“Thou knowest I do love thee, my Helen? Yet because I love thee greatly, love, alas, must wait awhile—”
“Wait?” she cried, “ah, no—am I not thine own?”
“’Tis so I would be worthy of thee, beloved,” he sighed, “for know that I am pledged to rest not nor stay until my task be accomplished or I slain—”
“O, Helen, ’tis a mighty task and desperate, and many perchance must die ere this my vow be accomplished—”
“Thy vow? But thou art a smith, my Beltane,—what hath humble smith to do with vows? Thou art my love—my Beltane the Smith!”
“Indeed,” sighed Beltane, “smith was I aforetime, and therewithal content: yet am I also son of my father, and he—”
“Hark!” she whispered, white hand upon his lips, “some one comes— through the leaves yonder!” So saying she sprang lightly to her feet and stood above him straight and tall: and though she trembled, yet he saw her eyes were fearless and his dagger gleamed steady in her hands.
“Beltane, my love!” she said, “thou’rt so weak, yet am I strong to defend thee against them all.”
But Beltane rose also and, swaying on unsteady feet, kissed her once and so took his sword, marvelling to find it so heavy, and drew it from the scabbard. And ever upon the stilly air the rustle of leaves grew louder.
“Beltane!” she sighed, “they be very near! Hearken! Beltane—thine am I, in life, in death. An this be death—what matter, since we die together?”
But, leaning on his sword, Beltane watched her with eyes of love yet spake no word, hearkening to the growing stir amid the leaves, until, of a sudden, upon the bank above, the underbrush was parted and a man stood looking down at them; a tall man, whose linked mail glinted evilly and whose face was hid ’neath a vizored casque. Now of a sudden he put up his vizor and stepped toward them down the sloping bank.
Then the Duchess let fall the dagger and reached out her hands.
“Godric!” she sighed, “O Godric!”
OF THE TALE OF GODRIC THE HUNTSMAN
Thus came white-haired old Godric the huntsman, lusty despite his years, bright-eyed and garrulous with joy, to fall upon his knees before his lady and to kiss those outstretched hands.
“Godric!” she cried, “’tis my good Godric!” and laughed, though with lips a-tremble.
“O sweet mistress,” quoth he, “now glory be to the kind Saint Martin that I do see thee again hale and well. These many days have I followed hard upon thy track, grieving for thee—”
“Yet here am I in sooth, my Godric, and joyful, see you!”
“Ah, dear my lady, thy wilfulness hath e’en now brought thee into dire perils and dangers. O rueful day!”
“Nay, Godric, my wilfulness hath brought me unto my heart’s desire. O most joyful day!”