“How, ’twas but a jest, then, my Beda?” he whispered. “A jest—ha! and methinks, forsooth, the best wilt ever make!”
So saying, Sir Pertolepe stumbled forward a pace, groping before him like a blind man, then, groaning, fell, and lay a’swoon, his bloody face hidden in the grass.
And turning away, Beltane left him lying there with Beda the Jester kneeling above him.
OF THE RUEFUL KNIGHT OF THE BURNING HEART
Southward marched Beltane hour after hour, tireless of stride, until the sun began to decline; on and on, thoughtful of brow and speaking not at all, wherefore the three were gloomy and silent also—even Giles had no mind to break in upon his solemn meditations. But at last came Roger and touched him on the shoulder.
“Master,” said he, “the day groweth to a close, and we famish.”
“Why, then—eat,” said Beltane.
Now while they set about building a fire, Beltane went aside and wandering slow and thoughtful, presently came to a broad glade or ride, and stretching himself out ’neath a tree, lay there staring up at the leafy canopy, pondering upon Sir Pertolepe his sins, and the marvellous ways of God. Lying thus, he was aware of the slow, plodding hoof-strokes of a horse drawing near, of the twang of a lute, with a voice sweet and melodious intoning a chant; and the tune was plaintive and the words likewise, being these:—
“Alack and woe
That love is so
Akin to pain!
That to my heart
The bitter smart
Alack and woe!”
Glancing up therefore, Beltane presently espied a knight who bestrode a great and goodly war-horse; a youthful knight and debonair, slender and shapely in his bright mail and surcoat of flame-coloured samite. His broad shield hung behind his shoulder, balanced by a long lance whose gay banderol fluttered wanton to the soft-breathing air; above his mail-coif he wore a small bright-polished bascinet, while, at his high-peaked saddle-bow his ponderous war-helm swung, together with broad-bladed battle-axe. Now as he paced along in this right gallant estate, his roving glance, by hap, lighted on Beltane, whereupon, checking his powerful horse, he plucked daintily at the strings of his lute, delicate-fingered, and brake into song anew:—
“Ah, woe is me
That I should be
A lonely wight!
That in mankind
No joy I find
By day or night,
Ah, woe is me!”
Thereafter he sighed amain and smote his bosom, and smiling upon Beltane sad-eyed, spake:
“Most excellent, tall, and sweet young sir, I, who Love’s lorn pilgrim am, do give thee woeful greeting and entreat now the courtesy of thy pity.”
“And wherefore pity, sir?” quoth Beltane, sitting up.