“O tall brother, fall back! O gentle paladin, O fair flower of lusty fighters, fall back and leave the rest to our comrades, to me and my good bow, here!”
So, dazed and breathless, came Beltane on stumbling feet and leaned him gasping in the shadow of a great tree whereby stood Giles o’ the Bow with arrows planted upright in the sod before him, the which he snatched and loosed so fast ’twas a wonder to behold. Of a sudden he uttered a shout and, setting by his bow, drew sword, and leaping from the shadow, was gone.
But, as for Beltane, he leaned a while against the tree as one who is very faint; yet soon, lifting heavy head, wondered at the hush of all things, and looking toward the clearing saw it empty and himself alone; therefore turned he thitherwards. Now as he went he stumbled and his foot struck a something soft and yielding that rolled before him in the shadow out—out into the full brilliance of the moon, and looking down, he beheld a mangled head that stared up at him wide-eyed and with mouth agape. Then Beltane let fall his reeking sword and staggering out into the light, saw his bright mail befouled with clotted blood, and of a sudden the world went black about him and he fell and lay with his face among the trampled grass.
In a while he groaned and opened his eyes to find Black Roger bathing his face what time Giles o’ the Bow held wine to his lips, while at his feet, a wild figure grim and ragged, stood a tall, hairy man leaning upon a blood-stained axe.
“Aha!” cried the bowman. “Come now, my lovely fighter, my gentle giant, sup this—’tis life, and here behold a venison steak fit for Duke Ivo’s self, come—”
“Nay, first,” says Beltane, sitting up, “are there many hurt?”
“Aye, never fear for that, my blood-thirsty dove, they be all most completely dead save one, and he sore wounded, laus Deo, amen!”
“Dead!” cried Beltane, shivering, “dead, say you?”
“Aye, Sir Paladin, all sweetly asleep in Abraham’s bosom. We three here accounted for some few betwixt us, the rest fell ’neath that great blade o’ thine. O sweet Saint Giles! ne’er saw I such sword-work—point and edge, sa-ha! And I called thee—dove!—aye ‘dove’ it was, I mind me. O blind and worse than blind! But experientia docet, tall brother!”
Now hereupon Beltane bowed his head and clasping his hands, wrung them.
“Sweet Jesu forgive me!” he cried, “I had not meant to slay so many!”
Then he arose and went apart and, kneeling among the shadows, prayed long and fervently.
WHICH TELLS HOW THREE MIGHTY MEN SWARE FEALTY TO BELTANE: AND HOW GOOD FRIAR MARTIN DIGGED A GRAVE IN THE WILD
Now when Beltane’s mighty hunger was assuaged he sat—his aching head yet ringing with the blow—and stared up at the moon, sad and wistful-eyed as one full of heaviness the while Black Roger standing beside him gazed askance at the archer who sat near by whistling softly and busied with certain arrows, cleaning and trimming them ere he set them back in his quiver. And presently Black Roger spake softly, low-stooping to Beltane’s ear: