“Will you fight, outlander?” were the first words of my lathy friend from the entry. He seemed to have been drawn up recently from a period of detention in some deep draw-well, and to have the mould of the stones still upon him.
“Why,” said I, “of course I will fight, and that gladly, if you will find me a man to fight with !”
“I will fight you myself,” he said, swelling himself. “For the end of this candle I will fight half a dozen such Baltic sausages as you be.”
“Like enough,” said I, “all in good time. But in the mean time show me the stables, that I may put up my master’s horses.”
“What know I about you or your master’s horses?” cried my Lad of Lath; “and pray why should I show the way to Bishop Peter’s good stables to every wastrel that comes sneaking in off the street and asks the freedom of our house. For aught I know you may have come to steal corn. Though, if that be so, Lord love you, you have come to the wrong place.”
“Come, stable-master,” said I, placably, “let me see a corner and a wisp of straw and I will ease the poor beasts. That will not harm the Bishop Peter, whom my master has gone to visit. He is a friend of his, a man learned in ecclesiastical affairs, who comes to hold disputations with the Bishop—”
“Disputations—what be those? Anything with money at the end of them? If so, he will be a welcome guest at this house. There is very little money at the tail of anything in this town.”
I thought I would try the effect of a broad silver piece upon him, at the same time giving the lad the information that disputations were kinds of fights with the tongues of men instead of with their fists.
The silver sweetened his face like a charm. He seized me by the hand.
“My name,” he cried, “is Peter of the Pigs. I am not stable-master, but feed the grouting piglings. And yet in a way I am indeed stable-master. For the Bishop hath had no horses since the Duke took them away to mount his cavalry for the raids into Plassenburg. So Peter of the Pigs looks after all about the yard, and precious little there is to look after—except one’s own legs getting longer and leaner every day.”
“And where is the Bishop this afternoon?” I said.
“Where should he be,” cried Peter of the Pigs, “but at the trial of the witch-woman in the Hall of Justice? It must be a rare sight. They say she is to be put to the torture, and that they want a new executioner to do it.”
“Why,” said I, struck to the heart by his words, “what is the matter with the old one?”
“Oh,” said the lad, “he is mortal sick abed. He happened an accident, or some one stuck a dagger into him—no great matter if he had stuck it through him, or cloven him to the chine with his own Red Axe!”
THE TRIAL OF THE WITCH
At this point came my master back, looking exceedingly disconsolate. A starveling, furtive-eyed monk accompanied him.