Then, very solemnly, did my Beltane kneel him beside the way and lifting the cross hilt of his sword to heaven kissed it, and thereafter rose. And so, having cleansed the steel within the earth, he sheathed the long blade and went, slowfooted, upon his way.
HOW BELTANE HELD DISCOURSE WITH A BLACK FRIAR
The sun was high, and by his shadow Beltane judged it the noon hour; very hot and very still it was, for the wind had died and leaf and twig hung motionless as though asleep. And presently as he went, a sound stole upon the stillness, a sound soft and beyond all things pleasant to hear, the murmurous ripple of running water near by. Going aside into the green therefore, Beltane came unto a brook, and here, screened from the sun ’neath shady willows, he laid him down to drink, and to bathe face and hands in the cool water.
Now as he lay thus, staring sad-eyed into the hurrying waters of the brook, there came to him the clicking of sandalled feet, and glancing up, he beheld one clad as a black friar. A fat man he was, jolly of figure and mightily round; his nose was bulbous and he had a drooping lip.
“Peace be unto thee, my son!” quoth he, breathing short and loud, “an evil day for a fat man who hath been most basely bereft of a goodly ass —holy Saint Dunstan, how I gasp!” and putting back the cowl from his tonsured crown, he puffed out his cheeks and mopped his face. “Hearkee now, good youth, hath there passed thee by ever a ribald in an escalloped hood—an unhallowed, long-legged, scurvy archer knave astride a fair white ass, my son?”
“Truly,” nodded Beltane, “we parted company scarce an hour since.”
The friar sat him down in the shade of the willows and sighing, mopped his face again; quoth he:
“Now may the curse of Saint Augustine, Saint Benedict, Saint Cuthbert and Saint Dominic light upon him for a lewd fellow, a clapper-claw, a thieving dog who hath no regard for Holy Church—forsooth a most vicious rogue, monstrum nulla virtute redemptum a vitiis!”
“Good friar, thy tongue is something harsh, methinks. Here be four saints with as many curses, and all for one small ass!”
The friar puffed out his cheeks and sighed:
“’Twas a goodly ass, my son, a fair and gentle beast and of an easy gait, and I am one that loveth not to trip it in the dust. Moreover ’twas the property of Holy Church! To take from thy fellow is evil, to steal from thy lord is worse, but to ravish from Holy Church—per de ’tis sacrilege, ’tis foul blasphemy thrice—aye thirty times damned and beyond all hope of redemption! So now do I consign yon archer-knave to the lowest pit of Acheron—damnatus est, amen! Yet, my son, here—by the mercy of heaven is a treasure the rogue hath overlooked, a pasty most rarely seasoned that I had this day from my lord’s own table. ’Tis something small for two, alack and yet—stay—who comes?”