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Beltane The Smith (Chapter70)

2006-08-28 16:43

  Chapter LXX. Which Speaketh for Itself

  It was not the piping of throstle or sweet-throated merle that had waked my Beltane, who with slumberous eyes stared up at carven canopy, round him upon rich arras, and down upon embroidered bed-covering and silken pillow, while through the narrow lattice the young sun played upon gilded roof-beam and polished floor. So lay Beltane, blinking sleepy eyes and hearkening to a soft and melodious whistling from the little garden below his casement.

  Being thus heavy with sleep, he wondered drowsily what great content was this that filled him, and wherefore? Wondering yet, he sighed, and because of the sun's radiance, closed slumberous eyes again and would have slept; but, of a sudden the whistling ceased, and a rich, sweet voice fell to gentle singing.

  "Hark! in the whisper of the wind Love calleth thee away,Each leaf a small, soft voice doth find,Each pretty bird doth cry in kind,O heart, haste north to-day."

  Beltane sat up broad awake, for Blaen lay to the north, and in Blaen—— But Giles was singing on:

  "Youth is quick to speed away,But love abideth ever. Fortune, though she smile to-day,Fickle is and will not stay,But true-love changeth never.

  "The world doth change, as change it must,But true-love changeth never. Proud ambition is but dust,The bow doth break, the sword doth rust,But love abideth ever."

  Beltane was leaning half out of the casement, of the which fact who so unconscious as Giles, busily furbishing armour and bascinet.

  "Giles!" he cried, "O Giles——rouse ye, man!"

  "How, lord——art awake so early?" questioned Giles, looking up innocent of eye.

  "Was it not for this thou didst sing, rogue Giles? Go now, bid Roger have three horses saddled, for within the hour we ride hence."

  "To Mortain, lord?" questioned Giles eagerly.

  "Aye, Giles, to Mortain——north to Blaen; where else should we ride to-day?"

  So saying, Beltane turned back into his sumptuous chamber and fell to donning, not his habiliments of state, but those well-worn garments, all frayed by his heavy mail. Swift dressed he and almost stealthily, oft pausing to glance into the empty garden below, and oft staying to listen to some sound within the massy building. And thus it was he started to hear a soft knocking at the door, and turning, beheld Sir Benedict.

  "Forsooth, art up betimes, my lord Duke," quoth he, bright eyes a-twinkle, "and verily I do commend this so great zeal in thee since there be many and divers matters do need thy ducal attention——matters of state and moment——"

  "Matters of state?" saith Beltane, something troubled.

  "There be many noble and illustrious lords come in to pay thee homage and swear to thee divers fealty oaths——"

  "Then must they wait, Benedict."

  "Wait, my lord——men so illustrious! Then this day a deputation waiteth on thee, merchants and what not——"

  "These must wait also, Benedict——" saith Beltane, his trouble growing.

  "Moreover there is high festival at the minster with much chanting and glorification in thy behalf——and 'tis intended to make for thee a triumphal pageant——fair maidens to strow flowers beneath thy horse's feet, musicians to pleasure thee with pipe and tabor——and——"

  "Enough, enough, Benedict. Prithee why must I needs endure this?"

  "Such things do wait upon success, Beltane, and moreover thou'rt Duke! Aye, verily thou'rt Duke! The which mindeth me that, being Duke, it behoveth thee——"

  "And yet, Benedict, I do tell thee that all things must wait awhile, methinks, or better——do you attend them for me——"

  "Nay——I am no Duke!" quoth Sir Benedict hastily.

  "Yet thou art my chiefest counsellor and lord Seneschal of Pentavalon. So to thy wise judgment I do entrust all matters soever——"

  "But I have no warranty, thou cunning boy, and——"

  "Shalt have my bond, my ducal ring, nay, the very crown itself, howbeit this day——"

  "Wilt ride for Mortain, O lover?" said Sir Benedict, smiling his wry smile.

  "Aye, verily, dear Benedict, nor shall aught under heaven let or stay me——yet how knew ye this, Benedict?"

  "For that 'tis so my heart would have prompted had I been so blessed as thou art, dear my Beltane. And knowing thou needs must to thy beauteous Helen, I have a meal prepared within my chamber, come your ways and let us eat together."

  So came they to a handsome chamber hard by where was spread a goodly repast whereto they did full justice, though talking much the while, until one tapped lightly upon the door, and Roger entered bearing Beltane's new-burnished mail.

  "Nay, good Roger," said Beltane, smiling, "need for that is done methinks; we ride light to-day!" But Sir Benedict shook wise head.

  "My lord 'tis true our wars be ended I thank God, and we may sheathe our swords at last, but the woods be full of Black Ivo's scattered soldiery, with outlaws and other masterless men."

  "Ha, verily, lords," quoth Roger, "there shall many turn outlaw, methinks——"

  "Then must we end outlawry!" said Beltane, frowning.

  "And how would'st do it, Beltane?"

  "Make an end of the game laws, Benedict——throw wide the forests to all who will——"

  "But master, thus shall every clapper-claw rogue be free to kill for his base sport thy goodly deer, or belike a hart of ten, fit for sport of kings——"

  "Well, let them in this thing be kings. But I do hold a man's life dearer than a stag's. So henceforth in Pentavalon the woods are free——I pray you let this be proclaimed forthwith, my lord."

  Quoth Sir Benedict, as with Roger's aid Beltane did on his armour:

  "There is a postern beyond the pleasaunce yonder shall bring you forth of the city and no man the wiser."

  "Why, then, bring ye the horses thither, Roger, and haste ye!"

  Now when Roger was gone, Sir Benedict arose and setting his hands on Beltane's shoulders questioned him full serious:

  "Mean ye forsooth to make the forests free, Beltane?"

  "Aye, verily, Benedict."

  "This shall cause much discontent among the lords——"

  "Well, we wear swords, Benedict! But this I swear, whiles I am Duke, never again shall a man hang for killing of my deer. Moreover, 'tis my intent forthwith to lower all taxes, more especially in the market towns, to extend their charters and grant them new privileges."

  "Beltane, I fear thy years shall be full of discord."

  "What matter, an my people prosper? But thou art older and much wiser than I, Benedict, bethink thee of these things then, I pray, and judge how best such changes may be 'stablished, for a week hence, God willing, I summon my first council. But now, dear Benedict, I go to find my happiness."

  "Farewell, my lord——God speed thee, my Beltane! O lad, lad, the heart of Benedict goeth with thee, methinks!" and Sir Benedict turned suddenly away. Then Beltane took and clasped those strong and able hands.

  "Benedict," said he, "truer friend man never had than thou, and for this I do love thee——and thou art wise and valiant and great-hearted, and thou didst love my noble mother with a noble love, and for this do I love thee best of all, dear friend."

  Then Benedict lifted his head, and like father and son they kissed each other, and together went forth into the sweet, cool-breathing morn.

  Beyond the postern were Giles and Black Roger with the horses, and Giles sang blithe beneath his breath, but Roger sighed oft and deep.

  Now being mounted, Beltane reined close beside Sir Benedict and smiled full joyous and spake him thus, low-voiced:

  "Dear Benedict, to-day one that loveth thee doth ride away, but in a week two that love thee shall return. And needs must these two love thee ever and always, very greatly, Benedict, since but for thee they had not come to their joy." So saying, he touched spur to flank and bounded away, with Giles and Roger spurring behind.

  Soon were they free of the city and reaching that rolling down where the battle had raged so lately, Beltane set his horse to a stretching gallop, and away they raced, over upland and lowland until they beheld afar to their right the walls and towers of Belsaye. But on they rode toward the green of the woods, and ever as they rode Giles sang full blithely to himself whiles Roger gloomed and sighed; wherefore at last the archer turned to clap him on the shoulder.

  "What aileth thee, my Rogerkin?" quoth he.

  "Ha," growled Roger, "the world waggeth well with thee, Giles, these days, but as for me——poor Roger lacketh. Saint Cuthbert knoweth I have striven and likewise plagued him sore upon the matter, and yet my belt——my accursed belt yet beareth a notch——behold!"

  "Why, 'tis but a single notch, Roger."

  "Yet a notch it is, forsooth, and how shall my heart go light and my soul clean until I have a belt with notches not one?"

  "Belike thou hast forgot some of the lives thou didst save, Roger——mine thou didst save four times within the battle, I mind me——"

  "Nay, 'twas but twice, Giles."

  "Why, then 'twas thrice, Roger——the banner hampered me and——"

  "'Twas but twice, alack!" sighed Roger, "Saint Cuthbert knoweth 'twas but twice and being a very watchful saint may not be cheated, Giles."

  "Why then, Roger, do ye beset him in prayer, so, while thou dost hold him in play thus, I will snick away thy solitary notch so sweetly he shall never know——"

  "Alack, 'twill not avail, Giles. I must needs bear this notch with me unto the grave, belike."

  "Nay, Roger, I will to artifice and subtle stratagem on thy behalf as—— mark me! I do know a pool beside the way! Now if I slip within the pool and thou should'st pull me from the pool——how then? Ha——'tis well bethought, let's do't!"

  "Were it any but Saint Cuthbert!" sighed Roger, "but I do thank thee for thy kindly thought, Giles."

  Now after this went they some way in silence, Beltane riding ahead very full of thought, and his companions behind, the one smiling and debonair, the other frowning and sad.

  "Forsooth," quoth Giles at last, "as thou sayest, Roger, the world waggeth well with me. Hast heard, belike, our lady Duchess hath been pleased to——"

  "Aye, I've heard, my lord Bailiff——who hath not?"

  "Nay, I did but mention it to two or three," quoth Giles. "Moreover our lord doth smile on me these days, though forsooth he hath been familiar with me since first I found him within the green——long ere he found thee, Rogerkin! I rode a white ass, I mind me, and my lord walked beside me very fair and soft-spoken, whereupon I called him——Sir Dove! O me——a dove, mark you! Since when, as ye know, we have been comrades, he and I, nay, brothers-in-arms, rather! Very close in his counsels!—— very near to all his thoughts and actions. All of the which cometh of possessing a tongue as ready as my wit, Rogerkin!"

  Now as he hearkened, Roger's frown grew blacker and his powerful hand clenched upon the bridle.

  "And yet," quoth Giles, "as I am in my lord's dear friendship, so art thou in mine, Roger, man, nor in my vaulting fortunes will I e'er forget thee. Belike within Mortain shalt aid me in my new duties, or shall I speak my lord on thy behalf?"

  "Ha!" cried Roger suddenly, "first tell me this, my lord Steward and high Bailiff of Mortain, did the Duke my master chance ever to take thy hand, to wet it with his tears and——kiss it?"

  "Art mad, Roger! Wherefore should my lord do this?"

  "Aye," nodded Roger, "wherefore?"

  And when Giles had whistled awhile and Roger had scowled awhile, the archer spake again:

  "Hast never been in love, Roger?"

  "Never, Saint Cuthbert be praised!"

  "Then canst know nought of the joy and wonder of it. So will I make for thee a song of love, as thus: open thine ears and hearken:

  "So fair, so sweet, so pure is she I do thank God;Her love an armour is to me 'Gainst sorrow and adversity,So in my song right joyfully I do thank God for love.

  "Her love a cloak is, round me cast,I do thank God;To cherish me 'gainst fortunes blast. Her love, forgetting evils past,Shall lift me up to heaven at last,So I thank God for love."

  "Here is a fair song, methinks; dost not wonder at love now, Roger, and the glory of it?"

  "I wonder," quoth Roger, "how long thou shalt believe all this when thou art wed. I wonder how long thou wilt live true to her when she is thy wife!"

  Now hereupon the archer's comely face grew red, grew pale, his bronzed hands flew to his belt and leapt on high, gripping his dagger; but Roger had seen, his fingers closed on the descending wrist and they grappled, swaying in their saddles.

  Grim and silent they slipped to earth and strove together on the ling. But Roger had Giles in a cruel wrestling-hold, wrenched him, bent him, and bearing him to earth, wrested away the dagger and raised it above the archer's naked throat. And Giles, lying powerless beneath, looked up into Roger's fierce scowling face and seeing no pity there, his pale cheek grew paler and in his eyes came an agony of broken hopes; but his gaze quailed not and when he spake, his voice was firm.

  "Strike true, comrade!" said he.

  The hand above him wavered; the dagger was dashed aside and covering his face, Black Roger crouched there, his broad shoulders and powerful figure quaking and shivering. Then Giles arose and stepping to his dagger, came back with it grasped in his hand.

  "Roger!" said he.

  Quoth Roger, his face still hidden:

  "My throat is bare also, archer!"

  "Roger——comrade, give to me thy belt!"

  Now at this Roger looked up, wondering.

  "My belt?" quoth he, "what would ye, Giles?"

  "Cut away thy last notch, Roger——thy belt shall go smooth-edged henceforth and thy soul clean, methinks."

  "But I meant to slay thee, Giles."

  "But spared me, Roger, spared me to life and——love, my Rogerkin. O friend, give me thy belt!"

  So Roger gave him the belt, wherefrom Giles forthwith cut the last notch, which done, they together, like mischievous lads, turned to look where their lord rode far ahead; and beholding him all unconscious and lost in thought, they sighed their relief and mounting, went on together.

  Now did Roger oft glance at Giles who kept his face averted and held his peace, whereat Roger grew uneasy, fidgeted in his saddle, fumbled with the reins, and at last spake:


  "Aye, Roger!"

  "Forgive me!"

  But Giles neither turned nor spake, wherefore contrite Roger must needs set an arm about him and turn him about, and behold, the archer's eyes were brimming with great tears!

  "O Giles!" gasped Roger, "O Giles!"

  "Roger, I——I do love her, man——I do love her, heart and soul! Is this so hard to believe, Roger, or dost think me rogue so base that true love is beyond me? 'Tis true I am unworthy, and yet——I do verily love her, Roger!"

  "Wilt forgive me——can'st forgive me, Giles?"

  "Aye, Roger, for truly we have saved each other's lives so oft we must needs be friends, thou and I. Only thy words did——did hurt me, friend—— for indeed this love of mine hath in it much of heaven, Roger. And—— there be times when I do dream of mayhap——teaching——a little Giles——to loose a straight shaft——some day. O sweet Jesu, make me worthy, amen!"

  And now Beltane glancing up and finding the sun high, summoned Giles and Roger beside him.

  "Friends," said he, "we have journeyed farther than methought. Now let us turn into the boskage yonder and eat."

  So in a while, the horses tethered, behold them within a leafy bower eating and drinking and laughing like the blithe foresters they were, until, their hunger assuaged, they made ready to mount. But of a sudden the bushes parted near by and a man stepped forth; a small man he, plump and buxom, whose quick, bright eyes twinkled 'neath his wide-eaved hat as he saluted Beltane with obeisance very humble and lowly. Quoth he:

  "Right noble and most resplendent lord Duke Beltane, I do most humbly greet thee, I——Lubbo Fitz-Lubbin, past Pardoner of the Holy See——who but a poor plain soul am, do offer thee my very insignificant, yet most sincere, felicitous good wishes."

  "My thanks are thine. Pardoner. What more would you?"

  "Breath, lord methinks," said Giles, "wind, my lord, after periods so profound and sonorous!"

  "Lord Duke, right puissant and most potential, I would but tell thee this, to wit, that I did keep faith with thee, that I, by means of this unworthy hand, did set thee beyond care, lift thee above sorrow, and gave to thee the heaven of thy most warm and earnest desires."

  "How mean you, Pardoner?"

  "Lord Duke, when thou didst bestow life on two poor rogues upon a time, when one rogue stole away minded to betray thee to thine enemy, the second rogue did steal upon the first rogue, and this second rogue bare a small knife whereof the first rogue suddenly died. And thus Duke Ivo, thine enemy, came not before Belsaye until thou and thy company were safe within its walls. So by reason of this poor second rogue, Pentavalon doth rejoice in freedom. To-day is singing on every village green——happiness is in the very air, for 'tis Pentavalon's Beltane, and Beltane is a sweet season; so doth this poor second rogue find him recompense. Verily art well named, lord Beltane, since in thee Pentavalon's winter is passed away and spring is come——O happy season of Beltane, O season of new beginnings and new hopes! So, my lord Beltane, may it ever be Beltane with thee, may it be sweet spring ever within thy noble heart. God keep thee and farewell."

  So saying the Pardoner turned about, and plunging into the dense green, was gone.

  "A pestilent wordy fellow, lord," quoth Giles, "one of your windy talkers that talketh that no other talker may talk——now give me a good listener, say I."

  "And yet," said Beltane, swinging to saddle, "spake he truly I wonder? Had Ivo been a little sooner we had not been here, methinks!"

  On they rode, through sun and shadow, knee and knee, beneath leafy arches and along green glades, talking and laughing together or plunged in happy thought.

  Quoth Beltane of a sudden:

  "Roger, hast heard how Giles waxeth in fortune these days?"

  "And methinks no man is more worthy, master. Giles is for sure a man of parts."

  "Aye——more especially of tongue, Roger."

  "As when he did curse the folk of Belsaye out o' their fears, master. Moreover he is a notable archer and——"

  "Art not envious, then, Roger?"

  "Not I, master!"

  "What would'st that I give unto thee?"

  "Thy love, master."

  "'Tis thine already, my faithful Roger."

  "And therewithal am I content, master."

  "Seek ye nought beside?"

  "Lord, what is there? Moreover I am not learned like Giles, nor ready of tongue, nor——"

  "Art wondrous skilled in wood-lore, my Rogerkin!" quoth Giles. "Forsooth, lord, there is no man knoweth more of forestry than my good comrade Roger!"

  "So will I make of him my chiefest huntsman, Giles——"

  "Master——O master!" gasped Roger.

  "And set thee over all my foresters of Pentavalon, Roger."

  "Why master, I——forsooth I do love the greenwood——but lord, I am only Roger, and——and how may I thank thee——"

  "Come!" cried Beltane, and spurred to a gallop.

  Thus rode they through the leafy by-ways, avoiding town and village; yet oft from afar they heard the joyous throb of bells upon the air, or the sound of merry voices and happy laughter from village commons where folk rejoiced together that Ivo's iron yoke was lifted from them at last. But Beltane kept ever to the woods and by-ways, lest, being recognised, he should be stayed longer from her of whom he dreamed, bethinking him ever of the deep, shy passion of her eyes, the soft tones of her voice, the clinging warmth of her caress, and all the sweet, warm beauty of her. Betimes they crossed the marches into Mortain, but it was late evening ere they saw at last the sleepy manor of Blaen, its white walls and steepy roofs dominated by its one square watch-tower, above which a standard, stirring lazily in the gentle air, discovered the red lion of Pentavalon.

  And now Beltane's breath grew short and thick, his strong hand trembled on the bridle, and he grew alternate hot and cold. So rode they into the echoing courtyard whither hasted old Godric to welcome them, and divers servants to take their horses. Being ushered forthwith into the garden, now who so silent and awkward as my Beltane, what time his lady Duchess made known to him her gentle ladies, among whom sweet Genevra, flushed of cheek, gazed breathless upon Giles even as Giles gazed upon her——who so mumchance as Beltane, I say, who saw and heard and was conscious only of one among them all. And who so stately, so calm-voiced and dignified as this one until——aye, until they stood alone together, and then——

  To see her sway to his fierce arms, all clinging, yearning womanhood, her state and dignity forgotten quite! To hear her voice soft and low and all a-thrill with love, broken with sighs and sinking to passionate-whispered questioning:

  "And thou art come back to me at last. Beltane! Hast brought to me my heart unharmed from the battle, beloved! And thou didst take no hurt—— no hurt, my Beltane? And art glad to see——thy——wife, Beltane? And dost love me——as much as ever, Beltane? O wilt never, never leave me desolate again, my lord——art thou mine——mine henceforth as I am thine, Beltane? And wilt desire me ever near thee, my lord?"

  "Helen," said he, "O my 'Helen the Beautiful'——our wars be ended, our time of waiting is done, I thank God! So am I here to claim thee, beloved. Art glad to be in mine arms——glad I am come to——make thee mine own at last, Helen?"

  "I had died without thee, Beltane——I would not live without thee now, my Beltane. See, my lord, I——O how may I speak if thus you seal my lips, Beltane? And prithee how may I show thee this gown I wear for thee if thou wilt hold me so——so very close, Beltane?"

  And in a while as the moon rose she brought him into that bower he well remembered and bade him admire the beauty of her many flowers, and he, viewing her loveliness alway, praised the flowers exceeding much yet beheld them not at all, wherefore she chid him, and yet chiding, yielded him her scarlet mouth. Thus walked they in the fragrant garden until Genevra found them and sweet-voiced bid them in to sup. But the Duchess took Genevra's slender hands and looked within her shy, sweet eyes.

  "Art happy, sweet maid?" she questioned.

  "O dear my lady, methinks in all this big world is none more happy than thy grateful Genevra."

  "Then haste thee back to thy happiness, dear Genevra, to-morrow we will see thee wed."

  And presently came they within a small chamber and here Beltane did off his armour, and here they supped together, though now the lady Helen spake little and ate less, and oft her swift-flushing cheek rebuked the worshipping passion of his eyes; insomuch that presently she arose and going into the great chamber beyond, came back, and kneeling at his feet, showed him a file.

  "Beltane," said she, "thou didst, upon a time, tell poor Fidelis wherefore thy shameful fetters yet bound thy wrists——so now will thy wife loose them from thee."

  Then, while Beltane, speaking not, watched her downbent head and busy hands, she filed off his fetters one by one, and kissing them, set them aside.

  But when she would have risen he prevented her, and with reverent fingers touched the coiled and braided glory of her hair.

  "O Helen," he whispered, "loose me down thy hair."

  "Nay, dear Beltane——"

  "My hands are so big and clumsy——"

  "Thy hands are my hands!" and she caught and kissed them.

  "Let down for me thy hair, beloved, I pray thee!"

  "Forsooth my lord and so I will——but——not yet."

  "But the——the hour groweth late, Helen!"

  "Nay——indeed——'tis early yet, my lord——nay, as thou wilt, my Beltane, only suffer that I——I leave thee a while, I pray."

  "Must I bide here alone, sweet wife?"

  "But indeed I will——call thee anon, my lord."

  "Nay, first——look at me, my Helen!"

  Slowly, slowly she lifted her head and looked on him all sweet and languorous-eyed.

  "Aye, truly——truly thine eyes are not——a nun's eyes, Helen. So will I wait thy bidding." So he loosed her and she, looking on him no more, turned and hasted into the further chamber.

  And after some while she called to him very soft and sweet, and he, trembling, arose and entered the chamber, dim-lighted and fragrant.

  But now, beholding wherefore she had left him, his breath caught and he stood as one entranced, nor moved, nor spake he a while.

  "O Helen!" he murmured at last, "thou art glorious so——and with thy long hair——"

  But now, even as he came to her, the Duchess Helen put out the little silver lamp. But in the moonlit dusk she gave her lips to his, and her tender arms were close about him.

  "Beltane," she whispered 'neath his kiss, "dear my lord and husband, here is an end at last of sorrow and heart-break, I pray."

  "Here——my Helen, beginneth——the fulness of life, methinks!"

  Now presently upon the stillness, from the court below, stole the notes of a lute and therewith a rich voice upraised in singing:

  "O when is the time a maid to kiss?

  Tell me this, now tell me this. 'Tis when the day is scarce begun,'Tis from the setting of the sun. Is time for kissing ever done,Tell me this, now tell me this."


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