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Beltane The Smith (Chapter25)

2006-08-28 16:31

  Chapter XXV. How Beltane Became Captive to Sir Pertolepe

  A horn, lustily winded, waked my Beltane from his swoon, waked him to a glimmering world vague and unreal, where lights flared and voices sounded, hoarse and faint, in question and answer. Thereafter, down rattled drawbridge and up creaked portcullis, and so, riding 'neath a deep and gloomy arch they came out into a courtyard, where were many vague forms that flitted to and fro——and many more lights that glinted on steel bascinet and hauberk of mail.

  Now as Beltane lay helpless in his bonds he felt a hand among his hair, a strong hand that lifted his heavy, drooping head and turned up his face to the glare of the torches.

  "How now, Fool!" cried a gruff voice, "here's not thy meat——ha, what would ye——what would ye, Fool?"

  "Look upon another fool, for fool, forsooth, is he methinks that cometh so into Garthlaxton Keep." Now hereupon, opening unwilling eyes, Beltane looked up into the face of Beda the Jester that bent above him with a ring of steel-begirt faces beyond.

  "Aha!" quoth the jester, clapping Beltane's pale and bloody cheek, "here is a fool indeed——forsooth, a very foolish fool, hither come through folly, for being great of body and small of wit, look you, his folly hath hither brought him in shape of a hairy, ape-like fool——"

  "Ape!" growled a voice, and the jester was seized in a hairy hand and shaken till his bells jingled; and now Beltane beheld his captor, a dwarf-like, gnarled and crooked creature, yet huge of head and with the mighty arms and shoulders of a giant; a fierce, hairy monster, whose hideousness was set off by the richness of his vesture. "Ape, quotha!" he growled. "Dare ye name Ulf the Strong ape, forsooth? Ha! so will I shake the flesh from thy bones!" But now, she who sat her horse near by so proud and stately, reached forth a white hand, touching Ulf the Strong upon the arm, and lo! in that moment, he loosed the breathless jester and spake with bowed head: "Dear my lady, I forgot!" Then turning to the grinning soldiery he scowled upon them. "Dogs," quoth he, "go to your master and say Helen, Duchess of Mortain bringeth a wedding gift to Ivo, called the Black. Behold here he that slew twenty within the green, that burned down Black Ivo's goodly gallows, that broke the dungeons of Belsaye and bore Red Pertolepe into the green, behold him ye seek——Beltane, son of Beltane the Strong, heretofore Duke of Pentavalon!"

  Now hereupon arose a mighty turmoil and excitement, all men striving to behold Beltane, to touch him and look upon his drooping face, but Ulf's mighty hand held them back, one and all. And presently came hasting divers esquires and knights, who, beholding Beltane, his costly mail, his silver belt and golden hair, seized upon him right joyfully and bore him into an inner ward, and threw him down upon the floor, marvelling and rejoicing over him, while Beltane lay there fast bound and helpless, staring up with frowning brow as one that strives to think, yet cannot. Now suddenly the noise about him ceased, all voices were hushed, and he was aware of one who stood near by, a doleful figure swathed in bandages, who leaned upon the arm of a tall esquire. And looking upon this figure, he saw it was Sir Pertolepe the Red.

  "Ha, by the eyes of God!" quoth Sir Pertolepe, "'tis he himself——O sweet sight——see, I grow better already! Who brought him, say you?"

  "Lord, 'twas the Duchess Helen!" said one. "Helen!" cried Sir Pertolepe, "Helen of Mortain?" "Aye, lord, as her wedding gift to our lord Duke Ivo." Now hereupon Beltane's staring eyes closed, the great muscles of his body twitched and writhed and stood out gnarled and rigid awhile, then he sighed, a slow, hissing breath, and lay there staring up wide-eyed at the vaulted roof again.

  "Came she herself, Raoul?"

  "Aye, good my lord."

  "Why, then——admit her. God's love, messires, would ye keep the glorious Helen without?"

  "Lord, she is gone——she and her ape-man both."

  "Gone? Gone, forsooth? 'Tis strange, and yet 'tis like the wilful Helen. Yet hath she left her wedding gift in my keeping. O a rare gift, a worthy gift and most acceptable. Strip me off his armour——yet no, as he came, so shall he bide until my lord Duke be come. Bring now shackles, strong and heavy, bring fetters and rivets, so will I sit here and see him trussed."

  And presently came two armourers with hammers and rivets, and shackled Beltane with heavy chains, the while Sir Pertolepe, sitting near, laughed and spake him right jovially.

  But Beltane suffered it all, uttering no word and staring ever straight before him with wide, vague eyes, knitting his brow ever and anon in troubled amaze like a child that suffers unjustly; wherefore Sir Pertolepe, fondling his big chin, frowned.

  "Ha!" quoth he, "let our Duke that hath no duchy be lodged secure——to the dungeons, aye, he shall sleep with rats until my lord Duke Ivo come to see him die——yet stay! The dungeons be apt to sap a man's strength and spirit, and to a weak man death cometh over soon and easy. Let him lie soft, feed full and sleep sound——let him have air and light, so shall he wax fat and lusty against my lord Duke's coming. See to it, Tristan!"

  So they led Beltane away jangling in his fetters, across divers courtyards and up a narrow, winding stair and thrust him within a chamber where was a bed and above it a loop-hole that looked out across a stretch of rolling, wooded country. Now being come to the bed, Beltane sank down thereon, and setting elbow to knee, rested his heavy head upon his hand as one that fain would think.

  "Helen!" he whispered, and so whispering, his strong fingers writhed and clenched themselves within his yellow hair. And thus sat he all that day, bowed forward upon his hand, his fingers tight-clenched within his hair, staring ever at the square flagstone beneath his foot, heedless alike of the coming and going of his gaoler or of the food set out upon the bench hard by. Day grew to evening and evening to night, yet still he sat there, mighty shoulders bowed forward, iron fingers clenched within his hair, like one that is dead; in so much that his gaoler, setting down food beside the other untasted dishes, looked upon him in amaze and touched him.

  "Oho!" said he, "wake up. Here be food, look ye, and, by Saint Crispin, rich and dainty. And drink——good wine, wake and eat!"

  Then Beltane's clutching fingers relaxed and he raised his head, blinking in the rays of the lanthorn; and looking upon his rumpled hair, the gaoler stared and peered more close.

  Quoth he:

  "Methought thou wert a golden man, yet art silver also, meseemeth."

  "Fellow," said Beltane harsh-voiced and slow, "Troy town was burned, and here was great pity, methinks, for 'twas a fair city. Yet to weep o'er it these days were a fond madness. Come, let us eat!"

  But as Beltane uprose in his jangling fetters, the gaoler, beholding his face, backed to the door, and slamming it shut, barred and fast bolted it, yet cast full many a glance behind as he hasted down the winding stair.

  Then Beltane ate and drank, and thereafter threw himself upon his narrow couch, but his fetters jangled often in the dark. Thus as he lay, staring upwards into the gloom, he was aware of the opening of the iron-clamped door, and beheld his gaoler bearing a lanthorn and behind him Sir Pertolepe leaning on the arm of his favourite esquire, who, coming near, looked upon Beltane nodding right jovially.

  "Messire Beltane," quoth he, "thou did'st dare set up thyself against Ivo our lord the Duke——O fool! 'Tis said thou hast sworn to drive him forth of Pentavalon——seeking her to wife, O fool of fools! Did'st think, presumptuous rogue, that she——the glorious Helen——that Helen the Beautiful, whom all men desire, would stoop to thee, an outcast—— wolf's head and outlaw that thou art? Did'st dare think so, forsooth? To-morrow, belike, my lord Duke shall come, and mayhap shall bring the Duchess Helen in his train——to look upon the manner of thy dying——"

  Now hereupon up started Beltane that his fetters clashed, and laughed so sudden, so fierce and harsh, that Raoul the esquire clapped hand to dagger and even Red Pertolepe started.

  "Sweet lord," quoth Beltane, "noble messire Pertolepe, of thy boundless mercy——of thy tender ruth grant unto me this boon. When ye shall have done me to death——cut off this head of mine and send it to Helen——to Helen the beautiful, the wilful——in memory of what befell at Blaen."

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