Then Beltane took from his pouch flint and steel and tinder and gave them to the old man’s trembling fingers as Giles o’ the Bow came running with the stalwart friar behind him.
So, while the five stood hushed and wide of eye, the old man knelt before them in his rags and struck flint to steel. Once he struck, and twice—and behold a spark that leapt to a small flame that died to a glow; but now, flat upon his belly lay Giles and, pursing his lips, puffed and blew until the glow brightened, spread, and burst into a crackling flame that leapt from twig to twig. And when the fire waxed hot, Beltane took thence a glowing brand, and, coming to the other great pile, fired it therewith. Up rose the flames high and higher until they began to lick, pale-tongued, about the gibbet’s two great supporting timbers, and ever as they rose, Walkyn and Roger, Giles and the friar, laboured amain, stacking logs near by wherewith to feed the fires.
“Enough,” said Beltane at last, “it shall suffice, methinks.”
“Suffice?” cried the old man, his eyes bright in the ruddy glow, “aye, it shall suffice, sweet boy. See—see, the timbers catch e’en now. Ha! burn, good fire—eat, hungry flame! O, happy sight—would my dear son were here—they hanged his fair young body, but his soul—Ha, his soul! O souls of hanged men—O spirits of the dead, come about me, ye ghosts of murdered youth, come and behold the gibbet burn whereon ye died. What—are ye there, amid the smoke, so soon? Come then, let us dance together and trip it lightly to and fro—merrily, merrily! Hey boy, so ho then—so ho, and away we go!” Hereupon, tossing up gaunt arms, the old man fell to dancing and capering amid the sparks and rolling smoke, filling the air with wild talk and gabbling high-pitched laughter that rose above the roar of the fires. And so in a while Beltane, sighing, turned and led the way down the hill towards the glooming shadow of the woods; but ever as they went the flames waxed fiercer behind them and the madman’s laughter shrilled upon the air.
Swift-footed they plunged into the underbrush and thus hidden began to close in upon Belsaye town. And of a sudden they heard a cry, and thereafter the shattering blare of a trumpet upon the walls. And now from within the waking city rose a confused sound, a hum that grew louder and ever more loud, pierced by shout and trumpet-blast while high above this growing clamour the tocsin pealed alarm.
Thus, in a while the trembling citizens of Belsaye, starting from their slumber, stared in pallid amaze beholding afar a great and fiery gibbet whose flames, leaping heavenward, seemed to quench the moon.
HOW THEY BRAKE OPE THE DUNGEON OF BELSAYE
Being yet in the shade of the woods, Beltane paused, hearkening to the distant uproar of Belsaye town and watching the torches that hovered upon its walls and the cressets that glowed on tower and bartizan.