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Beltane The Smith (Chapter68)

2006-08-28 16:42

  Chapter LXVIII. Friar MArtin's Dying Prophecy

  Now as Beltane hasted along he heard the tread of mailed feet, and looking round beheld the white friar, and 'neath his white frock mail gleamed, while in his hand he grasped a heavy sword. Close on his heels came many men, old men these for the most part, grey of beard and white of head, and their armour, even as they, was ancient and rusty; but the faces that stared from casque and mail-hood were grim and sorrow-lined, stern faces and purposeful, and the eyes that gleamed 'neath shaggy brows ere now had looked on sons and brothers done to death by fire and gallows, and wives and daughters shamed and ravished. And ever as they came Friar Martin smote, sword in hand, on door and shuttered window, and cried hoarse and loud:

  "Ye men of Belsaye——fathers and husbands, arm ye, arm ye! Ye greybeards that have seen Duke Ivo's mercy, arm ye! Your foes be in, to burn, to loot again and ravish! O ye husbands and fathers, arise, arise——arm, arm and follow me to smite for wife and children!"

  So cried the tall white friar, pallid of cheek but dauntless of eye, and ever as he cried, smote he upon door and shutter with his sword, and ever his company grew.

  Within the square was Roger, hoarse-voiced, with Beltane's battered war-helm on a pike whereto the foresters mustered——hardy and brown-faced men, fitting on bascinet and buckling belt, yet very quiet and orderly. And beside Roger, Ulf the Mighty leaned him upon his axe, and in the ranks despite their bandages stood Orson the Tall and Jenkyn o' the Ford, even yet in wordy disputation.

  Quoth Beltane:

  "How many muster ye, Roger?"

  "One hundred and nine, master."

  "And where is Walkyn——where Giles?"

  "With Sir Benedict, hard by the gate, master. My lord, come take thy helm——come take it, master, 'twill be a close and bitter fight——and thou art no longer thine own man——bethink thee of thy sweet wife, Sir Fidelis, master!"

  So Beltane did on the great casque and even now came Sir Brian beside whom Sir Hacon limped, yet with sword bloody.

  "Ha, my lord," he cried, "mine eyes do joy to see thee and these goodly fellows——'tis hard and fierce business where Benedict and his pikes do hold the gate——"

  "Aye, forsooth," quoth Sir Brian, "they press their attack amain, for one that falleth, two do fill his place."

  "Verily, and what fighting man could ask more of any foe? And we be fighting men, praise be to Saint Cuthbert——"

  "Aye," quoth Roger, crossing himself, "Saint Cuthbert be our aid this night."

  Forthwith Beltane formed his column and with Ulf and Roger beside him marched from the square. By narrow streets went they, 'neath dim-lighted casements where pale faces looked down to pray heaven's aid on them.

  So came they where torch and lanthorn smoked and gleamed, by whose fitful light they beheld a barricade, rough and hastily contrived, whence Sir Benedict fought and Walkyn smote, with divers of their stout company and lusty fellows from the town. Above, upon the great flanking tower of the gate, was Giles with many archers who plied their whizzing shafts amain where, 'twixt outer and inner wall, the assailants sought to storm the barricade; but the place was narrow, and moreover, beyond the breach stout Eric, backed by his fierce townsmen, fought in desperate battle: thus, though the besiegers' ranks were constantly swelled by way of the breach, yet in that confined space their very numbers hampered them, while from sheltered wall and gate-tower Giles and his archers showered them with whistling shafts very fast and furious; so in that narrow place death was rife and in the fitful torch-glare was a sea of tossing steel and faces fierce and wild, and ever the clamour grew, shouts and screams and cries dreadful to be heard.

  Now as Beltane stood to watch this, grim-lipped, for it needed but few to man the barricade, so narrow was it, Roger caught his arm and pointed to the housetops above them; and what he saw, others saw also, and a cry went up of wonder and amaze. For, high upon the roof, his mail agleam, his white robe whiter in the torch-glare, stood Friar Martin, while crouched behind him to left and right were many men in ancient and rusty armour, men grey-bearded and white of head, at sight of whom the roar of battle died down from sheer amaze until all men might hear the friar's words:

  "Come, ye men of Belsaye!" he cried, "all ye that do love wife or daughter or little child——all ye that would maintain them innocent and pure——follow me!"

  As he ended, his sword flashed, and, even as he sprang, so sprang all those behind him——down, down they leapt upon the close-ranked foemen below, so swift, so sudden and unexpected, that ere they could be met with pike or sword the thing was done. And now from that narrow way, dim-lit by lanthorn and torch-glare, there rose a sound more awful to hear than roar of battle, a hoarse and vicious sound like to the worrying snarl of many great and fierce hounds.

  With ancient swords, with axe and dagger and fierce-rending teeth they fought, those fathers of Belsaye; thick and fast they fell, yet never alone, while ever they raved on, a company of madmen, behind the friar's white robe. Back and back the besiegers reeled before that raging fury——twice the white friar was smitten down yet twice he arose, smiting the fiercer, wherefore, because of his religious habit, the deathly pallor of his sunken cheek and the glare of his eyes, panic came, and all men shrank from the red sweep of his sword.

  Then Sir Benedict sounded his horn, and sword in hand leapt over the barricade, and behind him Beltane with Roger and Ulf and Walkyn and their serried pikemen, while Sir Brian and Sir Hacon limped in their rear.

  "The breach!" cried Sir Benedict, "seize we now the breach!"

  "The breach! The breach!" roared a hundred voices. And now within the gloom steel rasped steel, groping hands seized and griped with merciless fingers; figures, dim-seen, sank smitten, groaning beneath the press. But on they fought, slipping and stumbling, hewing and thrusting, up and up over ruined masonry, over forms that groaned beneath cruel feet——on and ever on until within the narrow breach Beltane's long sword darted and thrust and Ulf's axe whirled and fell, while hard by Walkyn's hoarse shout went up in roaring triumph.

  So within this narrow gap, where shapeless things stirred and whimpered in the dark, Beltane leaned breathless upon his sword and looked down upon the watch-fires of Duke Ivo's great camp. But, even as he gazed, these fires were blotted out where dark figures mounted fresh to the assault, and once again sword and axes fell to their dire work.

  And ever as he fought Beltane bethought him of her whose pure lips voiced prayers for him, and his mighty arm grew mightier yet, and he smote and thrust untiring, while Walkyn raged upon his left, roaring amain for Red Pertolepe, and Ulf the strong saved his breath to ply his axe the faster.

  Now presently as they fought thus, because the breach was grown very slippery, Beltane tripped and fell, but in that instant two lusty mailed legs bestrode him, and from the dimness above Roger's voice hailed:

  "Get thee back, master——I pray thee get back and take thy rest awhile, my arm is fresh and my steel scarce blooded, so get thee to thy rest—— moreover thou art a notch, lord——another accursed notch from my belt!"

  Wherefore Beltane presently crept down from the breach and thus beheld many men who laboured amain beneath Sir Benedict's watchful eye to build a defence work very high and strong where they might command the breach. And as Beltane sat thus, finding himself very spent and weary, cometh Giles beside him.

  "Lord," said he, leaning him on his bow, "the attack doth languish, methinks, wherefore I do praise the good God, for had they won the town——ah, when I do think on——her——she that is so pure and sweet——and Ivo's base soldiery——O sweet Jesu!" and Giles shivered.

  "Forsooth, thou didst see fair Belsaye sacked——five years agone, Giles?"

  "Aye, God forgive me master, for I——I——O, God forgive me!"

  "Thou once did show me a goodly chain, I mind me, Giles."

  "Aye, but I lost it——I lost it, master!" he cried eagerly, "O verily I did lose it, so did it avail me nothing."

  "Moreover, Giles, thou didst with knowing laugh, vaunt that the women of Belsaye town were marvellous fair——and methinks didst speak truly, Giles!"

  Now at this Giles bowed his head and turning him about, went heavily upon his way. Then, sighing, Beltane arose and came where stood Sir Benedict who forthwith hailed him blithely:

  "Can we but hold them until the dawn, Beltane——and mark me, we can, here is a work shall make us strong 'gainst all attacks," and he pointed to the growing barricade. "But what of our noble Friar Martin? But for him, Beltane, but for him and his ancient company we had been hard put to it, lad. Ha, 'neath that white gown is saint and friar, and, what is better——a man! Now God be praised, yonder cometh the dawn at last! Though forsooth this hath been a sorry wedding-night for thee, dear lad——and for her, sweet maid——"

  "Thou dost know then, Benedict?"

  "Think ye not good Roger hasted to tell me, knowing thy joy is my joy—— ha! list ye to those blessed joy-bells! glory be to God, there doth trusty Eric tell us he hath made an end of such as stormed the breach. But who cometh here? And by this hand, in tears!"

  Already in the east was a roseate glory by whose soft light Beltane beheld Tall Orson, who grasped a bloody sword in one hand and wiped away his tears with the other. He, perceiving Beltane and Sir Benedict, limped to them forthwith and spake, albeit hoarse and brokenly.

  "Lords, I do be bid hither to bring ye where he lieth a-dying——the noblest as do be in this world alive——his white robe all bloodied, lords, yet his face do be an angel's face!"

  "Ah," sighed Beltane rising, "is it the noble Friar Martin, Orson?"

  "Aye, lord, it do be he——as blessed me wi' his poor hand as do be so faint and feeble."

  So saying, Orson brought them to a house beside the wall, wherein, upon a pallet, the white friar lay with Jenkyn beside him, and the white-haired Reeve and many other of the sturdy townsfolk about him.

  Now came Beltane to kneel beside the friar, who, opening swooning eyes, smiled and spake faint-voiced:

  "My lord Beltane——noble son, my work on earth is ended, methinks——so doth God call me hence——and I do go right gladly. These dying eyes grow dim——but with the deathless eyes of the soul I do see many things most plainly——so, dear and valiant children, hear ye this! The woes of Belsaye are past and done——behold, thy deliverance is at hand! I see one that rideth from the north——and this I give thee for a sign——he is tall, this man, bedight in sable armour and mounted upon a great white horse. And behind him marcheth a mighty following——the woods be bright with the gleam of armour! O ye valiant men——O children of Belsaye that I have loved so well, let now your hearts be glad! O Belsaye town, thy shames and sorrows be passed away forever. I see thee through the years a rich city and a happy, thy gates ever open to the woeful and distressed! Rejoice, rejoice——thy sorrows are past and done——even as mine. Ah, list——list ye to those bells! Hear ye not their joyful clamour——hearken!"

  But indeed, silence had fallen upon Belsaye, and no sound brake the quiet save the distant hum and stir of conflict upon the broken wall. Nevertheless the friar's dying face waxed bright with a wondrous happiness.

  "O blessed——blessed sound!" he whispered. Of a sudden he rose up from his pillow with radiant eyes uplifted, and stretched up arms in eager welcome.

  "Sweet Jesu!" he whispered. Slowly his arms sank, the thin hands strove to fold themselves——fell apart, and, sighing rapturously, Friar Martin sank back upon his pillows like one that is weary, and, with the sigh, was dead. And lo! in that same moment, from tower and belfry near and far, rose a sudden wild and gladsome clamour of bells ringing out peal on peal of rapturous joy, insomuch that those who knelt beside that couch of death lifted bowed heads——eye questioning eye in a wonder beyond words.

  And now, all at once was the ring and tramp of mailed feet coming swiftly, and in the doorway stood Roger, his riven mail befouled with battle.

  "Lords!" he panted, "rejoice——rejoice! our woes and sorrows be past and done——hark ye to the bells! Our deliverance cometh from the north——you shall see the woods alight with——the gleam of their armour!"

  Nothing saying, Beltane arose and went soft-treading from the chamber, past the blood and horror of the breach, and climbing the flanking tower beside the gate, looked to the north. And there he beheld a mighty company that marched forth of the woods, rank upon rank, whose armour, flashing in the early sun, made a dazzling splendour against the green. Company by company they mustered on the plain, knights and men-at-arms with footmen and archers beyond count.

  And presently, before this deep array, two standards were advanced——a white banner whereon was a red lion and a banner on whose blue ground black leopards were enwrought.

  Now as Beltane gazed upon this glorious host he felt a gentle hand touch him and turning, beheld the Duchess Helen, and her cheek showed pale with her long night vigil.

  "My Beltane," said she, flushing 'neath his regard, "lord Duke of Mortain, behold yonder thy goodly powers of Mortain that shall do thy bidding henceforth——look yonder, my lord Duke!"

  "Duke!" quoth Beltane, "Duke of Mortain——forsooth, and am I so indeed? I had forgot this quite, in thy beauty, my Helen, and did but know that I had to wife one that I do love beyond all created things. And now, beloved, thy sweet eyes do tell me thy night was sleepless."

  "Mine eyes——ah, look not on them, Beltane, for well I know these poor eyes be all red and swollen with weeping for thee——though indeed I bathed them ere I sought thee——"

  "Sweet eyes of love!" said he, setting his arm about her, "come let me kiss them!"

  "Ah, no, Beltane, look yonder——behold where salvation cometh——"

  "I had rather look where my salvation lieth, within these dear eyes—— nay, abase them not. And didst weep for me, and wake for me, my Helen?"

  "I was so——so fearful for thee, my lord."

  "Aye, and what more?"

  "And very sorrowful——"

  "Aye, and what more?"

  "And——heartsick——"

  "Aye, sweet my wife——but what more?"

  "And——very lonely, Beltane——"

  Then my Beltane caught her close and kissed her full long, until she struggled in his embrace and slipping from him, stood all flushed and breathless and shy-eyed. But of a sudden she caught his hand and pointed where, before the glittering ranks of Mortain's chivalry, a herald advanced.

  "Look, Beltane," she said, "oh, look and tell me who rideth yonder!"

  Now behind this herald two knights advanced, the one in glittering armour whose shield was resplendent with many quarterings, but beholding his companion, Beltane stared in wondering awe; for lo! he saw a tall man bedight in sable armour who bore a naked sword that flashed in the sun and who bestrode a great, white charger. And because of Friar Martin's dying words, Beltane stood awed and full of amaze.

  Nearer and nearer they came until all men might read the cognizance upon the first knight's resplendent shield and know him for one Sir Jocelyn, lord of Alain, but his companion they knew not, since neither charge nor blazon bore he of any sort. Of a sudden the herald set clarion to lip and blew a challenge that was taken up and answered from within the camp, and forth came Duke Ivo, bare-headed in his armour and with knights attendant, who, silencing the heralds with a gesture, spake loud and fierce.

  "Sir Jocelyn, lord of Alain, why come ye against me in arms and so ungently arrayed, wherefore come ye in such force, and for what?"

  Then answered Sir Jocelyn:

  "My lord Ivo, thou wert upon a time our honoured guest within Mortain, thou didst with honeyed word and tender phrase woo our fair young Duchess to wife. But——and heed this, my lord!——when Helen the Beautiful, the Proud, did thy will gainsay, thou didst in hearing of divers of her lords and counsellors vow and swear to come one day and seek her with flaming brands. So here to-day stand I and divers other gentles of Mortain——in especial this right noble lord——to tell thee that so long as we be men ne'er shalt set foot across our marches. Lastly, we are hither come to demand the safe conduct from Belsaye of our lady Duchess Helen, and such of the citizens as may choose to follow her."

  "So!" quoth Duke Ivo, smiling and fingering his long, blue chin, "'tis war ye do force on me, my lord of Alain?"

  "Nay, messire," answered Sir Jocelyn, "that must be asked of this sable knight——for he is greater than I, and leadeth where I do but follow."

  Now hereupon the black knight paced slowly forward upon his great, white horse nor stayed until he came close beside Duke Ivo. Then reining in his charger, he lifted his vizor and spake in voice deep and strong.

  "O thou that men call Ivo the Duke, look upon this face——behold these white hairs, this lined brow! Bethink thee of the innocent done to cruel death by thy will, the fair cities given to ravishment and flame—— and judge if this be just and sufficient cause for war, and bitter war, betwixt us!"

  Now beholding the face of the speaker, his proud and noble bearing, his bold eyes fierce and bright and the grim line of nose and chin, Duke Ivo blenched and drew back, the smile fled from his lip, and he stared wide of eye and breathless.

  "Beltane!" quoth he at last, "Beltane——ha! methought thee dusty bones these many years——so it is war, I judge?"

  For answer Duke Beltane lifted on high the long sword he bore.

  "Ivo," said he, "the cries and groans of my sorrowful and distressed people have waked me from my selfish griefs at last——so am I come for vengeance on their innocent blood, their griefs and wrongs so long endured of thee. This do I swear thee, that this steel shall go unsheathed until I meet thee in mortal combat——and ere this sun be set one of us twain shall be no more."

  "Be it so," answered Black Ivo, "this night belike I shall hang thee above the ruins of Belsaye yonder, and thy son with thee!" So saying, he turned about and chin on fist rode into his camp, where was mounting and mustering in hot haste.

  "Beltane," spake the Duchess, clasping Beltane's hand, "dost know at last?"

  "Aye," answered he with eyes aglow, "But how cometh my noble father yonder?"

  "I sought him out in Holy Cross Thicket, Beltane. I told him of thy valiant doings and of thy need of instant aid, and besought him to take up arms for thee and for me and for dear Mortain, and to lead my army 'gainst——"

  But Beltane, falling before her on his knee spake quick and passionate:

  "O Helen——Helen the Beautiful! without thee I had been nought, and less than nought! Without thee, Pentavalon had groaned yet 'neath cruel wrong! Without thee——O without thee, my Helen, I were a thing lost and helpless in very truth!"

  Now hereupon, being first and foremost a woman, young and loving and passionate, needs must she weep over him a little and stoop to cherish his golden head on her bosom, and holding it thus sweetly pillowed, to kiss him full oft and thereafter loose him and blush and sigh and turn from his regard, all sweet and shy demureness like the very maid she was.

  Whereat Beltane, forgetful of all but her loveliness, heedful of nought in the world but her warm young beauty, rose up from his knees and, trembling-mute with love, would have caught her to his eager arms; but of a sudden cometh Giles, breathless——hasting up the narrow stair and, all heedless of his lord, runneth to fling himself upon his knees before the Duchess, to catch her robe and kiss it oft.

  "O dear and gracious lady!" he cried, "Genevra hath told me! And is it true thou hast promised me a place within thy court at fair Mortain——is it true thou wilt lift me up that I may wed with one so much o'er me in station——is it true thou wilt give me my Genevra, my heart's desire—— all unworthy though I be——I——O——" And behold! Giles's ready tongue faltered for very gratitude and on each tanned cheek were bright, quick-falling tears.

  "Giles," said she, "thou wert true and faithful to my lord when his friends were few, so methinks thou should'st be faithful and true to thy sweet Genevra——so will I make thee Steward and Bailiff of Mortain an my lord is in accord——"

  "Lord," quoth Giles brokenly, "ere thou dost speak, beseech thee hear this. I have thought on thy saying regarding my past days——and grieved sorely therefore. Now an ye do think my shameful past beyond redemption, if these arms be too vile to clasp her as my wife, if my love shall bring her sorrow or shame hereafter, then——because I do truly love her——I will see her no more; I will——leave her to love one more worthy than I. And this I do swear thee, master——on the cross!"

  Quoth Beltane:

  "Giles, he that knoweth himself unworthy, if that his love be a true love, shall by that love make himself, mayhap, worthier than most. He that loveth so greatly that in his love base self is forgot——such a man, methinks, doth love in God-like fashion. So shall it be as my lady hath said."

  Then Giles arose, and wiping off his tears strove to speak his thanks but choked upon a sob instead, and turning, hasted down the turret stair.

  Now presently within the city Sir Benedict's trumpets Hew, and looking from the battlement Beltane beheld Sir Hacon mustering their stout company, knights and men-at-arms, what time Roger and Walkyn and Ulf ordered what remained of their pikemen and archers.

  "Beloved!" sighed Beltane, drawing his Duchess within his arm, "see yonder, 'tis horse and saddle——soon must I leave thee again."

  Now did she sigh amain, and cling to him and droop her lovely head, yet when she spake her words were brave:

  "My Beltane, this love of mine is such that I would not have thee fail in duty e'en though this my heart should break——but ah! husband, stay yet a little longer, I——I have been a something lonely wife hitherto, and I——do hate loneliness, Beltane——" A mailed foot sounded upon the stone stair and, turning about, they beheld a knight in resplendent armour, blazoned shield slung before.

  "Greeting to thee, my lord Duke of Mortain, and to thy lovely lady wife," spake a cheery voice, and the speaker, lifting his vizor, behold! it was Sir Benedict. "I go in mine own armour to-day, Beltane, that haply thy noble father shall know me in the press. Ha, see where he ordereth his line, 'twas ever so his custom, I mind me——in four columns with archers betwixt. Mark me now lad, I have brought thee here a helm graced with these foolish feathers as is the new fashion——white feathers, see you——that my lady's sweet eyes may follow thee in the affray."

  "For that, dear Benedict," cried she, "for that shalt kiss me, so off with thy great helm!" Forthwith Sir Benedict did off his casque, and stooping, kissed her full-lipped, and meeting Beltane's eye, flushed and laughed and was solemn all in a moment.

  "Ah, Beltane, dear lad," quoth he, "I envy thee and grieve for thee! To possess such a maid to wife——and to leave her——so soon! May God bring thee safe again to her white arms. Ah, youth is very sweet, lad, and love——true love is youth's fair paradise and——body o' me, there sound our tuckets! See where Ivo formeth his main battle——and yonder he posteth a goodly company to shut us up within the city. So must we wait a while until the battle joins——thy noble father is wondrous wise in war——O verily he hath seen, behold how he altereth his array! O wise Beltane!"

  Now Duke Ivo threw out a screen of archers and horsemen to harass the powers of Mortain what time he formed his battle in three great companies, a deep and formidable array of knights and men-at-arms whose tall lances rose, a very forest, with pennons and banderols a-flutter in the gentle wind of morning. Far on the left showed the banner of his marshal Sir Bors; above his right battle flew the Raven banner of Sir Pertolepe the Red, and above his main battle rose his own standard—— a black lion on a red field. So mustered he his powers of Pentavalon, gay with stir of pennons and rich trappings; the sun flashed back from ponderous casques and bascinets innumerable and flamed on blazoned shields. And beholding their might and confident bearing, Beltane clenched nervous hands and his mouth grew hard and grim, so turned he from this formidable host to where, just beyond the woods, his father's banner flew beside the leopards of Mortain. Conspicuous upon his white charger he beheld Duke Beltane, a proud and warlike figure, who sat his stamping war-horse deep in converse with Sir Jocelyn, while behind were the dense ranks of Mortain. Suddenly, Sir Jocelyn wheeled his charger and galloped along Mortain's front, his rich armour glittering, until he halted at the head of that knightly company posted upon the left.

  Meantime, Black Ivo's archers advancing, fell into arrow formation and began to ply the Mortain ranks with clouds of shafts and bolts 'neath which divers men and horses fell——what time Black Ivo's massed columns moved slowly forward to the attack——yet Duke Beltane, sitting among his knights, stirred not, and the army of Mortain abode very silent and still. But of a sudden Duke Beltane wheeled his horse, his sword flashed on high, whereat trumpets brayed and on the instant Sir Jocelyn wheeled off to the left, he and all his company, and gathering speed began to skirt Duke Ivo's advanced pikemen and archers, and so rode down upon those men of Pentavalon who were drawn up against Belsaye. Hereupon Black Ivo would have launched a counter-charge to check Sir Jocelyn's attack, but his advanced lines of cross-bowmen and archers hampered him. Once again Duke Beltane's sword flashed up, the first line of Mortain's great array leapt forward and with levelled lances thundered down upon Black Ivo's ranks, scattering and trampling down his archers; but as they checked before the serried pikes behind, forth galloped Duke Beltane's second line and after this a third—— o'erwhelming Ivo's pikemen by their numbers, and bursting over and through their torn ranks, reformed, and, spurring hard, met Ivo's rank with crashing shock in full career. And, behind this raging battle, Duke Beltane rode at the head of his reserves, keen-eyed and watchful, what time Sir Jocelyn was hotly engaged upon the left, nigh unto the town itself.

  "Ah, Beltane!" sighed the Duchess, shivering and covering her face—— "'tis horrible, horrible——see how they fall!"

  "Nay, my brave Fidelis, heed rather how valiant Sir Jocelyn and his knights drive in their advanced lines——ha! Benedict, see how he breaks their array——an he can but turn their flank——"

  "Nay, Beltane——yonder cometh the Raven banner where Pertolepe spurreth in support——"

  "Aye, but yonder doth my father launch yet another charge——ha! Benedict, let us out and aid them——the way lieth open beyond the drawbridge an we can but turn Ivo's flank!" quoth Beltane looking ever upon the battle, "O, methinks the time is now, Benedict!"

  With Helen's soft hand a-tremble in his, Beltane hasted down from the tower and Sir Benedict followed, until they were come to the square where, amid the joyful acclaim of the populace, their small and hardy following were drawn up; and, as they came, from townsfolk and soldiery a shout arose:

  "Beltane——the Duke——the Duke!"

  "My lord Duke of Mortain," quoth Sir Benedict, "I and thy company do wait thee to lead us."

  But Beltane smiled and shook his head.

  "Not so, my lord of Bourne, thou art so cunning in war and hast led us so valiantly and well——shalt lead us to this battle, the which I pray God shall be our last! As for me, this day will I march with the foresters——so mount, my lord."

  Hereupon, from foresters, from knights and men-at-arms another shout arose what time Sir Benedict, having knelt to kiss the Duchess Helen's white hand, found it woefully a-tremble.

  "Alas, my lady Helen," said he, "methinks thine is the harder part this day. God strengthen thy wifely heart, for God, methinks, shall yet bring him to thine embrace!" So saying, Sir Benedict mounted and rode to the head of his lances, where flew his banner. "Unbar the gates!" he cried. And presently the great gates of Belsaye town swung wide, the portcullis clanked up, the drawbridge fell, and thus afar off they beheld where, 'mid swirling dust-cloud the battle raged fierce and fell.

  And behold a sorry wight who hobbled toward them on a crutch, so begirt and bandaged that little was to see of him but bright eyes.

  "O Sir Hacon!" cried the Duchess, "did I not bid thee to thy bed?"

  "Why truly, dear my lady, but since I may not go forth myself, fain would I see my good comrades ride into the battle——faith, methinks I might yet couch a lance but for fear of this thy noble lady, my lord Beltane——aye me, this shall be a dismal day for me, methinks!"

  "Nay, then I will keep thee company, good Sir Hacon!" smiled the Duchess a little tremulously, "shalt watch with me from the bartizan and tell me how the day goeth with us."

  And now Sir Benedict lifted aloft his lance, the trumpet sounded, and with ring and tramp he with his six hundred knights and men-at-arms rode forth of the market-square, clattering through the narrow street, thundering over the drawbridge, and, forming in the open, spurred away into the battle.

  Then Beltane sighed, and kneeling, kissed his lady's white hands:

  "Beloved," spake he low-voiced, "e'en now must I go from thee, but howsoever fortune tend——thine am I through life——aye, and beyond."

  "Beltane," she whispered 'twixt quivering lips, "O loved Beltane, take heed to thy dear body, cover thee well with thy shield since thy hurts are my hurts henceforth and with thee thou dost bear my heart——O risk not my heart to death without good cause!" So she bent and kissed him on the brow: but when he would have risen, stayed him. "Wait, my lord!" she whispered and turning, beckoned to one behind her, and lo! Genevra came forward bearing a blue banner.

  "My lord," said the Duchess, "behold here thy banner that we have wrought for thee, Genevra and I."

  So saying, she took the banner and gave it into Beltane's mailed hand. But as he arose, and while pale-cheeked Genevra, hands clasped upon the green scarf at her bosom, looked wet-eyed where the archers stood ranked, forth stepped Giles and spake quick and eager.

  "Lord!" said he, "to-day methinks will be more hard smiting than chance for good archery, wherefore I do pray let me bear thy standard in the fight——ne'er shall foeman touch it whiles that I do live——lord, I pray thee!"

  "Be it so, Giles!" So Giles took the banner whiles Beltane fitted on his great, plumed helm; thereafter comes Roger with his shield and Ulf leading his charger whereon he mounted forthwith, and wheeling, put himself at the head of his pikemen and archers, with Roger and Ulf mounted on either flank and Giles bestriding another horse behind.

  Yet now needs must he turn to look his last upon the Duchess standing forlorn, and beholding the tender passion of her tearless eyes he yearned mightily to kiss them, and sighed full deep, then, giving the word, rode out and away, the blue standard a-dance upon the breeze; but his heart sank to hear the clash and clang of gate and portcullis, shutting away from him her that was more to him than life itself.

  Now when they had gone some way needs must he look back at Belsaye, its battered walls, its mighty towers; and high upon the bartizan he beheld two figures, the one be-swathed in many bandages, and one he knew who prayed for him, even then; and all at once wall and towers and distant figures swam in a mist of tears wherefore he closed his bascinet, yet not before Giles had seen——Giles, whose merry face was grim now and hard-set, and from whose bright bascinet a green veil floated.

  "Lord," said he, blinking bright eyes, "we have fought well ere now, but to-day methinks we shall fight as ne'er we fought in all our days."

  "Aye," nodded Beltane, "verily, Giles, methinks we shall!"

  Thus saying, he turned and looked upon the rolling battle-dust and settling his feet within the stirrups, clenched iron fingers upon his long sword.

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