Now would the woman have knelt and kissed his hand, but Beltane smiled and brought her to the door. Then, wondering and amazed, she made her obeisance to Beltane and with her babe clasped to her bosom went forth into the night. Thereafter Beltane turned and looked grave-eyed upon the three.
“My masters,” quoth he, “ye have heard my words, how this night I go to take down Black Ivo’s great gallows. Come ye with me? Aye or no?”
“Aye, lord!” cried the three in one acclaim.
“Do ye then stand with me henceforth ’gainst Black Ivo and all his might? Aye or no?”
“Aye, lord!” cried they again.
Then Beltane smiled and drew his sword and came to them, the great blade gleaming in his hand.
“’Tis well!” said he, “but first come now and lay your hands here upon my sword and swear me this, each one,—To follow ever where I shall lead, to abide henceforth in brotherhood together, to smite evil within you and without, to be pitiful to the weak, and to honour God at all times.”
Then did the three, being upon their knees, lay their hands upon the sword and swear the oath as Beltane commanded; now came the white friar and stared upon the sword and beholding the motto graven in the steel, lifted up his hand to heaven and cried aloud:—
“Now greeting and fair greeting to thee, lord Duke, may thy body be strong for war and thy head wise in the council, for Pentavalon hath dire need of thee, Beltane, son of Duke Beltane the Strong. Moreover I was sent to thee by Sir Benedict of Bourne who bids thee ’Arise and follow’ for that the time is at hand.”
“How,” cried Beltane, “art thou indeed from Sir Benedict?”
“Even so, lord. In Thrasfordham be seven hundred chosen men-at-arms, and within Bourne, mayhap a thousand more. It is become a haven for those that flee from tyranny and bitter wrong. As for me, I journey where I will within the Duchy, serving the poor and ministering to the broken-hearted, and everywhere is black sin and suffering and death. So now in the name of these oppressed do I give thee welcome to this thy sorrowful Duchy, and may God make of thee Duke indeed!”
“Duke am I in blood and Duke will I yet be in very sooth an God so will it.” Then turning to the three, who stood hearkening open-mouthed and wide of eye, he smiled and reached to them his hand.
“Good friends,” said he, “knowing nought of me yet were ye willing to follow my fortunes. For this do I thank ye one and all, and so shall my fortune, high or low, be thine, henceforth. To-day is Ivo Duke, and I thy companion-in-arms, no more, no less—this, I pray you all, remember.”
So saying, Beltane sheathed his sword and beholding Friar Martin on his knees beside that muffled figure, he knelt also, and the three with him. Thereafter at a sign from the friar, Beltane stooped and raised this slender, shrouded figure in his arms and reverently bore it out into the shadows.