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Beltane The Smith (Chapter43)

2006-08-28 16:36

  Chapter XLIII. How Beltane Knew Great Humility

  The rising sun, darting an inquisitive beam 'twixt a leafy opening, fell upon Beltane's wide, slow-heaving breast; crept upwards to his chin, his cheek, and finally strove to peep beneath his slumberous, close-shut lids; whereat Beltane stirred, yawned, threw wide and stretched his mighty arms, and thereafter, blinking drowsily, sat up, his golden hair be-tousled, and stared sleepily about him.

  Birds piped joyously near and far; hid among the leaves near by, the war-horse Mars stamped eager hoof and snuffed the fragrant air of morning; but Sir Fidelis was nowhere to be seen. Thus in a while Beltane arose to find his leg very stiff and sore, and his throat be parched with feverish thirst; wherefore, limping painfully, he turned where a little water-brook went singing o'er pebbly bed to join the slow-moving river; but, putting aside the leaves, he paused of a sudden, for there, beside the noisy streamlet he beheld Sir Fidelis, his bascinet upon the grass beside him, his mail-coif thrown back betwixt his shoulders, stooping to bathe his face in the sparkling water.

  Now would he have called a greeting, but the words died upon his lips, his breath stayed, and he stared at something that had caught in the links of the young knight's mail-coif, something that stirred light and wanton, kissed by the breath of early morn——a lock of bright hair that glowed a wondrous red-gold in the new-risen sun. So stood Beltane awhile, and, beholding this, a trembling seized him and therewith sudden anger, and he strode forth of the leaves. And lo! on the instant, on went hood of mail and thereafter shining bascinet, and Sir Fidelis arose. But, ere he could turn, Beltane was beside him, had caught him within a powerful arm, and, setting a hand 'neath mailed chin, lifted the young knight's head and scowled down into his face.

  Eyes long, black-lashed and darkly blue that looked up awhile into his, wide, yet fearless, and anon, were hid 'neath languorous-drooping lids; a nose tenderly aquiline, lips red and full that met in ripe and luscious curves. This Beltane saw, and straightway his anger grew.

  "Ah!" cried he, hoarsely, "now, by the living God, who art thou, and—— what?"

  "Thy——comrade-in-arms, lord Beltane."

  "Why hast thou the seeming of one beyond all women false? Why dost thou speak me betimes in her voice, look at me with her eyes, touch me with her soft, white, traitor's hands——answer me!"

  "My lord, we are akin, she and I——of the same house and blood——"

  "Then is thy blood foul with treachery!"

  "Yet did I save thy life, Beltane!"

  "Yet thy soft voice, thy red mouth and false eyes——thy very blood——all these do prove thee traitor——hence!" and Beltane threw him off.

  "Nay my lord!" he cried, "prithee take care, Beltane,——see——thou hast displaced the bandage, thy wound bleedeth amain——so will I bind it up for thee——"

  But Beltane, nothing heeding, turned and strode back into the green and there fell to donning his armour as swiftly as he might——albeit stealthily. Thereafter came he to the destrier Mars and, having saddled and bridled him with the same swift stealth, set foot in stirrup and would have mounted, yet found this a painful matter by reason of his wound; thus it befell, that, ere he could reach the saddle, the leaves parted close by and Sir Fidelis spake soft-voiced:

  "My lord Beltane, why dost thou steal away thus? An it be thy will to leave me to perish alone here in the wilderness, first break thy fast, and suffer me to bind up thy hurt, so shalt thou ride hence in comfort." Now stood Beltane motionless and silent, nor turned nor dared he look upon Sir Fidelis, but bowed his head in bitter shame, and, therewith, knew a great remorse.

  "Ah, Fidelis," said he at last, "thy rebuke stingeth deep, for it is just, since I indeed did purpose thee a most vile thing! How vile a thing, then, am I——"

  "Nay, Beltane——dear my lord, I would not have thee grieve, indeed 'twas but——"

  "Once ere this I would have slain thee, Fidelis——murdered thee before my wild fellows——I——I, that did preach them mercy and gentleness! To-day I would have left thee to perish alone within this ravening wilderness——that do bear so honourable a name! O Beltane, my father! Yet, believe me, I did love honour once, and was accounted gentle. I did set forth to do great things, but now——now do I know myself unfit and most unworthy. Therefore, Sir Fidelis, do thou take the horse and what thou wilt beside and leave me here, for fain am I to end my days within these solitudes with no eye to see me more——save only the eye of God!" So saying, Beltane went aside, and sitting 'neath a tree beside the river, bowed his head upon his hands and groaned; then came Sir Fidelis full swift, and stooping, touched his bowed head with gentle hand, whereat he but groaned again.

  "God pity me!" quoth he, "I am in sooth so changed, meseemeth some vile demon doth possess me betimes!" and, sighing deep, he gazed upon the rippling waters wide-eyed and fearful. And, as he sat thus, abashed and despairing, Sir Fidelis, speaking no word, bathed and bound up his wound, and, thereafter brought and spread forth their remaining viands.

  "Eat," said he gently, "come, let us break our fast, mayhap thy sorrows shall grow less anon. Come, eat, I pray thee, Beltane, for none will I eat alone and, O, I famish!"

  So they ate together, whiles the war-horse Mars, pawing impatient hoof, oft turned his great head to view them with round and wistful eye.

  "Fidelis," quoth Beltane suddenly, "thou didst name me selfish, and verily, a selfish man am I——and to-day! O Fidelis, why dost not reproach me for the evil I purposed thee to-day?"

  "For that I do most truly love thee, Beltane my lord!"

  "Yet wherefore did ye so yesterday, and for lesser fault?"

  "For that I did love thee, so would I see thee a strong man——yet gentle: a potent lord, yet humble: a noble man as——as thou wert said to be!"

  "Alas, my Fidelis, harsh have I been, proud and unforgiving——"

  "Aye, my lord——thou art unforgiving——a little!"

  "So now, Fidelis, would I crave forgiveness of all men." Then came the young knight nearer yet, his face radiant with sudden joy, his white hands clasped.

  "Lord!" he whispered, "O Beltane, could'st indeed forgive all——all harm done thee, howsoever great or small thy mind doth hold them——could'st forgive all!"

  "Aye, I could forgive them all, Fidelis——all save Helen——who hath broke this heart of mine and made my soul a thing as black as she hath whited this my hair."

  Now of a sudden Beltane heard a sound——a small sound 'twixt a sob and a moan, but when he raised his heavy head——lo! Sir Fidelis was gone.

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