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Beltane The Smith (Chapter64)

2006-08-28 16:41

  Chapter LXIV. How Giles Cursed Belsaye Out of Her Fear

  Within the market-place all was dire confusion; men hasted hither and thither, buckling on armour as they went, women wept and children wailed, while ever the bell clashed out its fierce summons.

  Presently, through the populace cometh Sir Brian of Hartismere, equipped in his armour and leaning on the mailed arm of his brother Eric of the wry neck, but perceiving Sir Benedict and Beltane, they turned and came up forthwith.

  "Eric——Brian, what meaneth the tumult?" questioned Sir Benedict, his eye kindling, "are we attacked——so soon?"

  "Not so," answered Sir Brian, "at the least——not by Ivo's men."

  "'Tis worse than that," sighed Eric, shaking his head, "yonder cometh a churchman, borne on the shoulders of his monks, and with choristers and acolytes attendant."

  "Ha!" said Sir Benedict, frowning and rubbing his chin, "I had dreaded this! The citizens do shake and shiver already, I'll warrant me! There is nought like a cowl with bell, book and candle to sap the courage of your citizen soldier. Let us to the walls!"

  In a corner hard by the main gate they beheld Giles, holding forth to Roger and Walkyn and Ulf, but perceiving Sir Benedict he ceased abruptly, and advancing, saluted the noble company each in turn, but addressed himself to Sir Benedict.

  "My lord," quoth he, eyes a-dance, "yonder cometh a pompous prior that was, not very long since, nought but massy monk that did upon a time (though by dint of some small persuasion) bestow on me a goodly ass. My lord, I was bred a monk, so do I know, by divers signs and portents, he cometh here to ban the city with book, bell and candle, wherefore the townsfolk, fearing greatly, do shiver and shake, especially the women and maids——sweet souls! And, lord, by reason of the matter of the ass, I do know this priest prolific of damnatory pronouncements and curses contumacious (O verily)。 Yet I, messire (having been bred a monk) shall blithely him out-curse, an the joy be permitted me, thus turning tears to laughter and gloomy fear to loud-voiced merriment——my lord, messires, how say you?"

  "'Tis blasphemy unheard!" quoth Sir Brian.

  "Save in the greenwood where men do breathe God's sweet air and live free!" said wry-necked Eric.

  "And," spake Sir Benedict, stroking his square chin, "there is a fear can be quelled but by ridicule, so may thy wit, sir archer, avail more than our wisdom——an thou canst make these pale-cheeked townsfolk laugh indeed. How think you, my Beltane?"

  "That being the wise and valiant knight thou art, Sir Benedict, thy will during the siege is law in Belsaye, henceforth."

  Now hereupon Giles made his obeisance, and together with Roger and Walkyn and Ulf, hasted up to the battlement above the gateway.

  "Benedict," said Sir Brian as they climbed the turret stair, "blasphemy is a dread and awful thing. We shall be excommunicate one and all—— better methinks to let the populace yield up the city and die the death, than perish everlastingly!"

  "Brian," quoth Sir Benedict pausing, something breathless by reason of his recent sickness, "I tell thee fire and pillage and ravishment of women is a thing more dread and awful——better, methinks, to keep Innocence pure and unspotted while we may, and leave hereafter in the hands of God and His holy angels!"

  Upon the tower there met them the Reeve, anxious of brow, who pointed where the townsfolk talked together in fearful undertones or clustered, mute and trembling, while every eye was turned where, in the open, 'twixt town and camp, a procession of black-robed priests advanced, chanting very solemn and sweet.

  "My lords," said the Reeve, looking round with haggard eyes, "an these priests do come to pronounce the Church's awful malediction upon the city——then woe betide! Already there be many——aye, some of our chiefest citizens do fear the curse of Holy Church more than the rapine of Ivo's vile soldiery, fair women shamed, O Christ! Lords——ha, messires, there is talk afoot of seizing the gates, of opening to this churchman and praying his intercession to Ivo's mercy——to Ivo the Black, that knoweth nought of mercy. Alas, my lords, once they do ope the gates——"

  "That can they in nowise do!" said Sir Benedict gently, but with face grim and hawk-like. "Every gate is held by stout fellows of my own following, moreover I have good hope yon churchman may leave us yet uncursed." And Sir Benedict smiled his wry and twisted smile. "Be you our tongue, good Reeve, and speak this churchman as thy bold heart dictateth."

  Solemn and sweet rose the chanting voices growing ever more loud, where paced the black-robed priests. First came acolytes swinging censers, and next, others bearing divers symbolic flags and standards, and after these again, in goodly chair borne on the shoulders of brawny monks, a portly figure rode, bedight in full canonicals, a very solid cleric he, and mightily round; moreover his nose was bulbous and he had a drooping lip.

  Slow and solemn the procession advanced, and ever as they came the choristers chanted full melodiously what time the white-robed acolytes swung their censers to and fro; and ever as they came, the folk of Belsaye, from wall and turret, eyed these slow-pacing, sweet-singing monks with fearful looks and hearts cold and full of dire misgiving. Beyond the moat over against the main gate, the procession halted, the chair with its portly burden was set down, and lifting up a white, be-ringed hand, the haughty cleric spake thus, in voice high-pitched, mellifluous and sweet:

  "Whereas it hath pleased ye, O rebellious people of Belsaye, to deny, to cast off and wantonly repudiate your rightful allegiance to your most just, most merciful and most august lord——Ivo, Duke of Pentavalon (whom God and the saints defend——amen!) and whereas ye have moreover made captive and most barbarously entreated certain of your lord Duke his ambassadors unto you sent; now therefore——and let all ears be opened to my pronouncements, since Holy Church doth speak ye, one and all, each and every through humble avenue of these my lips——list, list, O list, rebellious people, and mark me well. For inasmuch as I, Prior of Holy Cross within Pentavalon City, do voice unto ye, one and all, each and every, the most sacred charge of Holy Church, her strict command or enactment, mandate or caveat, her holy decree, senatus consultum, her writ, edict, precept or decretal, namely and to wit: That ye shall one and all, each and every, return to your rightful allegiance, bowing humbly, each and every, to the will of your lawful lord the Duke (whom God and the saints defend) and shall forthwith make full and instant surrender of this his ancient city of Belsaye unto your lord the Duke (whom God and the saints defend——amen!) Failing the which, I, in the name of Holy Church, by power of papal bull new come from Rome——will, here and now, pronounce this most rebellious city (and all that therein be) damned and excommunicate!"

  Now hereupon, from all the townsfolk crowding wall and turret a groan went up and full many a ruddy cheek grew pale at this dire threat. Whereupon the Prior, having drawn breath, spake on in voice more stern and more peremptory:

  "Let now your gates unbar! Yield ye unto your lord Duke his mercy! Let the gates unbar, I say, lest I blast this wicked city with the most dread and awful ban and curse of Holy Church——woe, woe in this life, and, in the life to come, torment and everlasting fire! Let the gates unbar!"

  Now once again the men of Belsaye sighed and groaned and trembled in their armour, while from crowded street and market-square rose buzz of fearful voices. Then spake the Reeve in troubled tones, his white head low-stooped above the battlement.

  "Good Prior, I pray you an we unbar, what surety have we that this our city shall not be given over to fire and pillage and ravishment?"

  Quoth the Prior:

  "Your lives are your lord's, in his hand resteth life and death, justice and mercy. So for the last time I charge ye——set wide your rebellious gates!"

  "Not so!" cried the Reeve, "in the name of Justice and Mercy ne'er will we yield this our city until in Belsaye no man is left to strike for maid and wife and child!"

  At the which bold words some few men shouted in acclaim, but for the most part the citizens were mumchance, their hearts cold within them, while all eyes stared fearfully upon the Prior, who, lifting white hand again, rose up from cushioned chair and spake him loud and clear:

  "Then, upon this rebellious city and all that therein is, on babe, on child, on youth, on maid, on man, on wife, on the hale, the sick, the stricken in years, on beast, on bird, and on all that hath life and being I do pronounce the church's dread curse and awful ban:——ex——"

  The Prior's mellifluous voice was of a sudden lost and drowned in another, a rich voice, strong and full and merry:

  "Quit——quit thy foolish babblement, thou fat and naughty friar; too plump art thou, too round and buxom to curse a curse as curses should be cursed, so shall thy curses avail nothing, for who doth heed the fatuous fulminations of a fat man? But as to me, I could have out-cursed thee in my cradle, thou big-bellied thing of emptiness——go to for a sounding brass and tinkling cymbal!"

  Thus, from his "mockery" perched high above the battlement, spake Giles, with many and divers knowing gestures of arm, waggings of the head, rollings of the eyes and the like, what time Roger and Walkyn and Ulf, their heads bent close together, busied themselves above a great and bulging wine-skin.

  And now on wall and tower and market-square a great silence had fallen, yet a silence broken now and then by sound of stifled laughter, while the Prior, staring in wonder and amaze, suddenly clenched white fist, and, albeit very red and fiery of visage, strove whole-heartedly to curse on:

  "Ha——now upon the lewd populace of this most accursed and rebellious city do I call down the——"

  "Upon thy round and barrel-like paunch," cried Giles, "do I pronounce this dire and dreadful ban, videlicet, Sir Fatness, nota bene and to wit: may the fiend rend it with gruesome gripings——aye, rend it with claws and beak, unguibus et rostro, most mountainous monk!"

  Here, once again came sounds of stifled merriment, what time the Prior, puffing out his fat cheeks, fell to his curses full-tongued:

  "Upon this evil city be the malison of Holy Church, her maledictions bitter, her imprecation and anathema. I do pronounce all within this city ex——"

  "Abate thee, friar, abate!" roared Giles, "cease thy rumbling, thou empty wine-butt. An thou must deal in curses, leave them to one more apt and better schooled——to Giles, in faith, who shall forthwith curse thee sweet and trippingly as thus——now mark me, monk! Aroint, aroint thee to Acheron dark and dismal, there may the foul fiend seize and plague thee with seven and seventy plaguey sorrows! May Saint Anthony's fire frizzle and fry thee——woe, woe betide thee everlastingly——(bate thy babble, Prior, I am not ended yet!) In life may thou be accursed from heel to head, within thee and without——(save thy wind, Prior, no man doth hear or heed thee!) Be thou accursed in father and in mother, in sister and in brother, in oxen and in asses——especially in asses! Be thou accursed in sleeping and in waking, eating and drinking, standing, sitting, lying——O be thou accursed completely and consumedly! Here now, methinks, Sir Monkish Tunbelly, is cursing as it should be cursed. But now——(hush thy vain babbling, heed and mark me well!)——now will I to dictums contumacious, from cursing thee I will to song of thee, of thy plump and pertinacious person——a song wherein shall pleasant mention be o' thy round and goodly paunch, a song that shall be sung, mayhap, when thee and it are dusty dust, O shaveling——to wit:

  "O frater fat and flatulent, full foolish, fatuous Friar A prime plump priest in passion seen, such pleasure doth inspire,That sober souls, 'spite sorrows sad, shall sudden, shout and sing Because thy belly big belittleth baleful ban ye bring. Wherefore with wondrous wit withal, with waggish wanton wiles,I joyful chant to glorify the just and gentle Giles."

  And now behold! fear and dread were forgotten quite, and wheresoever Beltane looked were men who bent and contorted themselves in their merriment, and who held their laughter yet in check to catch the archer's final words.

  "Thus, thou poor and pitiful Prior, for thy rude speech and curses canonical we do requite thee with song sweet-sung and of notable rhyme and metre. Curse, and Belsaye shall out-curse thee; laugh, and Belsaye laugheth at thee——"

  "Sacrilege!" gasped the Prior, "O 'tis base sacrilege! 'Tis a vile, unhallowed city and shall go up in flame——"

  "And thou," cried Giles, "thou art a fiery churchman and shall be cooled. Ho, Rogerkin——loose off!"

  Came the thudding crash of a powerful mangonel, whose mighty beam, swinging high, hurled aloft the bulging wine-skin, the which, bursting in mid-air, deluged with water all below——prior and monk, acolyte and chorister; whereat from all Belsaye a shout went up, that swelled to peal on peal of mighty laughter, the while, in stumbling haste, the dripping Prior was borne by dripping monks back to Duke Ivo's mighty camp. And lo! from this great camp another sound arose, a roar of anger, fierce and terrible to hear, that smote Belsaye to silence. But, out upon the battlement, plain for all folk to see, sprang Giles flourishing his six-foot bow.

  "Archers!" he cried, "archers, ye hear the dogs bay yonder——fling back their challenge!

  "Ho, archers! shout and rend the skies,Bold archers shout amain Belsaye, Belsaye——arise, arise!


  Then from tower and turret, from wall and keep and market-square a great and joyous shout was raised——a cry fierce and loud and very purposeful, that rolled afar:

  "Arise, arise!——ha, Beltane——Pentavalon!"

  "Beltane," quoth Sir Benedict, smiling his wry smile as he turned to descend the tower, "methinks yon roguish archer's wit hath served us better than all our wisdom. Belsaye hath frighted away fear with laughter, and her men, methinks, will fight marvellous well!"

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