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Beltane The Smith (Chapter6)

2006-08-28 16:26

  Chapter VI. How Beltane Fared Forth of the Green

  Thus spake the hermit Ambrose and, having made an end, sat thereafter with his head bowed upon his hands, while Beltane stood wide-eyed yet seeing not, and with lips apart yet dumb by reason of the wonder of it; therefore, in a while, the hermit spake again:

  "Thus did we live together, thou and I, dear son, and I loved thee well, my Beltane: with each succeeding day I loved thee better, for as thine understanding grew, so grew my love for thee. Therefore, so soon as thou wert of an age, set in thy strength and able to thine own support, I tore myself from thy sweet fellowship and lived alone lest, having thee, I might come nigh to happiness."

  Then Beltane sank upon his knees and caught the hermit's wasted hands and kissed them oft, saying:

  "Much hast thou suffered, O my father, but now am I come to thee again and, knowing all things, here will I bide and leave thee nevermore." Now in the hermit's pale cheek came a faint and sudden glow, and in his eyes a light not of the sun.

  "Bethink thee, boy," said he, "the blood within thy veins is noble. For, since thou art my son, so, an thou dost leave me and seek thy destiny thou shalt, perchance, be Duke of Pentavalon——an God will it so."

  But Beltane shook his head. Quoth he:

  "My father, I am a smith, and smith am I content to be since thou, lord Duke, art my father. So now will I abide with thee and love and honour thee, and be thy son indeed."

  Then rose the hermit Ambrose to his feet and spake with eyes uplifted:

  "Now glory be to God, Who, in His mercy, hath made of thee a man, my Beltane, clean of soul and innocent, yet strong of arm to lift and succour the distressed, and therefore it is that you to-day must leave me, my well-beloved, for there be those whose need of thee is greater even than mine."

  "Nay, dear my father, how may this be?"

  Now hereupon Ambrose the Hermit stood awhile with bent head, and spake not, only he sighed full oft and wrung his hands.

  "I thought but of myself!" he groaned, "great sorrow is oft-times greatly selfish. Alas, my son——twenty weary years have I lived here suing God's forgiveness, and for twenty bitter years Pentavalon hath groaned 'neath shameful wrong——and death in many hateful shapes. O God have mercy on a sinner who thought but on himself! List, my son, O list! On a day, as I kneeled before yon cross, came one in knightly armour and upon his face, 'neath the links of his camail, I saw a great scar——the scar this hand had wrought. And, even as I knew Sir Benedict, in that same moment he knew me, and gave a joyous cry and came and fell upon his knee and kissed my hand, as of old. Thereafter we talked, and he told me many a woeful tale of Pentavalon and of its misery. How, when I was gone, rose bitter fight and faction, barons and knights striving together which should be Duke. In the midst of the which disorders came one, from beyond seas, whom men called Ivo, who by might of sword and cunning tongue made himself Duke in my place. Sir Benedict told of a fierce and iron rule, of the pillage and ravishment of town and city, of outrage and injustice, of rack and flame and gibbet——of a people groaning 'neath a thousand cruel wrongs. Then, indeed, did I see that my one great sin a thousand other sins had bred, and was I full of bitter sorrow and anguish. And, in my anguish, I thought on thee, and sent to thee Sir Benedict, and watched thee wrestle, and at stroke of sword, and praised God for thy goodly might and strength. For O, dear my son, meseemeth that God hath raised thee up to succour these afflicted, to shield the weak and helpless——hath made thee great and mightier than most to smite Evil that it may flee before thee. So in thee shall my youth be renewed, and my sins, peradventure, purged away."

  "Father!" said Beltane rising, his blue eyes wide, his strong hands a-tremble, "O my father!" Then Ambrose clasped those quivering hands and kissed those wide and troubled eyes and spake thereafter, slow and soft:

  "Now shall I live henceforth in thee, my son, glorying in thy deeds hereafter. And if thou must needs——bleed, then shall my heart bleed with thee, or if thou meet with death, my Beltane, then shall this heart of mine die with thee."

  Thus speaking, the hermit drew the sword from Beltane's girdle and held the great blade towards heaven.

  "Behold, my son," said he, "the motto of our house, 'I will arise!' So now shalt thou arise indeed that thy destiny may be fulfilled. Take hold upon thy manhood, my well-beloved, get thee to woeful Pentavalon and, beholding its sorrows, seek how they may be assuaged. Now my Beltane, all is said——when wilt thou leave thy father?"

  Quoth Beltane, gathering his cloak about him:

  "An so it be thy wish, my father, then will I go this hour."

  Then Ambrose brought Beltane into his humble dwelling where was a coffer wrought by his own skilful fingers; and from this coffer he drew forth a suit of triple mail, wondrously fashioned, beholding the which, Beltane's eyes glistened because of the excellence of its craftsmanship.

  "Behold!" quoth the hermit, "'tis an armour worthy of a king, light is it, yet marvellous strong, and hath been well tried in many a desperate affray. 'Tis twenty years since these limbs bore it, yet see——I have kept it bright from rust lest, peradventure, Pentavalon should need thee to raise again the battle cry of thy house and lead her men to war. And, alas dear son, that day is now! Pentavalon calls to thee from out the gloom of dungeon, from the anguish of flame, and rack, and gibbet——from blood-soaked hearth and shameful grave she calls thee—— so, my Beltane, come and let me arm thee."

  And there, within his little hut, the hermit Ambrose, Duke of Pentavalon that was, girt the armour upon Beltane the mighty, Duke of Pentavalon to be, if so God willed; first the gambeson of stuffed and quilted leather, and, thereafter, coifed hauberk and chausses, with wide sword-belt clamped with broad plates of silver and studs of gold, until my Beltane stood up armed in shining mail from head to foot. Then brought Ambrose a wallet, wherein were six gold pieces, and put it in his hand, saying:

  "These have I kept against this day, my Beltane. Take them to aid thee on thy journey, for the county of Bourne lieth far to the south."

  "Do I then journey to Bourne, my father?"

  "Aye, to Sir Benedict, who yet doth hold the great keep of Thrasfordham. Many sieges hath he withstood, and daily men flee to him ——stricken men, runaway serfs, and outlaws from the green, all such masterless men as lie in fear of their lives."

  Said Beltane, slow and thoughtful:

  "There be many outlaws within the green, wild men and sturdy fighters as I've heard. Hath Sir Benedict many men, my father?"

  "Alas! a pitiful few, and Black Ivo can muster bows and lances by the ten thousand——"

  "Yet doth Sir Benedict withstand them all, my father!"

  "Yet must he keep ever within Bourne, Beltane. All Pentavalon, save Bourne, lieth 'neath Ivo's iron foot, ruled by his fierce nobles, and they be strong and many, 'gainst whom Sir Benedict is helpless in the field. 'Tis but five years agone since Ivo gave up fair Belsaye town to ravishment and pillage, and thereafter, builded him a mighty gallows over against it and hanged many men thereon."

  Now hereupon, of a sudden, Beltane clenched his hands and fell upon his knees.

  "Father," said he, "Pentavalon indeed doth cry, so must I now arise and go unto her. Give me thy blessing that I may go."

  Then the hermit laid his hands upon Beltane's golden head and blessed him, and whispered awhile in passionate prayer. Thereafter Beltane arose and, together, they came out into the sunshine.

  "South and by west must you march, dear son, and God, methinks, shall go beside thee, for thy feet shall tread a path where Death shall lie in wait for thee. Let thine eyes be watchful therefore, and thine ears quick to hear. Hearken you to all men, yet speak you few words and soft. But, when you act, let your deeds shout unto heaven, that all Pentavalon may know a man is come to lead them who fears only God. And so, my Beltane, fare-thee-well! Come, kiss me, boy; our next kiss, perchance——shall be in heaven."

  And thus they kissed, and looked within each other's eyes; then Beltane turned him, swift and sudden, and strode upon his way. But, in a little, looking back, he saw his father, kneeling before the cross, with long, gaunt arms upraised to heaven.

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