HOW BELTANE KNEW GREAT HUMILITY
The rising sun, darting an inquisitive beam ’twixt a leafy opening, fell upon Beltane’s wide, slow-heaving breast; crept upwards to his chin, his cheek, and finally strove to peep beneath his slumberous, close-shut lids; whereat Beltane stirred, yawned, threw wide and stretched his mighty arms, and thereafter, blinking drowsily, sat up, his golden hair be-tousled, and stared sleepily about him.
Birds piped joyously near and far; hid among the leaves near by, the war-horse Mars stamped eager hoof and snuffed the fragrant air of morning; but Sir Fidelis was nowhere to be seen. Thus in a while Beltane arose to find his leg very stiff and sore, and his throat be parched with feverish thirst; wherefore, limping painfully, he turned where a little water-brook went singing o’er pebbly bed to join the slow-moving river; but, putting aside the leaves, he paused of a sudden, for there, beside the noisy streamlet he beheld Sir Fidelis, his bascinet upon the grass beside him, his mail-coif thrown back betwixt his shoulders, stooping to bathe his face in the sparkling water.
Now would he have called a greeting, but the words died upon his lips, his breath stayed, and he stared at something that had caught in the links of the young knight’s mail-coif, something that stirred light and wanton, kissed by the breath of early morn—a lock of bright hair that glowed a wondrous red-gold in the new-risen sun. So stood Beltane awhile, and, beholding this, a trembling seized him and therewith sudden anger, and he strode forth of the leaves. And lo! on the instant, on went hood of mail and thereafter shining bascinet, and Sir Fidelis arose. But, ere he could turn, Beltane was beside him, had caught him within a powerful arm, and, setting a hand ’neath mailed chin, lifted the young knight’s head and scowled down into his face.
Eyes long, black-lashed and darkly blue that looked up awhile into his, wide, yet fearless, and anon, were hid ’neath languorous-drooping lids; a nose tenderly aquiline, lips red and full that met in ripe and luscious curves. This Beltane saw, and straightway his anger grew.
“Ah!” cried he, hoarsely, “now, by the living God, who art thou, and— what?”
“Thy—comrade-in-arms, lord Beltane.”
“Why hast thou the seeming of one beyond all women false? Why dost thou speak me betimes in her voice, look at me with her eyes, touch me with her soft, white, traitor’s hands—answer me!”
“My lord, we are akin, she and I—of the same house and blood—”
“Then is thy blood foul with treachery!”
“Yet did I save thy life, Beltane!”
“Yet thy soft voice, thy red mouth and false eyes—thy very blood—all these do prove thee traitor—hence!” and Beltane threw him off.
“Nay my lord!” he cried, “prithee take care, Beltane,—see—thou hast displaced the bandage, thy wound bleedeth amain—so will I bind it up for thee—”