Thus Beltane, marching swift to the south at the head of his three hundred foresters, heard nought of their joyful acclaim, heeded not their triumph, saw nought of watchful Roger’s troubled glances, but went with head bowed low, with pallid cheek and eyes wide-staring, for he saw yet again the fierce leap of those merciless flames and in his ears rang the screams and cries of Sir Rollo’s proud chivalry.
HOW THEY CAME TO BELSAYE FOR THE THIRD TIME
The sun was high as they came to the western road that led to the ford at Thornaby, but upon the edge of the forest Beltane stopped of a sudden to stare up at an adjacent tree.
“What is’t, master?” questioned Roger, halting beside him.
“An arrow—and new-shot by the look of it!” said Beltane, gloomily.
“Aye master, and it hath travelled far—see, it hath scarce pierced the bark!”
“’Twas shot from the brush yonder, methinks,” said Beltane, pointing to the dense underwood that skirted the opposite side of the dusty highway. “Reach me it down, Roger!” so saying Beltane stooped and hove Roger aloft until he could grasp and draw the arrow from the tree.
“Here is no woodsman’s shaft, master!” quoth Roger, turning the missile over in his hand ere he gave it to Beltane, “no forester doth wing his shafts so.”
“True!” nodded Beltane, frowning at the arrow. “Walkyn, Ulf! here hath been an ambushment, methinks—’tis a likely place for such. Let our company scatter and search amid the fern hereabouts—”
But even as he spake came a cry, a clamour of voices, and Prat the archer came frowning and snapping his restless fingers.
“My lord,” said he, “yonder doth lie my good comrade Martin and three other fellows of my archer-company that marched with Sir Benedict, and all dead, lord, slain by arrows all four.”
“Show me!” said Beltane.
And when he had viewed and touched those stark and pallid forms that lay scattered here and there amid the bracken, his anxious frown deepened. “These have been dead men full six hours!” quoth he.
“Aye, lord,” says Prat, “and ’tis unmeet such good fellows should lie here for beasts to tear; shall we bury them?”
“Not so!” answered Beltane, turning away. “Take their shafts and fall to your ranks—we must march forthright!”
Thus soon the three hundred were striding fast behind Beltane, keeping ever to the forest yet well within bow-shot of the road, and, though they travelled at speed they went very silently, as only foresters might.