So saying, Sir Benedict of Bourne smiled his twisted smile and, wheeling his horse, rode away down the glade, his mail glistening in the early light and his lance point winking and twinkling amid the green.
HOW BELTANE HAD WORD WITH THE DUKE, BLACK IVO
Now it fell out upon a day, that as Beltane strode the forest ways, there met him a fine cavalcade, gay with the stir of broidered petticoat and ermined mantle; and, pausing beneath a tree, he stood to hearken to the soft, sweet voices of the ladies and to gaze enraptured upon their varied beauty. Foremost of all rode a man richly habited, a man of great strength and breadth of shoulder, and of a bearing high and arrogant. His face, framed in long black hair that curled to meet his shoulder, was of a dark and swarthy hue, fierce looking and masterful by reason of prominent chin and high-arched nose, and of his thin-lipped, relentless mouth. Black were his eyes and bold; now staring bright and wide, now glittering ’twixt heavy, narrowed lids; yet when he smiled they glittered brightest, and his lips showed moistly red. Beside him rode a lady of a wondrous dark beauty, sleepy eyed and languid; yet her glance was quick to meet the Duke’s bold look, and, ’neath her mantle, her fingers met, once in a while, and clung with his, what time his red lips would smile; but, for the most part, his brow was gloomy and he fingered his chin as one in thought.
As he paced along upon his richly caparisoned steed, pinching at his long, blue-shaven chin with supple fingers, his heavy brows drawn low, of a sudden his narrowed lids widened and his eyes gleamed bright and black as they beheld my Beltane standing in the shade of the tree.
“Aha!” said he, drawing rein, “what insolent, long-legged rogue art thou, to stand gaping at thy betters?”
And Beltane answered:
“No rogue, messire, but an honest man, I pray God, whom folk call Beltane the Smith.”
The staring eyes grew suddenly narrow, the scarlet mouth curled in a slow smile, and the tall man spake, yet with his gaze bent ever upon Beltane:
“Fair lords,” he said, “and you, most sweet and gentle ladies, our sport hath been but poor, hitherto—methinks I can show you a better, ’tis a game we play full oft in my country. Would that our gracious lady of Mortain were here, nor had balked us of her wilful company. Ho! Gefroi!” he called, “come you and break me the back of this ‘honest’ rogue.” And straightway came one from the rear, where rode the servants and men-at-arms, a great, bronzed fellow, bearded to the eyes of him, loosing his sword-belt as he came; who, having tossed aside cap and pourpoint, strode toward Beltane, his eyes quick and bright, his teeth agleam through the hair of his beard.
“Come, thou forest rogue,” said he, “my lord Duke loveth not to wait for man or maid, so—have at thee!”