Now as Beltane leaned him on his sword, watching their flounderings joyful-eyed, the weapon was dashed from his loosened hold, he staggered ’neath the bite of vicious steel, and, starting round, beheld the third rogue, his deadly sword swung high; but even as the blow fell, Sir Fidelis sprang between and took it upon his own slender body, and, staggering aside, fell, and lay with arms wide-tossed. Then, whiles the robber yet stared upon his sword, shivered by the blow, Beltane leapt, and ere he could flee, caught him about the loins, and whirling him aloft, dashed him out into the stream. Then, kneeling by Sir Fidelis, he took his heavy head upon his arm and beheld his cheeks pale and wan, his eyes fast shut, and saw his shining bascinet scored and deep-dinted by the blow.
“Fidelis!” he groaned, “O my brave Fidelis, and art thou slain—for my sake?” But in a while, what time Beltane kneeled and mourned over him full sore, the young knight stirred feebly, sighed, and spake.
“Beltane!” he whispered; and again, “Beltane!” Anon his white lids quivered, and, opening swooning eyes he spake again with voice grown stronger:
“My lord—my lord—what of thy wound?”
And lo! the voice was sweet to hear as note of merle or mavis; these eyes were long and deeply blue beneath their heavy lashes; eyes that looked up, brimful of tenderness, ere they closed slow and wearily; eyes so much at odds with grim bascinet and close-laced camail that Beltane must needs start and hold his breath and fall to sudden trembling what time Sir Fidelis lay there, pale and motionless, as one that is dead. Now great fear came upon Beltane, and he would have uttered desperate prayers, but could not; trembling yet, full gently he drew his arm from under that drooping head, and, stealing soft-footed to the river’s marge, stood there staring down at the rippling waters, and his heart was rent with conflicting passions—amazement, fear, anger, joy, and a black despair. And of a sudden Beltane fell upon his knees and bowed him low and lower until his burning brow was hid in the cool, sweet grass—for of these passions, fiercest, strongest, wildest, was—despair.
HOW BELTANE DREAMED IN THE WILD-WOOD
Now in a while, he started to feel a hand among his hair, and the hand was wondrous light and very gentle; wherefore, wondering, he raised his head, but behold, the sun was gone and the shadows deepening to night. Yet even so, he stared and thrilled ’twixt wonder and fear to see Sir Fidelis bending over him.
“Fidelis!” he murmured, “and is it thee in truth,—or do I dream?”
“Dear my lord, ’tis I indeed. How long hast lain thus? I did but now wake from my swoon. Is it thy hurt?—suffer me to look.”
“Nay, ’tis of none account, but I did dream thee—dead—Fidelis!”