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Beltane The Smith (Chapter36)

2006-08-28 16:34

  Chapter XXXVI. How the Folk of Belsaye Town Made Them an End of Tyranny

  The market-place was full of the stir and hum of jostling crowds; here were pale-faced townsfolk, men and women and children who, cowed by suffering and bitter wrong, spake little, and that little below their breath; here were country folk from village and farmstead near and far, a motley company that talked amain, loud-voiced and eager, as they pushed and strove to see where, in the midst of the square beyond the serried ranks of pike-men, a post had been set up; a massy post, grim and solitary, whose heavy chains and iron girdle gleamed ominous and red in the last rays of sunset. Near by, upon a dais, they had set up a chair fairly gilded, wherein Sir Gui was wont to sit and watch justice done upon the writhing bodies of my lord Duke's enemies. Indeed, the citizens of Belsaye had beheld sights many and dire of late, wherefore now they blenched before this stark and grisly thing and looked askance; but to these country folk such things were something newer, wherefore they pushed and strove amid the press that they might view it nearer——in especial two in miller's hooded smocks, tall and lusty fellows these, who by dint of shoulder and elbow, won forward until they were stayed by the file of Sir Gui's heavy-armed pikemen. Thereupon spake one, close in his fellow's ear:——

  "Where tarries Walkyn, think you?" said Beltane below his breath.

  "Master, I know not——he vanished in the press but now——"

  "And Eric?"

  "He watcheth our meal-sacks. Shall I not go bid him strike flint and steel? The time were fair, methinks?"

  "Not so, wait you until Sir Gui be come and seated in his chair of state: then haste you to bold Eric and, the sacks ablaze, shout 'fire;' so will I here amid the press take up the cry, and in the rush join with ye at the gate. Patience, Roger."

  And now of a sudden the throng stirred, swayed and was still; but from many a quivering lip a breath went up to heaven, a sigh——a whispered groan, as, through the shrinking populace, the prisoner was brought. A man of Belsaye he, a man strong and tender, whom many had loved full well. Half borne, half dragged betwixt his gaolers, he came on stumbling feet——a woeful shivering thing with languid head a-droop; a thing of noisome rags that told of nights and days in dungeon black and foul; a thing whose shrunken nakedness showed a multitude of small wounds, slow-bleeding, that spoke of teeth little yet vicious, bold with hunger in the dark; a miserable, tottering thing, haggard and pinched, that shivered and shook and stared upon all things with eyes vacant and wide.

  And thus it was that Beltane beheld again Friar Martin, the white friar that had been a man once, a strong man and a gentle. They brought him to the great post, they clasped him fast within the iron band and so left him, shivering in his chains with head a-droop. Came the sound of muffled weeping from the crowd, while high above, in sky deepening to evening, a star twinkled. Now in a while the white friar raised his heavy head and looked round about, and lo! his eyes were vacant no longer, and as folk strove to come more nigh, he spake, hoarse-voiced and feeble.

  "O children, grieve not for me, for though this body suffer a little, my soul doth sit serene. What though I stand in bonds, yet doth my soul go free. Though they burn my flesh to ashes yet doth my soul live on forever. So grieve not your hearts for me, my children, and, for yourselves, though ye be afflicted even as I——fear ye nothing——since I, that ye all do know for a truthful man, do tell ye 'tis none so hard to die if that our hearts be clean. What though ye suffer the grievous horror of a prison? Within the dark ye shall find God. Thus I amid the dreadful gloom of my deep dungeon did lie within the arms of God, nothing fearing. So, when the fire shall sear me, though this my flesh may groan, God shall reach down to me through smoke and flame and lift my soul beyond. O be ye therefore comforted, my children: though each must die, yet to the pure in heart death is none so hard——"

  Thus spake Friar Martin, shivering in his bonds, what time the crowd rocked and swayed, sobbing aloud and groaning; whereat Sir Gui's pikemen made lusty play with their spear-shafts.

  Then spake Beltane, whispering, to Roger, who, sweating with impatience, groaned and stared and gnawed upon his fingers:

  "Away, Roger!" And on the instant Roger had turned, and with brawny shoulders stooped, drove through the swaying press and was gone.

  Now with every moment the temper of the crowd grew more threatening; voices shouted, fists were clenched, and the scowling pike-men, plying vicious spear-butts, cursed, and questioned each other aloud: "Why tarries Sir Gui?"

  Hereupon a country fellow hard by took up the question:

  "Sir Gui!" he shouted, "Why cometh not Sir Gui?"

  "Aye!" cried others, "where tarries Sir Gui?" "Why doth he keep us?" "Where tarries Sir Gui?"

  "Here!" roared a voice deep and harsh, "Way——make way!" And suddenly high above the swaying crowd rose the head and shoulders of a man, a mighty man in the dusty habit of a miller, upon whose low-drawn hood and be-floured smock were great gouts and stains evil and dark; and now, beholding what manner of stains these were, all men fell silent and blenched from his path. Thus amid a lane of pallid faces that stared and shrank away, the tall miller came unto the wondering pike-men ——burst their ranks and leapt upon the dais where stood the gilded chair.

  "Ho! soldiers and men-at-arms——good people of Belsaye——call ye for Gui in sooth? hunger ye for sight of Bloody Gui of Allerdale in faith? Why then——behold!" and from under his be-dabbled smock he drew forth a head, pale as to cheek and hair, whose wide eyes stared blindly as it dangled in his hairy hand; and now, staring up at this awful, sightless thing——that brow at whose frown a city had trembled, those pallid lips that had smiled, and smiling, doomed men and women to torment and death——a hush fell on Belsaye and no man spoke or stirred.

  Then, while all folk stood thus, rigid and at gaze, a wild cry was heard, shivering the stillness and smiting all hearts with sudden dread:——

  "Fire! Fire!"

  "Aye, fire!" roared the miller, "see yonder!" and he pointed where a column of thick smoke mounted slowly upon the windless air. But with the cry came tumult——a hurry of feet, shouts and yells and hoarse commands; armour clashed and pike-heads glittered, down-sweeping for the charge. Then Walkyn laughed, and hurling the pale head down at the nearest soldiery, drew from his smock his mighty axe and swung it, but lo! 'twixt him and the pike-men was a surging, ravening mob that closed, front and rear, upon knight and squire, upon pike-man and man-at-arms, men who leapt to grip mailed throats in naked hands, women who screamed and tore. And one by one, knight and squire, and man-at-arms, smiting, shrieking, groaning, were dragged down with merciless hands, to be wrenched at, torn, and trampled 'neath merciless feet, while high and clear above this fierce and dreadful clamour rose the shrill summons of a horn.

  And lo! a shout——a roar——drowning the shrieks of dying men, the screams of vengeful women, "Arise——arise——Pentavalon!" Came a rush of feet, a shock, and thereafter a confused din that rose and fell and, gradually ceasing, was lost in a sudden clamour of bells, fierce-pealing in wild and joyous riot.

  "Aha! 'tis done——'tis done!" panted Roger, stooping to cleanse his blade, "spite of all our lack of method, Giles——'tis done! Hark ye to those joy-bells! So doth fair Belsaye shout to all men she is free at last and clean of Gui and all his roguish garrison——"

  "Clean?" quoth Giles. "Clean, forsooth? Roger——O Roger man, I have seen men die in many and diver ungentle ways ere now, but these men—— these men of Gui's, look——look yonder! O sweet heaven keep me ever from the tearing hands of vengeful mothers and women wronged!" And turning his back on the littered market square, Giles shivered and leaned him upon his sword as one that is sick.

  "Nay," said Black Roger, "Gui's black knaves being rent in pieces, Giles, we shall be saved the hanging of them——ha! there sounds my lord's horn, and 'tis the rallying-note——come away, Giles!"

  Side by side they went, oft stepping across some shapeless horror, until in their going they chanced on one that knelt above a child, small and dead. And beholding the costly fashion of this man's armour, Roger stooped, and wondering, touched his bowed shoulder:

  "Sir Fidelis," said he, "good young messire, and art thou hurt, forsooth?"

  "Hurt?" sighed Sir Fidelis, staring up great-eyed, "hurt? Nay, behold this sweet babe——ah, gentle Christ——so innocent——and slain! A tender babe! And yonder——yonder, what dire sights lie yonder——" and sighing, the youthful knight sank back across Black Roger's arm and so lay speechless and a-swoon.

  Quoth Roger, grim-smiling:

  "What, Giles, here's one that loveth woman's finger-work no more than thou!" Thus saying, he stooped and lifting the young knight in his arms, bore him across the square, stumbling now and then on things dim-seen in the dark, for night was at hand.

  So thus it was that the folk of fair Belsaye town, men and women with gnashing teeth and rending hands, made them an end of Tyranny, until with the night, there nothing remained of proud Sir Gui and all his lusty garrison, save shapeless blotches piled amid the gloom——and that which lay, forgotten quite, a cold and pallid thing, befouled with red and trampled mire; a thing of no account henceforth, that stared up with glazed and sightless eyes, where, remote within the sombre firmament of heaven, a great star glowed and trembled.

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