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Beltane The Smith (Chapter62)

2006-08-28 16:41

  Chapter LXII. How They Came to Belsaye for the Third Time

  The sun was high as they came to the western road that led to the ford at Thornaby, but upon the edge of the forest Beltane stopped of a sudden to stare up at an adjacent tree.

  "What is't, master?" questioned Roger, halting beside him.

  "An arrow——and new-shot by the look of it!" said Beltane, gloomily.

  "Aye master, and it hath travelled far——see, it hath scarce pierced the bark!"

  "'Twas shot from the brush yonder, methinks," said Beltane, pointing to the dense underwood that skirted the opposite side of the dusty highway. "Reach me it down, Roger!" so saying Beltane stooped and hove Roger aloft until he could grasp and draw the arrow from the tree.

  "Here is no woodsman's shaft, master!" quoth Roger, turning the missile over in his hand ere he gave it to Beltane, "no forester doth wing his shafts so."

  "True!" nodded Beltane, frowning at the arrow. "Walkyn, Ulf! here hath been an ambushment, methinks——'tis a likely place for such. Let our company scatter and search amid the fern hereabouts——"

  But even as he spake came a cry, a clamour of voices, and Prat the archer came frowning and snapping his restless fingers.

  "My lord," said he, "yonder doth lie my good comrade Martin and three other fellows of my archer-company that marched with Sir Benedict, and all dead, lord, slain by arrows all four."

  "Show me!" said Beltane.

  And when he had viewed and touched those stark and pallid forms that lay scattered here and there amid the bracken, his anxious frown deepened. "These have been dead men full six hours!" quoth he.

  "Aye, lord," says Prat, "and 'tis unmeet such good fellows should lie here for beasts to tear; shall we bury them?"

  "Not so!" answered Beltane, turning away. "Take their shafts and fall to your ranks——we must march forthright!"

  Thus soon the three hundred were striding fast behind Beltane, keeping ever to the forest yet well within bow-shot of the road, and, though they travelled at speed they went very silently, as only foresters might.

  In a while Beltane brought them to those high wooded banks betwixt which the road ran winding down to Thornaby Ford——that self-same hilly road where, upon a time, the Red Pertolepe had surprised the lawless company of Gilles of Brandonmere; and, now as then, the dark defile was littered with the wrack of fight, fallen charges that kicked and snorted in their pain or lay mute and still, men in battered harness that stared up from the dust, all unseeing, upon the new day. They lay thick within the sunken road but thicker beside the ford, and they dotted the white road beyond, grim signs of Sir Benedict's stubborn retreat. Hereupon Beltane halted his hard-breathing foresters and bidding them rest awhile and break their fast, hasted down into the roadway with Walkyn and Cnut and Black Roger.

  "Aha!" cried Walkyn, pointing to divers of the slain that hampered their going, "these be Pertolepe's rogues——"

  "Aye," quoth Roger, throwing back his mail-coif, "and yonder lie four, five——six of Sir Benedict's good fellows! It hath been a dour fight hereabouts——they have fought every yard of the way!"

  "Forsooth," nodded Cnut, "Sir Benedict is ever most fierce when he retreats, look you." A while stood Beltane in that dark defile, the which, untouched as jet by the sun's level beams, struck dank and chill, a place of gloom and awful silence——so stood he, glancing from one still form to another, twice he knelt to look more closely on the dead and each time he rose thereafter, his brow was blacker and he shivered, despite his mantle.

  "'Tis strange," said he, "and passing strange that they should all lie dead——not a living man among them! How think you Roger?"

  "I think, lord, others have been here afore us. See you this knight now, his gorget loosed off——"

  "O messire!" said a faint voice hard by, "if ye have any pity save me from the crone——for the love of Christ let not the hag slay me as she hath so many——save me!"

  Starting round, Beltane espied a pale face that glared up at him from a thick furze-bush beside the way, a youthful face albeit haggard and drawn.

  "Fear not!" said Beltane, kneeling beside the wounded youth, "thy life is safe from us. But what mean you by talk of hag and crone?"

  "Ah, messire, to-day, ere the dawn, we fell upon Sir Benedict of Bourne——a seditious lord who hath long withstood Duke Ivo. But though his men were few they fought hard and gained the ford ahead of us. And in the fight I, with many others as ye see, was smitten down and the fight rolled on and left us here in the dust. As I lay, striving to tend my hurt and hearkening to the sighs and groans of the stricken, I heard a scream, and looking about, beheld an ancient woman——busied with her knife——slaying——slaying and robbing the dead——ah, behold her——with the black-haired archer——yonder!"

  And verily Roger stepped forth of the underwood that clothed the steep, dragging a thing of rags and tatters, a wretched creature, bent and wrinkled, that mopped and mowed with toothless chaps and clutched a misshapen bundle in yellow, talon-like fingers, and these yellow fingers were splotched horribly with dark stains even as were the rags that covered her. She whined and whimpered querulously, mouthing inarticulate plaints and prayers as Roger haled her along, with Cnut and Walkyn, fierce and scowling, behind. Having brought her to Beltane, Roger loosed her, and wrenching away her bundle, opened it, and lo! a yellow-gleaming hoard of golden neck-chains, of rings and armlets, of golden spurs and belt-buckles, the which he incontinent scattered at Beltane's feet; whereon the gibbering creature screamed in high-pitched, cracked and ancient voice, and, screeching, threw herself upon the gold and fell to scrabbling among the dust with her gnarled and bony fingers; and ever as she raked and raked, she screeched harsh and high——a hateful noise that ended, of a sudden, in a wheezing sob, and sinking down, she lay outstretched and silent, her wrinkled face in the dust and a cloth-yard shaft transfixing her yellow throat.

  So swift had death been dealt that all men fell back a pace and were yet staring down at this awful dead thing when forth from the brush an archer crawled painfully, his bow yet in his hand, and so lay, panting loud and hoarse.

  "Ha!" cried Cnut, "'tis lusty Siward of our archers! How now, Siward?"

  "I'm sped, Cnut!" groaned Siward, "but yon hag lieth dead, so am I—— content. I've watched her slay John that was my comrade, you'll mind—— for his armlet. And——good Sir Hugh she stabbed,——yonder he lieth——him she slew for——spurs and chain. When I fell I——dropped my bow——in the brush, yonder——I have been two hours creeping——a dozen yards to——reach my bow but——I got it at last——Aha!" And Siward, feebly pointing to the ancient, dead woman, strove to laugh and so——died.

  Then Beltane turned, and coming beside the wounded youth spake him tender and compassionate.

  "Young sir, we must hence, but first can I do aught forthee?"

  "O messire, an I might——come to the river——water!"

  Saying no word, Beltane stooped and lifting the young knight very carefully, bore him down toward the ford.

  "Messire," quoth the young knight, stifling his groans, "art very strong and wondrous gentle withal!" Presently Beltane brought him beside the river, and while the youth drank, laid bare an ugly wound above the knee and bathed it with his hand, and, thereafter, tearing a strip from his ragged cloak, he bound it tight above the hurt, (even as he had seen Sir Fidelis do) and thus stayed the bleeding. Now while this was a-doing, the young knight must needs talk.

  "Ho!" cried he, "'twas a good fight, messire, and he who gave me this was none other than Benedict of Bourne himself——whom our good Duke doth fondly imagine pent up within Thrasfordham! O indeed 'twas Sir Benedict, I saw his hawk-face plain ere he closed his vizor, and he fought left-handed. Moreover, beside him I recognised the leaping dog blazoned on the shield of Hacon of Trant——Oho, this shall be wondrous news for Duke Ivo, methinks. But, faith, 'tis wonder how he escaped Sir Rollo, and as for the outlaw Beltane we saw nought of him——Sir Pertolepe vows he was not of this company——mayhap Sir Rollo hath him, 'tis so I pray——so, peradventure I shall see him hang yet! My grateful thanks, messire, for thy tender care of me. At home I have a mother that watcheth and prayeth for me——prithee tell me thy name that she may remember it in her prayers?"

  "I am called Beltane the Outlaw, sir knight——and I charge thee to heed that thy bandage slip not, lest the bleeding start afresh——fare thee well!" So saying, Beltane turned and went on across the ford what time the young knight, propped upon weak elbow, stared after him wide of eye and mouth.

  Forthwith Beltane, setting horn to lip, sounded the rally, and very soon the three hundred crossed the ford and swung off to the left into the green.

  Thus, heartened and refreshed by food and rest, they pressed on amain southward through the forest with eyes and ears alert and on the strain; what time grim Sir Benedict, riding with his rearguard, peered through the dust of battle but saw only the threatening column of the foe upon the forest road behind, rank upon rank far as the eye could reach, and the dense green of the adjacent woods on either flank whence unseen arrows whizzed ever and anon to glance from his heavy armour.

  "Ha, Benedict!" quoth Sir Brian, "they do know thee, methinks, 'spite thy plain armour——'tis the third shaft hath struck thee in as many minutes!"

  "So needs must I stifle and sweat within closed casque!" Sir Benedict groaned. Upon his right hand Sir Brian rode and upon his left his chiefest esquire, and oft needs must they wheel their chargers to front the thunderous onset of Red Pertolepe's fierce van, at the which times Sir Benedict laughed and gibed through his vizor as he thrust and smote left-armed, parrying sword and lance-point right skilfully nevertheless, since shield he bare none. Time and again they beat back their assailants thus, until spent and short of wind they gave place to three fresh knights.

  "By Our Lady of Hartismere!" panted Sir Brian, "but thy left arm serves thee well, Benedict!"

  "'Tis fair, Brian, 'tis fair, God be thanked!" sighed Sir Benedict, eyeing his reeking blade, "though I missed my thrust 'neath yon gentle knight's gorget——"

  "Yet shore clean through his helm, my lord!" quoth young Walter the esquire.

  "Why truly, 'tis a good blade, this of mine," said Sir Benedict, and sighed again.

  "Art doleful, Benedict?" questioned Sir Brian, "'tis not like thee when steel is ringing, man."

  "In very sooth, Brian, I hanker for knowledge of our Beltane——ha, Walter!" he cried suddenly, "lower thy vizor, boy——down with it, I say!"

  "Nay, dear my lord, fain would I breathe the sweet, cool air——but a moment and——"

  The young esquire rose up stiffly in his stirrups, threw up gauntleted hands and swaying from the high saddle, pitched down crashing into the dust.

  "Alas! there endeth my poor Walter!" sighed Sir Benedict.

  "Aye, a shaft between the eyes, poor lad! A curse on these unseen archers!" quoth Sir Brian, beckoning a pikeman to lead forward the riderless horse. "Ha——look yonder, Benedict——we are beset in flank, and by dismounted knights from the underwood. See, as I live 'tis the nuns they make for!"

  Nothing saying, Sir Benedict spurred forward beside his hard-pressed company; in the midst of the column was dire tumult and shouting, where, from the dense woods upon their left a body of knights sheathed in steel from head to foot were cutting their way toward the lady Abbess, who, conspicuous in her white habit, was soothing her frightened palfrey. All about her a shouting, reeling press of Sir Benedict's light-armed footmen were giving back and back before the swing of ponderous axe and mace and sword, were smitten down and trampled 'neath those resistless, steel-clad ranks.

  "Ha! the Abbess!" they cried, "yield us the lady Abbess!" Into this close and desperate affray Sir Benedict spurred, striving with voice and hand to re-form his broken ranks, hewing him a path by dint of sword until he had won beside the Abbess.

  "Yolande!" he shouted above the din, "keep thou beside me close——close, Yolande——stoop——ah, stoop thy head that I may cover thee——the debate waxeth a little sharp hereabouts!" Even as he spake he reeled 'neath the blow of a heavy mace, steadied himself, cut down his smiter, and thrust and smote amain until the grim, fierce-shouting ranks gave back before the sweep of that long sword.

  "See, Yolande!" he panted, hard-breathing, "see yonder where my good Hacon spurs in to our relief——ha, mighty lance!"

  "Ah, Benedict," cried the Abbess, pale-lipped but calm of eye, "of what avail? 'Tis me they seek, though wherefore I know not, so——dear Benedict——let me go. Indeed, indeed 'tis best, so shall these fair lives be saved——ah, sweet Jesu, 'tis horrible! See——O see how fast they fall and die about us! I must go——I will go! My lord, let me pass—— loose my bridle——"

  A hunting horn fiercely winded among the woods hard by! A confused roar of harsh voices and forth of the green four terrible figures sprang, two that smote with long-shafted axes and two that plied ponderous broadswords; and behind these men were others, lean and brown-faced—— the very woods seemed alive with them. And from these fierce ranks a mighty shout rent the air:

  "Arise! Arise! Ha, Beltane——Pentavalon!"

  Then did Sir Benedict, laughing loud and joyous, haste to re-form his swaying ranks, the bloody gap in his column closed up and Sir Pertolepe's knights, hemmed in thus, smote and were smitten and but scant few were they that won them free. And presently, through that red confusion brake Beltane with Roger and Ulf and Walkyn at his heels, and, sword in hand, he sprang and caught the Abbess in a close embrace.

  "Mother!" he cried.

  "Dear, dear son of mine——and thou art safe? Thanks be to God who hath heard the passion of thy mother's prayers!" Now Sir Benedict turned, and wheeling his horse, left them together and so beheld Sir Hacon near by, who, standing high in his stirrups, pointed to their rear.

  "Benedict!" he panted, "ha, look——Brian is over-borne! Ho! a rescue——a rescue to Sir Brian of Hartismere!" So shouting, he drave back into the confusion of the staggering rear-guard with Sir Benedict spurring behind. But, as Sir Benedict rode, pushing past the files of his halted company, he felt hands that gripped either stirrup and glancing down beheld Ulf the Strong on his one flank and grim Walkyn upon the other. So came they where the road broadened out and where the battle raged swaying and surging above the form of Sir Brian prostrate in the dust where horsemen and footmen strove together in desperate grapple, where knightly shields, aflare with proud devices, rang 'neath the blows of Beltane's lusty foresters and Sir Benedict's veteran pikemen.

  Then of a sudden Walkyn shouted fierce and loud, and sprang forward with mighty axe whirled aloft.

  "Ha——Pertolepe, turn!" he roared, "Ho, Bloody Pertolepe——turn, thou dog! 'Tis I——'tis Waldron of Brand!" So cried he, and, plunging into the thick of the affray, smote aside all such as barred his way until he fronted Sir Pertolepe, who, astride a powerful mailed charger, wielded a bloody mace, and who, hearing that hoarse cry, turned and met the shearing axe with blazoned shield——and behold! the gorgeous shield was split in twain; but even so, he smote in turn and mighty Walkyn was beaten to his knee. Forth sprang Ulf, swift and eager, but Walkyn, bounding up, shouldered him aside——his axe whirled and fell once, and Sir Pertolepe's mace was dashed from his loosened hold——whirled and fell again, and Sir Pertolepe's great casque was beaten from his head and all men might see the ghastly, jagged cross that scarred his brow beneath his fiery hair——whirled again, but, ere it could fall, knights and esquires mounted and afoot, had burst 'twixt Walkyn and their reeling lord, and Walkyn was dashed aside, shouting, cursing, foaming with rage, what time Sir Pertolepe was borne out of the fight.

  But the rear-guard was saved, and, with a hedge of bristling pikes behind, Sir Benedict's sore-battered company marched on along the forest-road and breathed again, the while their pursuers, staggered in their onset, paused to re-form ere they thundered down upon that devoted rear-guard once more. But Sir Benedict was there, loud-voiced and cheery still despite fatigue, and Sir Hacon was there, his wonted gloom forgotten quite, and Beltane was there, equipped with shield and vizored war-helm and astride a noble horse, and there, too, was Roger, grim and silent, and fierce Ulf, and Walkyn in black and evil temper; quoth he:

  "Ha——'tis ever so, his life within my very grasp, yet doth he escape me! But one more blow and the Red Pertolepe had been in hell——"

  "Yet, forsooth, didst save our rear-guard, comrade!" said Ulf.

  "Aye——and what o' that? 'Twas Pertolepe's foul life I sought——"

  "And there," quoth Beltane, "there spake Vengeance, and vengeance is ever a foul thing and very selfish!" Now hereupon Walkyn's scowl deepened, and, falling further to the rear, he spake no more.

  "Beltane, dear my lad," said Sir Benedict as they rode together, "hast told me nought of thy doings last night——what of Sir Rollo?"

  "Nay, Benedict, ask me not yet, only rest ye assured Sir Rollo shall not trouble us this side Belsaye. But pray, how doth our brave Sir Brian?"

  "Well enough, Beltane; he lieth in a litter, being tended by thy noble lady mother. A small lance-thrust 'neath the gorget, see'st thou, 'twill be healed——Ha, they charge us again——stand firm, pikes!" So shouting, Sir Benedict wheeled his horse and Beltane with him, and once again the road echoed to the din of battle.

  Thus all day long they fought their way south along the forest-road, as, time and again, Sir Pertolepe's heavy chivalry thundered down upon them, to check and break before that hedge of deadly pikes. So marched this valiant rear-guard, parched with thirst, choked with dust, grim with blood and wounds, until, as the sun sank westwards, the woods thinned away and they beheld at last, glad-eyed and joyful, the walls and towers of fair Belsaye town. Now just beyond the edge of the woods, Sir Benedict halted his shrunken column, his dusty pikemen drawn up across the narrow road with archers behind supported by his cavalry to hold Sir Pertolepe's powers in check amid the woods what time the nuns with the spent and wounded hasted on towards the city.

  Hereupon Beltane raised his vizor and setting horn to lip, sounded the rally. And lo! from the city a glad and mighty shout went up, the while above the square and frowning keep a great standard arose and flapping out upon the soft air, discovered a red lion on a white field.

  "Aha, Beltane!" quoth Sir Benedict, "yon is a rare-sweet sight——behold thy father's Lion banner that hath not felt the breeze this many a year——"

  "Aye, lords," growled Walkyn, "and yonder cometh yet another lion——a black lion on red!" and he pointed where, far to their left, a red standard flaunted above the distant glitter of a wide-flung battle line.

  "Hast good eyes, Walkyn!" said Sir Benedict, peering 'neath his hand toward the advancing host, "aye, verily——'tis Ivo himself. Sir Pertolepe must have warned him of our coming."

  "So are we like to be crushed 'twixt hammer and anvil," quoth Sir Hacon, tightening the lacing of his battered casque.

  "So will I give thee charge of our knights and men-at-arms——what is left of them, alas!——to meet Black Ivo's banner, my doleful Hacon!" spake Sir Benedict.

  "Nay, Benedict," said Sir Hacon, grim-smiling, "my dole is but caution!" So saying, he closed his vizor and rode away to muster his chivalry to meet their new assailants the while Sir Benedict fell to re-forming his scanty ranks of pikemen and archers. Meantime Beltane, sitting his weary charger, glanced from Sir Pertolepe's deep array of knights and men-at-arms that thronged and jostled each other in the narrow forest-road to the distant flash and glitter of Duke Ivo's mighty van-ward, and from these again to the walls of Belsaye. And as he looked thither he saw the great drawbridge fall, the portcullis raised, and the gates flung wide to admit the fugitives; even at that distance he thought to recognise the Abbess, who paused to turn and gaze towards him, as, last of all, she rode to safety into the city. Then my Beltane sighed, and, closing his vizor, turned to find Ulf beside him with Roger and Walkyn, who stood to watch the while Sir Benedict rode to and fro, ordering his company for their perilous retreat across the plain. Swift and silent his war-worn veterans fell to their appointed ranks; his trumpets blew and they began to fall back on Belsaye town. Grimly silent they marched, and ever Beltane gazed where, near and ever more near, flashed and flickered Duke Ivo's hard-riding van-ward.

  And now from the forest-road Sir Pertolepe's company marched, and forming in the open, spurred down upon them.

  "Stand firm, pikes!" roared Cnut.

  "Aim low, archers!" squealed small Prat, and forthwith the battle joined.

  The weary rear-guard rocked and swayed beneath the onset, but Prat and his archers shot amain, arrows whistled while pike and gisarm thrust and smote, as, encompassed now on three sides, they fell back and back towards the yawning gates of Belsaye; and ever as he fought, Beltane by times turned to watch where Duke Ivo's threatening van-ward galloped——a long line of gleaming shields and levelled lances gay with the glitter of pennon and banderol.

  Back and back the rear-guard staggered, hewing and smiting; twice Beltane reeled 'neath unseen blows and with eyes a-swim beheld Roger and Ulf, who fought at either stirrup: heard of a sudden shrieks and cries and the thunder of galloping hooves; was aware of the flash of bright armour to his left, rank upon rank, where charged Duke Ivo's van-ward before whose furious onset Sir Benedict's weary pikemen were hurled back——their centre swayed, broke, and immediately all was dire uproar and confusion.

  "Ah, Beltane——these be fresh men on fresh horses," cried Sir Benedict, "but hey——body o' me——all's not lost yet——malediction, no! And 'tis scarce half a mile to the gates. Ha——yonder rides lusty Hacon to stay their rush——in upon them. Beltane——Ho, Pentavalon!"

  Shouting thus, Sir Benedict plunged headlong into the raging fury of the battle; but, as Beltane spurred in after him, his weary charger, smitten by an arrow, reared up, screaming, yet ere he fell, Beltane, kicking free of the stirrups, rolled clear; a mighty hand plucked him to his feet and Ulf, roaring in his ear, pointed with his dripping axe. And, looking whither he pointed, Beltane beheld Sir Benedict borne down beneath a press of knights, but as he lay, pinned beneath his squealing charger, Beltane leapt and bestrode him, sword in hand.

  "Roger!" he shouted, "Ulf——Walkyn——to me!"

  All about him was a swaying trample of horses and men, an iron ring that hemmed him in, blows dinted his long shield, they rang upon his helmet, they battered his triple mail, they split his shield in sunder; and 'neath this hail of blows Beltane staggered, thrice he was smitten to his knees and thrice he arose, and ever his long blade whirled and darted.

  "Yield thee, sir knight——yield thee!" was the cry.

  "Ho, Roger!" he shouted hoarsely, "Ulf——Walkyn, to me!"

  An axe bit through his great helm, a sword bent against his stout mail, a knight spurred in upon him, blade levelled to thrust again, but Beltane's deadly point darted upward and the snorting charger plunged away——riderless.

  But now, as he fought on with failing arm, came a joyous roar on his right where Ulf smote direly with bloody axe, upon his left hand a broad-sword flickered where Roger fought silent and grim, beyond him again, Walkyn's long arms rose and fell as he whirled his axe, and hard by Tall Orson plied goring pike. So fought these mighty four until the press thinned out and they had cleared them a space amid the battle, the while Beltane leaned him, spent and panting, upon his reeking sword.

  Now, as he stood thus, from a tangle of the fallen near by a bent and battered helm was lifted and Sir Benedict spake, faint and short of breath:

  "'Twas nobly done——sweet lad! 'Tis enough, methinks——there be few of us left, I fear me, so——get thee hence——with such as be alive——hence, Beltane, for——thy sweet mother's sake. Nay, heed not——old Benedict, I did my best and——'tis a fitting couch, this——farewell to thee, my Beltane——" So saying, Sir Benedict sank weakly to an elbow and from elbow upon his face, and lay there, very still and mute.

  "Master——master!" cried Roger, "we shall win to Belsaye yet, see——see, Giles hath out-flanked them with his pikes and archers, and——ha! yonder good Eric o' the Noose chargeth them home!"

  But Beltane leaned him upon his sword very spent and sick, and stared ever upon Sir Benedict's motionless form, his harness bent and hacked, his proud helm prone in the trampled ling. Slowly, and with fumbling hands, Beltane sheathed his sword, and stooping, raised Sir Benedict upon his shoulder and strove to bear him out of the fight, but twice he staggered in his going and would have fallen but for Roger's ready arm.

  "Master," quoth he, "master, let me aid thee with him!" But nothing saying, Beltane stumbled on until they came where stood Ulf holding a riderless horse, on the which he made shift to mount with Roger's aid; thereafter Ulf lifted Sir Benedict to his hold.

  "And, pray you," said Beltane, slow and blurred of speech, "pray you what of noble Sir Hacon?"

  "Alack, lord," growled Ulf, "yonder is he where they lie so thick, and slain, methinks,——yet will I bring him off——"

  "Aye, lord," cried Tall Orson, great tears furrowing the grime of his cheeks, "and little Prat do be killed——and lusty Cnut do be killed wi' him——and my good comrade Jenkyn do lie smitten to death——O there do be none of us left, methinks, lord!"

  So, faint and heart-sick, with Sir Benedict limp across his saddle bow, Beltane rode from that place of death; beside him went Roger, stumbling and weary, and behind them strode mighty Ulf with Sir Hacon upon his shoulder. In a while, as they went thus, Beltane, glancing back at the fight, beheld stout Eric with the men of Belsaye, well mounted and equipped, at fierce grapple with Duke Ivo's van-ward, what time Giles and his archers supported by lusty pikemen, plied Sir Pertolepe's weary forces with whizzing shafts, drawing and loosing marvellous fast.

  So came they at last unto the gates of Belsaye town that were already a-throng with many wounded and divers others of Sir Benedict's company that had won out of the affray; now upon the drawbridge Beltane paused and gave Sir Benedict and brave Hacon into kindly, eager hands, then, wheeling, with Ulf and Roger beside him, rode back toward the battle. And ever as they went came scattered groups of Sir Benedict's stout rear-guard, staggering with weariness and limping with wounds, the while, upon the plain beyond, Eric with his men-at-arms and Walkyn with the survivors of the foresters and Giles with his archers and pikemen, holding the foe in play, fell back upon the town, compact and orderly. Thus, they in turn began to cross the drawbridge, archers and pikemen, and last of all, the men-at-arms, until only Eric o' the Noose and a handful of his horsemen, with Beltane, Roger and Ulf remained beyond the drawbridge, whereon the enemy came on amain and 'neath their furious onset brave Eric was unhorsed; then Beltane drew sword and with Roger and Ulf running at either stirrup, spurred in to the rescue.

  A shock of hard-smitten steel——a whirl and flurry of blows——a shout of triumph, and, reeling in his saddle, dazed and sick, Beltane found himself alone, fronting a bristling line of feutred lances; he heard Roger shout to him wild and fearful, heard Walkyn roar at him——felt a sudden shock, and was down, unhelmed, and pinned beneath his stricken charger. Half a-swoon he lay thus, seeing dimly the line of on-rushing lance-points, while on his failing senses a fierce cry smote:

  "'Tis Beltane——the Outlaw! Slay him! Slay him!"

  But now of a sudden and as one that dreamed, he beheld a tender face above him with sad-sweet eyes and lips that bent to kiss his brow, felt soft arms about him——tender arms that drew his weary head upon a gentle bosom to hide and pillow it there; felt that enfolding embrace tighten and tighten in sudden shuddering spasm, as, sighing, the lady Abbess's white-clad arms fell away and her proud head sank beside his in the dust.

  And now was a rush and roar of fierce voices as over them sprang Roger and Giles with Ulf and Eric, and, amid the eddying dust, axe and sword swung and smote, while came hands strong yet tender, that bare Beltane into the city.

  Now beyond the gate of the city was a well and beside the well they laid Beltane and bathed him with the sweet cool water, until at length the mist vanished from his sight and thus he beheld the White Abbess who lay upon a pile of cloaks hard by. And beholding the deadly pallor of lip and cheek, the awful stains that spotted her white robe and the fading light in those sad-sweet eyes, Beltane cried aloud——a great and bitter cry, and fell before her on his knees.

  "Mother!" he groaned, "O my mother!"

  "Dear my Beltane," she whispered faintly, striving to kiss his hand, "death is none so——painful, so grieve not thine heart for me, sweet son. And how may a mother——die better than for her own——beloved son? Beltane, if God——O if God in His infinite mercy——shall think me worthy ——to be——one of His holy angels, then will I be ever near thee when thy way proveth dark——to comfort thee——to aid thee. O dear my son——I sought thee so long——so long——'tis a little hard to leave thee——so soon. But——God's will——fare thee well, I die——aye——this is death, methinks. Beltane, tell thy father that I——O——dear my——my Beltane——"

  So died the gracious lady Abbess that had been the proud Yolande, Duchess of Pentavalon, wept and bemoaned by full many who had known her tender care; and, in due season, she was laid to rest within the fair Minster of Belsaye. And thereafter, Beltane took to his bed and abode there many days because of his wounds and by reason of his so great sorrow and heart-break.

  But, that night, through the dark hours was strange stir and hum beyond the walls of Belsaye, and, when the dawn broke, many a stout heart quailed and many a cheek blanched to see a great camp whose fortified lines encompassed the city on all sides, where lay Ivo the Black Duke to besiege them.

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