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Beltane The Smith (Chapter48)

2006-08-28 16:37

  Chapter XLVIII. How Beltane Set Out for Hangstone Waste

  Day by day Beltane waxed in health and strength, and daily, leaning upon Roger's trusty arm he walked further afield. And day by day, with growing strength, so grew his doubt, and therewith, by times, a black despond; for needs must he think ever of Helen the Beautiful, and fain was he to tear her from his heart yet could not; then fain he would have hated her, but in his ears her cry rang still——"God pity thee, my Beltane!"——wherefore he was wont to fall to sudden gloom and melancholy.

  But upon a certain blithe evening Black Roger stood leaning on his bow-stave to watch where Beltane swam the pool with mighty strokes, who, laughing for very joy of it, presently sprang ashore, panting with his exertions, and fell to donning his garments.

  "How think ye, Roger," he cried, "am I fit to adventure me the world again?"

  "Forsooth, master, art well of thy wound and fever, and in a week or so mayhap thou shalt perchance be well enough——"

  "A week, Roger! I tell thee, man, this very day will I hence!"

  "But, master," says Roger, shaking cautious head, "thy world is a world of battles, and for battle art scarce yet strong enough——"

  "Say ye so, Roger? Then here and now shalt make trial of me. Art a tall and lusty fellow——come, man, let us try a fall together. And mark this, Roger, an thou canst put me on my back shalt have thy will in the matter, but, an I down thee, then hey! for horse and armour and the forest-road this very night. Come, is't agreed?"

  Now hereupon the wily Roger, noting the pallor of Beltane's sunken cheek and how his broad breast laboured yet, and moreover feeling himself aglow with lusty life and vigour, smiled grimly, nothing doubting the issue. Wherefore he nodded his head.

  "So be it, master," said he, "only take thy wind first." So saying he set aside bow and quiver, loosed off his sword, and tightening his belt, stepped towards Beltane, his broad back stooped, his knotted arms advanced and fingers crooked to grapple. Once and twice he circled, seeking a hold, then leapt he swift and low; arms and fingers clenched and locked, and Beltane was bent, swayed, and borne from his feet; but even so, with a cunning twist he brake Black Roger's hold and staggered free. Quoth he:

  "Art a very strong man, Roger, stronger than methought. Come again!"

  Once more they circled heedfully, for Beltane had grown more wary: thrice he sought a certain hold and thrice Black Roger foiled him, ere, sudden and grim, he leapt and closed; and breast to breast they strove fiercely, mighty arms straining and tight-clenched, writhing, swaying, reeling, in fast-locked, desperate grapple. Now to Roger's strength and quickness Beltane opposed craft and cunning, but wily Roger met guile with guile nor was to be allured to slack or change his gripe. Therefore of a sudden Beltane put forth his strength, and wrestled mightily, seeking to break or weaken Roger's deadly hold. But Roger's iron arms gripped and held him fast, crushed him, checked him.

  "Aha! master," panted Roger, "now I have thee!" and therewith heaved right lustily, felt Beltane yield and stagger, slacked his grip for the final hold, and, in that moment, his arms were burst asunder, he was whirled up, kicking, 'twixt earth and heaven, laid gently upon the sward and, sitting up, found Beltane lying breathless beside him.

  "'Twas a trick, Roger!" he panted, "I beat thee——but by an artifice——"

  "Yet beaten I am, master," quoth Roger, vastly rueful.

  "And art mightier than I thought thee, Roger."

  "Master, I have wrestled oft with Gefroi that was the Duke's wrestler."

  "Then art a better man than he, meseemeth," quoth Beltane.

  "Yet thou hast beaten me, master!"

  "So within the hour we will begone to our duty, Roger!"

  "Whither, lord?"

  "First to Winisfarne, and thence south to Belsaye, with every lusty fellow we can muster. How think you?"

  "I think the time is not yet, master."


  "For that though things go well with thee and thy cause, yet shall they go better anon."

  "Nevertheless, Roger, within the hour we march. So come, first let us eat, for I do famish."

  So, when they had caught their breath again, together they arose and, coming to the cave beneath the steep, they re-made the fire and set the pot thereon; which done, Roger brought forth his lord's armour, bright and newly polished, and in a while Beltane stood, a shining figure from golden spur to gleaming bascinet. Thereafter, Roger armed him likewise, and as two brothers-in-arms they sat together and ate their meal with mighty appetite and gusto. Now presently, as they sat thus, Beltane espied a thing that lay by Roger's knee, and, taking it up, behold! 'twas a wallet of fair-sewn leather, very artfully wrought, and, gazing upon it he must needs fall to sudden thought, whereto he sighed full deep and oft, till, finding Roger watching him, he forthwith checked his sighs and frowned instead.

  "Roger," quoth he, "whence had ye this thing?"

  "My lord, from——Her, the sweet knight Sir Fidelis, thy lady——"

  "Why wilt thou call her my lady, Roger?"

  "For that 'tis she you love and sigh for, she that doth love thee and shall bear thee right fair and lusty children yet, so do I pray, and my prayers are potent these days, for the good Saint Cuthbert heedeth me regardfully. So do I know that she shall yet lie within thine arms and yield thee thine heart's desire, pars——"

  "Art a fool, Roger——aye, a very fool, and talk arrant folly——"

  "Yet, master, here is folly shall be thy joy and her joy and——"

  "Enough, Roger! Hast forgot the oath I sware? And the ways of woman be crooked ways. And woman's love a light matter. Talk we of women no more."

  "How!" quoth Roger, staring, "speak we no more of——Her?"

  "No more!"

  "Forsooth, so be it, master, then will we talk of Sir Fidelis his love——"

  "Nor of Sir Fidelis."

  "Ha!" growled Roger, scratching his head, "must we go mumchance then, master?"

  "There be other matters for talk."

  "Aye——there's witchcraft, master. For mark me, when thou wert sick and nigh to God and the holy saints, the evil spell could not come nigh thee, and thou didst yearn and cry continually for nought but——Her. But now——now that thou'rt hale and strong again——"

  "I behold things with mind unclouded, Roger."

  "Save by enchantments damned, master. Since that evil day we met yon accursed witch of Hangstone, hast never been thyself."

  "Now do ye mind me how this woman did speak me of marvels and wonders, Roger——"

  "Artifice, lord——devilish toys to lure thee to fouler bewitchments."

  "Howbeit, I will seek her out."

  "Nay, good master, here shall be perils dire and deadly. O bethink thee, lest she change thee into a swine, or black dog, aye, or even a small shrew-mouse——I've heard of such ere now——or blast thee with fire, or loathly disease, or——"

  "None the less will I go."

  "Never say so, master!"

  "At the full o' the moon."

  "Lord, now do I beseech thee——"

  "And the moon will be full——to-night, Roger. Go you and saddle now the horse."

  Forthwith went Roger, gloomy and nothing speaking, what time Beltane sat there staring down at the wallet on his knee, bethinking him of many things, and, for that he was alone, sighing deep and oft; and so, very suddenly, hung the wallet to his girdle and thereafter arose.

  In a while cometh gloomy Roger leading the destrier Mars, whereon gloomy Beltane swung to saddle, and, looking round about him once and twice, rode slowly towards where, beyond the shade of trees, the forest road ran north and south.

  But, as for Roger, needs must he pause upon the edge of the clearing to look back at the little cave beneath the steep, whereby the small water-brook flowed murmurously; a while he stood thus, to frown and shake gloomy head; then lifted he his hand on high, much as he had bid one sorrowful farewell, and, turning about, trudged away after his lord.

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