In a glade of the forest, yet not so far but that one might hear the chime of bells stealing across the valley from the great minster of Mortain on a still evening, dwelt Beltane the Smith.
Alone he lived in the shadow of the great trees, happy when the piping of the birds was in his ears, and joying to listen to the plash and murmur of the brook that ran merrily beside his hut; or pausing ’twixt the strokes of his ponderous hammer to catch its never failing music.
A mighty man was Beltane the Smith, despite his youth already great of stature and comely of feature. Much knew he of woodcraft, of the growth of herb and tree and flower, of beast and bird, and how to tell each by its cry or song or flight; he knew the ways of fish in the streams, and could tell the course of the stars in the heavens; versed was he likewise in the ancient wisdoms and philosophies, both Latin and Greek, having learned all these things from him whom men called Ambrose the Hermit. But of men and cities he knew little, and of women and the ways of women, less than nothing, for of these matters Ambrose spake not.
Thus, being grown from youth to manhood, for that a man must needs live, Beltane builded him a hut beside the brook, and set up an anvil thereby whereon he beat out bill-hooks and axe-heads and such implements as the charcoal-burners and they that lived within the green had need of.
Oft-times, of an evening, he would seek out the hermit Ambrose, and they would talk together of many things, but seldom of men and cities, and never of women and the ways of women. Once, therefore, wondering, Beltane had said:
“My father, amongst all these matters you speak never of women and the ways of women, though history is full of their doings, and all poets sing praise of their wondrous beauty, as this Helena of Troy, whom men called ‘Desire of the World.’”
But Ambrose sighed and shook his head, saying:
“Art thou indeed a man, so soon, my Beltane?” and so sat watching him awhile. Anon he rose and striding to and fro spake sudden and passionate on this wise: “Beltane, I tell thee the beauty of women is an evil thing, a lure to wreck the souls of men. By woman came sin into the world, by her beauty she blinds the eyes of men to truth and honour, leading them into all manner of wantonness whereby their very manhood is destroyed. This Helen of Troy, of whom ye speak, was nought but a vile adulteress, with a heart false and foul, by whose sin many died and Troy town was utterly destroyed.”
“Alas!” sighed Beltane, “that one so fair should be a thing so evil!”
Thereafter he went his way, very sad and thoughtful, and that night, lying upon his bed, he heard the voices of the trees sighing and murmuring one to another like souls that sorrowed for sin’s sake, and broken dreams and ideals.