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Beltane The Smith (Chapter45)

2006-08-28 16:36

  Chapter XLV. 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 Fidelis?"

  "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."

  "Afoot?"

  "Afoot, lord."

  "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 well anon."

  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 still closed.

  "By the forest road, Roger!"

  "Aye, master."

  "Alone, Roger!"

  "Aye, lord, alone."

  "And——afoot, Roger!"

  "Aye, lord, he bade me take his horse that I might come to thee the sooner."

  "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—— her's?"

  "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.

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