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"Since all men breathing 'neath the sky Good or evil, soon must die, Ho! bring me wine, and what care I For dying!"
It was Giles Brabblecombe singing to himself as he knelt beside a fire of twigs, and Beltane, opening sleepy eyes, looked round upon a world all green and gold and dew-bespangled; a fair world and fragrant, whose balmy air breathed of hidden flowers and blooming thickets, whence came the joyous carolling of new-waked birds; and beholding all this and the glory of it, my Beltane must needs praise God he was alive.
"Hail and good morrow to thee, brother!" cried the bowman, seeing him astir. "The sun shineth, look you, I sit upon my hams and sing for that this roasting venison smelleth sweet, while yonder i' the leaves be a mavis and a merle a-mocking of me, pretty rogues: for each and ever of which, Laus Deo, Amen!"
"Why truly, God hath made a fair world, Giles, a good world to live in, and to live is to act--yet here have I lain most basely sleeping--"
"Like any paunched friar, brother. But a few days since, I met thee in the green, a very gentle, dove-like youth that yet became a very lion of fight and demi-god of battle! Heroes were we all, last night--nay, very Titans--four 'gainst an army!--whiles now, within this balmy-breathing morn you shall see Walkyn o' the Bloody Axe with grim Black Rogerkin, down at the brook yonder, a-sprawl upon their bellies busily a-tickling trout for breakfast, while I, whose good yew bow carrieth death in every twang, toasting deer-flesh on a twig, am mocked of wanton warblers i' the green: and thou, who art an Achilles, a Hector, an Ajax--a very Mars--do sleep and slumber, soft and sweet as full-fed friar--Heigho! Yet even a demi-god must nod betimes, and Titans eat, look ye."
Now looking from sun to earth and beholding the shortening of the shadows, Beltane leapt up. Quoth he:
"Sluggard that I am, 'tis late! And Roger was wounded last night, I mind--"
"Content you, brother, 'twas nought," said Giles bending above his cooking, "the kiss of a pike-head i' the thick o' the arm--no more."
"Yet it must be looked to--"
"I did it, brother, as I shoot--that is to say I did it most excellent well: 'twill be healed within the week."
"How then--art leech as well as bowman?"
"Quite as well, brother. When I was a monk I learned two good things, videlicit: never to argue with those in authority over me, and to heal the hurts of those that did. So, by my skill in herbs and leechcraft, Roger, having a hole in his arm, recks not of it--behold here he cometh, and Walkyn too, and Laus Deo! with a trout! Now shall we feast like any pampered prelate."
So when Beltane had stripped and bathed him in the brook, they presently sat down, all four together, and ate and talked and laughed right merrily, the while lark and thrush and blackbird carolled lustily far and near.
"Now eat, brothers," cried the bowman, full-mouthed, "eat and spare not, as I do, for to-day I smell the battle from afar: Ho! Ho! the noise of captains and the shouting! Yesterday were we heroes, to-day must we be gods--yet cautious gods, for, mark me, I have but twelve shafts remaining, and with twelve shafts can but promise ye a poor twelve lives."
But now came Roger wistful-eyed, and with belt a-swing in his hand.
"Master," quoth he, "last night did we four rescue twelve. Now I'm fain to know if for these twelve I may cut twelve notches from my belt, or must we share their lives betwixt us and I count but three?"
"Three?" laughed Giles, "Oho--out upon thee, Rogerkin! Our lord here claimeth six, since he the rescue planned, next, I claim three, since but for my goodly shooting ye all had died, then hath Walkyn two, since he saved thee from the fishes, which leaveth thee--one. Quod erat demonstrandum!"
But now, seeing Roger's downcast look, Giles snatched the belt and gave it unto Beltane, who forthwith cut there-from twelve notches. And, in a while, having made an end of eating, Beltane rose and looked round upon the three.
"Good comrades all," quoth he, "well do I know ye to be staunch and trusty; yet to-day am I minded to speak with him men call Pertolepe the Red, lest he shed innocent blood for that we slew his foresters--"
"Twenty lusty fellows!" nodded Giles, with a morsel of venison on his dagger point.
"Nay, there one escaped!" quoth Roger.
"Yet he sore wounded!" said Walkyn.
"Ha! Sir Pertolepe is a terrible lord!" quoth Giles, eyeing the morsel of venison somewhat askance. "'Twill be a desperate adventure, methinks--and we but four."
"Yet each and all--gods!" quoth Walkyn, reaching for his axe.
"Aye," nodded Giles, frowning at the piece of venison, "yet are we but four gods."
"Not so," answered Beltane, "for in this thing shall we be but one. Go you three to Bourne, for I am minded to try this adventure alone."
"Alone, master!" cried Black Roger, starting to his feet.
"Alone!" growled Walkyn, clutching his axe.
"An death must come, better one should die than four," said Beltane, "howbeit I am minded to seek out Pertolepe this day."
"Then do I come also, master, since thy man am I."
"I, too," nodded Walkyn, "come death and welcome, so I but stand face to face with Pertolepe."
"Alack!" sighed Giles, "so needs must I come also, since I have twelve shafts yet unsped," and he swallowed the morsel of venison with mighty relish and gusto.
Then laughed Beltane for very gladness, and he looked on each with kindling eye.
"Good friends," quoth he, "as ye say, so let it be, and may God's hand be over us this day."
Now, as he spake with eyes uplift to heaven, he espied a faint, blue mist far away above the soft-stirring tree tops--a distant haze, that rose lazily into the balmy air, thickening ever as he watched.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, fierce-eyed of a sudden and pointing with rigid finger, "whence cometh that smoke, think ye?"
"Why," quoth Roger, frowning, "Wendonmere village lieth yonder!"
"Nay, 'tis nearer than Wendonmere," said Walkyn, shouldering his axe.
"See, the smoke thickens!" cried Beltane. "Now, God forgive me! the while I tarry here Red Pertolepe is busy, meseemeth!" So saying, he caught up his sword, and incontinent set off at speed toward where the soft blue haze stole upon the air of morning, growing denser and ever denser.
Fast and furious Beltane sped on, crashing through underbrush and crackling thicket, o'erleaping bush and brook and fallen tree, heedful of eye, and choosing his course with a forester's unerring instinct, praying fiercely beneath his breath, and with the three ever close behind.
"Would I had eaten less!" panted Giles.
"Would our legs were longer!" growled Walkyn.
"Would my belt bore fewer notches!" quoth Roger.
And so they ran together, sure-footed and swift, and ever as they ran the smoke grew denser, and ever Beltane's prayers more fervent. Now in a while they heard a sound, faint and confused: a hum, that presently grew to a murmur--to a drone--to a low wailing of voices, pierced of a sudden by a shrill cry no man's lips could utter, that swelled high upon the air and died, lost amid the growing clamour.
"They've fired the ricks first!" panted Roger; "'tis ever Pertolepe's way!"
"They be torturing the women!" hissed Walkyn; "'tis ever so Red Pertolepe's pleasure!"
"And I have but twelve arrows left me!" groaned Giles.
But Beltane ran in silence, looking neither right nor left, until, above the hum of voices he heard one upraised in passionate supplication, followed by another--a loud voice and jovial--and thereafter, a burst of roaring laughter.
Soon Beltane beheld a stream that flowed athwart their way and, beyond the stream, a line of willows thick growing upon the marge; and again, beyond these clustering willows the straggling village lay. Then Beltane, motioning the others to caution, forded the stream and coming in the shade of the osiers, drew on his hood of mail, and so, unsheathing his long sword, peered through the leaves. And this is what he saw:
A wide road flanked by rows of scattered cottages, rude of wall and thatch; a dusty road, that led away east and west into the cool depths of the forest, and a cringing huddle of wretched village folk whose pallid faces were all set one way, where some score of men-at-arms lolled in their saddles watching a tall young maid who struggled fiercely in the grasp of two lusty fellows, her garments rent, her white flesh agleam in the sunlight. A comely maid, supple and strong, who ever as she strove 'gainst the clutching hands that held her, kept her blazing eyes turned upon one in knightly mail who sat upon a great war-horse hard by, watching her, big chin in big mailed fist, and with wide lips up-curling in a smile: a strong man this, heavy and broad of chest; his casque hung at his saddle-bow, and his mail-coif, thrown back upon his wide shoulders, showed his thick, red hair that fell a-down, framing his square-set, rugged face.
"Ha, Cuthbert," quoth he, turning to one who rode at his elbow--a slender youth who stared with evil eyes and sucked upon his finger, "Aha, by the fiend, 'tis a sweet armful, Sir Squire?"
"Aye, my lord Pertolepe, 'tis rarely shaped and delicately fleshed!" answered the esquire, and so fell to sucking his finger again.
"What, silly wench, will ye defy me still?" cried Sir Pertolepe, jovial of voice, "must ye to the whip in sooth? Ho, Ralph--Otho, strip me this stubborn jade--so!--Ha! verily Cuthbert, hast shrewd eyes, 'tis a dainty rogue. Come," said he smiling down into the girl's wide, fierce eyes, "save that fair body o' thine from the lash, now, and speak me where is thy father and brother that I may do justice on them, along with these other dogs, for the foul murder of my foresters yest're'en; their end shall be swift, look ye, and as for thyself--shalt find those to comfort thee anon--speak, wench!"
But now came a woman pale and worn, who threw herself on trembling knees at Sir Pertolepe's stirrup, and, bowed thus before him in the dust, raised a passionate outcry, supplicating his mercy with bitter tears and clasped hands lifted heavenwards.
"O good my lord Pertolepe," she wailed, "'twas not my husband, nor son, nor any man of our village wrought this thing; innocent are we, my lord--"
"O witch!" quoth he, "who bade thee speak?" So saying he drew mail-clad foot from stirrup and kicked her back into the dust. "Ho, whips!" he called, "lay on, and thereafter will we hang these vermin to their own roof-trees and fire their hovels for a warning."
But now, even as the struggling maid was dragged forward--even as Pertolepe, smiling, settled chin on fist to watch the lithe play of her writhing limbs, the willows behind him swayed and parted to a sudden panther-like leap, and a mail-clad arm was about Sir Pertolepe--a mighty arm that bore him from the saddle and hurled him headlong; and thereafter Sir Pertolepe, half stunned and staring up from the dust, beheld a great blade whose point pricked his naked throat, and, beyond this blade, a mail-clad face, pallid, fierce, grim-lipped, from whose blazing eyes death glared down at him.
"Dog!" panted Beltane.
"Ha! Cuthbert!" roared Red Pertolepe, writhing 'neath Beltane's grinding heel, "to me, Cuthbert--to me!"
But, as the esquire wheeled upon Beltane with sword uplifted, out from the green an arrow whistled, and Cuthbert, shrill-screaming, swayed in his saddle and thudded to earth, while his great war-horse, rearing affrighted, plunged among the men-at-arms, and all was shouting and confusion; while from amid the willows arrows whizzed and flew, 'neath whose cruel barbs horses snorted, stumbling and kicking, or crashed into the dust; and ever the confusion grew.
But now Sir Pertolepe, wriggling beneath Beltane's iron foot had unsheathed his dagger, yet, ere he could stab, down upon his red pate crashed the heavy pommel of Beltane's sword and Sir Pertolepe, sinking backward, lay out-stretched in the dust very silent and very still. Then Beltane sheathed his sword and, stooping, caught Sir Pertolepe by the belt and dragged him into the shade of the willows, and being come to the stream, threw his captive down thereby and fell to splashing his bruised face with the cool water. And now, above the shouts and the trampling of hoofs upon the road, came the clash of steel on steel and the harsh roar of Walkyn and Black Roger as they plied axe and sword-- "Arise! Ha, arise!" Then, as Beltane glanced up, the leaves near by were dashed aside and Giles came bounding through, his gay feather shorn away, his escalloped cape wrenched and torn, his broadsword a-swing in his hand.
"Ho, tall brother--a sweet affray!" he panted, "the fools give back already: they cry that Pertolepe is slain and the woods full of outlaws; they be falling back from the village--had I but a few shafts in my quiver, now--" but here, beholding the face of Beltane's captive, Giles let fall his sword, staring round-eyed.
"Holy St. Giles!" he gasped, "'tis the Red Pertolepe!" and so stood agape, what time a trumpet brayed a fitful blast from the road and was answered afar. Thereafter came Roger, stooping as he ran, and shouting:
"Archers! Archers!--run, lord!"
But Beltane stirred not, only he dashed the water in Sir Pertolepe's twitching face, wherefore came Roger and caught him by the arm, pleading:
"Master, O master!" he panted, "the forest is a-throng with lances, and there be archers also--let us make the woods ere we are beset!"
But Beltane, seeing the captive stir, shook off Black Roger's grasp; but now, one laughed, and Walkyn towered above him, white teeth agleam, who, staring down at Sir Pertolepe, whirled up his bloody axe to smite.
"Fool!" cried Beltane, and threw up his hand to stay the blow, and in that moment Sir Pertolepe oped his eyes.
"'Tis Pertolepe!" panted Walkyn, "'tis he that slew wife and child: so now will I slay him, since we, in this hour, must die!"
"Not so," quoth Beltane, "stand back--obey me--back, I say!" So, muttering, Walkyn lowered his axe, while Beltane, drawing his dagger, stooped above Sir Pertolepe and spake, swift and low in his ear, and with dagger at his throat. And, in a while, Beltane rose and Sir Pertolepe also, and side by side they stepped forth of the leaves out into the road, where, on the outskirts of the village, pikemen and men-at-arms, archer and knight, were halted in a surging throng, while above the jostling confusion rose the hoarse babel of their voices. But of a sudden the clamour died to silence, and thereafter from a hundred throats a shout went up:
"A Pertolepe! 'Tis Sir Pertolepe!"
Now in this moment Beltane laid his dagger-hand about Sir Pertolepe's broad shoulders, and set the point of his dagger 'neath Sir Pertolepe's right ear.
"Speak!" quoth Beltane softly, and his dagger-point bit deeper, "speak now as I commanded thee!"
A while Sir Pertolepe bit savagely at his knuckle-bones, then, lifting his head, spake that all might hear:
"Ho, sirs!" he cried, "I am fain to bide awhile and hold talk with one Beltane, who styleth himself--Duke of Pentavalon. Hie ye back, therefore, one and all, and wait me in Garthlaxton; yet, an I come not by sunset, ride forth and seek me within the forest. Go!"
Hereupon from the disordered ranks a sound arose, a hoarse murmur that voiced their stark amaze, and, for a while, all eyes stared upon those two grim figures that yet stood so close and brotherly. But Sir Pertolepe quelled them with a gesture:
"Go!" he commanded.
So their disarray fell into rank and order, and wheeling about, they marched away along the forest road with helm agleam and pennons a-dance, the while Sir Pertolepe stared after them, wild of eye and with mailed hands clenched; once he made as if to call them back: but Beltane's hand was heavy on his shoulder, and the dagger pricked his throat. And thus stood they, side by side, until the tramp of feet was died away, until the last trembling villager had slunk from sight and the broad road was deserted, all save for Cuthbert the esquire, and divers horses that lay stiffly in the dust, silent and very still.
Then Beltane sighed and sheathed his dagger, and Sir Pertolepe faced him scrowling, fierce-eyed and arrogant.
"Ha, outlaw!" quoth he, "give back my sword and I will cope with thee-- wolf's head though thou art--aye, and any two other rogues beside."
"Nay," answered Beltane, "I fight with such as thee but when I needs must. What--Roger!" he called, "go fetch hither a rope!"
"Dog--would ye murder me?"
"Not so," sighed Beltane, shaking his head, "have I not promised to leave thee alive within the greenwood? Yet I would see thee walk in bonds first."
"Ha, dare ye bind me, then? He that toucheth me, toucheth Duke Ivo-- dare ye so do, rogue?"
"Aye, messire," nodded Beltane, "I dare so. Bring hither the rope, Roger." But when Roger was come nigh, Sir Pertolepe turned and stared upon him.
"What!" cried he, jovial of voice yet deadly-eyed, "is it my runaway hangman in very sooth. Did I not pay thee enough, thou black-avised knave? Did I not love thee for thy skill with the noose, thou traitorous rogue? Now, mark me, Roger: one day will I feed thee to my hounds and watch them tear thee, as they have certain other rogues-- aha!--you mind them, belike?"
Pale of cheek and with trembling hands, Roger bound the arms of him that had been his over-lord, while Walkyn and Giles, silent and wide-eyed, watched it done.
"Whither would ye take me?" quoth Red Pertolepe, arrogant.
"That shalt thou know anon, messire."
"How an I defy thee?"
"Then must we carry thee, messire," answered Beltane, "yet thine own legs were better methinks--come, let us begone."
Thus, presently, having forded the brook, they struck into the forest; first went Walkyn, axe on shoulder, teeth agleam; next strode Sir Pertolepe, head high, 'twixt pale-faced Roger and silent Beltane, while the bowman followed after, calling upon St. Giles beneath his breath and crossing himself: and ever and anon Walkyn would turn to look upon their scowling captive with eyes that glared 'neath shaggy brows.
Now after they had gone some while, Sir Pertolepe brake silence and spake my Beltane, proud and fierce.
"Fellow," quoth he, "if 'tis for ransom ye hold me, summon hither thy rogues' company, and I will covenant for my release."
"I seek no ransom of thee, messire," answered Beltane, "and for my company--'tis here."
"Here? I see but three sorry knaves!"
"Yet with these same three did I o'ercome thy foresters, Sir Pertolepe."
"Rogue, thou liest--'tis thing impossible!"
"Moreover, with these three did I, last night, burn down Black Ivo's mighty gallows that stood without Belsaye town, and, thereafter set wide the dungeon of Belsaye and delivered thence certain woeful prisoners, and sent them abroad with word that I--Beltane, son of Beltane the Strong, Duke of Pentavalon, am come at last, bearing the sword of my father, that was wont to strike deep for liberty and justice: nor, having life, will I lay it by until oppression is no more."
Now indeed did Sir Pertolepe stare upon my Beltane in amaze and spake no word for wonder; then, of a sudden he laughed, scornful and loud.
"Ho! thou burner of gibbets!" quoth he, "take heed lest thy windy boasting bring thy lordly neck within a noose! Art lusty of arm, yet lustier of tongue--and as to thy father, whoe'er he be--"
"Messire?" Beltane's voice was soft, yet, meeting the calm serenity of his gaze, Sir Pertolepe checked the jeer upon his lip and stared upon Beltane as one new-waked; beheld in turn his high and noble look, the costly excellence of his armour, his great sword and belt of silver-- and strode on thereafter with never a word, yet viewing Beltane aslance 'neath brows close-knit in dark perplexity. So, at last, they came into a little clearing deep-hid among the denser green.
Beltane paused here, and lifting mailed hand, pointed to a certain tree. But hereupon, Sir Pertolepe, staring round about him and down upon his galling bonds, spake:
"Sir knight," said he, "who thou art I know not, yet, if indeed thou art of gentle blood, then know that I am Sir Pertolepe, Baron of Trenda, Seneschal of Garthlaxton, lord warden of the marches: moreover, friend and brother-in-arms am I to Duke Ivo--"
"Nay," said Beltane, "all this I know, for much of thee have I heard, messire: of thy dark doings, of the agony of men, the shame of women, and how that there be many desolate hearths and nameless graves of thy making, lord Pertolepe. Thou wert indeed of an high estate and strong, and these but lowly folk and weak--yet mercy on them had ye none. I have this day heard thee doom the innocent to death and bitter shame, and, lord, as God seeth us, it is enough!"
Sir Pertolepe's ruddy cheek showed pale, but his blue eyes stared upon Beltane wide and fearless.
"Have ye then dragged me hither to die, messire?"
"Lord Pertolepe, all men must die, aye, e'en great lords such as thou, when they have sinned sufficiently: and thy sins, methinks, do reach high heaven. So have I brought thee hither into the wilderness that God's will may be wrought upon thee."
"How--wilt forswear thyself?" cried Sir Pertolepe, writhing in his bonds.
"Come Roger--Walkyn--bring me him to the tree, yonder."
"Ha! rogue--rogue," panted Sir Pertolepe, "would'st leave me to die in a noose, unshriven and unannealed, my soul dragged hell-wards weighted with my sins?"
Now, even as he spake, swift and sudden he leapt aside and would have fled; but Walkyn's fierce fingers dragged at his throat, and Roger's iron arms were close about him. Desperately he fought and struggled, but mighty though he was, his captors were mighty also, moreover his bonds galled him; wherefore, fighting yet, they dragged him to the tree, and to the tree Beltane fast bound him, whiles the forest rang and echoed with his panting cries until his great voice cracked and broke, and he hung 'gainst the tree, spent and breathless.
Then spake Beltane, grim-lipped yet soft of voice:
"Lord Pertolepe, fain would I hang thee as thou hast hanged many a man ere now--but this, methinks, is a better way: for here, unless some wanderer chance to find thee, must thou perish, an so God will it. Thus do we leave thee in the hands of God to grant thee life or death: and may he have mercy on thy guilty soul!"
Thus said Beltane, sombre of brow and pale of cheek; and so, beckoning to the others, turned away, despite Sir Pertolepe's passionate threats and prayers, and plunging into the dense underbrush, strode swift-footed from the place, with the captive's wild cries ringing in his ears.
Haphazard went Beltane, yet straining his ears to catch those mournful sounds that grew faint and fainter with distance till they were lost in the rustle of the leaves. But, of a sudden, he stayed his going and stood with his head aslant hearkening to a sound that seemed to have reached him from the solitudes behind; and presently it came again, a cry from afar--a scream of agony, hoarse and long drawn out, a hateful sound that checked the breath of him and brought the sweat out cold upon his brow; and now, turning about, he saw that his following was but two, for Walkyn had vanished quite. Now Giles, meeting Beltane's wide stare, must needs cough and fumble with his bow, whiles Roger stood with bowed head and fingers tight-clenched upon his quarter-staff: whereat, fierce-frowning, Beltane spake.
"Wait!" he commanded, "wait you here!" and forthwith turned and ran, and so running, came again at last to that obscure glade whence now came a sound of groans, mocked, thereafter, by fierce laughter. Now, bursting from the green, Beltane beheld Sir Pertolepe writhing in his bonds with Walkyn's fierce fingers twined in his red hair, and Walkyn's busy dagger at his upturned brow, where was a great, gory wound, a hideous cruciform blotch whence pulsed the blood that covered his writhen face like a scarlet vizard.
"Ah!" cried Beltane, "what hast thou done?"
Back fell Walkyn, fierce-eyed and grim yet with teeth agleam through the hair of his beard.
"Lord," quoth he, "this man hath slain wife, and child and brother, so do I know him thrice a murderer. Therefore have I set this mark of Cain upon him, that all men henceforth may see and know. But now, an it be so thy will, take this my dagger and slay me here and now--yet shall Red Pertolepe bear my mark upon him when I am dead."
Awhile stood Beltane in frowning thought, then pointed to the green.
"Go," said he, "the others wait thee!"
So Walkyn, obeying, turned and plunged into the green, while Beltane followed after, slow and heavy-footed. But now, even as he went, slow and ever slower, he lifted heavy head and turned about, for above the leafy stirrings rose the mournful lilting of a pipe, clear and very sweet, that drew nearer and louder until it was, of a sudden, drowned in a cry hoarse and woeful. Then Beltane, hasting back soft-treading, stood to peer through the leaves, and presently, his cock's-comb flaunting, his silver bells a-jingle, there stepped a mountebank into the clearing--that same jester with whom Beltane had talked aforetime.
"Beda!" cried Sir Pertolepe faintly, his bloody face uplifted, "and is it forsooth, thou, Beda? Come, free me of my bonds. Ha! why stay ye, I am Pertolepe--thy lord--know you me not, Beda?"
"Aye, full well I know thee, lord Pertolepe, thou art he who had me driven forth with blows and bitter stripes--thou art he who slew my father for an ill-timed jest--oho! well do I know thee, my lord Pertolepe." So saying, Beda the Jester set his pipe within his girdle, and, drawing his dagger, began to creep upon Sir Pertolepe, who shook the dripping blood from his eyes to watch him as he came. Quote he:
"Art a good fool, Beda, aye, a good fool. And for thy father, 'twas the wine, Beda--the wine, not I--come, free me of these my bonds--I loved thy father, e'en as I loved thee."
"Yet is my father dead, lord--and I am outcast!" said Beda, smiling and fingering his dagger.
"So then, will ye slay me, Beda--wilt murder thy lord? Why then, strike, fool, strike--here, i' the throat, and let thy steel be hard-driven. Come!"
Then Sir Pertolepe feebly raised his bloody head, proffering his throat to the steel and so stood faint in his bonds, yet watching the jester calm-eyed. Slowly, slowly the dagger was lifted for the stroke while Sir Pertolepe watched the glittering steel patient and unflinching; then, swift and sudden the dagger flashed and fell, and Sir Pertolepe staggered free, and so stood swaying. Then, looking down upon his severed bonds, he laughed hoarsely.
"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.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
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