HOW BELTANE BECAME CAPTIVE TO SIR PERTOLEPE
A horn, lustily winded, waked my Beltane from his swoon, waked him to a glimmering world vague and unreal, where lights flared and voices sounded, hoarse and faint, in question and answer. Thereafter, down rattled drawbridge and up creaked portcullis, and so, riding ’neath a deep and gloomy arch they came out into a courtyard, where were many vague forms that flitted to and fro—and many more lights that glinted on steel bascinet and hauberk of mail.
Now as Beltane lay helpless in his bonds he felt a hand among his hair, a strong hand that lifted his heavy, drooping head and turned up his face to the glare of the torches.
“How now, Fool!” cried a gruff voice, “here’s not thy meat—ha, what would ye—what would ye, Fool?”
“Look upon another fool, for fool, forsooth, is he methinks that cometh so into Garthlaxton Keep.” Now hereupon, opening unwilling eyes, Beltane looked up into the face of Beda the Jester that bent above him with a ring of steel-begirt faces beyond.
“Aha!” quoth the jester, clapping Beltane’s pale and bloody cheek, “here is a fool indeed—forsooth, a very foolish fool, hither come through folly, for being great of body and small of wit, look you, his folly hath hither brought him in shape of a hairy, ape-like fool—”
“Ape!” growled a voice, and the jester was seized in a hairy hand and shaken till his bells jingled; and now Beltane beheld his captor, a dwarf-like, gnarled and crooked creature, yet huge of head and with the mighty arms and shoulders of a giant; a fierce, hairy monster, whose hideousness was set off by the richness of his vesture. “Ape, quotha!” he growled. “Dare ye name Ulf the Strong ape, forsooth? Ha! so will I shake the flesh from thy bones!” But now, she who sat her horse near by so proud and stately, reached forth a white hand, touching Ulf the Strong upon the arm, and lo! in that moment, he loosed the breathless jester and spake with bowed head: “Dear my lady, I forgot!” Then turning to the grinning soldiery he scowled upon them. “Dogs,” quoth he, “go to your master and say Helen, Duchess of Mortain bringeth a wedding gift to Ivo, called the Black. Behold here he that slew twenty within the green, that burned down Black Ivo’s goodly gallows, that broke the dungeons of Belsaye and bore Red Pertolepe into the green, behold him ye seek—Beltane, son of Beltane the Strong, heretofore Duke of Pentavalon!”
Now hereupon arose a mighty turmoil and excitement, all men striving to behold Beltane, to touch him and look upon his drooping face, but Ulf’s mighty hand held them back, one and all. And presently came hasting divers esquires and knights, who, beholding Beltane, his costly mail, his silver belt and golden hair, seized upon him right joyfully and bore him into an inner ward, and threw him down upon the floor, marvelling and rejoicing over him, while Beltane lay there fast bound and helpless, staring up with frowning brow as one that strives to think, yet cannot. Now suddenly the noise about him ceased, all voices were hushed, and he was aware of one who stood near by, a doleful figure swathed in bandages, who leaned upon the arm of a tall esquire. And looking upon this figure, he saw it was Sir Pertolepe the Red.