“Walkyn, to thee I give the pikes henceforth. As for our archers— Giles, which now think you fittest to command?”
“Why truly, brother—my lord, if one there be can twang a lusty bow and hath a cool and soldier-like head ‘tis Jenkyn o’ the Ford, and after him Walcher, and after him—”
“Jenkyn, do you henceforth look to our archers. Are these matters heard and known among ye?”
“Aye!” came the thunderous answer.
“’Tis well, for mark me, we go out to desperate doings, wherein obedience must be instant, wherein all must love like brothers, and, like brothers, fight shoulder to shoulder!”
Now came there certain of the citizens to Beltane, leading a great and noble war-horse, richly caparisoned, meet for his acceptance. And thus, ere the moon rose, equipped with lance and shield and ponderous, vizored casque, Beltane, gloomy and silent, with Sir Fidelis mounted beside him, rode forth at the head of his grim array, at whose tramp and jingle the folk of Belsaye shouted joyful acclaim while the bells rang out right joyously.
OF BELTANE’S BLACK AND EVIL MOOD, AND HOW HE FELL IN WITH THE WITCH OF HANGSTONE WASTE
It was very dark upon the forest road, where trees loomed gigantic against the pitchy gloom wherein dim-seen branches creaked and swayed, and leaves rustled faint and fitful in the stealthy night-wind; and through the gloom at the head of his silent company Beltane rode in frowning thought, his humour blacker than the night.
Now in a while, Sir Fidelis, riding ever at his elbow, ventured speech with him:
“Art very silent, messire. Have I angered thee, forsooth? Is aught amiss betwixt us?”
Quoth Beltane, shortly:
“Art over-young, sir knight, and therefore fond and foolish. Is a man a lover of self because he hateth dishonour? Art a presumptuous youth— and that’s amiss!”
“Art thou so ancient, messire, and therefore so wise as to judge ’twixt thy hates and loves and the abiding sorrows of Pentavalon?” questioned Fidelis, low-voiced and gentle.
“Old enough am I to know that in all this world is no baser thing than the treachery of a faithless woman, and that he who seeketh aid of such, e’en though his cause be just, dishonoureth himself and eke his cause. So God keep me from all women henceforth—and as for thee, speak me no more the name of this light wanton.”
“My lord,” quoth Sir Fidelis, leaning near, “my lord—whom mean you?”
“Whom should I mean but Mortain Helen—Helen the Beautiful—”
Now cried Sir Fidelis as one that feels a blow, and, in the dark, he seized Beltane in sudden griping fingers, and shook him fiercely.
“And dare ye name her ‘wanton!’” he cried. “Ye shall not—I say ye shall not!” But, laughing, Beltane smote away the young knight’s hold and laughed again.