HOW THEY RODE INTO THE WILDERNESS
Fast galloped the good horse, bursting through underbrush and thicket with the roar of the pursuit following ever distant and more distant; and ever Beltane spurred deeper into those trackless wilds where few dare adventure them by reason of evil spirits that do haunt these solitudes (as they do say) and, moreover, of ravening beasts.
Strongly and well the good horse bore them, what time the sun waxed fierce and hot, filling the woods with a stifling heat, a close, windless air dank and heavy with the scent of leaves and bracken. The hue and cry had sunk long since, lost in distance, and nought broke the brooding silence but the stir of their going, as, checking their headlong pace, Beltane brought the powerful animal to slow and leisured gait. And presently, a gentle wind arose, that came and went, to fan brow and cheek and temper the sun’s heat.
And now, as they rode through sunlight and shadow, Beltane felt his black mood slowly lifted from him and knew a sense of rest, a content unfelt this many a day; he looked, glad-eyed, upon the beauty of the world about him, from green earth to an azure heaven peeping through a fretted screen of branches; he marked the graceful, slender bracken stirring to the soft-breathing air, the mighty boles of stately trees that reached out sinuous boughs one to another, to touch and twine together amid a mystery of murmuring leaves. All this he saw, yet heeded not at all the round-mailed arms that clasped him in their soft embrace, nor the slender hands that held upon his girdle.
So rode they through bosky dell and dingle, until the sun, having climbed the meridian, sank slowly westwards; and Sir Fidelis spake soft-voiced:
“Think you we are safe at last, my lord?”
“Fidelis,” saith Beltane, “Yest’re’en did’st thou name me selfish, to-day, a babe, and, moreover, by thy disobedience hast made my schemes of no avail—thus am I wroth with thee.”
“Yet doth the sun shine, my lord,” said Sir Fidelis, small of voice.
“Ha—think you my anger so light a thing, forsooth?”
“Messire, I think of it not at all.”
“By thy evil conduct are we fugitives in the wilderness!”
“Yet is it a wondrous fair place, messire, and we unharmed—which is well, and we are—together, which is—also well.”
“And with but one beast to bear us twain!”
“Yet he beareth us strong and nobly, messire!”
“Fidelis, I would I ne’er had seen thee.”
“Thou dost not see me—now, lord—content you, therefore,” saith Fidelis softly, whereat Beltane must needs twist in the saddle, yet saw no more than a mailed arm and shoulder.
“Howbeit,” quoth Beltane, “I would these arms o’ thine clasped the middle of any other man than I.”
“Forsooth, my lord? And do they crush thee so? Or is it thou dost pine for solitude?”