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Beltane The Smith (Chapter52)

2006-08-28 16:38

  Chapter LII. How They Had News of Walkyn

  Now went they in silence again for that Beltane dreamed of many things while Roger marvelled within himself, oft turning to look on my Beltane's radiant face, while ever his wonder grew; so oft did he turn thus to gape and stare that Beltane, chancing to meet his look, smiled and questioned him, thus:

  "Why gape ye on me so, Roger man?"

  "For wonder, master."

  "Wherefore?"

  "To see thee so suddenly thyself again——truly Saint Cuthbert is a potent saint!"

  "And thou a sturdy pray-er, good Roger."

  "And most vile sinner, lord. Howbeit I have dared supplicate on thy behalf and behold! thou art indeed thyself again——that same sweet and gentle youth that smote me on my knavish mazzard with thy stout quarter-staff in Shevening Thicket in the matter of Beda, Red Pertolepe's fool——a dour ding, yon, master——forsooth, a woundy rap!"

  Now fell they to thoughtful silence again, but oft Black Roger's stride waxed uneven, and oft he stumbled in his going, wherefore Beltane slackened his pace.

  "What is it, Roger?"

  "Naught but my legs, master. Heed 'em not."

  "Thy legs?"

  "They be shorter than thine, lord, and love not to wag so fast. An thou could'st abate thy speed a little——a very little, master, they shall thank thee dearly."

  "Art so weary, Roger?"

  "Master, I was afoot ere sunrise."

  "Why truly, Roger. Yet do I, to mine own selfish ends, keep thee from thy slumber thus. Verily a selfish man, I!"

  "Not so, master, indeed——"

  "So now will we halt, and thou shalt to thy rest."

  "Why then, lord, let us to the Hollow——it lieth scarce a mile through the brush yonder, and 'twas there I did appoint for Walkyn to meet with thee again——so shall we sleep secure; moreover I have a feeling——as it were one calling us thither, a wondrous strange feeling, master! Mayhap we shall come by news of Walkyn there——"

  "'Tis well bethought, Roger. Come thy ways."

  Forthwith turned they from the forest-road, and forcing their way through a leafy tangle, presently came out into a ride, or narrow glade; but they had gone only a very little distance when they espied the red glow of a fire within a thicket hard by, and therewith the sound of voices reached them:

  "Three great bags, I tell thee!" cried one voice, high and querulous, "three great, fair and goodly bags full crammed of sweet gold pieces! All my lord Duke's revenue of Winisfarne and the villages adjacent thereunto! Taxes, see ye, my lord Duke's taxes——and all stolen, reft, and ravished from me, Guido, Steward and Bailiff of the northern Marches, by clapper-claws and raveners lewd and damned! Woe's me for my lord's good money-bags!"

  "O, content thee!" spake another voice, sleepy and full-fed, "for, an these monies were the Duke's they were not thine, and if they were not thine thou wert not robbed, and, since thou wert not robbed, wherefore groan and glower ye on the moon? Moreover, thou hast yet certain monies thou didst——collect——from yon blind fellow, the which remindeth me I have not yet my share. So pray thee now disburse, good steward."

  Hereupon, ere Beltane could stay him, Roger slipped, soft-treading, into the undergrowth; upon whose vanishing the air grew very suddenly full of shouts and cries, of scuffling sounds and woeful pleadings; and striding forward, Beltane beheld two men that crouched on bended knees, while Roger, fierce and threatening, stood betwixt, a hairy hand upon the throat of each. Now beholding Beltane, they (these gasping rogues) incontinent beset him with whimpering entreaties, beseeching of him their lives. Ragged knaves they seemed, and in woeful plight——the one a lank fellow and saturnine, with long, down-trending, hungry nose; the other a little man, plump and buxom, whose round eyes blinked woefully in his round and rosy face as he bent 'neath Roger's heavy hand. Yet spake he to Beltane in soft and soothing accents, on this wise:

  "Resplendent sir, behold this thy most officious wight who doth my tender throat with hurtful hand encompass——doubtless to some wise and gracious end an he doth squeeze me thus at thy command. Yet, noble sir, humbly would I woo of thee the mercy of a little more air, lest this right noble youth do choke me quite!"

  But hereupon the lank fellow cried out, bold and querulous:

  "Take ye heed, for whoso dareth lay hand on me, toucheth the person of Duke Ivo's puissant self!"

  "Ha——say ye so?" growled Roger, and forthwith squeezed him until he gasped again.

  "Loose me, knave!" he panted, "Duke Ivo's Steward, I——Bailiff of the northern Marches with——towns and villages——adjacent thereunto——"

  "Unhand them, Roger," said Beltane, "entreat them gently——in especial my lord Duke's Steward and Bailiff of the Marches, if so he be in very truth."

  "Yea my lord, in very truth!" cried the Bailiff. "But two days since in ermined robe and chain of office, a notable man, I, courted by many, feared by more, right well be-seen by all, with goodly horse betwixt my knees and lusty men-at-arms at my beck and call. To-night, alas and woe! thou see'st me a ragged loon, a sorry wight the meanest rogue would scorn to bow to, and the very children jeer at——and all by reason of a lewd, black-avised clapper-claw that doth flourish him a mighty axe——O, a vile, seditious fellow ripe for the gallows."

  "Ah! with an axe say'st thou, sir Bailiff?"

  "O most infallibly an axe, messire——a ponderous axe with haft the length of this my leg. A vilely tall, base, and most unseemly dog that hath spoiled me of my lord's sweet money-bags, wherefore I yearn to see him wriggle in a noose. To the which end I journey in these my rags, unto my lord Duke on Barham Broom, with tale of wrong and outrage most abominable."

  "And dared they rob thee indeed?" quoth Beltane, "and thou my lord Duke's High Steward and Bailiff of the Marches! Come, sit ye down and tell me of the matter——and Roger, methinks he shall talk the better an thou keep thy fingers farther from his wind-pipe."

  So down sat they together round the fire, and, what time the little buxom man viewed Beltane 'twixt stealthy lids from golden spur to open bascinet, the Bailiff fell to his tale, as followeth:

  "Know then, good and noble sir knight, that I sat me, but two days since, in right fair and goodly estate, my lackeys to hand, my men-at-arms at my back (twenty tall fellows)。 I sat me thus, I say, within the square at Winisfarne, whither, by sound of trumpet, I had summoned me the knavish townsfolk to pay into my hand my lord Duke's rightful dues and taxes, which folk it is my custom to call upon by name and one by one. When lo! of a sudden, and all uncalled, comes me a great, tall fellow, this same black-avised knave, and forthwith seized him one of my lord's great money-bags, and when I would have denied him, set me his axe beneath my very nose. Thereafter took he the bags all three and scattered (O hateful——hateful sight!) my lord's good monies among the base rabblement. And, when my lusty fellows sought to apprehend me this rogue, he smote them dolefully and roared in hideous fashion 'Arise—— Pentavalon!' And straightway, at this lewd shout, forth of the crowd leapt many other rogues bedight as gentle knights in noble mail, cap-a-pie, and fell upon us and smote us dire, and stripped me of my goodly apparel, and drave me forth of the town with stripes and blows and laughter most ungentle. So here sit I, poor Guido, Steward and Bailiff of the Marches, in most vile estate, very full of woe yet, alack, empty of belly."

  "But," says Beltane, shaking his head, "within thy pouch, methinks, a blind man's money."

  "How——a blind man?" gasped the Bailiff, "a blind man's monies, say'st thou? Nay messire, in very truth."

  "Search him, Roger."

  Hereupon Roger, having straightway choked him to silence with the one hand full soon had found the money with the other, and thereafter, he loosed the Bailiff that he might get his breath again; the which he no sooner had done than he fell to prayers and humble entreaties:

  "Sir knight——right noble sir, sure thou wilt not take thus from a woeful wight all that he hath."

  "Nay," answered Beltane, "I take only from my lord Duke's Steward and Bailiff of the Marches. And now," said he, turning upon the small, round man, "thou hast marked me well, how say you, Pardoner?"

  "First, most truly potent, wise, yet very youthful, noble sir, that for all the world and all the glory thereof I would not anger thee."

  "Hast good eyes, Pardoner, and art quick to heed."

  "Nay, dull am I, sweet lord, aye, dull forsooth and slow beyond belief."

  "Would'st know me again? could'st bear my likeness in thy memory?"

  "Never, lord. Never, O never! I swear it by the toe of the blessed Didymus, by the arm of Saint Amphibalus thrice blessed, by——"

  "Why then, Pardoner, behold here my belt of silver, my good, long-bladed sword. And here——behold my yellow hair!" and off came bascinet, and back fell mail-coif, whereat the Bailiff started and caught his breath and stared on Beltane in sudden awe.

  "Dost mark me well, Pardoner?"

  "Aye, noble sir, verily and in truth do I. So, next time I think on thee thou wilt be a squat man, middle-aged and black-haired. For, my lord, a poor Pardoner I, but nought beside."

  Then Beltane did on coif and bascinet and rose to his feet, whereat the Bailiff cried out in sudden fear and knelt with hands upraised:

  "Slay me not, my lord! O messire Beltane, spare my life nor think I will betray thee, outlaw though thou art!"

  "Fear not, sir Bailiff," answered Beltane, "thy life is safe from me. But, when thou dost name me to thy lord, Duke Ivo, tell him that I spake thee this: That, whiles I do lie within the green he shall not sleep o' nights but I will be at work with fire and steel, nor rest nor stay until he and the evil of him be purged from this my father's duchy of Pentavalon——say I bid him remember this upon his pillow. Tell him that whiles I do hold the woods my powers grow daily, and so will I storm and burn his castles, one by one, as I did burn Garthlaxton. Say I bid him to think upon these things what time he wooeth slumber in the night. As to thee, thou wily Pardoner, when thou shalt come to betray this our meeting, say that I told thee, that as Belsaye rose, and Winisfarne, so shall town and village rise until Ivo and his like are driven hence, or Beltane slain and made an end of. And so——fare ye well! Come, Roger!" Then Beltane strode away with grim Roger at his heels what time the Bailiff and the Pardoner stared in dumb amaze.

  "Here," quoth the Pardoner at last, stroking his round chin, "here was a man, methinks, wherefore are we yet alive!"

  "Here," quoth the Bailiff, scratching his long nose, "here was a fool, methinks, for that we are alive. A traitor, see ye, Pardoner, whose yellow head is worth its weight in gold! Truly, truly, here was a very fool!" So saying, he arose, albeit furtively, and slipping forthwith into the shadow, crept furtively away until the fire-glow was lost and hidden far behind him. Then, very suddenly, he betook him to his heels, and coming to the forest-road, fled southwards towards Duke Ivo's great camp that lay on Barham Broom.

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