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Beltane The Smith (Chapter63)

2006-08-28 16:41

  Chapter LXIII. Telleth Somewhat of the Woes of Giles O' The Bow

  Six days and nights my Beltane kept his bed, seeing and speaking to no man; and it is like he would have died but for the fostering care of the good Friar Martin who came and went softly about him, who watched and tended and prayed over him long and silently but who, perceiving his heart-sickness, spake him not at all. Day in and day out Beltane lay there, heedless of all but his great sorrow, sleeping little and eating less, his face hid in his pillow or turned to the wall, and in all this time he uttered no word nor shed a single tear.

  His wounds healed apace but his soul had taken a deeper hurt, and day and night he sorrowed fiercely for his noble mother, wherefore he lay thus, heeding nought but his great grief. But upon the seventh night, he dreamed she stood beside his couch, tall and fair and gracious, and looked down on him, the mother-love alight within her sweet, sad eyes. Now within her hand she bare his sword and showed him the legend graven upon the bright steel:

  RESURGAM

  And therewith she smiled wondrous tender and put the great weapon into his grasp; then stooped and kissed him, and, pointing upward with her finger, was gone.

  And now within his sleep his anguished heart found solacement in slow and burning tears, and, sleeping yet, he wept full bitterly, insomuch that, sobbing, he awoke. And lo! beneath his right hand was the touch of cold steel and his fingers clenched tight upon the hilt of his great sword.

  Then my Beltane arose forthwith, and finding his clothes near by, clad himself and did on his mail, and, soft-treading, went forth of his narrow chamber. Thus came he where Friar Martin lay, deep-breathing in his slumber, and waking him not, he passed out into the dawn. And in the dawn was a gentle wind, very cool and grateful, that touched his burning brow and eyes like a caress; now looking up to heaven, where stars were paling to the dawn, Beltane raised the hilt of his sword and pressed it to his lips.

  "O blessed mother!" he whispered, "God hath surely found thee worthy to be one of His holy angels, so hast thou stooped from heaven to teach to me my duty. Thus now will I set by my idle grieving for thee, sweet saint, and strive to live thy worthy son——O dear my mother, who, being dead, yet liveth!"

  Then Beltane sheathed his sword and went softly up the narrow stair that led to the battlements.

  It was a bleak dawn, full of a thick, low-lying mist beyond the walls, but within this mist, to north and south and east and west, was a faint stir, while, ever and anon, rose the distant cry of some sentinel within Duke Ivo's sleeping camp, a mighty camp whose unseen powers held the fair city in deadly grip. In Belsaye nothing stirred and none waked at this dead hour save where, high on the bartizan above the square and mighty keep, the watchman paced to and fro, while here and there from curtain wall and massy tower, spear-head and bascinet gleamed.

  Slow and light of foot Beltane climbed the narrow stair that led up to one of the two square towers that flanked the main gate, but, being come thither, he paused to behold Giles, who chancing to be captain of the watch, sat upon a pile of great stones beside a powerful mangonel or catapult and stared him dolefully upon the lightening east: full oft sighed he, and therewith shook despondent head and even thus fell he to soft and doleful singing, groaning to himself 'twixt each verse, on this wise:

  "She will not heed her lover's moan,His moped tear, his deep-fetched groan,So doth he sit, and here alone Sing willow!

  ("With three curses on this foul mist!)

  "The little fishes fishes woo,Birds blithe on bough do bill and coo,But lonely I, with sad ado Sing willow!"

  ("And may Saint Anthony's fire consume Bernard, the merchant's round, plump son!)

  "'Tis sure a maid was made for man,'Twas e'en so since the world began,Yet doleful here, I only can Sing willow!"

  ("And may the blessed saints have an eye upon her tender slumbers!")

  Here Giles paused to sigh amain, to fold his arms, to cross his legs, to frown and shake gloomy head; having done the which, he took breath and sang again as followeth:——

  "Alack-a-day, alas and woe!

  Would that Genevra fair might know 'Tis for her love Giles of the Bow Sings willow!"

  But now, chancing to turn and espy Beltane, Giles fell suddenly abashed, his comely face grew ruddy 'neath its tan and he sprang very nimbly to his feet:

  "Ha, tall brother——good brother," he stammered, "noble lord, God den to ye——hail and good morrow! Verily and in faith, by Saint Giles (my patron saint, brother) I do rejoice to see thee abroad again, as will our surly Rogerkin that doth gloom and glower for thee and hath hung about thy chamber door morn and noon and night, and our noble Sir Benedict and Walkyn——but none more unfeignedly than Giles that doth grow glad because of thee——"

  "That is well," quoth Beltane, seating himself upon the battlement, "for verily thy song was vastly doleful, Giles!"

  "My song, lord, my song? Ha——hum! O verily, my song is a foolish song or the song of a fool, for fool am I, forsooth——a love-lorn fool; a doleful fool, a very fool of fools, that in my foolish folly hath set his foolish heart on thing beyond reach of such base fool as I. In a word, tall brother, I'm a fool, videlicet——a lover!"

  "Truly, hast the speech and outward seeming of your approved lover, Giles," nodded Beltane.

  "Aye, verily!" sighed Giles, "aye, verily——behold my beard, I have had no heart to trim it this sennight! Alack, I——I that was so point-de-vice am like to become a second Diogenes (a filthy fellow that never washed and lived in a foul tub!)。 As for food, I eat no more than the chameleon that doth fill its belly with air and nought else, foolish beast! I, that was wont to be a fair figure of a man do fall away to skin and bone, daily, hourly, minute by minute——behold this leg, tall brother!" And Giles thrust out a lusty, mailed limb. "Here was a leg once——a proper shapely leg to catch a woman's eye——see how it hath shrunk, nay, faith, 'tis hidden in mine armour! But verily, my shanks will soon be no thicker than my bowstave! Lastly I——I that loved company and good cheer do find therein abomination these days, so do I creep, like moulting fowl, brother, to corners dark and dismal and there make much ado——and such is love, O me!"

  "Doth the maid know of thy love?"

  "Nay lord, good lack, how should she?——who am I to speak of it? She is a fair lady and noble, a peerless virgin, while I——I am only Giles—— poor Giles o' the Bow, after all!"

  "Truly, love is teaching thee wisdom, Giles," said Beltane, smiling.

  "Indeed, my lord, my wisdom teacheth me this——that were I the proudest and noblest in the land yet should I be unworthy!" and Giles shook miserable head and sighed again full deep.

  "Who is she, Giles?"

  "She is Genevra, daughter to the Reeve! And the Reeve is a great man in Belsaye and gently born, alas! And with coffers full of good broad pieces. O would she were a beggar-maid, the poorest, the meanest, then might I woo her for mine own. As it is, I can but look and sigh——for speak me her I dare not——ha, and there is a plump fellow!" Here Giles clenched bronzed fist. "A round and buxom fellow he, a rich merchant's son doth woo her boldly, may speak with her, may touch her hand! So do I ofttimes keep him shooting at the butts by the hour together and therein do make me some small amend. Yet daily do I mope and pine, and pine and mope——O tall brother, a most accursed thing is this love——and dearer than my life, heigho!"

  "Nay, pluck up thy heart, thou'rt a man, Giles."

  "Aye, verily, but she is a maid, brother, therein lieth vasty difference, and therefore do I fear her for her very sweetness and purity——fear her? Faith, my knees do knock at sound of her voice, her very step doth set me direly a-tremble. For she is so fair——so pure and nigh the angels, that I——alack! I have ever been a something light fellow in matters of love——forget not I was bred a monk, noble brother! Thus, brother, a moping owl, I——a very curst fellow, gloomy and silent as the grave, saving my breath for sighs and groans and curses fell, wherefore I have builded me a 'mockery' above the wall and there-from do curse our foes, as only a churchman may, brother."

  "Nay, how mean you, Giles?" questioned Beltane, staring.

  "Follow me, lord, and I will show thee!" So saying, Giles led the way down to the battlement above the great gates, where was a thing like unto a rough pulpit, builded of massy timbers, very stout and strong, and in these timbers stood many arrows and cross-bow bolts.

  "Here, lord," quoth Giles, "behold my 'mockery' wherefrom it is my wont and custom to curse our foes thrice daily. The which is a right good strategy, brother, in that my amorous anguish findeth easement and I do draw the enemy's shafts, for there is no man that heareth my contumacious dictums but he forthwith falleth into rageful fury, and an angry fellow shooteth ever wide o' the mark, brother. Thus, thrice daily do we gather a full sheaf of their ill-sped shafts, whereby we shall not lack for arrows an they besiege us till Gabriel's trump—— heigho! Thus do I live by curses, for, an I could not curse, then would my surcharged heart assuredly in sunder burst——aye me!"

  Now whiles they sat thus in talk, up rose the sun, before whose joyous beams the stealthy mists slunk away little by little, until Beltane beheld Duke Ivo's mighty camp——long lines of tents gay with fluttering pennon and gonfalon, of huts and booths set well out of bowshot behind the works of contravallation——stout palisades and barriers with earthworks very goodly and strong. And presently from among these booths and tents was the gleam and glitter of armour, what time from the waking host a hum and stir arose, with blare and fanfare of trumpet to usher in the day: and in a while from the midst of the camp came the faint ring and tap of many hammers.

  Now as the mists cleared, looking thitherward, Beltane stared wide-eyed to behold wooden towers in course of building, with the grim shapes of many powerful war-engines whose mighty flying-beams and massy supporting-timbers filled him with great awe and wonderment.

  "Ha!" quoth Giles, "they work apace yonder, and by Saint Giles they lack not for engines; verily Black Ivo is a master of siege tactics—— but so is Giles, brother! See where he setteth up his mangonels, trebuchets, perriers and balistae, with bossons or rams, towers and cats, in the use of the which he is right cunning——but so also is Giles, brother! And verily, though your mangonels and trebuchets are well enough, yet for defence the balista is weapon more apt, methinks, as being more accurate in the shooting and therefore more deadly——how think you, lord?"

  "Indeed Giles, being a forester I could scarce tell you one from another."

  "Ha——then you'll know nought of their nature and use, lord?"

  "Nought, Giles. Ne'er have I seen their like until now."

  "Say ye so, brother?" cried Giles full eager, his brown eyes a-kindle, "say ye so in very truth? Then——an it be so thy wish——I might instruct thee vastly, for there is no man in the world to-day shall discourse you more fluent and learned upon siege-craft, engines and various tormenta than I. So——an it be thy wish, lord——?"

  "It is my wish: say on, Giles."

  "Why then firstly, lord, firstly we have the great Mangon or mangonel, fundis fundibula, that some do also term catapultum, the which worketh by torsion and shall heave you great stones of the bigness of a man fully two hundred yards an it be dry weather; next is the Trebuchet, like to the mangon save that it swingeth by counterpoise; next cometh the Balista or Springald that worketh by tension——a pretty weapon! and shall shoot you dart or javelin so strong as shall transpierce you six lusty fellows at a time, hauberk and shield, like so many fowl upon a spit——very sweet to behold, brother! Then have we the Bore or Cat that some again do name musculus or mouse for that it gnaweth through thick walls——and some do call this hog, sow, scrofa or sus, brother, and some again, vulpes.

  "And this Cat is a massy pole that beareth a great and sharp steel point, the which, being mounted within a pent-house, swingeth merrily to and fro, much like to a ram, brother, and shall blithely pick you a hole through stone and mortar very pleasing to behold. Then we have the Ram, cancer testudo, that battereth; next we have the Tower or Beffroi that goeth on wheels——yonder you shall see them a-building. And these towers, moving forward against your city, shall o'ertop the walls and from them archers and cross-bowmen may shoot into your town what time their comrades fill up and dam your moat until the tower may come close unto your walls. And these towers, being come against the wall, do let fall drawbridges over which the besiegers may rush amain and carry your walls by assault. Lastly, there be Mantlets——stakes wattled together and covered with raw-hide——by the which means the besiegers make their first approaches. Then might I descant at goodly length upon the Mine and Furnace, with divers and sundry other stratagems, devices, engines and tormenta, but methinks this shall mayhap suffice thee for the nonce?"

  "Aye, verily——'twill suffice!" said Beltane, rising. "Truly war is even more terrible than I had thought."

  "Why lord, 'tis an art——a notable art and——ha! this doth mind me of my heart, heigho! And of all terrible things, of all the woes and ills man-hearts may know is——love. O me, alack and woe!"

  "When doth thy watch end, Giles?"

  "It ended an hour agone, but to what end? Being a lover I sleep little and pine much, and this is a fair good place and solitary, so will I pine awhile and likewise mope and languish, alack!"

  So presently, as Beltane descended the stair, he heard the archer break forth again in doleful song.

  Across the wide market-square went Beltane, with brow o'ercast and head low-bowed until he came to one of the many doors of the great minster; there paused he to remove bascinet and mail-coif, and thus bareheaded, entered the cathedral's echoing dimness. The new-risen sun made a glory of the great east window, and with his eyes uplifted to this many-coloured glory, Beltane, soft-treading, crossed dim aisle and whispering transept; but, as he mounted the broad steps of the sanctuary he paused with breath in check, for he heard a sound——a soft sound like the flutter of wings or the rustle of silken draperies. Now as he stood thus, his broad, mail-clad shoulders and golden hair bathed in the refulgence of the great window, it seemed to him that from somewhere near there breathed a sigh, tremulous and very soft, and thereafter was the quick, light tread of feet, and silence.

  A while stood Beltane scarce breathing, then, slow and reverent, he approached the high altar; and ever as he went was a fragrance, wonder-sweet, that grew stronger and stronger until he was come behind the high altar where was his mother's grave. And lo! upon that long, white stone lay flowers a-bloom, roses and lilies whose dewy loveliness filled the place with their pure and fragrant sweetness. So looked he round about and upon these flowers with grateful wonder, and sinking to his knees, bowed his head and folded his hands in prayer.

  But presently, as he knelt thus, he was roused by the clank of steel and a shuffling step, wherefore he arose and crossing to the shadows of the choir, sat him down within the deeper gloom to wait until his disturber should be gone. Slowly these halting steps advanced, feet that stumbled oft; near they came and nearer, until Beltane perceived a tall figure whose armour gleamed dully and whose shoulders were bowed like one that is feeble or very weary.

  "Yolande!" said a voice, a hoarse voice but very tender, "Yolande, beloved!" And on the word the voice broke and ended upon a great sob, swift followed by another and yet another, the fierce sobbing of a man.

  Then Beltane clenched his hands and rose up, for behold! this man was Sir Benedict. But now, and very suddenly, Sir Benedict was upon his knees, and bent and kissed that white, smooth stone whereon as yet was no inscription.

  "Yolande!" he whispered, "now thou art one among the holy angels, O forget not thy most unworthy Benedict. God——O God! Father to whom all hearts are open, Thou dost know how as child and maid I loved her, how as a wife I loved her still——how, in my madness, I spake my love——and she, being saint and woman, bade me to my duty. So, by her purity, kept she my honour unstained——"

  Beltane's long scabbard struck the carven panelling, a soft blow that yet echoed and re-echoed in vaulted arch and dim roof, and, glancing swiftly up, Sir Benedict beheld him.

  And kneeling thus beside the grave of the woman he had loved, Sir Benedict looked up into Beltane's face with eyes wide, eyes unflinching but dimmed with great grief and pain.

  Quoth he, firm-voiced:

  "My lord, thou hast learned my life's secret, but, ere thou dost judge me, hear this! Long ere thy princely father met thy mother, we loved, she and I, and in our love grew up together. Then came the Duke thy father, a mighty lord; and her mother was ambitious and very guileful—— and she——but a maid. Thus was she wed. Then rode I to the foreign wars seeking death——but death took me not. So, the wars ended, came I home again, burning ever with my love, and sought her out, and beholding the sadness in her eyes I spake my love; and forgetful of honour and all save her sweet soul and the glory of her beauty, I tempted her——aye, many times!——tempted her in fashion merciless and cruel insomuch that she wept many bitter tears, and, upon a day, spake me thus: 'Benedict, 'tis true I loved thee, for thou wert a noble knight——but now, an thy love for me be so small that thou canst bring me to this shame, then—— take me where thou wilt——but——ne'er shall all thy love nor all my tears thereafter cleanse us from the shame of it.' Thus went I from her, nor have I looked on woman since. So followed I thy father in all his warring and all my days have I fought much——fierce foes within me and without, and lived——a very solitary life. And to-day she lieth dead——and I am here, old and worn, a lonely man and sinful, to be judged of as ye will."

  Then came Beltane and looked down into Sir Benedict's pale, sad face. And beholding him thus in his abasement, haggard with wounds and bowed with grief, needs must Beltane kneel also and thereafter spake thus:

  "Sir Benedict, who am I, to judge of such as thou?"

  "I tempted her——I wooed her to shame, I that loved her beyond life——did cause her many bitter tears——alas!"

  "Yet in the end, Sir Benedict, because thy love was a great and noble love, thou didst triumph over base self. So do I honour thee and pray that I, in like case, may act as nobly."

  "And now——she lieth dead! So for me is life ended also, methinks!"

  "She is a saint in heaven, Benedict, living forever. As to thee, on whose skill and valiance the safety of this fair city doth hang——so hath God need of thee here, methinks. So now for thy sake and for her sake needs must I love thee ever and always, thou noble knight. She, being dead, yet liveth and shall go betwixt us henceforth, drawing us together in closer bonds of love and amity——is it not so, dear my friend?" And speaking, Beltane reached out his hands across his mother's narrow grave, and straightway came Sir Benedict's hands, swift and eager, to meet and clasp them.

  For a while knelt they thus, hand clasping hand above that long, white stone whence stole to them the mingled fragrance of the flowers, like a silent benediction. And presently, together they arose and went their way; but now, seeing how Sir Benedict limped by reason of his wounds, Beltane set an arm about him. So came they together out of the shadows into the glory of the morning.

  Now as they came forth of the minster, the tocsin rang loud in sudden alarm.

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