HOW THE FOLK OF BELSAYE TOWN MADE THEM AN END OF TYRANNY
The market-place was full of the stir and hum of jostling crowds; here were pale-faced townsfolk, men and women and children who, cowed by suffering and bitter wrong, spake little, and that little below their breath; here were country folk from village and farmstead near and far, a motley company that talked amain, loud-voiced and eager, as they pushed and strove to see where, in the midst of the square beyond the serried ranks of pike-men, a post had been set up; a massy post, grim and solitary, whose heavy chains and iron girdle gleamed ominous and red in the last rays of sunset. Near by, upon a dais, they had set up a chair fairly gilded, wherein Sir Gui was wont to sit and watch justice done upon the writhing bodies of my lord Duke’s enemies. Indeed, the citizens of Belsaye had beheld sights many and dire of late, wherefore now they blenched before this stark and grisly thing and looked askance; but to these country folk such things were something newer, wherefore they pushed and strove amid the press that they might view it nearer—in especial two in miller’s hooded smocks, tall and lusty fellows these, who by dint of shoulder and elbow, won forward until they were stayed by the file of Sir Gui’s heavy-armed pikemen. Thereupon spake one, close in his fellow’s ear:—
“Where tarries Walkyn, think you?” said Beltane below his breath.
“Master, I know not—he vanished in the press but now—”
“He watcheth our meal-sacks. Shall I not go bid him strike flint and steel? The time were fair, methinks?”
“Not so, wait you until Sir Gui be come and seated in his chair of state: then haste you to bold Eric and, the sacks ablaze, shout ‘fire;’ so will I here amid the press take up the cry, and in the rush join with ye at the gate. Patience, Roger.”
And now of a sudden the throng stirred, swayed and was still; but from many a quivering lip a breath went up to heaven, a sigh—a whispered groan, as, through the shrinking populace, the prisoner was brought. A man of Belsaye he, a man strong and tender, whom many had loved full well. Half borne, half dragged betwixt his gaolers, he came on stumbling feet—a woeful shivering thing with languid head a-droop; a thing of noisome rags that told of nights and days in dungeon black and foul; a thing whose shrunken nakedness showed a multitude of small wounds, slow-bleeding, that spoke of teeth little yet vicious, bold with hunger in the dark; a miserable, tottering thing, haggard and pinched, that shivered and shook and stared upon all things with eyes vacant and wide.
And thus it was that Beltane beheld again Friar Martin, the white friar that had been a man once, a strong man and a gentle. They brought him to the great post, they clasped him fast within the iron band and so left him, shivering in his chains with head a-droop. Came the sound of muffled weeping from the crowd, while high above, in sky deepening to evening, a star twinkled. Now in a while the white friar raised his heavy head and looked round about, and lo! his eyes were vacant no longer, and as folk strove to come more nigh, he spake, hoarse-voiced and feeble.