So Beltane followed him from the battlements, down winding stairs, through halls that whispered in the dark; down more stairs, down and ever down ’twixt walls slimy to the touch, through a gloom heavy with mildew and decay. On sped the jester, staying not to light the lanthorn, nor once touching, nor once turning with helping hand to guide Beltane stumbling after in the dark. Then at last, deep in the clammy earth they reached a door, a small door whose rusted iron was handed with mighty clamps of rusted iron. Here the jester paused to fit key to lock, to strain and pant awhile ere bolts shrieked and turned, and the door yawned open. Then, stooping, he struck flint and steel and in a while had lit the lanthorn, and, looking upon Beltane with eyes that stared in the pallor of his face, he pointed toward the yawning tunnel.
“Messire,” said he, “yonder lieth thy way to life and the world. As thou did’st give me life so do I give thee thine. Thou wert, as I remember thee, a very gentle, tender youth—to-night are three dead without reason—”
“Reason, good Fool,” said Beltane, “thou did’st see me borne in a prisoner to Garthlaxton; now, tell me I pray, who was she that rode with us?”
“’Twas the Duchess Helen of Mortain, messire; I saw her hair, moreover—”
But lo, even as the jester spake, Beltane turned, and striding down the tunnel, was swallowed in the dark.
HOW BELTANE TOOK TO THE WILD-WOOD
A faint glimmer growing ever brighter, a jagged patch of pale sky, a cleft in the rock o’er-grown with bush and creeping vines; this Beltane saw ere he stepped out into the cool, sweet air of dawn. A while he stood to stare up at the sky where yet a few stars showed paling to the day, and to drink in mighty breaths of the fragrant air. And thus, plain to his ears, stole the ripple of running water hard by, and going thitherward he stripped, and naked came down to the stream where was a misty pool and plunged him therein. Now as he bathed him thus, gasping somewhat because of the cold, yet glorying in the rush and tingle of his blood, behold, the leaves parted near by, and uprising in his naked might, Beltane beheld the face of one that watched him intently.
“Master!” cried a voice harsh but very joyful, “O dear, my lord!” And Roger sprang down the bank and heedless of the water, plunged in to catch Beltane’s hands and kiss them. “Master!” he cried. And thus it was these two met again. And presently, having donned clothes and harness, Beltane sat down him beside the brook, head upon hand, staring at the swift-running water, whiles Roger, sitting near, watched him in a silent ecstasy.
“Whence come ye, Roger?”
“From Thrasfordham-within-Bourne, lord. Ho, a mighty place, great and strong as Sir Benedict himself. And within Thrasfordham be many lusty fighting men who wait thy coming,—for, master, Bourne, aye and all the Duchy, doth ring with tales of thy deeds.”