“Ha—thou fool!” he laughed jovially, “did’st think to escape me, then —thou fool, I have followed on thy tracks all day. By the eyes of God, I would have followed thee to hell! I want thee in Garthlaxton—there be gibbets for thee above the keep—also, there are my hounds—aye, I want thee, Messire Beltane who art Duke of Pentavalon! Ho! Arnulf—a halter for his ducal throat!” So, when they had cast a noose about his neck, they dragged Beltane, choking, to his feet, and led him away gasping and staggering through the green; and having eyes, he saw not, and having ears, he heard not, being very spent and sick.
Now, as they went, evening began to fall.
OF THE AMBUSHMENT NEAR THORNABY MILL
Little by little, as he stumbled along, Beltane’s brain began to clear; he became aware of the ring and clash of arms about him, and the trampling of horses. Gradually, the mist lifting, he saw long files of men-at-arms riding along very orderly, with archers and pike-men. Little by little, amid all these hostile forms, he seemed to recognise a certain pair of legs that went on just before: sturdy legs, that yet faltered now and then in their stride, and, looking higher, he saw a broad belt whose edges were notched and saw-like, and a wide, mail-clad back that yet bent weakly forward with every shambling step. Once this figure sank to its knees, but stumbled up again ’neath the vicious prick of a pike-head that left blood upon the bronzed skin, whereat Beltane uttered a hoarse cry.
“O Black Roger!” he groaned, “I grieve to have brought thee to this!”
“Nay, lord,” quoth Roger, lifting high his drooping head, “’tis but my wound that bleeds afresh. But, bond or free, thy man am I, and able yet to strike a blow on thy behalf an heaven so please.”
“Now God shield thee, brave Roger!” sighed Beltane.
“O sweet St. Giles—and what of me, brother?” spake a voice in his ear, and turning, Beltane beheld the archer smiling upon him with swollen, bloody lips.
“Thou here too, good Giles?”
“Even so, tall brother, in adversity lo! I am with thee—since I found no chance to run other-where, for that divers rogues constrained me to abide—notably yon knave with the scar, whose mailed fist I had perforce to kiss, brother, in whose dog’s carcase I will yet feather me a shaft, sweet St. Giles aiding me—which is my patron saint, you’ll mind. Nil desperandum, brother: bruised and beaten, bleeding and in bonds, yet I breathe, nothing desponding, for mark me, a priori, brother, Walkyn and the young knight won free, which is well; Walkyn hath long legs, which is better; Walkyn hath many friends i’ the greenwood, which is best of all. So do I keep a merry heart—dum spiro spero—trusting to the good St. Giles, which, as methinks you know is my—”
The archer grew suddenly dumb, his comely face blanched, and glancing round, Beltane beheld Sir Pertolepe beside him, who leaned down from his great white horse to smile wry-mouthed, and smiling thus, put back the mail-coif from his pallid face and laid a finger to the linen clout that swathed his head above the brows.