“Ha!—methinks Sir Gilles doth live too long!”
“So to save her from his violence, I discovered to him her name and high estate, whereupon at first he would fain have her wed with him. But, angered by her scorn, he bore her with him to Duke Ivo at Barham Broom, and me also. And there I heard her denounced as witch, by whose spells thou, lord Beltane, wert freed of thy duress and Garthlaxton utterly destroyed. Thus, to-morrow she must burn, unless one can be found to champion her cause and prove her innocent by trial of combat. So, when they had let me go I came seeking thee, my lord, since ’tis said thou art a very strong man and swift to aid the defenceless.” Now glancing aside upon Sir Fidelis, Beltane beheld him leaning forward with his lips apart and slender hands tight-clasped; whereupon he frowned and shook his head.
“A woman!” quoth he, “nay, I had rather fight in a dog’s cause.”
“Forsooth!” cried Roger, “for rogue is he and fool that would champion a vile witch.”
“Why, then, let us on, lord,” growled Walkyn. “Why tarry we here?”
But now, as the witch sank upon the road with pleading hands uplifted, Sir Fidelis rode beside her and, stooping, caught her outstretched hands; quoth he:
“Of what avail to plead with such as these? So will I adventure me on behalf of this poor maid.”
“Enough!” cried Beltane. “Walkyn, march ye one and all for Hundleby Fen—wait me there and let your watch be strict. But, an I come not within two days from now, then hie you each and every to reinforce Eric and Giles in Belsaye. As for Roger, he rideth with me to Barham Broom.”
“Ha, lord!—wilt fight, then, in the witch’s cause?” cried Walkyn.
“Aye, forsooth, though—forsooth I had rather fight in a dog’s cause, for a dog, see you, is a faithful beast.”
“To Barham Broom?” quoth Roger, staring. “Thou and I, master, to Black Ivo—alone?” And speaking, he loosened sword in scabbard.
“My lord Beltane,” cried Sir Fidelis, beholding him with shining eyes, “an thou wilt do this noble thing, suffer me beside thee!”
“Not so, messire,” answered Beltane, shaking his head, “art over young and tender, methinks—go, get thee back to her that sent thee—keep thou thy fond and foolish dream, and may thy gentle heart go unbroken. Come, Roger!”
So saying, Beltane wheeled about and rode away with Roger at his heels.
HOW BELTANE FOUGHT FOR ONE MELLENT THAT WAS A WITCH.
Barham Broom was gay with the stir of flags and streamers, where, above broidered pavilion and silken tent, pennons and banderoles, penoncels and gonfalons fluttered and flew, beyond which long lines of smaller tents stretched away north and south, east and west, and made up the camp of my lord Duke Ivo.