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Jeffery Farnol
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 506 pages of information about Beltane the Smith.

CHAPTER LIV

HOW BELTANE FOUGHT WITH A DOUGHTY STRANGER

“Lord!” quoth Roger, wiping sweat from him, “yonder certes was Hob-gob!  Forsooth ne’er saw I night the like o’ this!  How think ye of yon devilish things?  Here was it one moment, and lo! in the twinkle of an eye it is not.  How think ye, master?”

“I do think ’twas some roving knight.”

“Nay but, lord—­how shall honest flesh and blood go a-vanishing away into thin air whiles a man but blinketh an eye?”

“The ground hath sudden slope thereabouts, belike.”

“Nay, yonder was some arch-wizard, master—­the Man o’ the Oak, or Hob-gob himself.  Saint Cuthbert shield us, say I—­yon was for sure a spirit damned—­”

“Hark!  Do spirits go in steel, Roger?” said Beltane, stooping for his sword; for indeed, plain and loud upon the prevailing quiet was the ring and clash of heavy armour, what time from the bushes that clothed the steep a tall figure strode, and the moon made a glory in polished shield, it gleamed upon close-vizored helm, it flashed upon brassart, vanbrace and plastron.  Being come near, the grim and warlike figure halted, and leaning gauntleted hand upon long shield, stood silent a while seeming to stare on Beltane through the narrow slit of his great casque.  But even as he viewed Beltane, so stared Beltane on him, on the fineness of his armour, chain and plate of the new fashion, on his breadth of shoulder and length of limb—­from shining casque to gleaming shield, whereon was neither charge nor blazon; and so at last, spake my Beltane, very gentle and courteous: 

“Messire, an thou be come in peace, now shalt thou be right welcome—­”

“Peace!” quoth the knight loud and fierce, and his laughter rang hoarse within his helm.  “Peace, forsooth!  Thou art a tall and seemly youth, a youth fair spoken, and yet—­ha!  A belt of silver!  And golden hair!  And yet—­so very youthful!  Art thou in very truth this famous rogue whose desperate deeds do live on every tongue, who hath waked Duke Ivo from his long-time security, insomuch that he doth yearn him for that yellow head o’ thine—­art thou Beltane the Outlaw and Rebel?”

“’Tis so men do call me, messire.”

“Verily, youth, methinks dost lie, for I have heard this outlaw is beyond all men wild and fierce and weaveth him demoniac spells and enchantments most accurst, whereby he maketh gate and door and mighty portcullis to ope and yield before his pointed finger, and bolt and bar and massy wall to give him passage when he will, as witness the great keep of Garthlaxton that he did burn with hellish fire.  I have heard he doth commonly burn gibbets to warm him, and beareth off great lords beneath his arm as I might a small coney and slayeth him three or four with his every stroke.  ’Tis said that he doth wax daily mightier and more fierce, since he doth drink hot blood and batteneth on flesh o’ tender babes beneath the orbed moon—­”

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