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Beltane The Smith (Chapter46)

2006-08-28 16:36

  Chapter XLVI. How Black Roger Prayed in the Dawn: and How His Prayers Were Answered

  "Holy Saint Cuthbert, art a very sweet and potent saint, and therefore hast good eyes——which is well; so canst thou see him for thyself, how weak he is and languid, that was a mighty man and lusty. Cherish him, I pray thee! A goodly youth thou dost know him, thou didst see him burn a gibbet, moreover I have told thee——and eke a knight of high degree. Yet doth he lie here direly sick of body. Cherish him, I pray! Moreover, sick is he of mind, for that he loveth one, a lady, methinks good and worthy——so bring them together, these twain, not above, as saints in heaven, but first as man and woman that shall beget such men as he, such noble dames as she, and make the world a better place therefor. See you to this matter, good Saint Cuthbert, and also the matter of his Dukedom. But when he shall be Duke indeed, and blest with her that is so fair a maid and apt to motherhood——I pray thee, Saint Cuthbert, let him not forget me whose soul he saved long since within the green in the matter of Beda that was a Jester——I pray thee let him have regard to Black Roger that am his man henceforth to the end. Amen. Holy Saint Cuthbert grant me this."

  It was Black Roger, praying in the dawn, his broadsword set upright in the ling, his hands devoutly crossed and his black head stooped full low; thus he saw not Beltane's eyes upon him until his prayer was ended.

  Quoth Beltane then:

  "May heaven grant thee thy prayer, Roger——'twas a good prayer and I the better for it."

  "Why, look now, master," says Roger, somewhat abashed, "I am a something better prayer than I was, and I pray in good Saxon English; thus do I call on Saint Cuthbert, that was a lusty Saxon ere that he was a saint."

  "But, Roger, what need to supplicate lest I forget thee? Think you I should forget my faithful Roger?"

  "Why, lord," says Roger, busily preparing wherewith to break their fast, "when a man marrieth, see you, and thereafter proceedeth forthwith to get him children, as the custom is——"

  "Nay, dost talk folly, Roger!" quoth Beltane, his pale cheek flushing.

  "Yet folly thou dost dream of, master, and she also——else wherefore love——"

  "Nay, Roger, doth Belsaye lie secure yet? What of Walkyn and our comrades? Marched they to Belsaye as I did command?"

  "Why, see you now, master, when our foes came not, and you came not, we sent word to Belsaye that, within two days we would march thither, according to thy word, and forthwith Giles sends word back that he was very well and wanted no long-legged Walkyn or surly Roger to share authority with him yet a while, and bid us twirl our thumbs within the green until he commanded our presence——with divers other ribald japes and wanton toys——whereon Walkyn and I waxed something wroth. Therefore, when ye came not, our comrades fell to factions and riot, whereat I, perforce, smote me one or two and Walkyn three or four and so brought peace among them. But when we would have tarried yet for thee, these rogue-fellows clamoured for Walkyn to lead them into the wild, back to their ancient outlawry; so loud they clamoured and so oft, that, in the end, Walkyn smiled——a strange thing in him, master—— but he agreed, whereon we came nigh to cutting each other's throats, he and I. Howbeit, in the end he went, he and all the other rogues. So bided I alone in the Hollow, day and night, waiting thee, master, and at the last, cometh Sir Fidelis——and so all's said and behold thy breakfast——a coney, see you, lord, that I snared but yest're'en."

  "Our company gone——outlaws, spending their lives to no purpose——here is evil news, Roger!"

  "Here is tender meat, master, and delicate!"

  "Back to outlawry! And Walkyn too!"

  "Aye——but he smiled, master! Walkyn, methinks, is not a jovial soul, lord, and when he smileth it behoveth others to frown and——beware. So prithee eat hearty, lord, for, in a while the sun will stand above yon whin-bush, and then 'twill be the eleventh hour, and at the eleventh hour must I wash thy hurt and be-plaster it with this good ointment."

  "What then?"

  "Then shalt thou sleep, master, and I to the woods with my bow to get us meat——sweet juicy venison, an the saints be kind!"

  "And wherefore at the eleventh hour?"

  "For that——She did so command me, master."

  "She?" sighed Beltane.

  "Aye, forsooth, master. She that the good Saint Cuthbert shall give to thy close embracements one day."

  "Think you so?" spake Beltane beneath his breath, and staring across the sunny glade with eyes of yearning, "think you so indeed, Roger?"

  "Of a surety, lord," nodded Roger, "seeing that I do plague the good saint on the matter continually——for, master, when I pray, I do pray right lustily."

  So, in a while, the meal done and crock and pannikin washed and set aside, Beltane's leg is bathed and dressed right skilfully with hands, for all their strength and hardness, wondrous light and gentle. Thereafter, stretched upon his bed of heather, Beltane watches Black Roger gird on belt and quiver, and, bow in hand, stride blithely into the green, and, ere he knows it, is asleep. And in his sleep, beholds one who bends to kiss him, white hands outstretched and all heaven in her eyes; and with her voice thrilling in his ears, wakes, to find the sun already westering and Black Roger near by, who, squatting before a rough table he has contrived set close beside the fire whereon a cooking pot seethes and bubbles, is busied with certain brewings, infusings and mixings in pipkin and pannikin, and all with brow of frowning portent.

  Whereat says Beltane, wondering:

  "What do ye, good Roger?"

  "Master, I mix thee thy decoction as She did instruct——She is a learned youth, master——Sir Fidelis. In these dried herbs and simples, look you, lieth thy health and strength and Pentavalon's freedom——aye, a notable youth in faith, thy Duchess."

  Hereupon Beltane, remembering his dream, must needs close his eyes that he may dream again, and is upon the portal of sleep when Roger's hand rouses him.

  "What would'st, Roger?"

  "Master——thy draught."

  "Take it hence!"

  "Nay, it must be swallowed, master."

  "Then swallow it thyself!"

  "Nay, lord, 'tis the hour for thy draught appointed by Sir Fidelis and She must be obeyed——come, master!" Forthwith, yet remembering his dream, Beltane opens unwilling eyes and more unwilling mouth and the draught is swallowed; whereupon comes languor and sleep, and therewith, more dreams.

  Anon 'tis even-fall, and the stars, one by one, peep forth of the darkening heaven, shadows steal and lengthen and lo! 'tis night; a night wherein the placid moon, climbing apace, fills the silent world with the splendour of her advent. And ever and always Beltane lies deep-plunged in slumber; but in his sleep he groans full oft and oft doth call upon a name——a cry faint-voiced and weak, yet full of a passionate yearning; whereupon cometh sturdy Roger to behold him in the light of the fire, to stoop and soothe him with gentle hand; thus needs must he mark the glitter of a tear upon that pale and sunken cheek, wherefore Black Roger's own eyes must needs fall a-smarting and he to grieving amain. In so much that of a sudden he stealeth swiftly from the cave, and, drawing sword setteth it up-right in the ling; then kneeling with bowed head and reverent hands, forthwith fell to his prayers, after this wise:——

  "Sweet Cuthbert——gentle saint——behind me in the shadows lieth my master——a-weeping in his slumber. So needs must I weep also, since I do love him for that he is a man. Good Saint Cuthbert, I have wrought for him my best as thou hast seen——tended his hurt thrice daily and ministered the potion as I was commanded. I have worked for him——prayed for him——yet doth he weep great tears within his sleep. So now do I place him in thy care, good saint, for thou dost know me but poor rogue Roger, a rough man and all unlearned, yet, even so, I do most truly love him and, loving him, do fear——for meseemeth his hurt is deeper than hurt of body, he doth pine him and grieve for lack of his heart's desire——a young man, sweet saint, that doth yearn for a maid right fair and noble, pars amours, good saint, as is the custom. But alack, she is far hence and he lieth here sick and like to perish and I am but poor Roger——a very sinful man that knoweth not what to do. So do I call on thee, sweet saint——achieve me a miracle on his behalf, bring him to his heart's desire that he may wax hale and well and weep no more within his sleep. And this do I ask for his sake and his lady's sake and for the sake of Pentavalon Duchy——not forgetting poor Roger that doth plague thee thus for love of him. Amen!"

  Now behold! even as the prayer was ended came a faint stir and rustle amid the leaves hard by, and, lifting startled head, Black Roger beheld a radiant vision standing in the pale glory of the moon, whereat he knew fear and a great awe.

  "O, good Saint Cuthbert, and is it thou indeed?" he whispered, "Sweet saint, I thought not to win thee down from heaven thus, though forsooth I did pray right lustily. But, since thou art come——"

  "Hush, good Roger!" spake a voice soft and wondrous sweet to hear; and, so speaking, the shining figure raised the vizor of its helm. "O hush thee, Roger, for he sleepeth. All day, unseen, have I watched over him, nor can I leave him until his strength be come again. And sleep is life to him, so wake him not. Come your ways, for I would speak thee many things——follow!"

  As one that dreams, Roger stared into the eyes beneath the vizor, and as one that dreams he rose up from his knees, and, sheathing his sword, followed whither the gleaming vision led; yet betimes he blinked upon the moon, and once he shook his head and spake as to himself:

  "Verily——aye, verily, a lusty pray-er, I!"

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