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Beltane The Smith (Chapter37)

2006-08-28 16:35

  Chapter XXXVII. How They Left Belsaye

  Lanthorns gleamed and torches flared in the great square of Belsaye where panting, shouting townsfolk thronged upon Beltane and his company with tears of joy, with laughter loud and high-pitched, with shouts and wild acclaim; many there were who knelt to kiss their sun-browned hands, their feet, the very links of their armour. And presently came Giles o' the Bow, debonair and smiling, a woman's scarf about his brawny throat, a dozen ribands and favours tied about each mailed arm.

  "Lord," quoth he, "tall brother, I have been fairly kissed by full a score of buxom dames——the which is excellent good, for the women of Belsaye are of beauty renowned. But to kiss is a rare and notable science, and to kiss well a man should eat well, and forsooth, empty am I as any drum! Therefore prithee let us eat, that I may uphold my reputation, for, as the learned master Ovidius hath it, 'osculos'——"

  But from the townsfolk a shout arose:

  "Comes the Reeve! 'Tis good master Cuthbert! Way for the Reeve!"

  Hereupon the crowd parting, a tall man appeared, his goodly apparel torn, his long white hair disordered, while in his hand he yet grasped a naked sword. Stern his face was, and lined beyond his years, moreover his broad shoulders were bowed with more than age; but his eye was bright and quick, and when he spake, his voice was strong and full.

  "Which, I pray, is chiefest among ye?"

  "That am I," quoth Beltane.

  "Messire," said the Reeve, "who and what men ye are I know not, but in the name of these my fellow-citizens do I thank ye for our deliverance. But words be poor things, now therefore, an it be treasure ye do seek ye shall be satisfied. We have suffered much by extortion, but if gold be your desire, then whatsoever gold doth lie in our treasury, the half of it is freely thine."

  "O most excellent Reeve!" cried Giles, "forsooth, a very proper spirit of gratitude."

  "Good master," spake Beltane, quelling the archer with a look, "these my comrades hither came that a noble man should not perish, and that Sir Gui of Allerdale should cease from evil, and behold, 'tis done! So I pray you, give us food and shelter for the night, for with the dawn we march hence."

  "But——O tall brother!" gasped Giles, "O sweet lord, there was mention made of treasure! A large-souled Reeve——a Reeve with bowels! 'Treasure' quoth he, and likewise 'gold!' And these be matters to excogitate upon. Moreover, pecunioe obediunt omnia, brother."

  "Money, forsooth!" quoth Beltane bitterly; "now out upon thee, Giles—— how think ye money shall avail the like of us whose lives are forfeit each and every, whose foes be many and strong, who must ever be on our ward, quick to smite lest we be smitten——money, forsooth! So, good master Reeve, keep thy useless treasure, and, in its stead, give to us good steel——broadswords, sharp and well-tempered and stout link-mail—— give of these to such as lack."

  "But——O brother," says Giles, "with gold may we gain all these."

  "Verily, Giles, but gaining all without gold we lack not for gold, nor have the added fear of losing it. He that would gain wealth must first win freedom, for without freedom the richest is but a sorry slave. So give us steel, good master Reeve."

  Now from Giles' archers and divers others beside a growl went up, spreading from rank to rank, what time Beltane clenched his hands, frowning ever blacker. Then forth stepped Jenkyn o' the Ford with tall Orson, which last spake with voice uplift:

  "Master," quoth he, "us do love gold——but fighting men us do be, and if 'steel' says you——'steel' says we!"

  "Aye," nodded Jenkyn, "so look'ee master, here stands I wi' Orson my comrade look'ee, for witness that to-day we be better men than these growlers."

  But here, of a sudden, rose the shrill bray of a trumpet without the walls, a long flourish, loud and imperious; and at the sound a silence fell, wherein divers of the townsfolk eyed each other in fear swift-born, and drew nearer to the white-haired Reeve who stood leaning heavily upon his sword, his head stooped upon his broad chest. And in the silence, Giles spake:

  "Now, by the ever-blessed Saint Giles, there spake the summons of Robert of Hurstmanswyke——I know his challenge of old——ha, bows and bills!" So saying he bent and strung his bow.

  "Aye," nodded Roger, loosening sword in sheath, "and Sir Robert is a dour fighter I've heard."

  "So soon!" groaned the Reeve, "so very soon! Now God pity Belsaye!"

  "Amen!" quoth Giles, fidgeting uneasily with his bow, "forsooth, Sir Robert is a very potent lord——God help us all, say I!"

  "And Sir Robert likewise," quoth Roger, "for methinks an he come within Belsaye he is like to stay in Belsaye——mind ye Sir Gui, and mark ye my master's look!" And he pointed where Beltane stood near by, chin in fist, his eye bright and purposeful, his mouth grim-smiling; even as they watched he beckoned Walkyn and Eric to him and spake certain commands what time the trumpet brayed again in summons fierce and arrogant.

  "Good master Reeve," quoth Beltane, as Walkyn and Eric, obedient to his word, moved into the square to right and left, each with his company, "there is one without that groweth impatient. Let us therefore parley with him from the battlement above the gate."

  "Ah, messire," sighed the Reeve, "to what end? 'Tis Sir Robert's summons, and well I know he will demand speech with my lord Gui——alas for us and for Belsaye town!"

  "Nay," answered Beltane, "be comforted. Answer as I shall direct and fear ye nothing. Come your ways."

  Now when Roger turned and would have followed, Giles plucked him by the arm:

  "Roger," quoth he, "Sir Robert will demand speech of Gui of Allerdale, mark ye that, my Rogerkin. Nor will he speak to any but Sir Gui——for a great lord and proud is Robert of Hurstmanswyke. Ha, what think ye, Roger?"

  "I think perchance he must go dumb then——come, let us follow."

  "Nay, but speak he must——since he may tell us much, aye, and speak he shall. So come, my Rogerkin, hither with me!"

  "With thee, Giles? And wherefore?"

  "A wile, sweet Roger, a notable wile——a wile of wiles. Hush! speak not, but come——for mark this:

  "In faith a cunning man is Giles In counsel sage and full of wiles!"

  "So come, Rogerkin!" So saying, he gripped stout Roger's arm and plunged into the crowd.

  Being come out upon the battlement above the gate, Beltane, with the Reeve beside him, peering down through the dark, beheld beyond the moat, a knight supported by four esquires, and beyond these Beltane counted thirty lances what time the Reeve, steadying his voice, challenged them.

  Hereupon the knight spake:

  "Ha! do ye stir at last, dogs! Open in the Duke's name——'tis I, Robert, lord of Hurstmanswyke, with message to the lord Seneschal, Sir Gui, and captives from Bourne!"

  Then, grim-smiling in the dusk, Beltane spake: "Now greeting and fair greeting to thee, my lord, and to thy captives. Hath Thrasfordham fallen so soon?"

  "Thrasfordham, fool! 'tis not yet invested——these be divers of Benedict's spies out of Bourne, to grace thy gibbets. Come, unbar——down with the drawbridge; open I say——must I wait thy rogue's pleasure?"

  "Not so, noble lord. Belsaye this night doth welcome thee with open arms——and ye be in sooth Sir Robert of Hurstmanswyke."

  "Ha, do ye doubt me, knave? Dare ye keep me without? Set wide the gates, and instantly, or I will see thee in a noose hereafter. Open! Open! God's death! will ye defy me? gate ho!"

  So Beltane, smiling yet, descended from the battlement and bade them set wide the gates. Down creaked drawbridge; bars fell, bolts groaned, the massy gates swung wide——and Sir Robert and his esquires, with his weary captives stumbling in their jangling chains, and his thirty men-at-arms riding two by two, paced into Belsaye market square; the drawbridge rose, creaking, while gates clashed and bar and chain rattled ominously behind them. But Sir Robert, nothing heeding, secure in his noble might, scowled about him 'neath lifted vizor, and summoned the Reeve to his stirrup with imperious hand:

  "How now, master Reeve," quoth he, "I am in haste to be gone: where tarries Sir Gui? Have ye not warned him of my coming? Go, say I crave instant speech with him on matters of state, moreover, say I bring fifty and three for him to hang to-morrow——go!"

  But now, while the Reeve yet stood, pale in the torchlight, finding nought to say, came Beltane beside him.

  "My lord," quoth he, "fifty and three is a goodly number; must they all die to-morrow?"

  "To-morrow? Aye——or whensoever Sir Gui wills."

  "Ah, fair lord," says Beltane, "then, as I guess, these fifty and three shall assuredly live on awhile, since Sir Gui of Allerdale will hang men no more."

  "Ha, dare ye mock me, knave?" cried Sir Robert, and clenching iron hand he spurred upon Beltane, but checked as suddenly, and pointed where, midst the shrinking populace, strode one in knightly armour, whose embroidered surcoat bore the arms, and whose vizored helm the crest of Sir Gui of Allerdale. Now beholding this silent figure, a groan of fear went up, divers men sank crouching on their knees, the Reeve uttered a hoarse gasp and covered his face, while even Beltane, staring wide-eyed, felt his flesh a-creep. But now Sir Robert rode forward:

  "Greeting, lord Seneschal!" said he, "you come betimes, messire, though not over hastily, methinks!"

  "Forsooth," quoth the figure, his voice booming in his great war-helm, "forsooth and verily there be three things no man should leave in haste: videlicit and to wit: his prayers, his dinner and his lady. None the less came I hither to give thee greeting, good my lord."

  "My lord Seneschal, what manner of men be these of thine?"

  "O fair sir, they be ordinary men, rogues, see you, and fools——save one, a comely man this, an archer unequalled, hight Giles o' the Bow, a man of wit, very full of strategies and wiles."

  "Aye, but what of yon tall knave, now," said Sir Robert, pointing at Beltane, "who is he?"

  "Forsooth, a knave, my lord, an arrant knave with long legs."

  "He will look well on a gibbet, methinks, Sir Gui."

  "Indeed, my lord he might grace the gallows as well as you or I."

  "The rogue telleth me that you will hang men no more."

  "Ha, said he so forsooth? dared he so asperse mine honour? Ha, here is matter for red-hot irons, the pincers and the rack, anon. But come, Sir Robert——thou dost bear news, belike; come your ways and drink a goblet of wine."

  "Nay, my lord, I thank thee, but I must hence this night to Barham Broom. But for my news, 'tis this: the out-law men call Beltane, hath, by devilish arts, sacked and burned Garthlaxton Keep."

  "Why, this I knew; there is a lewd song already made thereon, as thus:

  "They gave Garthlaxton to the flame,Be glory to Duke Beltane's name,And unto lusty Giles the same,Dixit!"

  "Forsooth, a naughty song, a very gallows' song, in faith. Pray you, what more?"

  "There hath come unto the Duke one hight Gurth——a hang-dog rogue that doth profess to know the lurking-place of this vile outlaw, and to-morrow at sunset, Sir Pertolepe and I with goodly force march into the green. So now must I hence, leaving with thee these captives from Bourne that you shall hang above the walls for a warning to all such outlaws and traitors. Lastly, my lord Seneschal, drink not so deep a-nights, and so, fare thee well."

  Now as he yet spake rose the shrill notes of a horn, and turning about, Sir Robert beheld men whose mail glistened in the torchlight and whose long pikes hemmed him in close and closer what time a fierce shout went up: "Kill!" "Kill!"

  "Ho, treason!" he roared, and grasped at his sword hilt; but down came Roger's heavy broadsword upon Sir Robert's helm, beating him to earth where Walkyn's mighty foot crushed him down and his axe gleamed bright. Then, while the air rang with shouts and cries and the clatter of trampling hoofs, a white figure leapt and bestrode the fallen knight, and Walkyn glared down into the pale face of Friar Martin.

  "Forbear, Walkyn, forbear!" he cried, and speaking, staggered for very weakness and would have fallen but Walkyn's long arm was about him. And ever the uproar grew; the grim ranks of archers and pikemen drew closer about Sir Robert's shrinking men-at-arms what time the townsfolk, brandishing their weapons, shouted amain, "Kill! Kill!"

  Now Roger's blow had been full lusty and Sir Robert yet lay a-swoon, seeing which, divers of his company, casting down their arms, cried aloud for quarter; whereat the townsfolk shouted but the fiercer: "Slay them! Kill! Kill!" But now, high above this clamour, rose the shrill note of Beltane's horn bidding all men to silence. Hereupon there came to him the white friar, who, looking earnestly upon his mailed face, uttered a sudden glad cry and caught his hand and kissed it; then turned he to the surging concourse and spake loud and joyously:

  "Stay, good people of Belsaye! O ye children of affliction, spill not the blood of these thine enemies, but look, rather, upon this man! For this is he of whom I told ye in the days of your tribulation, this is he who burned the shameful gallows, who brake open the dungeon and hath vowed his life to the cause of the oppressed and weak. Behold now the son of Beltane the Strong and Just! Behold Beltane, our rightful Duke!" Now went there up to heaven a great and wild acclaim; shouts of joy and the thunderous battle-cry "Arise! Arise! Pentavalon!" Then, while all eyes beheld and all ears hearkened, Beltane spake him, plain and to the point, as was his custom:

  "Behold now, men of Belsaye, these our enemies do cry us mercy, and shall we not bestow it? Moreover one living hostage is better than two foemen slain. Entreat them gently, therefore, but let me see them lodged secure ere I march hence."

  But hereupon came many of the townsfolk with divers counsellors and chief men of the city who, kneeling, most earnestly prayed Beltane to abide for their defence.

  "Good my lord," quoth the Reeve, "bethink thee, when Duke Ivo shall hear of our doings he will seek bitter vengeance. Ah, my lord, 'twas but five years agone he stormed Belsaye and gave it up to pillage——and on that day——my wife——was slain! And when he had set up his great gallows and hanged it full with our men, he vowed that, should Belsaye anger him again, he would burn the city and all within it and, O my lord, my lord——I have yet a daughter——Ah, good my lord, leave us not to ravishment and death!"

  "Aye, go not from us, my lord!" cried the others. "Be thou our leader henceforth!" and thereto they besought him with eager cries and with hands outstretched.

  But Beltane shook his head; quoth he:

  "Look now, as men are born into the world but for the good of man, so must I to my duty. And methinks, this is my duty: to do such deeds as shall ring throughout this sorrowful Duchy like a trumpet-blast, bidding all men arise and take hold upon their manhood. Garthlaxton is no more, but there be many castles yet to burn whose flames, perchance, shall light such a fire within the souls of men as shall ne'er be quenched until Wrong and Tyranny be done away. So must I back to the wild-wood to wild and desperate doings. But, as for ye——I have heard tell that the men of Belsaye are brave and resolute. Let now the memory of wrongs endured make ye trebly valiant to maintain your new-got liberty. If Duke Ivo come, then let your walls be manned, for 'tis better to die free men than trust again to his mercy."

  "Verily, lord," said the Reeve, "but we do lack for leaders. Our provost and all our captains Duke Ivo hanged upon his gallows. Beseech thee, then, give to us a leader cunning in war."

  "That will I," answered Beltane, "on this condition——that every able man shall muster under arms each day within the market-square."

  "It shall be done, my lord."

  Then summoned he Eric of the wry neck, together with Giles who came forthwith, being yet bedight in Sir Gui's harness.

  "Eric, I have marked thee well; methinks thou art one long bred to arms and learned in war?"

  "My lord Beltane, in other days I was the Duke thy father's High Constable of all the coast-wise towns."

  "Ha——say'st thou so in sooth? Then now do I make thee lord Constable of Belsaye. As to thee, Giles, thou guileful rogue, hast full oft vaunted thyself a soldier of experience, so now am I minded to prove thee and thy methods. How if I give thee charge over the bowmen of Belsaye?"

  "Why first, sweet, tall brother, first will I teach them to draw a bow, pluck a string, and speed a shaft as never townsman drew, plucked or sped——in fine, I will teach them to shoot: and, thereafter, devoutly pray the good Saint Giles (that is my patron saint) to send us Black Ivo and his dogs to shoot at!"

  "So be it. Choose ye now each ten men of your companies that shall abide here with ye what time I am away——yet first mark this: In your hands do I leave this fair city, to your care I give the lives and well-being of all these men and women and children. Come now, lay here your hands upon my sword and swear me to maintain Belsaye to the last man 'gainst siege or storm, so long as life be in you!"

  Now when they had sworn, Beltane turned him to the Reeve:

  "Good sir," quoth he, "I pray you loose now the captives from their chains. Let your prisoners be secured, and for the rest, let us now eat and drink lest we famish."

  Thus in a while, Sir Robert of Hurstmanswyke, dazed and bewildered, and his four esquires, together with his thirty men-at-arms, stripped of armour and weapons, were led away and lodged secure beneath the keep.

  Now it chanced that as Beltane stood apart with head a-droop as one in thought, there came to him Sir Fidelis and touched him with gentle hand.

  "My lord Beltane," said he softly, "of what think you?"

  "Of Pentavalon, and how soonest her sorrows may be done away."

  "Lovest thou Pentavalon indeed, messire?"

  "Aye, truly, Fidelis."

  "Then wherefore let her suffer longer?"

  "Suffer? Aye, there it is——but how may I bring her woes to sudden end? I am too weak, her oppressors many, and my men but few——"

  "Few?" quoth Sir Fidelis, speaking with head low-stooped. "Few, messire? Not so. Ten thousand lances might follow thee to-morrow an thou but spake the word——"

  "Nay," sighed Beltane, "mock me not, good Fidelis, thou dost know me a lonely man and friendless——to whom should I speak?"

  "To one that loveth thee now as ever, to one that yearneth for thee with heart nigh to breaking——to Helen——"

  "Ah!" quoth Beltane, slow and bitter, "speak word to Helen the Beautiful——the Wilful——the Wanton? No, a thousand times! Rather would I perish, I and all my hopes, than seek aid of such as she——"

  "Lovest thou Pentavalon indeed, messire? Nay, methinks better far thou dost love thy cold and cruel pride——so must Pentavalon endure her grievous wrongs, and so do I pity her, but——most of all——I pity thee, messire!"

  Now would Beltane have answered but found no word, and therefore fell to black and bitter anger, and, turning on his heel, incontinent strode away into the council-hall where a banquet had been spread. Frowning, he ate and drank in haste, scarce heeding the words addressed to him, wherefore others grew silent also; and thereafter, his hunger assuaged, strode he out into the square and summoned his company.

  "Men of Pentavalon," spake he loud and quick, "howso poor and humble ye be, henceforth ye shall go, each and every, equipped in knightly mail from foot to head, your man's flesh as secure as flesh of any potent lord or noble of them all. Henceforth each man of us must fight as valiantly as ten. Now, if any there be who know the manage of horse and lance, let him step forth." Hereupon divers stepped out of the ranks, and Beltane counted of these fifty and two.

  "Master Reeve," spake Beltane, "give now for guerdon instead of gold, horses and equipment for these my comrades, stout lances and mail complete with goodly bascinets."

  "It shall be done, my lord."

  "Roger, in thy command I set these fifty lances. See now to their arming, let them be mounted and ready with speed, for in this hour we ride."

  "Aye, master," cried Roger, his eyes a-dance, "that will I, moreover——"

  "Walkyn, to thee I give the pikes henceforth. As for our archers—— Giles, which now think you fittest to command?"

  "Why truly, brother——my lord, if one there be can twang a lusty bow and hath a cool and soldier-like head 'tis Jenkyn o' the Ford, and after him Walcher, and after him——"

  "Jenkyn, do you henceforth look to our archers. Are these matters heard and known among ye?"

  "Aye!" came the thunderous answer.

  "'Tis well, for mark me, we go out to desperate doings, wherein obedience must be instant, wherein all must love like brothers, and, like brothers, fight shoulder to shoulder!"

  Now came there certain of the citizens to Beltane, leading a great and noble war-horse, richly caparisoned, meet for his acceptance. And thus, ere the moon rose, equipped with lance and shield and ponderous, vizored casque, Beltane, gloomy and silent, with Sir Fidelis mounted beside him, rode forth at the head of his grim array, at whose tramp and jingle the folk of Belsaye shouted joyful acclaim while the bells rang out right joyously.

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