“Lord,” said he, blinking bright eyes, “we have fought well ere now, but to-day methinks we shall fight as ne’er we fought in all our days.”
“Aye,” nodded Beltane, “verily, Giles, methinks we shall!”
Thus saying, he turned and looked upon the rolling battle-dust and settling his feet within the stirrups, clenched iron fingers upon his long sword.
HOW AT LAST THEY CAME TO PENTAVALON CITY
All day long the din and thunder of battle had roared upon the plain; all day the Duchess Helen with Sir Hacon at her side had watched the eddying dust-clouds rolling now this way, now that, straining anxious eyes to catch the gleam of a white plume or the flutter of the blue banner amid that dark confusion. And oft she heard Sir Hacon mutter oaths half-stifled, and oft Sir Hacon had heard snatches of her breathless prayers as the tide of battle swung to and fro, a desperate fray whence distant shouts and cries mingled in awful din. But now, as the sun grew low, the close-locked fray began to roll southwards fast and ever faster, a mighty storm of eddying dust wherein armour gleamed and steel glimmered back and forth, as Duke Ivo and his proud array fell back and back on their last stronghold of Pentavalon City. Whereupon Sir Hacon, upon the bartizan, cursed no more, but forgetful of his many wounds, waxed jubilant instead.
“Now, by Holy Rood!” he cried, “see, lady—they break—they break! ’Twas that last flanking onset! None but Beltane the Strong could have marshalled that last charge—drawing on Black Ivo to attempt his centre, see you, and crushing in his flanks—so needs must their main battle fall back or meet attack on two sides! Oho, a wondrous crafty leader is Duke Beltane the Strong! See—ha, see now how fast he driveth them—and southward—southward on Pentavalon town!”
“So do I thank God, but see how many—O how many do lie fallen by the way!”
“Why, in battle, most gentle lady, in battle men must needs fall or wherefore should battles be? Much have I seen of wars, lady, but ne’er saw eyes sterner fray than this—”
“And I pray God,” spake the Duchess, shivering, “these eyes may ne’er look upon another! O ’tis hateful sight—see—look yonder!” and she pointed where from the awful battle-wrack reeled men faint with wounds while others dragged themselves painfully across the trampled ground.
“Why, ’twas a bloody business!” quoth the knight, shaking his bandaged head.
“Sir Hacon,” said the Duchess, frowning and pale, “I pray you summon me the Reeve, yonder.” And when the Reeve was come, she spake him very soft and sweet:
“Messire, I pray you let us out and aid the poor, stricken souls yonder.”
“But lady, the battle is not yet won—to open our gates were unwise, methinks.”
“Good Reeve, one died but lately whom all men loved, but dying, Friar Martin spake these words—’I see Belsaye rich and happy, her gates ever open to the woeful and distressed.’ Come, ope the gates and let us out to cherish these afflicted.”