“Witchcraft is forsooth a deadly sin, tall brother?”
“Verily, Giles, yet there be worse, methinks.”
“Worse! Ha, ’tis true, ’tis very true!” nodded the archer. “And then, forsooth, shall the mother’s sin cleave unto the daughter—and she so wondrous fair? The saints forbid.” Now hereupon the archer’s gloom was lifted and he strode along singing softly ’neath his breath; yet, in a while he frowned, sudden and fierce: “As for that foul knave Gurth—ha, methinks I had been wiser to slit his roguish weasand, for ’tis in my mind he may live to discover our hiding place to our foes, and perchance bring down Red Pertolepe to Hundleby Fen.”
“In truth,” said Beltane, slow and thoughtful, “so do I think; ’twas for this I spared his life.”
Now here Giles the Archer turned and stared upon Beltane with jaws agape, and fain he would have questioned further, but Beltane’s gloomy brow forbade; yet oft he looked askance at that golden head, and oft he sighed and shook his own, what time they marched out of the golden glare of morning into the dense green depths of the forest.
HOW BELTANE MET WITH A YOUTHFUL KNIGHT
Now at this time the fame of Beltane’s doing went throughout the Duchy, insomuch that divers and many were they that sought him out within the green; masterless men, serfs new-broke from thraldom, desperate fellows beyond the law, thieves and rogues in dire jeopardy of life or limb: off-scourings, these, of camp and town and village, hither come seeking shelter with Beltane in the wild wood, and eager for his service.
In very truth, a turbulent company this, prone to swift quarrel and deadly brawl; but, at these times, fiercer than any was Walkyn o’ the Axe, grimmer than any was Roger the Black, whereas Giles was quick as his tongue and Eric calm and resolute: four mighty men were these, but mightier than all was Beltane. Wherefore at this time Beltane set himself to bring order from chaos and to teach these wild men the virtues of obedience; but here indeed was a hard matter, for these were lawless men and very fierce withal. But upon a morning, ere the sun had chased the rosy mists into marsh and fen, Beltane strode forth from the cave wherein he slept, and lifting the hunting horn he bare about his neck, sounded it fierce and shrill. Whereon rose a sudden uproar, and out from their caves, from sleeping-places hollowed within the rocks, stumbled his ragged following—an unordered rabblement, half-naked, unarmed, that ran hither and thither, shouting and rubbing sleep from their eyes, or stared fearfully upon the dawn. Anon Beltane sounded again, whereat they, beholding him, came thronging about him and questioned him eagerly on all sides, as thus:
“Master, are we attacked forsooth?”
“Is the Red Pertolepe upon us?”
“Lord, what shall we do—?”