“And I!” cried Giles, reaching for his bow.
“And I also!” quoth Roger.
HOW BELTANE SLEW TOSTIG AND SPAKE WITH THE WILD MEN
The sun was down what time they left the hill country and came out upon a wide heath void of trees and desolate, where was a wind cold and clammy to chill the flesh, where rank-growing rush and reed stirred fitfully, filling the dark with stealthy rustlings.
“Master,” quoth Roger, shivering and glancing about him, “here is Hangstone Waste, and yonder the swamps of Hundleby Fen—you can smell them from here! And ’tis an evil place, this, for ’tis said the souls of murdered folk do meet here betimes, and hold high revel when the moon be full. Here, on wild nights witches and warlocks ride shrieking upon the wind, with goblins damned—”
“Ha, say ye so, good Roger?” quoth the archer, “now the sweet Saint Giles go with us—amen!” and he crossed himself devoutly.
So went they in silence awhile until they were come where the sedge grew thick and high above whispering ooze, and where trees, stunted and misshapen, lifted knotted arms in the gloom.
“Lord,” spake Walkyn, his voice low and awe-struck, “here is the marsh, a place of death for them that know it not, where, an a man tread awry, is a quaking slime to suck him under. Full many a man lieth ’neath the reeds yonder, for there is but one path, very narrow and winding— follow close then, and step where I shall step.”
“Aye, master,” whispered Roger, “and look ye touch no tree as ye go; ’tis said they do grow from the bones of perished men, so touch them not lest some foul goblin blast thee.”
So went they, following a narrow track that wound betwixt slow-stirring sedge, past trees huddled and distorted that seemed to writhe and shiver in the clammy air until, beyond the swamp, they came to a place of rocks where ragged crags loomed high and vague before them. Now, all at once, Walkyn raised a warning hand, as from the shadow of those rocks, a hoarse voice challenged:
“Stand!” cried the voice, “who goes?”
“What, and is it thou, rogue Perkyn?” cried Walkyn, “art blind not to know me?”
“Aye,” growled the voice, “but blind or no, I see others with thee.”
“Good friends all!” quoth Walkyn.
“Stand forth that I may see these friends o’ thine!” Drawing near, Beltane beheld a man in filthy rags who held a long bow in his hand with an arrow on the string, at sight of whom Roger muttered and Giles held his nose and spat.
“Aha,” growled the man Perkyn, peering under his matted hair, “I like not the looks o’ these friends o’ thine—”
“Nor we thine, foul fellow,” quoth Giles, and spat again whole-heartedly.
“How!” cried Walkyn fiercely, “d’ye dare bid Walkyn stand, thou dog’s meat? Must I flesh mine axe on thy vile carcase?”