HOW BELTANE HAD SPEECH WITH THE ABBESS
They found rich booty in Pertolepe’s camp, with store of arms and armour and many goodly horses, and thither Sir Benedict’s wearied followers betook them as night fell and knew blessed rest and sleep. But in the tower of Brand lights gleamed where the Abbess and her gentle nuns went to and fro among the wounded, ministering to their wants; and far beyond the camp, armour glinted ever and anon against the blackness of the surrounding woods, where outpost and sentinel kept vigilant watch and ward. Though late the hour Beltane sat wakeful, chin on fist, beside a glimmering watch-fire, oft turning his glance towards the massy, weather-beaten tower, bethinking him of the noble lady Abbess, of her strange looks and words, and so fell to brooding thought. High overhead the moon rode, obscured by flying clouds, a wild wrack up-whirling from the south: at fitful intervals was a wind that moaned drearily ’mid the gloom of distant woods, a desolate sound that sobbed upon the air, and dying to a wail, was gone. Now becoming aware of this, Beltane raised his head, and looked up at the ominous heavens and round about him. And thus he espied a light that hovered hither and thither above the distant battle-field, a small light whose red flame flashed back from cloven casque and riven shield, where eyes glared unseeing and mouths gaped mute and dumb from a dark confusion whence mailed arms stiffly rose with hands tight-clenched that seemed to menace heaven, and rigid feet whose spurred heels yet gored the flanks of rigid, fallen chargers; to and fro and up and down this small flame leaped merrily, dancing from dead face to dead face but staying never, a fiendish fire that seemed to mock the horror of wounds and gibe at solemn death.
Now as he watched this devilish light, Beltane arose and reaching for his sword went soft-footed to meet it, then paused, for the light was moving towards him. Near and nearer it came, until, into the glow of the fire, his betousled head wild and bare, his link-mail yet befouled with battle, Walkyn strode, and hurling his torch upon the grass, crushed it out ’neath his heel. Then came he to the fire and stood there, arms crossed, frowning down at the flame.
“Greeting to thee, Waldron of Brand!”
Swift turned Walkyn, his gloomy scowl relaxed at Beltane’s voice, and stooping, he took and kissed my Beltane’s hand.
“Whence come ye, Walkyn?”
“From going to and fro among the dead, seeking Pertolepe, master. Ha! they do lie thick yonder, five hundred and twenty and three I counted of Bloody Pertolepe’s following. And in the woods do lie certain others, that I, with divers of our company, pursued and cut off.”
“And what of their wounded?”
“I saw none, master—nor have I seen Pertolepe. I have viewed all the slain, but Pertolepe is not there, yet have I smitten and slain three Pertolepes this day—hawks, see you, in eagle’s feathers! So is my work yet to do, and I grieve still for Pertolepe’s head.”