“Here,” quoth the Pardoner at last, stroking his round chin, “here was a man, methinks, wherefore are we yet alive!”
“Here,” quoth the Bailiff, scratching his long nose, “here was a fool, methinks, for that we are alive. A traitor, see ye, Pardoner, whose yellow head is worth its weight in gold! Truly, truly, here was a very fool!” So saying, he arose, albeit furtively, and slipping forthwith into the shadow, crept furtively away until the fire-glow was lost and hidden far behind him. Then, very suddenly, he betook him to his heels, and coming to the forest-road, fled southwards towards Duke Ivo’s great camp that lay on Barham Broom.
OF JOLETTE, THAT WAS A WITCH
“Lord,” said Roger, shaking his head, as they halted upon the edge of the Hollow, “lord, ’twere better thou hadst let me strangle them; those dogs will bay of thee to Black Ivo ere this time to-morrow!”
“’Tis so I hope, Roger.”
“Could I but lure Black Ivo into the wild, Roger, where swamp and thicket should fight for us! Could I but draw him hither after me, of what avail the might of his heavy chivalry upon this narrow forest-road, his close-ranked foot-men a sure mark for the arrows of our war-wise foresters? Thus, our pikes in front, a charge in flank, his line once pierced needs must follow confusion and disorder. Then press we where his banner flieth, and, hemmed in by our pikes and gisarms and Giles’s bowmen, he once our prisoner or slain, his great army would crumble and melt away, since they do serve but for base hire, whiles we, though few, do smite amain for home and children. O Roger man, could I but lure him into the green!”
“Yet methinks there is a surer way, master.”
“How—as how, Roger?”
“Wed thou thy Duchess, and so bring down on him all the powers of Mortain!”
“Roger, dost well know my mind on this matter; prate ye no more!”
“Then will I pray, master—so I do warn thee! Forsooth, I will this night fall to work upon the good saint and plague him right prayerfully that thy Duchess may come and save thee and thy Duchy in despite of thee, and having made thee Duke of Pentavalon with her lances, thereafter make thee Duke of Mortain in her own sweet body, for as I do know—”
But Beltane was already descending the steep path leading down into the great green hollow that lay all silent and deserted ’neath the ghostly moon, where nought stirred in the windless air, where bush and tree cast shadows monstrous and distorted, and where no sound brake the brooding quiet save the murmurous ripple of the brook that flowed to lose itself in the gloomy waters of that deep and sullen pool.
Swift and sure-treading as only foresters might, they descended the steep, and lured by some elfin fancy, Beltane must needs come to stand beside the pool and to stare down into those silent waters, very dark by reason of that great tree ’neath whose writhen branches Tostig the outlaw had fought and died; so stood Beltane awhile lost in contemplation, what time Roger, drawing ever nearer his master’s elbow, shivered and crossed himself full oft.