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Beltane The Smith (Chapter35)

2006-08-28 16:34

  Chapter XXXV. How Gui of Allerdale Ceased from Evil

  Sir Gui of Allerdale, lord Seneschal of Belsaye town, rode hawk on fist at the head of divers noble knights and gentle esquires with verderers and falconers attendant. The dusty highway, that led across the plain to the frowning gates of Belsaye, was a-throng with country folk trudging on foot or seated in heavy carts whose clumsy wheels creaked and groaned city-wards; for though the sun was far declined, it was market-day: moreover a man was to die by the fire, and though such sights were a-plenty, yet 'twas seldom that any lord, seneschal, warden, castellan or——in fine, any potent lord dowered with right of pit and gallows——dared lay hand upon a son of the church, even of the lesser and poorer orders; but Sir Gui was a bold man and greatly daring. Wherefore it was that though the market-traffic was well nigh done, the road was yet a-swarm with folk all eager to behold and watch how a white friar could face death by the flame. So, on horse and afoot, in creaking cart and wain, they thronged toward the goodly city of Belsaye.

  Sir Gui rode at a hand-pace, and as he rode the folk drew hastily aside to give him way, and bent the knee full humbly or stood with bowed heads uncovered to watch him pass; but 'neath bristling brows, full many an eye glared fiercely on his richly-habited, slender figure, marking his quick, dark glance, the down-curving, high-bridged nose of him with the thin lips and the long, pointed chin below.

  Thus rode he, assured in his might and confident, heedless alike of the glory of day fast drawing into evening, of the green world whose every blade and leaf spake of life abundant, and of these trampling folk who bent so humbly at his passing, their cheeks aglow with health; thus, heeding but himself and his own most dear desires, how should he mark the four tall and dusty miller's men whose brawny backs were stooped each beneath its burden? And how should he, confident in his strength and might, hale and lusty in his body, come to think on death sharp and swift? Thus Sir Gui of Allerdale, lord Seneschal of Belsaye town, rode upon his way, with eyes that glowed with the love of life, and tongue that curled 'twixt smiling lips as one that savoured its sweetness or meditated coming joys. Perceiving the which, two youthful esquires that rode near by nudged elbows, and set their heads together.

  "I know yon look——aha! 'tis the goldsmith's fair young wife. There have been lovers who loved love ere now——Pan, see you, and Jove himself they say: but Pan was coy, and Jove——"

  "Hist, he beckons us!"

  So came these young esquires beside Sir Gui who, tapping the dust from his habit with soft white hand, spake soft-voiced and sweet.

  "Ride on, sirs, and bid our careful warden stay awhile the execution of this traitorous friar. Let the square be lined with pikes as is our custom: let the prisoner be chained unto his stake see you, but let all things stay until I be come. There will be many folk in Belsaye, meseemeth, well——let them wait, and stare, and whisper, and——wait, till I be come!"

  Forward spurred the young esquires to do as was commanded, joyful to see the confusion that marked their swift career and making good play of their whips on the heads and shoulders of such as chanced to be within reach; in especial upon a mighty fellow in floured smock that bare a sack on his shoulder and who, stung with the blow, cried a curse on them in voice so harsh and bold that folk shrank from his neighbourhood, yet marvelled at his daring. Being come anon within the city Sir Gui dismounted beside the gate, and giving horse and falcon to an esquire, beckoned to him a grizzled man-at-arms; now as he did so, a tall miller passed him by, and stumbling wearily, set down his sack against the wall and panted.

  "Bare you the letter as I commanded, Rolf?"

  "Aye, my lord."

  "What said she?"

  "Wept, my lord."

  "Spake she nought?"

  "Nought, my lord."

  "Lieth the goldsmith deep?"

  "Above the water-dungeons, my lord."

  "And she wept, say you? Methinks the goldsmith shall go free to-morrow!"

  So saying, Sir Gui went on into the city, and as he went, his smile was back again, and his tongue curved red betwixt his lips. And presently the tall miller hoisted his burden and went on into the city also; turned aside down a narrow passage betwixt gloomy houses, and so at last out into the square that hummed with a clamour hushed and expectant. But my lord Seneschal, unheeding ever, came unto a certain quiet corner of the square remote and shady, being far removed from the stir and bustle of the place; here he paused at an open doorway and turned to look back into the square, ruddy with sunset——a careless glance that saw the blue of sky, the heavy-timbered houses bathed in the warm sunset glow, the which, falling athwart the square, shone red upon the smock of a miller, who stooping 'neath his burden, stumbled across the uneven cobble-stones hard by. All this saw Sir Gui in that one backward glance; then, unheeding as ever, went in at the doorway and up the dark and narrow stair. But now it chanced that the miller, coming also to this door, stood a while sack on shoulder, peering up into the gloom within; thereafter, having set down his burden in stealthy fashion, he also turned and glanced back with eyes that glittered in the shadow of his hat: then, setting one hand within his smock, he went in at the door and, soft-footed began to creep up that dark and narrow stair. She sat in a great carven chair, her arms outstretched across the table before her, her face bowed low between, and the setting sun made a glory of her golden hair. Of a sudden she started, and lifting her head looked upon Sir Gui; her tears, slow-falling and bitter, staining the beauty of her face.

  "My lord——ah, no!" she panted, and started to her feet.

  "Dear and fair my lady——fear not. Strong am I, but very gentle——'tis ever my way with beauty. I do but come for my answer." And he pointed to a crumpled parchment that lay upon the table.

  "O, good my lord," she whispered, "I cannot! If thou art gentle indeed ——then——"

  "He lieth above the water-dungeons, lady!" sighed Sir Gui.

  "Ah, the sweet Christ aid me!"

  "To-morrow he goeth to death, or lieth in those round, white arms. Lady, the choice is thine: and I pray you show pity to thy husband who loveth thee well, 'tis said." Now hereupon she sobbed amain and fell upon her knees with arms outstretched in passionate appeal——but lo! she spake no word, her swimming eyes oped suddenly wide, and with arms yet outstretched she stared and stared beyond Sir Gui in so much that he turned and started back amazed——to behold one clad as a dusty miller, a mighty man whose battered hat touched the lintel and whose great bulk filled the doorway——a very silent man who looked and looked with neck out-thrust, yet moved not and uttered no word. Hereupon Sir Gui spake quick and passion-choked:

  "Fool——fool! hence, thou blundering fool. For this shalt be flayed alive. Ha!——hence, thou dusty rogue!" But now this grim figure stirred, and lifting a great hand, spake hoarse and low:

  "Peace, knight! Hold thy peace and look!" The wide-eaved hat was tossed to the floor and Sir Gui, clenching his hands, would have spoken but the harsh voice drowned his words: "How, knight, thou that art Bloody Gui of Allerdale! Dost thou not know me, forsooth? I am Waldron, whose father and mother and sister ye slew. Aye, Waldron of Brand am I, though men do call me Walkyn o' the Dene these days. Brand was a fair manor, knight——a fair manor, but long since dust and ashes——ha! a merry blaze wherein father and mother and sister burned and screamed and died——in faith, a roguish blaze! Ha! d'ye blench? Dost know me, forsooth?"

  Then Sir Gui stepped back, drawing his sword; but, even so, death leapt at him. A woman, wailing, fled from the chamber, a chair crashed to the floor; came a strange, quick tapping of feet upon the floor and thereafter rose a cry that swelled louder to a scream——louder to a bubbling shriek, and dying to a groaning hiss, was gone.

  And, in a while, Walkyn, that had been Waldron of Brand, rose up from his knees, and running forth of the chamber, hasted down the dark and narrow stair.

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