst and famish, yet knew it not."
"An thou wilt eat, my lord?"
"Nay, first will we find some freshet where we may bathe awhile. Ha, to
plunge naked within some sweet pool--'tis a sweet thought, Fidelis?"
But hereupon the young knight made answer none and fell into a reverie
and Beltane also, what time they rode by murmuring rills, through
swampy hollows, past brake and briar, until, as evening began to fall,
they came unto a broad, slow-moving stream whose waters, aglow with
sunset glory, split asunder the greeny gloom of trees, most pleasant to
behold. Then, sighing for very gladness, Beltane checked his horse and
spake right gleefully:
"Light down, light down, good Fidelis; ne'er saw I fairer haven for
wearied travellers! We have ridden hard and far, so here will we tarry
the night!" and down to earth he sprang, to stride up and down and
stretch his cramped limbs, the while Sir Fidelis, loosing off the
great, high-peaked saddle, led the foam-flecked war-horse down to the
Now because of the heat, Beltane laid by his bascinet, and, hearkening
to the soft, cool ripple of the water, he straightway unbuckled his
sword-belt and began to doff his heavy hauberk; perceiving the which,
cometh Sir Fidelis to him something hastily.
"What do you, messire?" he questioned.
"Do, Fidelis? Forsooth, I would bathe me in yon cool, sweet water--list
how it murmureth 'neath the bank yonder. Come then, strip as I do,
youth, strip and let us swim together--pray you aid me with this
"My lord, I--indeed, I do think it unsafe--"
"An our foes should come upon us--"
"O content you," quoth Beltane, stooping to loose off his spurs, "our
foes were lost hours since, nor shall any find us here in the wild,
methinks--pray you, loose me this buckle. Come, list how the waters do
woo us with their pretty babble."
"But, messire," quoth Fidelis, faint-voiced, and fumbling awkwardly
with the buckle, "indeed I--I have no art in swimming."
"Then will I teach thee."
"Nay," spake the young knight hastily, his trouble growing, "I do dread
"Well, there be shallows 'neath the alders yonder."
"Aye, but the shallows will be muddy, and I--"
"Muddy?" cried Beltane, pausing with his hauberk half on, half off, to
stare at Sir Fidelis in amaze, "muddy, forsooth! Art a dainty youth in
faith, and over-nice, methinks. What matter for a little honest mud,
"Why 'tis mud! And slimy under foot! And I love not mud! So will I none
of the shallows!"
"Then verily must I chide thee, Fidelis, for--"
"Then verily will I unto yon boskage, messire, to prepare us a fire
'gainst the 'beasts that raven,' and our bracken beds. Howbeit, bathe
me I--will--not, messire!"
"O luxurious youth, then will I, and shame thy nice luxuriousness!"
quoth Beltane; and off came hauberk and quilted gambeson and away
skipped Sir Fidelis into the green.
So, presently, Beltane plunged him into the stream, and swimming with
powerful strokes, felt his youth and strength redoubled thereby, and
rejoiced to be alive. Thereafter he leapt ashore, his blood aglow with
ardent life, and, as he clothed him, felt a great and mighty hunger.
But scarce had he donned chausses and gambeson than he heard an outcry
and sudden clamour within the green; whereupon, staying not for his
armour, he caught up his sword and, unsheathing it as he ran, plunged
in among the trees and there espied Sir Fidelis stoutly withstanding
three foul knaves unwashed and ragged. Then shouted Beltane, and fell
upon them right joyously and smote them gleefully and laughed to see
them reel and scatter before his sudden onset; whereon, beholding Sir
Fidelis pale and scant of breath, he stayed to clap him on the
"Blithely done, good Fidelis!" quoth he. "Rest thee awhile and catch
thy wind, for fain am I to try a bout with yon tall rogues!" So saying,
he advanced upon the scowling three, his eyes a-dance, his nimble feet
light-poised for swift action--for lusty rogues were these, who,
seeing him alone, forthwith met him point and edge, besetting him with
many swashing blows, that, whistling, did but cleave the empty air or
rang loud upon his swift-opposing blade. So hewed they, and smote amain
until their brows shone moist and their breaths waxed short; whereat
Beltane mocked them, saying:
"Ha--sweat ye, forsooth? Do ye puff so soon? This cometh of foul eating
and fouler life. Off--off! ye beefy do-nothings! An ye would be worthy
fighters, eat less and bathe ye more!" Then Beltane laid on with the
flat of his heavy sword and soundly belaboured these hard-breathing
knaves, insomuch that one, hard-smitten on the crown, stumbled and
fell, whereupon his comrades, to save their bones, leapt forthwith
a-down the steepy bank and, plunging into the stream, made across to the
farther side, splashing prodigiously, and cursing consumedly, for the
water they liked not at all.
Now as Beltane leaned him on his sword, watching their flounderings
joyful-eyed, the weapon was dashed from his loosened hold, he staggered
'neath the bite of vicious steel, and, starting round, beheld the third
rogue, his deadly sword swung high; but even as the blow fell, Sir
Fidelis sprang between and took it upon his own slender body, and,
staggering aside, fell, and lay with arms wide-tossed. Then, whiles the
robber yet stared upon his sword, shivered by the blow, Beltane leapt,
and ere he could flee, caught him about the loins, and whirling him
aloft, dashed him out into the stream. Then, kneeling by Sir Fidelis,
he took his heavy head upon his arm and beheld his cheeks pale and wan,
his eyes fast shut, and saw his shining bascinet scored and deep-dinted
by the blow.
"Fidelis!" he groaned, "O my brave Fidelis, and art thou slain--for my
sake?" But in a while, what time Beltane kneeled and mourned over him
full sore, the young knight stirred feebly, sighed, and spake.
"Beltane!" he whispered; and again, "Beltane!" Anon his white lids
quivered, and, opening swooning eyes he spake again with voice grown
"My lord--my lord--what of thy wound?"
And lo! the voice was sweet to hear as note of merle or mavis; these
eyes were long and deeply blue beneath their heavy lashes; eyes that
looked up, brimful of tenderness, ere they closed slow and wearily;
eyes so much at odds with grim bascinet and close-laced camail that
Beltane must needs start and hold his breath and fall to sudden
trembling what time Sir Fidelis lay there, pale and motionless, as one
that is dead. Now great fear came upon Beltane, and he would have
uttered desperate prayers, but could not; trembling yet, full gently he
drew his arm from under that drooping head, and, stealing soft-footed
to the river's marge, stood there staring down at the rippling waters,
and his heart was rent with conflicting passions--amazement, fear,
anger, joy, and a black despair. And of a sudden Beltane fell upon his
knees and bowed him low and lower until his burning brow was hid in the
cool, sweet grass--for of these passions, fiercest, strongest, wildest,
HOW BELTANE DREAMED IN THE WILD-WOOD
Now in a while, he started to feel a hand among his hair, and the hand
was wondrous light and very gentle; wherefore, wondering, he raised his
head, but behold, the sun was gone and the shadows deepening to night.
Yet even so, he stared and thrilled 'twixt wonder and fear to see Sir
Fidelis bending over him.
"Fidelis!" he murmured, "and is it thee in truth,--or do I dream?"
"Dear my lord, 'tis I indeed. How long hast lain thus? I did but now
wake from my swoon. Is it thy hurt?--suffer me to look."
"Nay, 'tis of none account, but I did dream thee--dead--Fidelis!"
"Ah, messire, thy hurt bleedeth apace--the steel hath gone deep! Sit
you thus, thy back against the tree--so. Within my wallet I have a
salve--wait you here." So, whiles Beltane stared dreamily upon the
twilit river, Sir Fidelis hasted up the bank and was back again, the
wallet by his side, whence he took a phial and goblet and mixed therein
a draught which dreamy Beltane perforce must swallow, and thereafter
the dreamy languor fell from him, what time Sir Fidelis fell to bathing
and bandaging the ugly gash that showed beneath his knee. Now as he
watched these busy, skilful fingers he knew a sudden, uneasy qualm,
and forthwith spake his thought aloud:
"Thy hands are wondrous--small and slender, Sir Fidelis!"
"Belike, messire, they shall grow bigger some day."
"Yet are they wondrous fair--and soft--and white, Fidelis!"
"Mayhap, messire, they shall grow rough and brown and hairy anon--so
"Yet wherefore are they so soft, Fidelis, and so--maid-like? And
"See you, my lord, thus must the bandage lie, fast-knotted--so. Nor
must it slacken, lest the bleeding start afresh." So saying, Sir
Fidelis arose, and taking the wallet in one hand and setting the other
'neath Beltane's arm, led him to where, deep-bowered under screening
willows, a fire burned cheerily, whereby were two beds of scented
Dark and darker the shadows crept down, deepening to a night soft and
warm and very still, whose quietude was unbroken save for the drowsy
lap and murmur of the river and the sound the war-horse Mars made as he
cropped the grass near by. Full of a languorous content lay Beltane,
despite the smarting of his wound, what time Sir Fidelis came and went
about the fire; and there, within this great and silent wilderness,
they supped together, and, while they supped, Beltane looked oft upon
Sir Fidelis, heedful of every trick of mail-girt feature and gesture of
graceful hand as he ne'er had been ere now. Wherefore Sir Fidelis grew
red, grew pale, was by turns talkative and silent, and was fain to
withdraw into the shadows beyond the fire. And from there, seeing
Beltane silent and full of thought, grew bold to question him.
"Dost meditate our course to-morrow, my lord Beltane?"
"Nay--I do but think--a strange thought--that I have seen thy face ere
now, Fidelis. Yet art full young to bear arms a-field."
"Doth my youth plague thee still, messire? Believe me, I am--older than
"Thou, at peril of thy life, Fidelis, didst leap 'twixt me and death,
so needs must I know thee for my friend, and yet--"
"And yet, messire?"
"Thou hast betimes the look and speech of one--of one beyond all
"Ah," murmured Sir Fidelis, a sudden tremor in his voice, "thou dost
"Helen of Mortain--poor Fidelis--whom thou dost love."
"Whom thou dost hate, Beltane! And O, I pray thee, wherefore is thy
hate so bitter?"
"Fidelis, there lived a fool, that, for her beauty, loved her with a
mighty love: that, for her seeming truth and purity, honoured her
beyond all things: that, in the end, did find her beyond all things
vile. Aye, there lived a fool--and I am he."
"Ah, beseech thee," cried Sir Fidelis, white hands outstretched, "how
know you her thus false to thee, Beltane?"
"Know then, Sir Fidelis, that--upon our wedding-eve I was--by her
command struck down--within the chapel--upon the very altar, and by
her borne in bonds unto Garthlaxton Keep--a present to mine enemy, Duke
"O, 'tis a lie--O dear my lord--'tis lie most foul--!"
"In witness whereof behold upon my wrists the shameful irons from my
"Alas! here was no work of Helen's--no thought, no will--Helen would
have died to save thee this--"
"So, Fidelis, do I scorn all women that do live upon this earth
henceforth--but, above all, Helen the Beautiful! the Wilful! who in her
white bosom doth bear a heart more foul than Trojan Helen, that was a
woman false and damned. So now, all's said."
Now fell Sir Fidelis upon his knees and spake quick and passionate:
"Nay, Beltane, hear me! For now do I swear that he who told thee 'twas
Helen wrought thee this vile wrong--who told thee this doth lie--O,
doth lie! Now do I swear that never by word or thought or deed, hath
she been false to thee--I do swear she loveth thee--ah, spurn me not--
"Enough--enough, good Fidelis, perjure not thy sweet youth for one so
much unworthy, for with these eyes did I behold her as they bore me in
my bonds--and shall I not believe mine eyes?"
"Never--ah! never, when they do shew thee Helen false and cruel to
thee! Here was some vile magic--witchcraft--"
"Enough, Fidelis, 'tis past and done. Here was a woman false--well,
'tis none so singular--there have been others--there will be others.
So, God keep thee, sweet youth, from the ways of women. Nay, let us
speak of this no more, for in sooth I grow a-weary and we must ride
with the dawn to-morrow. So, betake thee to thy rest, nor grieve thee
for my sorrows past and done--mayhap they shall be things to smile upon
So saying, Beltane sighed, and laid him down among the bracken and
thereafter Fidelis did the like; the fire sank and waned, and oft Sir
Fidelis stirred restless in the shadows; the river murmured
slumberously among the sedge, but Beltane, hearkening with drowsy ears,
oft thought to hear another sound, very soft and repressed yet very
dolorous, ere, worn and spent, and something weakened by wound and loss
of blood, he sank at last to deep and gentle sleep.
But in his sleep he dreamed that one knelt above him in the dark,
keeping watch upon his slumbers in the attitude of one in prayer--one
whom he knew, yet knew not; it seemed to Beltane in his dream, that
this silent, slender shape, stooped of a sudden, low and lower, to kiss
the iron fetters that bound his wrists; then Beltane strove to wake yet
could not wake, but in his slumber sighed a name, soft-breathed and
gentle as the languorous murmur of the stream:
HOW BELTANE KNEW GREAT HUMILITY
The rising sun, darting an inquisitive beam 'twixt a leafy opening,
fell upon Beltane's wide, slow-heaving breast; crept upwards to his
chin, his cheek, and finally strove to peep beneath his slumberous,
close-shut lids; whereat Beltane stirred, yawned, threw wide and
stretched his mighty arms, and thereafter, blinking drowsily, sat up,
his golden hair be-tousled, and stared sleepily about him.
Birds piped joyously near and far; hid among the leaves near by, the
war-horse Mars stamped eager hoof and snuffed the fragrant air of
morning; but Sir Fidelis was nowhere to be seen. Thus in a while
Beltane arose to find his leg very stiff and sore, and his throat be
parched with feverish thirst; wherefore, limping painfully, he turned
where a little water-brook went singing o'er pebbly bed to join the
slow-moving river; but, putting aside the leaves, he paused of a
sudden, for there, beside the noisy streamlet he beheld Sir Fidelis,
his bascinet upon the grass beside him, his mail-coif thrown back
betwixt his shoulders, stooping to bathe his face in the sparkling
Now would he have called a greeting, but the words died upon his lips,
his breath stayed, and he stared at something that had caught in the
links of the young knight's mail-coif, something that stirred light and
wanton, kissed by the breath of early morn--a lock of bright hair that
glowed a wondrous red-gold in the new-risen sun. So stood Beltane
awhile, and, beholding this, a trembling seized him and therewith
sudden anger, and he strode forth of the leaves. And lo! on the
instant, on went hood of mail and thereafter shining bascinet, and Sir
Fidelis arose. But, ere he could turn, Beltane was beside him, had
caught him within a powerful arm, and, setting a hand 'neath mailed
chin, lifted the young knight's head and scowled down into his face.
Eyes long, black-lashed and darkly blue that looked up awhile into his,
wide, yet fearless, and anon, were hid 'neath languorous-drooping lids;
a nose tenderly aquiline, lips red and full that met in ripe and
luscious curves. This Beltane saw, and straightway his anger grew.
"Ah!" cried he, hoarsely, "now, by the living God, who art thou, and--
"Thy--comrade-in-arms, lord Beltane."
"Why hast thou the seeming of one beyond all women false? Why dost thou
speak me betimes in her voice, look at me with her eyes, touch me with
her soft, white, traitor's hands--answer me!"
"My lord, we are akin, she and I--of the same house and blood--"
"Then is thy blood foul with treachery!"
"Yet did I save thy life, Beltane!"
"Yet thy soft voice, thy red mouth and false eyes--thy very blood--all
these do prove thee traitor--hence!" and Beltane threw him off.
"Nay my lord!" he cried, "prithee take care, Beltane,--see--thou hast
displaced the bandage, thy wound bleedeth amain--so will I bind it up
But Beltane, nothing heeding, turned and strode back into the green and
there fell to donning his armour as swiftly as he might--albeit
stealthily. Thereafter came he to the destrier Mars and, having saddled
and bridled him with the same swift stealth, set foot in stirrup and
would have mounted, yet found this a painful matter by reason of his
wound; thus it befell, that, ere he could reach the saddle, the leaves
parted close by and Sir Fidelis spake soft-voiced:
"My lord Beltane, why dost thou steal away thus? An it be thy will to
leave me to perish alone here in the wilderness, first break thy fast,
and suffer me to bind up thy hurt, so shalt thou ride hence in
comfort." Now stood Beltane motionless and silent, nor turned nor dared
he look upon Sir Fidelis, but bowed his head in bitter shame, and,
therewith, knew a great remorse.
"Ah, Fidelis," said he at last, "thy rebuke stingeth deep, for it is
just, since I indeed did purpose thee a most vile thing! How vile a
thing, then, am I--"
"Nay, Beltane--dear my lord, I would not have thee grieve, indeed 'twas
"Once ere this I would have slain thee, Fidelis--murdered thee before
my wild fellows--I--I, that did preach them mercy and gentleness! To-day
I would have left thee to perish alone within this ravening
wilderness--that do bear so honourable a name! O Beltane, my father!
Yet, believe me, I did love honour once, and was accounted gentle. I
did set forth to do great things, but now--now do I know myself unfit
and most unworthy. Therefore, Sir Fidelis, do thou take the horse and
what thou wilt beside and leave me here, for fain am I to end my days
within these solitudes with no eye to see me more--save only the eye of
God!" So saying, Beltane went aside, and sitting 'neath a tree beside
the river, bowed his head upon his hands and groaned; then came Sir
Fidelis full swift, and stooping, touched his bowed head with gentle
hand, whereat he but groaned again.
"God pity me!" quoth he, "I am in sooth so changed, meseemeth some vile
demon doth possess me betimes!" and, sighing deep, he gazed upon the
rippling waters wide-eyed and fearful. And, as he sat thus, abashed
and despairing, Sir Fidelis, speaking no word, bathed and bound up his
wound, and, thereafter brought and spread forth their remaining viands.
"Eat," said he gently, "come, let us break our fast, mayhap thy sorrows
shall grow less anon. Come, eat, I pray thee, Beltane, for none will I
eat alone and, O, I famish!"
So they ate together, whiles the war-horse Mars, pawing impatient
hoof, oft turned his great head to view them with round and wistful
"Fidelis," quoth Beltane suddenly, "thou didst name me selfish, and
verily, a selfish man am I--and to-day! O Fidelis, why dost not
reproach me for the evil I purposed thee to-day?"
"For that I do most truly love thee, Beltane my lord!"
"Yet wherefore did ye so yesterday, and for lesser fault?"
"For that I did love thee, so would I see thee a strong man--yet
gentle: a potent lord, yet humble: a noble man as--as thou wert said to
"Alas, my Fidelis, harsh have I been, proud and unforgiving--"
"Aye, my lord--thou art unforgiving--a little!"
"So now, Fidelis, would I crave forgiveness of all men." Then came the
young knight nearer yet, his face radiant with sudden joy, his white
"Lord!" he whispered, "O Beltane, could'st indeed forgive all--all harm
done thee, howsoever great or small thy mind doth hold them--could'st
"Aye, I could forgive them all, Fidelis--all save Helen--who hath
broke this heart of mine and made my soul a thing as black as she hath
whited this my hair."
Now of a sudden Beltane heard a sound--a small sound 'twixt a sob and a
moan, but when he raised his heavy head--lo! Sir Fidelis was gone.
HOW A MADNESS CAME UPON BELTANE IN THE WILD-WOOD
The sun rose high, jet still Beltane sat there beside the stream,
staring down into the gurgling waters, grieving amain for his
Thus presently comes Sir Fidelis, and standing afar, spake in voice
strange and bitter:
"What do ye there, my lord? Dost dream ever upon thy woes and ills?
Wilt dream thy life away here amid the wild, forsooth?"
Quoth Beltane, very humbly:
"And wherefore not, Sir Fidelis? Unfit am I for great achievements.
But, as to thee, take now the horse and ride you ever north and west--"
"Yea, but where is north, and where west--?"
"The trees shall tell you this. Hearken now--"
"Nay, my lord, no forester am I to find my way through trackless wild.
So, an thou stay, so, perforce, must I: and if thou stay then art thou
"How mean you, good sir?"
"I mean Belsaye--I mean all those brave souls that do wait and watch,
pale-cheeked, 'gainst Ivo's threatened vengeance--"
"Ha--Belsaye!" quoth Beltane, lifting his head.
"Thou must save Belsaye from flame and ravishment, my lord!"
"Aye, forsooth," cried Beltane, clenching his hands, "though I be
unworthy to stand in my noble father's place, yet Belsaye must be saved
or I die in it. O Fidelis, friend art thou indeed and wise beyond thy
years!" But as Beltane arose, Sir Fidelis incontinent turned away, and
presently came back leading the great horse. So in a while they set out
northwards; but now were no arms to clasp and cling, since Sir Fidelis
found hold otherwhere. Thus, after some going, Beltane questioned him:
"Art easy, Fidelis?"
"Wilt not take hold upon my belt, as yesterday?"
"Methinks I am better thus."
"Nay then, shalt have stirrups and saddle, for I am fain to walk."
"And re-open thy wound, messire? Nay, let be--I ride easily thus."
"Art angered with me, Fidelis?"
"Nay, lord, I do but pity thee!"
"For thy so great loneliness--in all thy world is none but Beltane, and
he is very woeful and dreameth ever of his wrongs--"
"Would'st call me selfish again, forsooth?"
"Nay, lord--a martyr. O, a very martyr that huggeth his chains and
kisseth his wounds and joyeth in the recollection of his pain."
"Have I not suffered, Fidelis?"
"Thou hast known the jangling gloom of a dungeon--'twas at Garthlaxton
"Fetters!" cried Beltane, "a dungeon! These be things to smile at--my
grief is of the mind--the deeper woe of high and noble ideals
shattered--a holy altar blackened and profaned--a woman worshipped as
divine, and proved baser than the basest!"
"And is this all, my lord?"
"All!" quoth Beltane amazed. "All!" saith he, turning to stare.
"So much of woe and tribulation for so little reason? Nay, hear me, for
now will I make thee a prophecy, as thus: There shall dawn a day, lord
Beltane, when thou shalt see at last and know Truth when she stands
before thee. And, in that day thou shalt behold all things with new
eyes: and in that day shalt thou sigh, and long, and yearn with all thy
soul for these woeful hours wherein Self looms for thee so large thou
art blind to aught else."
"Good Fidelis, thy prophecy is beyond my understanding."
"Aye, my lord, 'tis so I think, indeed!"
"Pray thee therefore rede and expound it unto me!"
"Nay, time mayhap shall teach it thee, and thou, methinks shalt
passionately desire again the solitude of this wilderness."
"Aye, but wherefore?"
"For that it shall be beyond thy reach--and mine!" and Fidelis sighed
in deep and troubled fashion and so fell to silence, what time Beltane,
cunning in wood-lore, glancing hither and thither at knotted branch and
writhen tree bole, viewing earth and heaven with a forester's quick
eye, rode on into the trackless wilds of the forest-lands.
Now here, thinketh the historian, it booteth not to tell of all those
minor haps and chances that befell them; how, despite all Beltane's
wood-craft, they went astray full oft by reason of fordless rivers and
quaking swamps: of how they snared game to their sustenance, or how,
for all the care and skill of Sir Fidelis, Beltane's wound healed not,
by reason of continual riding, for that each day he grew more restless
and eager for knowledge of Belsaye, so that, because of his wound he
knew small rest by day and a fevered sleep by night--yet, despite all,
his love for Fidelis daily waxed and grew, what time he pressed on
through the wild country, north-westerly.
Five weary days and nights wandered they, lost to sight and knowledge
within the wild; days of heat and nights of pain and travail, until
there came an evening when, racked with anguish and faint with thirst
and weariness, Beltane drew rein within a place of rocks whereby was a
shady pool deep-bowered in trees. Down sprang Fidelis to look anxiously
on Beltane's face, pale and haggard in the light of a great moon.
Says Beltane, looking round about with knitted brow:
"Fidelis--O Fidelis, methinks I know this place--these rocks--the pool
yonder--there should be a road hereabout, the great road that leadeth
to Mortain. Climb now the steep and tell me an you can see a road,
running north and south."
Forthwith Sir Fidelis climbed the rocky eminence, and, being there,
cried right joyously:
"Aye, lord--'tis the road--the road!" and so came hastily down,
glad-eyed. "'Tis the end of this wilderness at last, my lord!"
"Aye!" sighed Beltane, "at last!" and groaning, he swayed in the
saddle--for his pain was very sore--and would have fallen but for the
ready arms of Sir Fidelis. Thereafter, with much labour, Beltane got
him to earth, and Fidelis brought him where, beneath the steep, was a
shallow cave carpeted with soft moss, very excellent suited to their
need. Here Beltane laid him down, watching a little cataract that
rippled o'er the rocky bank near by, where ferns and lichens grew; what
time Sir Fidelis came and went, and, having set fire a-going whereby to
cook their supper, brought an armful of fragrant heather to set 'neath
Beltane's weary head. Then, having given him to drink of the cordial,
fell to work bathing and bandaging his wound, sighing often to see it
so swollen and angry.
"Fidelis," quoth Beltane, "methinks there is some magic in thy touch,
for now is my pain abated--hast a wondrous gentle hand--"
"'Tis the cordial giveth thee respite, lord--"
"Nay, 'tis thy hand, methinks. Sure no man e'er was blest with truer
friend than thou, my Fidelis; brave art thou, yet tender as any woman,
and rather would I have thy love than the love of any man or woman
soever, henceforth, dear my friend. Nay, wherefore hang thy head?
without thee I had died many times ere this; without thy voice to cheer
me in these solitudes, thy strength and skill to aid me, I had fallen
into madness and death. Wherefore I do love thee, Fidelis, and fain
would have thee go beside me ever--so great is become my need of thee."
"Ah, Beltane, thou dost know I will ne'er desert thee!"
"So henceforth am I content--and yet--"
"Well, my lord?"
"To-morrow, perchance, shall see the end of this our solitude and close
comradeship--to-morrow we should reach Hundleby Fen. So, Fidelis,
promise me, if thou, at any time hereafter should see me harsh, or
proud, or selfish--do thou mind me of these days of our love and
companionship. Wilt promise me?"
"Aye, lord!" spake Sir Fidelis, low-bending to his task; and thereafter
sighed, and bowed him lower yet.
"Wherefore dost thou sigh?"
"For that I feel as if--ah, Beltane!--as if this night should be the
end of our love and comradeship!"
"Nought but death shall do this, methinks."
"Why then," said Fidelis as he rose, "an it must be, fain would I have
But when Beltane would have questioned him further he smiled sad and
wistful and went forth to the fire. Up rose the moon, a thing of glory
filling the warm, stilly night with a soft and radiant splendour--a
tender light, fraught with a subtle magic, whereby all things, rock and
tree and leaping brook, found a new and added beauty.
And in some while comes Sir Fidelis to set out their viands, neat and
orderly, as was ever his custom, and thereafter must needs chide
Beltane, soft-voiced, for his lack of hunger, and cut dainty morsels,
wooing him thereby to eat.
"Fidelis," says Beltane, "on so fair a night as this, methinks, the old
fables and romances might well be true that tell of elves that dance on
moony nights, and of shapely nymphs and lovely dryads that are the
spirits of the trees. Aye, in the magic of so fair a night as this
aught might happen--miracles and wonders."
"Save one thing, dear my lord."
"As what, my Fidelis?"
"That thou should'st dream Helen pure and faithful and worthy to thy
love--that, doubting thine own senses, thou should'st yearn and sigh to
hold her once again, heart on heart--"
"Ah, Fidelis," quoth Beltane, sighing deep, "why wilt thou awake a
sleeping sorrow? My love was dead long since, meseemeth, and buried in
mine heart. O Fidelis, mine eyes, mine ears, my every sense do tell me
she is false--so is an end of love for me henceforth."
"Dear my lord," spake Fidelis, and his voice thrilled strangely in
Beltane's ears--"O, Beltane, my lord, could'st thou but doubt thyself a
little--could'st thou, doubting thine own senses for love's sake,
believe her now true--true as thou would'st have her, then Love indeed
might work for thee a miracle this night and thou be loved as man of
"Nay, sweet Fidelis, I am but a man, apt to evil betimes and betimes
seeking good. Howbeit, now am I a weary man that fain would sleep. Come
then, lay you down here beside me where I may touch thee an I awake i'
the night." And, lying down, Beltane beckoned Fidelis beside him.
So in a while the young knight came and did as Beltane bade, and side
by side they lay within the shelter of the little cave; and in the
dark, Beltane set his mighty arm about him and thereafter spake,
"Art not cold, Fidelis?"
"Then why dost tremble?"
"Indeed I know not--mayhap I grieved that--the age of miracles--is
Now at this Beltane wondered the more and would fain have questioned
him, but in that moment sighed, and fell to slumber. But in his sleep
he dreamed that Fidelis was beset by foes and cried to him for aid,
whereon he would have hasted to his deliverance yet could not for that
unseen hands held him fast; then strove he amain against these griping
hands, and so awaked in sudden terror and lay there trembling in the
dark; and in the dark he reached out cautious hand further and further
and so found himself alone--for the young knight was gone.
Now being very sick with the fever of his wound, dread came upon him,
fear seized and shook him, and, trembling in the dark he called aloud
"Fidelis! Fidelis!" But no sound heard he save the ripple of the brook
near by. Groaning, he arose and, limping forth of the cave stood in the
glory of the moon, voiceless now by reason of his ever-growing terror;
conscious only of his passionate desire to find again the youth whose
gentle voice had cheered him often in the dark, whose high courage and
tender care had never failed. So, leaning upon his great sword, Beltane
limped through light and shadow, heedless of direction, until he was
stayed by the waters of the pool.
A faint splash, a rippling of the sleepy waters, and, out into the
moonlight came one that swam the pool with long, easy strokes; one that
presently leapt lightly ashore and stood there to shake down the
unwetted glory of her hair. At first he thought this some enchanted
pool and she the goddess of the place, but even then she turned, and
thus at last--he knew. And in that moment also, she beheld him amid the
leaves; tall and fair she stood, proud and maidenly, nor moved she,
nor spake: only she shook about her loveliness the shining mantle of
her hair. And beholding the reproachful sadness of those clear, virgin
eyes, Beltane, abashed by her very beauty, bowed his head, and turning,
stumbled away and thus presently finding himself within the cave, threw
himself down and clasped his head within fierce hands. Yet, even so,
needs must he behold the slim, white beauty of her, the rippling
splendour of her hair, and the deep, shy sadness of her eyes, and,
because of her beauty he trembled, and because of her falsity he
Now as he lay thus, after some while he heard a swift, light footfall,
the whisper of mail, and knew that she stood above him; yet he heeded
not, wherefore at last she spake, sweet-voiced and gentle.
"Beltane--dear my lord, now dost thou know who is Fidelis, and thou
didst--love Fidelis!" But Beltane stirred not, and finding him silent,
she spake on, yet faltering a little:
"When I waked from my swoon within the chapel at--at Blaen, and found
thee gone, I, distraught with woeful fear and a most strange sickness,
took thy sword and therewith horse and armour and in that same hour
fled from Blaen, none knowing. Many days I rode seeking thee, until
Love brought me to thee in the green. But, O Beltane, for those dire
chances of our--wedding night, by what spells and witchcraft our
happiness was changed to sorrow and dire amaze, I know no more than
thou. Ah, Beltane--dear my lord--speak--speak to me!" And falling on
her knees she would have lifted his head. But of a sudden he shrank
away, and rose to his feet.
"Touch me not, I am but a man and thou--art woman, and there is evil in
thee, so touch me not with thy false, alluring hands. O, thou hast
deceived me now as ever--As Fidelis did I love thee above all men, but
for what thou art, I do despise thee--"
But, with sudden gesture passionate and yearning, she reached out her
white hands, and, kneeling thus, looked up at him with eyes a-swoon
with love and supplication.
"Beltane!" she sighed, "Beltane! Is thy great love dead in very truth?
nay, indeed I know it liveth yet even as mine, and shall live on
forever. I know--I have seen it leap within thine eyes, heard it in thy
voice--and wherefore did'st thou love Fidelis? Look at me, Beltane! I
can be as brave, as faithful and tender as Fidelis! Look at me!"
But Beltane dared not look, and trembled because of her so great
beauty, and fain would speak yet could not.
Whereat she, yet upon her knees, drew nearer.
"Beltane," she murmured, "trust me. Despite thyself, O, trust me--so
shalt thou find happiness at last and Pentavalon an end to all her
sorrows. Be thou my lord, my master--my dear love and husband--ride
with me this night to my fair Mortain--"
"To Mortain?" cried Beltane wildly, "aye, to Blaen, belike--to silken
wantonings and to--death! Tempt me not, O witch--aye, witch that
weaveth spells of her beauty--tempt me not I say, lest I slay thee to
mine own defence, for I know thee beyond all women fair, yet would I
slay thee first--" But, groaning, Beltane cast aside his sword and
covered burning eyes with burning palms, yet shook as with an ague fit.
The pleading hands fell, to clasp and wring each other; her proud head
sank, and a great sob brake from her, what time Beltane watched her
with eyes bright with fever and swayed upon his feet. Stumbling, he
turned, and left her, yet presently came back leading the war-horse
"To Mortain shalt thou ride to-night--I pray thee mount!" cried he,
"Come--mount, I say!"
Standing tall and proud before him she sighed and spake deep-sorrowing:
"Then will I leave thee--an it must be so. But, in days to come,
mayhap, thou shalt grieve for this hour, Beltane, nor shall all thy
sighs nor all thy tears avail to bring it back again. Thou hast shamed
me oft, yet for all thy bitter scorns I do forgive thee, aye, even the
anguish of my breaking heart, for that my love doth rise beyond my
pain; and so, dear my lord--fare thee well!"
So she mounted, whereat the mettled charger must needs rear, and
Beltane, staggering aside, catch at a tree and lean there.
"Art sick, Beltane?" she cried in sudden fear--"how may I leave thee
"Aye, Helen, for thy beauty. The devil is here, and I am here, so here
is no place for thee--so get thee gone, spur--spur! for despising thee
in my heart yet would I have thee stay: yet, an thou stay needs must I
slay thee ere the dawn and myself thereafter!"
Thus spake he, his voice loud, his speech quick and fevered.
"Indeed, thou'rt sick, my lord--nor do I fear thee, thou noble son of
"My father! Forsooth he liveth in Holy Cross Thicket within Mortain; he
bade me beware of women and the ways of women. So do I know thee witch,
thou golden Helen. Ha! must Troy burn again--I loved thee once, but
love is dead long since and turned corrupt--so get thee hence, Helen
"O, God pity thee, my Beltane, for thou dost love me yet, even as I
love thee--thou lonely man-child! God pity thee, and me also!" and,
crying thus, forlorn and desolate, the Duchess Helen rode upon her
Then turned Beltane and stumbled on he knew not whither, and betimes he
laughed loud and high and betimes he was shaken by great and fierce
sobs, yet found he never a tear. Thus, limping painfully, and stumbling
anon as one smitten blind, he wandered awhile, and so at length found
himself beside the little cave; and throwing himself down within its
shadows, tore away the bandages her gentle hands had wrought.
And lying there, it seemed that Fidelis yet lay beneath his arm, the
Fidelis who was no Fidelis; and in the shadows he laughed amain--wild
laughter that died of a sudden, choked by awful sobs, what time he
clenched his hands upon his throbbing ears; yet still, above the sounds
of his own anguish, needs must he hear again that forlorn and desolate
"O, God pity thee, Beltane!"
And now followed long hours when demons vile racked him with anguish
and mocked him with bitter gibes; a haunted darkness where was fear and
doubt and terror of things unknown: yet, in the blackness, a light that
grew to a glory wherein no evil thing might be, and in this glory SHE
did stand, tall and fair and virginal. And from the depths of
blackness, he cried to her in agony of remorse, and from the light she
looked down on him with eyes brimful of yearning love and tenderness,
for that a gulf divided them. But, across this hateful void she called
to him--"O, God pity thee, my Beltane!"
HOW BLACK ROGER TAUGHT BELTANE GREAT WISDOM
A darkness, full of a great quietude, a grateful stillness, slumberous
and restful; yet, little by little, upon this all-pervading silence, a
sound crept, soft, but distressful to one who fain would sleep; a sound
that grew, a sharp noise and querulous. And now, in the blackness, a
glimmer, a furtive gleam, a faint glow that grew brighter and yet more
bright, hurtful to eyes long used to deeps of gloom; but, with the
noise, ever this light grew--from gleam to glow and from glow to
dazzling glare; and so, at last, Beltane opened unwilling eyes--eyes
that blinked and smarted as they beheld a leaping flame where a fire of
twigs crackled merrily against a purple void beyond; beholding all of
which, Beltane forthwith shut his eyes again. But those soft deeps
wherein he had found so sweet oblivion, that great and blessed quietude
were altogether vanished and beyond him to regain; wherefore Beltane
felt himself aggrieved and sorrowed within himself, and so, presently
oped his reluctant eyes and fell to watching the play of wanton spark
and flame. None the less he knew himself yet aggrieved, also he felt a
sudden loneliness, wherefore (as was become his custom of late) he
called on one ever heedful and swift to answer his call.
"Fidelis!" he called, "Fidelis!" Yet came there no one, and Beltane
wondered vaguely why his voice should sound so thin and far away. So,
troubling not to move, he called again:
"Fidelis--art sleeping, my Fidelis?"
Now of a sudden, one stirred amid the shadows beyond the fire, mail
gleamed, and Black Roger bent over him.
"Master!" he cried joyfully, his eyes very bright, "O, master, art
awake at last?--dost know Roger--thy man,--dost know thy Roger, lord?"
"Aye, forsooth, I know thee, Roger," says Beltane, yet aggrieved and
querulous, "but I called not thee. Send me Fidelis--where tarries
"Master, I know not. He came to me within the Hollow six nights agone
and gave to me his horse and bid me seek thee here. Thereafter went he
afoot by the forest road, and I rode hither and found thee, according
to his word."
Then would Beltane have risen, but could not, and stared at Black
Roger's pitiful face with eyes of wonder.
"Why, Roger!" quoth he, "Why, Roger--?"
"Thou hast been very nigh to death, master. A mad-man I found thee, in
sooth--foaming, master, and crying in direful voice of spells and
magic. Bewitched wert thou, master, in very sooth--and strove and
fought with me, and wept as no man should weep, and all by reason of a
vile enchantment which the sweet saints forfend. So here hast thou lain
on the borders of death and here have I ministered to thee as Sir
Fidelis did teach me; and, but for these medicaments, I had wept upon
thy grave, for wert direly sick, lord, and--"
"Nay, here is no matter--tell me, tell me, where is Fidelis?"
"Dear master I know not, forsooth!"
"Went he by the forest road?"
"Aye, master, the forest road."
"Said he aught to thee of--of me, Roger?"
"Aye, 'twas all of thee and thy wound, and how to ease thy pain I must
do this, forsooth, and that, forsooth, and to break the fever must mix
and give thee certain cordials, the which I have done."
"Said he aught beside--aught else, Roger?"
"Aye, master, he bid me pray for thee, the which I have also done,
though I had rather fight for thee; nathless the sweet saints have
answered even my poor prayers, for behold, thou art alive and shall be
Now after this. Beltane lay with eyes fast shut and spake not; thus he
lay so long, that Roger, thinking he slept again, would have moved
away, but Beltane's feeble hand stayed him, and he spake, yet with eyes
"By the forest road, Roger!"
"Aye, lord, alone."
"Aye, lord, he bade me take his horse that I might come to thee the
"And--bid thee--pray for me--for me, Roger!"
"Verily, master. And pray I did, right lustily."
"So do I thank thee, Roger," said Beltane, speaking ever with closed
eyes. "Yet I would that God had let me die, Roger." And behold, from
these closed eyes, great tears, slow-oozing and painful, that rolled
a-down the pallid cheek, very bright in the fire-glow, and glistening
like the fairest gems.
"Master--O master!" cried Roger, "dost grieve thee for Sir Fidelis?"
"Forsooth, I must, Roger--he was a peerless friend, methinks!"
"Aye master, and--noble lady!"
"Roger--O Roger, how learned you this? Speak!"
"Lord, thou hast had visions and talked much within thy sickness. So do
I know that thou dost love the Duchess Helen that men do call 'the
Beautiful.' I do know that on thy marriage night thou wert snatched
away to shameful prison. I do know that she, because her heart was as
great as her love, did follow thee in knightly guise, and thou did most
ungently drive her from thee. All this, and much beside, thou didst
shout and whisper in thy fever."
Quoth Beltane, plucking at Roger with feeble hand:
"Roger--O Roger, since this thou knowest--tell me, tell me, can faith
and treachery lie thus within one woman's heart--and of all women--
"Master, can white be black? Can day be night? Can heaven be hell--or
can truth lie? So, an Sir Fidelis be faithful (and faithful forsooth is
he) so is the Duchess Helen faithful--"
"Nay, an she be true--O Roger, an she be true indeed, how think you of
the treachery, of--"
"I think here was witchcraft, master, spells, see'st thou, and magic
black and damned. As thou wert true to her, so was she true to thee, as
true as--aye, as true as I am, and true am I, Saint Cuthbert knoweth
that, who hath heard my prayers full oft of late, master."
"Now God bless thee, Roger--O, God bless thee!" So crying, of a sudden
Beltane caught Black Roger's sun-burned hand and kissed it, and
thereafter turned him to the shadows. And, lying thus, Beltane wept,
very bitterly yet very silent, until, like a grieving child he had wept
himself to forgetfulness and sleep. So slept he, clasped within Roger's
mailed arm. But full oft Black Roger lifted his bronzed right hand--the
hand that had felt Beltane's sudden kiss--and needs must he view it
with eyes of wonder, as if it had been indeed some holy thing, what
time he kept his midnight vigil beside the fire.
HOW BLACK ROGER PRAYED IN THE DAWN: AND HOW HIS PRAYERS WERE ANSWERED
"Holy Saint Cuthbert, art a very sweet and potent saint, and therefore
hast good eyes--which is well; so canst thou see him for thyself, how
weak he is and languid, that was a mighty man and lusty. Cherish him, I
pray thee! A goodly youth thou dost know him, thou didst see him burn a
gibbet, moreover I have told thee--and eke a knight of high degree. Yet
doth he lie here direly sick of body. Cherish him, I pray! Moreover,
sick is he of mind, for that he loveth one, a lady, methinks good and
worthy--so bring them together, these twain, not above, as saints in
heaven, but first as man and woman that shall beget such men as he,
such noble dames as she, and make the world a better place therefor.
See you to this matter, good Saint Cuthbert, and also the matter of his
Dukedom. But when he shall be Duke indeed, and blest with her that is
so fair a maid and apt to motherhood--I pray thee, Saint Cuthbert, let
him not forget me whose soul he saved long since within the green in
the matter of Beda that was a Jester--I pray thee let him have regard
to Black Roger that am his man henceforth to the end. Amen. Holy Saint
Cuthbert grant me this."
It was Black Roger, praying in the dawn, his broadsword set upright in
the ling, his hands devoutly crossed and his black head stooped full
low; thus he saw not Beltane's eyes upon him until his prayer was
Quoth Beltane then:
"May heaven grant thee thy prayer, Roger--'twas a good prayer and I the
better for it."
"Why, look now, master," says Roger, somewhat abashed, "I am a
something better prayer than I was, and I pray in good Saxon English;
thus do I call on Saint Cuthbert, that was a lusty Saxon ere that he
was a saint."
"But, Roger, what need to supplicate lest I forget thee? Think you I
should forget my faithful Roger?"
"Why, lord," says Roger, busily preparing wherewith to break their
fast, "when a man marrieth, see you, and thereafter proceedeth
forthwith to get him children, as the custom is--"
"Nay, dost talk folly, Roger!" quoth Beltane, his pale cheek flushing.
"Yet folly thou dost dream of, master, and she also--else wherefore
"Nay, Roger, doth Belsaye lie secure yet? What of Walkyn and our
comrades? Marched they to Belsaye as I did command?"
"Why, see you now, master, when our foes came not, and you came not, we
sent word to Belsaye that, within two days we would march thither,
according to thy word, and forthwith Giles sends word back that he was
very well and wanted no long-legged Walkyn or surly Roger to share
authority with him yet a while, and bid us twirl our thumbs within the
green until he commanded our presence--with divers other ribald japes
and wanton toys--whereon Walkyn and I waxed something wroth.
Therefore, when ye came not, our comrades fell to factions and riot,
whereat I, perforce, smote me one or two and Walkyn three or four and
so brought peace among them. But when we would have tarried yet for
thee, these rogue-fellows clamoured for Walkyn to lead them into the
wild, back to their ancient outlawry; so loud they clamoured and so
oft, that, in the end, Walkyn smiled--a strange thing in him, master--
but he agreed, whereon we came nigh to cutting each other's throats,
he and I. Howbeit, in the end he went, he and all the other rogues. So
bided I alone in the Hollow, day and night, waiting thee, master, and
at the last, cometh Sir Fidelis--and so all's said and behold thy
breakfast--a coney, see you, lord, that I snared but yest're'en."
"Our company gone--outlaws, spending their lives to no purpose--here is
evil news, Roger!"
"Here is tender meat, master, and delicate!"
"Back to outlawry! And Walkyn too!"
"Aye--but he smiled, master! Walkyn, methinks, is not a jovial soul,
lord, and when he smileth it behoveth others to frown and--beware. So
prithee eat hearty, lord, for, in a while the sun will stand above yon
whin-bush, and then 'twill be the eleventh hour, and at the eleventh
hour must I wash thy hurt and be-plaster it with this good ointment."
"Then shalt thou sleep, master, and I to the woods with my bow to get
us meat--sweet juicy venison, an the saints be kind!"
"And wherefore at the eleventh hour?"
"For that--She did so command me, master."
"She?" sighed Beltane.
"Aye, forsooth, master. She that the good Saint Cuthbert shall give to
thy close embracements one day."
"Think you so?" spake Beltane beneath his breath, and staring across
the sunny glade with eyes of yearning, "think you so indeed, Roger?"
"Of a surety, lord," nodded Roger, "seeing that I do plague the good
saint on the matter continually--for, master, when I pray, I do pray
So, in a while, the meal done and crock and pannikin washed and set
aside, Beltane's leg is bathed and dressed right skilfully with hands,
for all their strength and hardness, wondrous light and gentle.
Thereafter, stretched upon his bed of heather, Beltane watches Black
Roger gird on belt and quiver, and, bow in hand, stride blithely into
the green, and, ere he knows it, is asleep. And in his sleep, beholds
one who bends to kiss him, white hands outstretched and all heaven in
her eyes; and with her voice thrilling in his ears, wakes, to find the
sun already westering and Black Roger near by, who, squatting before a
rough table he has contrived set close beside the fire whereon a
cooking pot seethes and bubbles, is busied with certain brewings,
infusings and mixings in pipkin and pannikin, and all with brow of
Whereat says Beltane, wondering:
"What do ye, good Roger?"
"Master, I mix thee thy decoction as She did instruct--She is a
learned youth, master--Sir Fidelis. In these dried herbs and simples,
look you, lieth thy health and strength and Pentavalon's freedom--aye,
a notable youth in faith, thy Duchess."
Hereupon Beltane, remembering his dream, must needs close his eyes that
he may dream again, and is upon the portal of sleep when Roger's hand
"What would'st, Roger?"
"Take it hence!"
"Nay, it must be swallowed, master."
"Then swallow it thyself!"
"Nay, lord, 'tis the hour for thy draught appointed by Sir Fidelis and
She must be obeyed--come, master!" Forthwith, yet remembering his
dream, Beltane opens unwilling eyes and more unwilling mouth and the
draught is swallowed; whereupon comes languor and sleep, and therewith,
Anon 'tis even-fall, and the stars, one by one, peep forth of the
darkening heaven, shadows steal and lengthen and lo! 'tis night; a
night wherein the placid moon, climbing apace, fills the silent world
with the splendour of her advent. And ever and always Beltane lies
deep-plunged in slumber; but in his sleep he groans full oft and oft
doth call upon a name--a cry faint-voiced and weak, yet full of a
passionate yearning; whereupon cometh sturdy Roger to behold him in the
light of the fire, to stoop and soothe him with gentle hand; thus needs
must he mark the glitter of a tear upon that pale and sunken cheek,
wherefore Black Roger's own eyes must needs fall a-smarting and he to
grieving amain. In so much that of a sudden he stealeth swiftly from
the cave, and, drawing sword setteth it up-right in the ling; then
kneeling with bowed head and reverent hands, forthwith fell to his
prayers, after this wise:--
"Sweet Cuthbert--gentle saint--behind me in the shadows lieth my
master--a-weeping in his slumber. So needs must I weep also, since I do
love him for that he is a man. Good Saint Cuthbert, I have wrought for
him my best as thou hast seen--tended his hurt thrice daily and
ministered the potion as I was commanded. I have worked for him--prayed
for him--yet doth he weep great tears within his sleep. So now do I
place him in thy care, good saint, for thou dost know me but poor rogue
Roger, a rough man and all unlearned, yet, even so, I do most truly
love him and, loving him, do fear--for meseemeth his hurt is deeper
than hurt of body, he doth pine him and grieve for lack of his heart's
desire--a young man, sweet saint, that doth yearn for a maid right fair
and noble, _pars amours,_ good saint, as is the custom. But alack, she
is far hence and he lieth here sick and like to perish and I am but
poor Roger--a very sinful man that knoweth not what to do. So do I call
on thee, sweet saint--achieve me a miracle on his behalf, bring him to
his heart's desire that he may wax hale and well and weep no more
within his sleep. And this do I ask for his sake and his lady's sake
and for the sake of Pentavalon Duchy--not forgetting poor Roger that
doth plague thee thus for love of him. Amen!"
Now behold! even as the prayer was ended came a faint stir and rustle
amid the leaves hard by, and, lifting startled head, Black Roger beheld
a radiant vision standing in the pale glory of the moon, whereat he
knew fear and a great awe.
"O, good Saint Cuthbert, and is it thou indeed?" he whispered, "Sweet
saint, I thought not to win thee down from heaven thus, though forsooth
I did pray right lustily. But, since thou art come--"
"Hush, good Roger!" spake a voice soft and wondrous sweet to hear; and,
so speaking, the shining figure raised the vizor of its helm. "O hush
thee, Roger, for he sleepeth. All day, unseen, have I watched over him,
nor can I leave him until his strength be come again. And sleep is life
to him, so wake him not. Come your ways, for I would speak thee many
As one that dreams, Roger stared into the eyes beneath the vizor, and
as one that dreams he rose up from his knees, and, sheathing his sword,
followed whither the gleaming vision led; yet betimes he blinked upon
the moon, and once he shook his head and spake as to himself:
"Verily--aye, verily, a lusty pray-er, I!"
HOW BELTANE SWARE AN OATH
Slowly the days sped, dewy dawn and tender eve, days of sun and shadow
and gentle rain; golden days wherein Beltane lay 'twixt sleep and
wake, and nights of silver wherein he slept full deep and dreamed
wondrously of gentle hands that soothed him with their touch, and warm
soft lips on cheek and brow that filled him with a great and deep
And in these days, who so cheery as Black Roger, full of a new-found
gaiety, who laughed for small reason and ofttimes for none at all and
was forever humming snatches of strange song as he stooped above pipkin
and pannikin. Much given was he also to frequent comings and goings
within the green to no apparent end, while Beltane, within the little
cave, lay 'twixt sleep and waking; moreover, full oft as they ate their
evening meal together, he would start, and falling to sudden silence,
sit as one that hearkens to distant sounds. Yet withal was he ever
heedful of Beltane's many wants, who, as health came, grew more eager
to be gone, but finding himself too weak, straightway waxed moody and
rebellious, whereat smiling Roger waxed firm, so needs must frowning
Beltane be bathed and bandaged and swallow his draught--because of She
who had so commanded.
Now it befell upon a certain evening as Roger bent to peer into the pot
that seethed and bubbled upon the fire and to sniff its appetising
savour, he presently fell a-singing to himself in a voice gruff yet
musical withal; whereupon Beltane, turning languid head, fell to
watching this new Roger, and thereafter spake on this wise:
BELTANE. "What do ye so oft within the green?"
ROGER. "Hunt, that we may eat, master."
BELTANE. "I have seen thee go full oft of late and leave thy bow
ROGER. "Whereby I judge that though thine eyes be shut ye do not always
slumber, master, and methinks our supper is done--"
BELTANE. "Nay--what do ye in the green?"
ROGER. "Master, thy horse Mars hath a proud spirit and snorteth against
his bonds. So, lest he break thy slumber, have I made him a shelter of
wattles in the green."
BELTANE. "Truly, Roger, thou art greatly changed methinks."
ROGER (starting). "As how, master?"
BELTANE. "I have heard thee called Roger the grim, and Roger the surly,
ROGER (shaking woeful head). "Ere now, lord, I hanged men, conceiving
it my duty."
BELTANE. "And to-day you sing--and wherefore?"
ROGER. "For joy in life, master."
BELTANE. "And thou dost laugh, surly Roger--oft-times for little
ROGER. "For that my heart is renewed within me, master. Happiness is my
bedfellow and companion--here is good reason for laughter, methinks."
BELTANE. "And wherefore art thou happy, Roger?"
ROGER. "Item first: thou dost mend apace, lord. Item second: this mess
of venison hath a savour most delectable. Item third: happiness is the
birthright of every man. Moreover I have learned that behind the
blackest cloud is a glory of sun, and beyond sorrow, joy. So do I
rejoice that all is like to be well with thee."
BELTANE (bitterly). "Well with me, say you? Is Pentavalon free, Roger?
Do I not lie here, weak and helpless--my company scattered? O, call you
this well, forsooth?"
ROGER. "'Tis true thou art weak as yet, master, but thou shalt rise
again stronger than aforetime--aye, thou shalt arise indeed, and all
Pentavalon with thee. So let thine heart rejoice and sing, as mine
BELTANE (fiercely). "O evil day, that ere I gave my heart to woman's
love, so do I lie here a useless thing--O day accursed!"
ROGER. "O day most blessed, since woman's love hath lifted thee from
death and shall be thy glory and Pentavalon's salvation, master!"
BELTANE (eagerly). "Roger--Roger, speak you of the Duchess Helen? What
mean you, man?"
ROGER. "There be signs and portents, master, the very air is full o'
them. Whiles we tarry here, others be up and doing--"
BELTANE. "Others, Roger?"
ROGER. "Notably Walkyn o' the Axe, master!"
BELTANE. "Ha! and what of Walkyn?"
ROGER. "He smiled, master, as I told thee ere this, and when Walkyn
smileth it behoveth others to be wary. So now do I tell thee that
Walkyn hath taken and burned Duke Ivo's great Castle of Brandonmere,
that Winisfarne city hath risen 'gainst the Duke and all the border
villages likewise--aha! master, there be scythe-blades and good brown
bills a-twinkle all along the marches eager to smite for freedom and
Pentavalon when time is ripe!"
BELTANE (rising upon his knees). "Forsooth, is this so? O Roger, is
this so in very truth?"
ROGER. "'Tis very truth, master. Upon my sword I swear it!"
BELTANE. "But whence had ye the wondrous news--how--when?"
ROGER. "Master, 'twas three nights agone, as I wrestled prodigiously in
prayer on thy behalf, one came to me and spake me many things
marvellous good to hear. Moreover, I have met divers folk within the
greenwood and upon the forest-road yonder, and with all do I hold
Then to Roger's amaze Beltane rose up, and standing square upon his
feet lifted hands and eyes to heaven. "Now glory be to the living God,"
quoth he, "that hath heard the prayers of such as I. So now do I swear,
come life, come death, to walk my appointed way sword in hand,
henceforth, nor will I turn aside for man or woman, heeding not the
lure of friendship or of love. I do swear never to look upon a woman to
ROGER (fearfully). "Master--master!"
BELTANE. "Nor to suffer woman's love to come 'twixt me and my duty--"
ROGER (despairingly). "O master, swear it not--swear it not--"
BELTANE. "Nor shall aught let or stay me until Pentavalon win to
freedom or my poor soul return whence it came. And this do I swear to
the ears of God!"
Now turned he to Roger, bright-eyed and with hands tight-clenched.
"Roger," said he, "thou art witness to this my oath, an I do fail or
falter henceforth, then in that same hour may sharp death be mine. So
now bring to me sword and armour, for this night must I hence."
Now was Roger sore troubled and fain was to speak, but beholding his
master's flashing eye, he presently did as he was commanded. So Beltane
took hold upon the sword and drew it, and looked glad-eyed upon its
broad and shining blade. But when he would have wielded it, behold! he
scarce could lift it; with teeth fierce-clenched he strove against his
weakness until his breath waxed short and the sweat ran from him, but
ever the great blade grew the heavier. Then he groaned to find himself
so feeble, and cried aloud an exceeding bitter cry, and cast the sword
from him, and, staggering, fell into Roger's waiting arms. Forthwith
Roger bare him to the cave and laid him down upon his bed.
"Master," quoth he, "O master, grieve not thyself, thou shalt be hale
and strong anon, but the time is not yet. Comfort ye, comfort ye, my
lord--ere long thou shalt be strong, aye, and mightier e'en than
aforetime. So grieve not nor repine, my master!"
But Beltane lay heeding not, nor would he eat despite all Roger's
wheedling arts; but being fevered and athirst, drank deep of the
sleeping draught, and thereafter, falling to his black humour, turned
his face to the shadows, and, lying thus, straightway fell to weeping,
very silently, because of his so great weakness, until, like a child,
he had wept himself to sleep.
Slowly the moon sank, the fire burned low and Roger snored blissfully
hard by, but Beltane, blessed within his slumbers, dreamed again of one
who stole, light of foot, to lie beside him watchful in the dark and
with warm, soft arms set close about him like the sheltering arms of
that mother he had never known.
Thus slept Beltane, like a weary child upon a mother's breast, and knew
great peace and solace and a deep and utter content.
HOW BELTANE SET OUT FOR HANGSTONE WASTE
Day by day Beltane waxed in health and strength, and daily, leaning
upon Roger's trusty arm he walked further afield. And day by day, with
growing strength, so grew his doubt, and therewith, by times, a black
despond; for needs must he think ever of Helen the Beautiful, and fain
was he to tear her from his heart yet could not; then fain he would
have hated her, but in his ears her cry rang still--"God pity thee, my
Beltane!"--wherefore he was wont to fall to sudden gloom and
But upon a certain blithe evening Black Roger stood leaning on his
bow-stave to watch where Beltane swam the pool with mighty strokes, who,
laughing for very joy of it, presently sprang ashore, panting with his
exertions, and fell to donning his garments.
"How think ye, Roger," he cried, "am I fit to adventure me the world
"Forsooth, master, art well of thy wound and fever, and in a week or so
mayhap thou shalt perchance be well enough--"
"A week, Roger! I tell thee, man, this very day will I hence!"
"But, master," says Roger, shaking cautious head, "thy world is a world
of battles, and for battle art scarce yet strong enough--"
"Say ye so, Roger? Then here and now shalt make trial of me. Art a tall
and lusty fellow--come, man, let us try a fall together. And mark this,
Roger, an thou canst put me on my back shalt have thy will in the
matter, but, an I down thee, then hey! for horse and armour and the
forest-road this very night. Come, is't agreed?"
Now hereupon the wily Roger, noting the pallor of Beltane's sunken
cheek and how his broad breast laboured yet, and moreover feeling
himself aglow with lusty life and vigour, smiled grimly, nothing
doubting the issue. Wherefore he nodded his head.
"So be it, master," said he, "only take thy wind first." So saying he
set aside bow and quiver, loosed off his sword, and tightening his
belt, stepped towards Beltane, his broad back stooped, his knotted arms
advanced and fingers crooked to grapple. Once and twice he circled,
seeking a hold, then leapt he swift and low; arms and fingers clenched
and locked, and Beltane was bent, swayed, and borne from his feet; but
even so, with a cunning twist he brake Black Roger's hold and staggered
free. Quoth he:
"Art a very strong man, Roger, stronger than methought. Come again!"
Once more they circled heedfully, for Beltane had grown more wary:
thrice he sought a certain hold and thrice Black Roger foiled him, ere,
sudden and grim, he leapt and closed; and breast to breast they strove
fiercely, mighty arms straining and tight-clenched, writhing, swaying,
reeling, in fast-locked, desperate grapple. Now to Roger's strength and
quickness Beltane opposed craft and cunning, but wily Roger met guile
with guile nor was to be allured to slack or change his gripe.
Therefore of a sudden Beltane put forth his strength, and wrestled
mightily, seeking to break or weaken Roger's deadly hold. But Roger's
iron arms gripped and held him fast, crushed him, checked him.
"Aha! master," panted Roger, "now I have thee!" and therewith heaved
right lustily, felt Beltane yield and stagger, slacked his grip for the
final hold, and, in that moment, his arms were burst asunder, he was
whirled up, kicking, 'twixt earth and heaven, laid gently upon the
sward and, sitting up, found Beltane lying breathless beside him.
"'Twas a trick, Roger!" he panted, "I beat thee--but by an artifice--"
"Yet beaten I am, master," quoth Roger, vastly rueful.
"And art mightier than I thought thee, Roger."
"Master, I have wrestled oft with Gefroi that was the Duke's wrestler."
"Then art a better man than he, meseemeth," quoth Beltane.
"Yet thou hast beaten me, master!"
"So within the hour we will begone to our duty, Roger!"
"First to Winisfarne, and thence south to Belsaye, with every lusty
fellow we can muster. How think you?"
"I think the time is not yet, master."
"For that though things go well with thee and thy cause, yet shall they
go better anon."
"Nevertheless, Roger, within the hour we march. So come, first let us
eat, for I do famish."
So, when they had caught their breath again, together they arose and,
coming to the cave beneath the steep, they re-made the fire and set the
pot thereon; which done, Roger brought forth his lord's armour, bright
and newly polished, and in a while Beltane stood, a shining figure from
golden spur to gleaming bascinet. Thereafter, Roger armed him likewise,
and as two brothers-in-arms they sat together and ate their meal with
mighty appetite and gusto. Now presently, as they sat thus, Beltane
espied a thing that lay by Roger's knee, and, taking it up, behold!
'twas a wallet of fair-sewn leather, very artfully wrought, and, gazing
upon it he must needs fall to sudden thought, whereto he sighed full
deep and oft, till, finding Roger watching him, he forthwith checked
his sighs and frowned instead.
"Roger," quoth he, "whence had ye this thing?"
"My lord, from--Her, the sweet knight Sir Fidelis, thy lady--"
"Why wilt thou call her my lady, Roger?"
"For that 'tis she you love and sigh for, she that doth love thee and
shall bear thee right fair and lusty children yet, so do I pray, and my
prayers are potent these days, for the good Saint Cuthbert heedeth me
regardfully. So do I know that she shall yet lie within thine arms and
yield thee thine heart's desire, _pars_--"
"Art a fool, Roger--aye, a very fool, and talk arrant folly--"
"Yet, master, here is folly shall be thy joy and her joy and--"
"Enough, Roger! Hast forgot the oath I sware? And the ways of woman be
crooked ways. And woman's love a light matter. Talk we of women no
"How!" quoth Roger, staring, "speak we no more of--Her?"
"Forsooth, so be it, master, then will we talk of Sir Fidelis his love--"
"Nor of Sir Fidelis."
"Ha!" growled Roger, scratching his head, "must we go mumchance then,
"There be other matters for talk."
"Aye--there's witchcraft, master. For mark me, when thou wert sick and
nigh to God and the holy saints, the evil spell could not come nigh
thee, and thou didst yearn and cry continually for nought but--Her. But
now--now that thou'rt hale and strong again--"
"I behold things with mind unclouded, Roger."
"Save by enchantments damned, master. Since that evil day we met yon
accursed witch of Hangstone, hast never been thyself."
"Now do ye mind me how this woman did speak me of marvels and wonders,
"Artifice, lord--devilish toys to lure thee to fouler bewitchments."
"Howbeit, I will seek her out."
"Nay, good master, here shall be perils dire and deadly. O bethink
thee, lest she change thee into a swine, or black dog, aye, or even a
small shrew-mouse--I've heard of such ere now--or blast thee with fire,
or loathly disease, or--"
"None the less will I go."
"Never say so, master!"
"At the full o' the moon."
"Lord, now do I beseech thee--"
"And the moon will be full--to-night, Roger. Go you and saddle now the
Forthwith went Roger, gloomy and nothing speaking, what time Beltane
sat there staring down at the wallet on his knee, bethinking him of
many things, and, for that he was alone, sighing deep and oft; and so,
very suddenly, hung the wallet to his girdle and thereafter arose.
In a while cometh gloomy Roger leading the destrier Mars, whereon
gloomy Beltane swung to saddle, and, looking round about him once and
twice, rode slowly towards where, beyond the shade of trees, the forest
road ran north and south.
But, as for Roger, needs must he pause upon the edge of the clearing to
look back at the little cave beneath the steep, whereby the small
water-brook flowed murmurously; a while he stood thus, to frown and
shake gloomy head; then lifted he his hand on high, much as he had bid
one sorrowful farewell, and, turning about, trudged away after his
HOW BELTANE FOUND PEACE AND A GREAT SORROW
It had been an evening of cloud, but now the sky was clear and the moon
shone bright and round as they reached that desolate, wind-swept heath
that went by the name of Hangstone Waste, a solitary place at all
times but more especially wild and awful 'neath the ghostly moon;
wherefore Roger went wide-eyed and fearful, and kept fast hold of
"Ha--master, master!" cried he 'twixt chattering teeth, "did'st not
hear it, master?"
"Nay," answered Beltane, checking his horse, "what was it? where away?"
"'Twas a cry, master--beyond the marsh yonder. 'Tis there again!"
"'Twas an owl, Roger."
"'Twas a soul, master, a poor damned soul and desolate! We shall see
dire and dreadful sights on Hangstone Waste this night, master--holy
Saint Cuthbert! What was yon?"
"Nought but a bat, Roger."
"A bat, lord? Never think so. Here was, belike, a noble knight or a
lusty fellow be-devilled into a bat. Good master, let us go no further
--if thou hast no thought for thyself, have a little heed for poor
"Why look ye, good Roger, canst go where thou wilt, but, as for me, I
ride for the White Morte-stone."
"Nay then, an thou'rt blasted this night, master, needs must I be
blasted with thee--yonder lieth the Morte-stone, across the waste. And
now, may Saint Cuthbert and Saint Bede have us in their blessed care,
So they began to cross the rolling desolation of the heath and
presently espied a great boulder, huge and solitary, gleaming white and
ghostly 'neath the moon.
Being come very nigh, Beltane checked his horse and was about to
dismount, when Roger, uttering a sudden gasping cry, cowered to his
knees, for in the air about them was a sound very sweet to hear--the
whisper of lute-strings softly plucked by skilled and cunning fingers,
and thereafter a man's voice, rich and melodious, brake forth into
tender singing: and the words were these:--
"O moon! O gentle moon, to-night
Unveil thy softest, tend'rest light
Where feet I love, so small and white,
Do bear my love to me!"
"Stand up, Roger, here is nought to harm us, methinks," quoth Beltane
softly, "stand up, and hold my bridle."
"But see now, master, there be devil-goblins a many that do pipe like
"Nathless here's one that I must speak with," said Beltane, slipping to
earth and looking about him with wondering eyes, for the voice had
seemed to come from the grass at his feet. And while he yet sought to
and fro in frowning perplexity the melodious voice brake forth anew:
"O little feet, more white than snow,
If through the thorny brake ye go,
My loving heart I'll set below
To take the hurt for thee."
Now as the voice sank and the lute-strings quivered to silence,
Beltane, coming behind the great rock, beheld a glow, very faint and
feeble, that shone through thick-clustering leaves; and, putting aside
a whin-bush that grew against the rock, perceived a low and narrow
alley or passage-way leading downwards into the earth, lighted by a
soft, mellow beam that brightened as he advanced and presently showed
him a fair-sized chamber cunningly hollowed within the rock and adorned
with rich furs and skins. And behold one who reclined upon a couch of
skins, a slender, youthful figure with one foot wondrously be-wrapped
and swathed, who, beholding Beltane's gleaming mail, sprang up very
nimbly and fronted him with naked sword advanced.
"Nay, hast forgot thy friend, Sir Jocelyn?"
Incontinent the sword was tossed aside, and with a joyous cry Sir
Jocelyn sprang and caught him in close embrace.
"Now by sweet Venus her downy dove--'tis Beltane!" he cried. "Now
welcome and thrice welcome, my lordly smith, thou mighty son of noble
father. Ah, lord Duke, I loved thee that day thou didst outmatch Gefroi
the wrestler in the green. Since then much have I learned of thee and
thy valiant doings, more especially of Barham Broom--how thou didst
slay the vile Sir Gilles 'neath the eyes of Ivo and all his powers and
thereby didst snatch from shame and cruel death one that is become the
very heart of me, so needs must I love and honour and cherish thee so
long as I be Jocelyn and thou thy noble self. Come, sit ye--sit ye
here, for fain am I to question thee--"
"But," said Beltane, wrinkling puzzled brow, "how came you hither--and
art wounded, Jocelyn?"
"Aye, my lord, to desperation--O direly, Beltane. I do languish night
and day, sleep doth bring me no surcease and music, alack, abatement
none. Food--base food repelleth me and wine no savour hath. Verily,
verily, wounded deep am I."
"Forsooth," said Beltane, "thy foot doth wear bandages a many, but--"
"Bandages?" cried Jocelyn, staring. "Foot? Nay, nay, my torment is not
here," and he flourished his beswathed foot in an airy, dancing step.
"Indeed, Beltane, herein do I confess me some small artifice, yet, mark
me, to a sweet and worthy end. For my hurt lieth here,--sore smit am I
within this heart o' mine."
"Thy heart again, Jocelyn?"
"Again?" said the young knight, wrinkling slender brows.
"Aye, thou did'st sing thy heart's woe to me not so long since--in an
hundred and seventy and eight cantos, and I mind thy motto: 'Ardeo'."
"Nay, Beltane, in faith--indeed, these were folly and youthful folly,
the tide hath ebbed full oft since then and I, being older, am wiser.
Love hath found me out at last--man's love. List now, I pray thee and
mark me, friend. Wounded was I at the ford you wot of beside the mill,
and, thereafter, lost within the forest, a woeful wight! Whereon my
charger, curst beast, did run off and leave me. So was I in unholy
plight, when, whereas I lay sighful and distressed, there dawned upon
my sight one beyond all beauty beautiful. Y-clad in ragged garb was
she, yet by her loveliness her very rags were glorified. To me, shy as
startled doe, came she and, with saintly pity sweet, did tend my hurt,
which done, with much ado she did hither bring me. Each day, at morn
and eve, came she with cates rare and delicate, and her gentle hands
did woo my wound to health, the which indeed so swift grew well that I
did feign divers pains betimes lest she should vanish from me quite--so
grew my love. At the first loved I her something basely, for the beauty
of her body fair, whereat she grieved and sorrowed and fled from my
regard, and for an eternity of days came not again until yestere'en.
And, Beltane, though base her birth, though friendless, poor and
lonely, yet did my heart know her far 'bove my base self for
worthiness. So did I, yestere'en, upon my knightly word, pledge her my
troth, so shall she be henceforth my lady of Alain and chatelaine of
divers goodly castles, manors, and demesnes. To-night she cometh to me
in her rags, and to-night we set forth, she and I, to Mortain, hand in
hand--nor shall my lips touch hers, Beltane, until Holy Church hath
made us one. How think ye of my doing, friend?"
"I do think thee true and worthy knight, Sir Jocelyn, and moreover--"
But of a sudden, Roger's voice reached them from without, hoarse with
"Master--O master, beware! 'Tis the witch, lord--O beware!"
And with the cry, lo! a hurry of feet running swift and light, a rustle
of flying garments, and there, flushed and panting, stood the witch--
the witch Mellent that was the lady Winfrida. Now, beholding Beltane,
her eyes grew wide with swift and sudden fear--she quailed, and sank to
her knees before him; and when Sir Jocelyn, smitten to mute wonder,
would have raised her, she brake forth into bitter weeping and crouched
"Nay, touch me not my lord, lest thou repent hereafter--for now do I
see that happiness is not for me--now must I say such words as shall
slay thy love for me, so touch me not."
"Ha, never say so!" cried Sir Jocelyn, "not touch thee? art not mine
own beloved Mellent?"
"Nay, I am the lady Winfrida--"
"Thou--Winfrida the rich and proud--in these rags? Thou, Winfrida the
Fair?--thy raven hair--"
"O, my hair, my lord? 'twas gold, 'tis black and shall be gold again,
but I am that same Winfrida."
"But--but I have seen Winfrida betimes in Mortain ere now."
"Nay, then, didst but look at her, my lord, for thine eyes saw only the
noble Helen's beauty. Alas! that ever I was born, for that I am that
Winfrida who, for ambition's sake and wicked pride, did a most vile
thing--O my lord Beltane, as thou art strong, be pitiful--as thou art
deeply wronged, be greatly merciful."
"How--how--mean you?" said Beltane, slow-speaking and breathing deep.
"Lord--'twas I--O, how may I tell it? My lord Beltane, upon thy wedding
night did I, with traitorous hand, infuse a potent drug within the
loving-cup, whereby our lady Duchess fell into a swoon nigh unto death.
And--while she lay thus, I took from her the marriage-robe--the gown of
blue and silver. Thereafter came I, with my henchman Ulf the Strong
and--found thee sleeping in the chapel. So Ulf--at my command--smote
thee and--bound thee fast, and, ere the dawn, I brought thee--to
Garthlaxton--O my lord!"
"Thou--? It was--thou?"
"I do confess it, my lord Beltane--traitor to thee, and base traitor to
"Why, verily--here was treachery--" quoth Beltane speaking slow and
soft, "truly here--methinks--was treachery--and wherefore?"
"O my lord, must I--tell this?"
"I do ask thee."
Then did Winfrida shrink within herself, and crouched yet further from
Sir Jocelyn as though his eyes had hurt her.
"Lord," she whispered, "I was--jealous! Duke Ivo wooed me long ere he
loved the Duchess Helen, so was I jealous. Yet was I proud also, for I
would suffer not his love until he had made me wife. And, upon a day,
he, laughing, bade me bring him captive this mighty man that defied his
power--that burned gibbets and wrought such deeds as no other man
dared, swearing that, an I did so, he would wed with me forthright. And
I was young, and mad with jealousy and--in those days--I knew love not
at all. But O, upon a day, I found a new world wherein Love came to me
--a love so deep and high, so pure and noble, that fain would I have
died amid the flame than thus speak forth my shame, slaying this
wondrous love by my unworthiness. Yet have I told my shame, and love is
dead, methinks, since I am known for false friend and traitor vile--a
thing for scorn henceforth, that no honourable love may cleave to. So
is love dead, and fain would I die also!"
Now, of a sudden, while yet Beltane frowned down upon her, came Sir
Jocelyn, and kneeling beside Winfrida, spake with bent head:
"Messire Beltane, thou seest before thee two that are one, henceforth.
So do I beseech thee, forgive us our trespass against thee, an it may
be so. But, if thy wrongs are beyond forgiveness, then will we die
"O Jocelyn!" cried Winfrida breathlessly, "O dear my lord--surely never
man loved like thee! Lord Beltane, forgive--for this noble knight's
sake--forgive the sinful Winfrida!"
"Forgive?" said Beltane, hoarsely, "forgive?--nay, rather would I
humbly thank thee on my knees, for thou hast given back the noblest
part of me. She that was lost is found again, the dead doth live. Helen
is her noble self, and only I am vile that could have doubted her. The
happiest man, the proudest, and the most woeful, I, in all the world,
methinks. O kneel not to me--and pray you--speak on this matter no
more. Rise, rise up and get ye to your joy. Lady, hast won a true and
leal knight, and thou, Sir Jocelyn, a noble lady, who hath spoken truth
at hazard of losing her love. And I do tell ye, love is a very blessed
thing, greater than power, or honour, or riches, or aught in the world
but love. Aye, surely Love is the greatest thing of all!" So saying,
Beltane turned very suddenly, and strode out, where, beside the great
horse Mars, stood Roger, very pale in the moonlight, and starting and
staring at every rustling leaf and patch of shadow.
"Roger," said he, "thou art afraid of bats and owls, yet, forsooth, art
a wiser man than I. Bring hither the horse."