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Title: Love Among the Ruins
Author: Deeping, Warwick
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Love Among the Ruins" ***

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[Illustration: Cover]



[Illustration: "FLAVIAN OF GAMBREVAULT STOOD BOUND BEFORE HER."]



                                  LOVE
                            AMONG THE RUINS


                                   BY
                            WARWICK DEEPING

                     AUTHOR OF "UTHER AND IGRAINE"


                    Grim work, sirs; what would you!
                            War is the devil.


                    _WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY W. BENDA_



                                New York
                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                     LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD.
                                  1904

                         _All rights reserved_



                          COPYRIGHT, 1904, BY
                          THE OUTLOOK COMPANY.

            Set up and electrotyped.  Published June, 1904.



                             Norwood Press
               J. S. Cushing & Co. -- Berwick & Smith Co.
                         Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



                                   TO
                          MY MOTHER AND FATHER
                      WITH ALL LOVE AND GRATITUDE



                                 PART I



                                   I


The branches of the forest invoked the sky with the supplications of
their thousand hands.  Black, tumultuous, terrible, the wilds billowed
under the moon, stifled with the night, silent as a windless sea.
Winter, like a pale Semiramis of gigantic mould, stood with her coronet
touching the steely sky.  A mighty company of stars stared frost-bright
from the heavens.

A pillar of fire shone red amid the chaos of the woods. Like a great
torch, a blazing tower hurled spears of light into the gloom.  Shadows,
vast and fantastic, struggled like Titans striving with Destiny in the
silence of the night.  Their substanceless limbs leapt and writhed
through the gnarled alleys of the forest.  Overhead, the moon looked
down with thin and silver lethargy on the havoc kindled by the hand of
man.

In a glade, all golden with the breath of the fire, blackened
battlements waved a pennon of vermilion flame above the woods.  Smoke,
in eddying and gilded clouds, rolled heavenwards to be silvered into
snow by the light of the moon.  The grass of the glade shone a dusky,
yet brilliant green; the tower’s windows were red as rubies on a pall of
sables.  About its base, cottages were burning like faggots piled about
a martyr’s loins.

Tragedy had touched the place with her ruddy hand. There had been savage
deeds done in the silence of the woods.  Hirelings, a rough pack of
mercenaries in the service of the Lord Flavian of Gambrevault, had
stolen upon the tower of Rual of Cambremont, slain him before his own
gate, and put his sons to the sword.  A feud had inspired the event, a
rotten shred of enmity woven on Stephen’s Eve in a tavern scuffle.  The
burning tower with its cracking walls bore witness to the extravagant
malice of a rugged age.

Death, that flinty summoner, salves but the dead, yet wounds the living.
It is sport with him to pile woe upon the shoulders of the weak, to
crown with thorns the brows of those who mourn.  Double-handed are his
blessings--a balm for those who sleep, an iron scourge for the living.
The quick bow down before his feet; only the dead fear him no more in
the marble philosophy of silence.

On a patch of grass within the golden whirl of the fire lay the body of
Rual of Cambremont, stiff and still. His face was turned to the heavens;
his white beard tinctured with the dye of death.  Beside him knelt a
girl whose unloosed hair trailed on his body, dark and disastrous as a
sable cloud.  The girl’s eyes were tearless, dry and dim.  Her hands
were at her throat, clenched in an ecstasy of despair.  Her head was
bowed down below her stooping shoulders, and she knelt like Thea over
Saturn’s shame.

Behind her in the shadow, his face grey in the uncertain gloom, an old
man watched the scene with a wordless awe.  He was a servant, thin and
meagre, bowed under Time’s burden, a dried wisp of manhood, living
symbol of decay.  There was something of the dog about his look, a dumb
loyalty that grieved and gave no sound.  Beneath the burning tower in
the heat of the flames, these twain seemed to mimic the stillness of the
dead.

There was other life in the glade none the less, a red relic evidencing
the handiwork of the sword.  A streak of shadow that had lain motionless
in the yellow glare of the fire, stirred in the rank grass with a
snuffling groan. There was a curt hint in the sound that brought Jaspar
the harper round upon his heel.  He moved two steps, went down on his
knees in the ooze, turned the man’s head towards the tower, and peered
into his face.  It was gashed from chin to brow, a grim mask of war,
contorted the more by the uncertain palpitations of the flames.

Jaspar had a flask buckled at his girdle.  He thrust his knee under the
man’s head, trickled wine between his lips, and waited.  The limp hands
began to twitch; the man jerked, drew a wet, stertorous breath, stared
for a moment with flickering lids at the face above him.  Jaspar craned
down, put his mouth to the man’s ear, and spoke to him.

The fellow’s lips quivered; he stirred a little, strove to lift his
head, mumbled thickly like a man with a palsied tongue.  Jaspar put his
ear to the bruised mouth and listened.  He won words out of the grave,
for his rough face hardened, his brows were knotted over the dying man’s
stumbling syllables.  The harper shouted in his ear, and again waited.

"Gam--Gambrevault, Flavian’s men, dead, all dead," ran the death
utterance.  "Ave Maria, my lips burn--St. Eulalie--St. Jude, defend
me----"

A cough snapped the halting appeal.  The man stiffened suddenly in
Jaspar’s arms, and thrust out his feet with a strong spasm.  His hands
clawed the grass; his jaw fell, leaving his mouth agape, a black circle
of death. There was a last rattling stridor.  Then the head fell back
over Jaspar’s knee with the neck extended, the eyes wide with a
visionless stare.

A shadow fell athwart the dead man and the living, a shadow edged with
the golden web of the fire.  Looking up, Jaspar the harper saw the girl
standing above him, staring down upon the dead man’s body.  The red
tower framed her figure with flame, making an ebon cloud of her hair,
her body a pillar of sombre stone.  Her face was grey, pinched, and
expressionless.  Youth seemed frozen for the moment into bleak and
premature age.

She bowed down suddenly, her hair falling forward like a cataract, her
eyes large with a tearless hunger. Pointing to the man on Jaspar’s knee,
she looked into the harper’s face, and spoke to him.

"Quick, the truth.  I fear it no longer."

Her voice was toneless and hoarse as an untuned string.  She beat her
hands together, and then stood with her fists pressed over her heart.

"Quick, the truth."

The old man turned the body gently to the grass, and still knelt at the
woman’s feet.

"It is Jean," he said, with great quietness, "Jean the swineherd.  He is
dead.  God rest his soul!"

She bent forward again with arm extended, her voice deep and hoarse in
her throat.

"Tell me, who is it that has slain my father?"

"They of Gambrevault."

"Ah!"

Her eyes gleamed behind her hair as it fell dishevelled over her face.

"And the rest--Bertrand, my brothers?"

Her voice appealed him with a gradual fear.  Jaspar the harper bowed his
face, and pointed to the tower.  The girl straightened, and stood
quivering like a loosened bow.

"God!  In there!  And Roland?"

Again the harper’s hand went up with the slow inevitableness of destiny.
The flames, as beneath the incantations of a sibyl, leapt higher,
roaring hungrily towards the heavens.  The girl swayed away some paces,
her lips moving silently, her hair fanned by the draught, blowing about
her like a veil.  She turned to the tower, thrust up her hands to it
with a strong gesture of anguish and despair.

A long while she stood in silence as in a kind of torpor, gazing at this
red pyre of the Past, where memories leapt heavenwards in a golden haze
of smoke.  The roar of the fire was as the voice of Fate.  She heard it
dim and distant like the far thunder of a sea.  Beyond, around, above,
the gaunt trees clawed at the stars with their leafless talons. Night
and the shadow of it were very apparent to the girl’s soul.

Jaspar the harper stood and watched her with a dumb and distant awe.
Her rigid anguish cowed him into impotent silence.  The woman’s soul
seemed to soar far above comfort, following the saffron smoke into the
silver æther of the infinite.  The man stood apart, holding aloof with
the instinct of a dog, from a sorrow that he could not chasten.  He was
one of those dull yet happy souls, who carry eloquence in their eyes,
whose tongues are clumsy, but whose hearts are warm.  He stood aloof
therefore from Yeoland, dead Rual’s daughter, pulling his ragged beard,
and calling in prayer to the Virgin and the saints.

Presently the girl turned very slowly, as one whose blood runs chill and
heavy.  Her eyes were still dry and crystal bright, her face like
granite, or a mask of ice.  The man Jaspar hid his glances from her, and
stared at the sod.  He was fearful in measure of gaping blankly upon so
great a grief.

"Jaspar," she said, and her voice was clear now as the keen sweep of a
sword.

He crooked the knee to her, stood shading his eyes with his wrinkled
hand.

"We alone are left," she said.

"God’s will, madame, God’s will; He giveth, and taketh away.  I, even I,
am your servant."

Her eyes lightened an instant as though red wrath streamed strongly from
her heart.  Her mouth quivered. She chilled the mood, however, and stood
motionless, save for her hands twining and twisting in her hair.

"Does Heaven mock me?" she asked him, with a level bitterness.

"How so, madame?" he answered her; "who would mock thee at such an
hour?"

"Who indeed?"

"Not even Death.  I pray you be comforted.  There is a balm in years."

They stood silent again in the streaming heat and radiance of the fire.
A sudden wind had risen.  They heard it crying far away in the infinite
vastness of the woods.  It grew, rushed near, waxed with a gradual
clamour till the bare wilds seemed to breathe one great gathering roar.
The flames flew slanting from the blackened battlements.  The trees
clutched and swayed, making moan under the calm light of the moon.

The sound thrilled the girl.  Her lips trembled, her form dilated.

"Listen," she said, thrusting up her hands into the night, "the cry of
the forest, the voice of the winter wind.  What say they but
’vengeance--vengeance--vengeance’?"



                                   II


Dawn came vaguely in a veil of mist.  A heavy dew lay scintillant upon
the grass; a great silence covered the woods.  The trees stood grim and
gigantic with dripping boughs in a vapoury atmosphere, and there seemed
no augury of sunlight in the blind grey sky.

A rough hovel under a fir, used for the storing of wood, had given
Yeoland and the harper shelter for the night. The sole refuge left to
them by fire, the hut had served its purpose well enough, for grief is
not given to grumbling over externals in the extremity of its distress.

The girl Yeoland was astir early with the first twitter of the birds in
the boughs overhead.  Jaspar had made her a couch of straw, and she had
lain there tossing to and fro with no thought of sleep.  The moon had
sunk early over the edge of the world, and heavy darkness had wrapped
her anguish close about her soul, mocking her with the staring of a dead
face.  The burning tower had ceased to torch her vigil towards dawn; yet
there had been no fleeing from the pale candour of the night.

A slim, white-faced woman she stood shivering in the doorway of the
hovel.  Her eyes were black and lustrous--swift, darting eyes full of
dusky fire and vivid unrest. Her mouth ran a red streak, firm above her
white chin. Her hair gleamed like sable steel.  The world was cold about
her for the moment, dead and inert as her own heart. As she stood there,
fine and fragile as gossamer, the very trees seemed to weep for her with
the dawning day.

Some hundred paces from the hut, a cloud of smoke mingled with the mist
that hung about the blackened walls of the forest tower.  Its windows
were blind and frameless to the sky; a zone of charred wood and reeking
ashes circled its base.  The mist hung above it like a ghostly memory.
The place looked desolate and pitiful enough in the meagre light.

The girl Yeoland watched the incense of smoke wreathing grey spirals
overhead, melting symbolic--into nothingness. The pungent scent of the
ruin floated down to her, and became a recollection for all time.  This
blackened shell had been a home to her, a bulwark, nay, a cradle.
Sanguine life had run ruddy through its heart.  How often had she seen
its grey brow crowned with gold by the mystic hierarchy of heaven.  She
had found much joy there and little sorrow.  A wrinkled face had taught
her these many years to cherish the innocence of childhood.  All this
was past; the present found her bankrupt of such things.  The place had
become but a coffin, a charnel-house for the rotting bones of love.

As she brooded in the doorway, the smite of a spade came ringing to her
on the misty air.  Terse and rhythmic, it was like the sound of Time
plucking the hours from the Tree of Life.  She looked out over the
glade, and saw Jaspar the harper digging a shallow grave under an oak.

She went and watched him, calmly, silently, with the utter quiet of a
measureless grief.  There was reason in this labour.  It emphasised
reality; helped her to grip the present.  As the brown earth tumbled at
her feet, she remembered how much she would bury in that narrow forest
grave.

The man Jaspar was a ruddy soul, like a red apple in autumn.  His strong
point was his loyalty, a virtue that had stiffened with the fibres of
his heart.  He could boast neither of vast intelligence, nor of
phenomenal courage, but he had a conscience that had made gold of his
whole rough, stunted body.  Your clever servant is often a rogue; in the
respect of apt villainy, the harper was a fool.

He ceased now and again from his digging, hung his hooked chin over his
spade, and snuffed the savour of the clean brown earth.  He thrust curt,
furtive glances up into the girl’s face as she watched him, as though
desirous of reading her humour or her health.

"You are weary," she said to him anon, looking blankly into the trench.

The man wagged his head.

"Have ye broken fast?  There is bread and dried fruit in the hut, and a
pitcher of water."

"I cannot eat--yet," she answered him.

He sighed and continued his digging.  The pile of russet earth increased
on the green grass at her feet; the trench deepened.  Jaspar moistened
his palms, and toiled on, grunting as he hove his libations of soil over
his shoulder.  Presently he stood up again to rest.

"What will you do, madame?" he asked her, squinting at the clouds.

"Ride out."

"And whither?"

"Towards Gilderoy--as yet."

"Ah, ah, a fair town and strong.  John of Brissac is madame’s friend.
Good.  Have we money?"

"Some gold nobles."

They waxed silent again, and in a while the grave lay finished.  ’Twas
shallow, but what of that!  It gave sanctuary enough for the dead.

They went together, and gazed on the sleeping man’s face.  It was grey,
but very peaceful, with no hint of horror thereon.  The eyes were
closed, and dew had starred the white hair with a glistening web.
Yeoland knelt and kissed the forehead.  She shivered and her hands
trembled, but she did not weep.

So they carried the Lord Rual between them, for he was a spare man and
frugal of frame, and laid him in the grave beneath the oak.  When they
had smoothed his hair, and crossed his hands upon his breast, they knelt
and prayed to the Virgin and the saints that in God’s heaven he might
have peace.  The wind in the boughs sang a forest requiem.

When Yeoland had looked long at the white face in the trench, she rose
from her knees, and pointed Jaspar to his spade.  The harper took the
measure of her mind.  When she had passed into the shadows of the trees,
he mopped his face, and entered on his last duty to the dead.  It was
soon sped, soon ended.  A pile of clean earth covered the place.  Jaspar
banked the grave with turf, shouldered his spade, and returned to the
hovel.

He found the girl Yeoland seated on a fallen tree in the forest, her
ebon hair and apple-green gown gleaming under the sweeping boughs.  Her
cheeks were white as windflowers, her eyes full of a swimming gloom.
She raised her chin, and questioned the man mutely with a look that
smouldered under her arched brows.

"Jaspar?"

"Madame----"

"Have you entered the tower?"

The man’s wrinkled face winced despite his years.

"Would you have me go?" he asked her in a hoarse undertone.

She looked into the vast mazes of the woods, shuddered in thought, and
was silent.  Her mouth hardened; the desire melted from her eyes.

"No," she said anon, turning her hood forward, and drawing a green cloak
edged with sables about her, "what would it avail us?  Let us sally at
once."

A little distance away, their horses, that had been hobbled over night,
stood grazing quietly on a patch of grass under the trees.  One was a
great grey mare, the other a bay jennet, glossy as silk.  Jaspar caught
them.  He was long over the girths and bridles, for his hands were
stiff, and his eyes dim.  When he returned, Yeoland was still standing
like a statue, staring at the blackened tower reeking amid the trees.

"Truly, they have burnt the anguish of it into my heart with fire," she
said, as Jaspar held her stirrup.

"God comfort you, madame!"

"Let us go, Jaspar, let us go."

"And whither, lady?"

"Where revenge may lead."

The day brightened as they plunged down into the forest. A light breeze
rent the vapours, and a shimmer of sunlight quivered through the haze.
The tree-tops began to glisten gold; and there was life in the deepening
promise of the sky.  The empty woods rolled purple on the hills; the
greensward shone with a veil of gossamer; the earth grew glad.

The pair had scant burden of speech upon their lips that morning.  They
were still benumbed by the violence of the night, and death still
beckoned to their souls.  Fate had smitten them with such incredible and
ponderous brevity. On the dawn of yesterday, they had ridden out hawk on
wrist into the wilds, lost the bird in a long flight, and turned
homeward when evening was darkening the east.  From a hill they had seen
the tower lifting its flame like a red and revengeful finger to heaven.
They had hastened on, with the glare of the fire spasmodic and lurid
over the trees.  In one short hour they had had speech with death, and
came point to point with the bleak sword of eternity.

What wonder then that they rode like mutes to a burial, still of tongue
and dull of heart?  Life and the zest thereof were at low ebb,
colourless as a wintry sea.  Joy’s crimson wings were smirched and
broken; the lute of youth was unstrung.  A granite sky had drawn low
above their heads, and to the girl a devil ruled the heavens.

Before noon they had threaded the wild waste of woodland that girded the
tower like a black lagoon.  They came out from the trees to a heath, a
track that struck green and purple into the west, and boasted nought
that could infringe the blue monotony of the sky.  It was a wild region,
swept by a wind that sighed perpetually amid the gorse and heather. By
the black rim of the forest they had dismounted and partaken of bread
and water before pushing on with a listless persistence that won many
miles to their credit.

The man Jaspar was a phlegmatic soul in the hot sphere of action.  He
was a circumspect being who preferred heading for the blue calm of a
haven in stormy weather, to thrusting out into the tossing spume of the
unknown. The girl Yeoland, on the contrary, had an abundant spirit, and
an untamed temper.  Her black eyes roved restlessly over the world, and
she tilted her chin in the face of Fate. Jaspar, knowing her fibre,
feared for her moods with the more level prudence of stagnant blood.
Her obstinacy was a hazardous virtue, hawk-like in sentiment, not given
to perching on the boughs of reason.  Moreover, being cumbered with a
generous burden of pity, he was in mortal dread of wounding her pale
proud grief.

By way of being diplomatic, he began by hinting that there were
necessities in life, trivial no doubt, but inevitable, as sleep and
supper.

"Lord John of Brissac is your friend," he meandered, "a strong lord, and
a great; moreover, he hates those of Gambrevault, God chasten their
souls!  Fontenaye is no long ride from Gilderoy.  Madame will lodge
there till she can come by redress?"

Madame had no thought of being beholden to the gentleman in question.
Jaspar understood as much from a very brief debate.  Lord John of
Brissac was forbidden favour, being as black a pard when justly blazoned
as any seigneur of Gambrevault.  The harper’s chin wagged on maugre her
contradiction.

"We have bread for a day," he chirped, dropping upon banalities by way
of seeming wise.  "The nights are cold, madame, damp as a marsh.  As for
the water-pot----"

"Water may be had--for the asking."

"And bread?"

"I have money."

"Then we ride for Gilderoy?"

The assumption was made with an excellent unction that betrayed the
seeming sincerity of the philosopher. Yeoland stared ahead over her
horse’s ears, with a clear disregard for Jaspar and his discretion.

"We are like leaves blown about in autumn," she said to him, "wanderers
with fortune.  You have not grasped my temper.  I warrant you, there is
method in me."

Jaspar looked blank.

"Strange method, madame, to ride nowhere, to compass nothing."

She turned on him with a sudden rapid gleam out of her passionate eyes.

"Nothing!  You call revenge nothing?"

The harper appealed to his favourite saint.

"St. Jude forfend that madame should follow such a marsh fire," he said.

They had drawn towards the margin of the heath. Southwards it sloped to
the rim of a great pine forest, that seemed to clasp it with ebonian
arms.  The place was black, mysterious, impenetrable, fringed with a
palisading of dark stiff trunks, but all else, a vast undulation of
sombre plumes.  Its spires waved with the wind. There was a soundless
awe about its sable galleries, a saturnine gloom that hung like a
curtain.  In the vague distance, a misty height seemed to struggle above
the ocean of trees, like the back of some great beast.

Yeoland, keen of face, reined in her jennet, and pointed Jaspar to this
landscape of sombre hues.  There was an alert lustre in her eyes; she
drew her breath more quickly, like one whose courage kindles at the cry
of a trumpet.

"The Black Wild," she said with a little hiss of eagerness, and a glance
that was almost fierce under her coal-black brows.

Jaspar shook his head with the cumbersome wit of an ogre.

"Ha, yes, madame, a bloody region, packed with rumours, dark as its own
trees; no stint of terror, I warrant ye.  See yonder, the road to
Gilderoy."

The girl in the green cloak seemed strongly stirred by her own thoughts.
Her face had a wild elfin look for the moment, a beautiful and daring
insolence that deified her figure.

"And Gilderoy?" she said abstractedly.

"Gilderoy lies south-east; Gambrevault south-west many leagues.
Southwards, one would find the sea, in due season.  Eastwards, we touch
Geraint, and the Roman road."

Yeoland nodded as though her mind were already adamant in the matter.

"We will take to the forest," ran her decretal.

Here was crass sentiment extravagantly in the ascendant, mad wilfulness
pinioning forth like a bat into gloom. Jaspar screwed his mouth into a
red knot, blinked and waxed argumentative with a vehemence that did his
circumspection credit.

"A mad scheme."

"What better harbour for the night than yonder trees?"

"Who will choose us a road?  I pray you consider it."

Yeoland answered him quietly enough.  She had set her will on the
venture, was in a desperate mood, and could therefore scorn reason.

"Jaspar, my friend," she said, "I am in a wild humour, and ripe for the
wild region.  Peril pleases me.  The unknown ever draweth the heart,
making promise of greater, stranger things.  What have I to lose?  If
you play the craven, I can go alone."



                                  III


The avenues of the pine forest engulfed the harper and the lady.  The
myriad crowded trunks hemmed them with a stubborn and impassive gloom.
A faint wind moved in the tree-tops.  Dim aisles struck into an
ever-deepening mystery of shadow, as into the dark mazes of a dream.

The wild was as some primæval waste, desolate and terrible, a vast flood
of sombre green rolling over hill and valley.  Its thickets plunged
midnight into the bosom of day.  On the hills, the trees stood like
traceried pinnacles, spears blood-red in the sunset, or splashed with
the glittering magic of the moon.  There were dells sunk deep beneath
crags; choked with dense darkness, unsifted by the sun.  Winding alleys
white with pebbles as with the bones of the dead, wound through seething
seas of gorse. In summer, heather sucked with purple lips at the
tapestries of moss blazoning the ground, bronze, green, and gold.  It
was a wild region, and mysterious, a shadowland moaned over by the voice
of a distressful wind.

Yeoland held southwards by the gilded vane of the sun. She had turned
back her hood upon her shoulders, and fastened her black hair over her
bosom with a brooch of amethysts.  The girl was wise in woodlore and the
philosophies of nature.  The sounds and sights of the forest were like a
gorgeous missal to her, blazoned with all manner of magic colours.  She
knew the moods of hawk and hound, had camped often under the steely
stare of a winter sky, had watched the many phases of the dawn.  Hers
was a nature ripe for the hazardous intent of life.  It was she who led,
not Jaspar.  The harper followed her with a martyred reason, having, for
all his discontent, some faith in her keen eyes and the delicate
decision of her chin.

There was a steady dejection in the girl’s mood--a dejection starred,
however, with red wrath like sparks glowing upon tinder.  She was no
Agnes, no Amorette, mere pillar of luscious beauty.  Her eyes were as
blue-black shields, flashing with many sheens in the face of day.  The
flaming tower, the dead figure in the forest grave, had thrust the
gentler part out of her being.  She was miserable, mute, yet full of a
volcanic courage.

As for the harper, a rheumy dissatisfaction pervaded his temper.  His
blood ran cold as a toad’s in winter weather. He blew upon his fingers,
dreaming of inglenooks and hot posset, and the casual luxuries the
forest did not promise. Yeoland considered not the old man’s babblings.
Her heart looked towards the dawn, and knew nothing of the twilight
under the dark eaves of age.

They had pressed a mile or more into the waste, and the day was waxing
sere and yellow in the west.  Before them ran a huge thicket, its floor
splashed with tawny splendours, the sable plumes touched with gold by
the sun.  Its deep bosom hung full of purple gloom, dusted with amber,
wild and windless.

A sudden "hist" from his lady’s lips made the harper start in the
saddle.  Her hand had snatched at his bridle. Both horses came to a
halt.  The man looked at her as they sat knee to knee; she was alert and
vigilant, her eyes bright as the eyes of a hawk.

"Marked you that?" she said to him in a whisper.

Jaspar gave her a vacant stare and shook his head.

"Nothing?"

"Boughs swaying in the wind, no more."

Yeoland enlightened him.

"Tush.  There’s no wind moving.  A glimmer of armour, yonder, up the
slope."

"Holy Jude!"

"A flash, it has gone."

They held silent under the drooping boughs, listening, with noiseless
breath.  The breeze made mysterious murmurings with a vague unrest; now
and again a twig cracked, or some forest sound floated down like a filmy
moth on the quiet air.  The trees were dumb and saturnine, as though
resenting suspicion of their sable aisles.

Jaspar, peering over his shoulder, jerked out a word of warning.
Yeoland, catching the monosyllable from his lips, and following his
stare, glanced back into the eternal shadows of the place.

"I see nothing," she said.

Jaspar answered her slowly, his eyes still at gaze.

"A shadow slipping from trunk to trunk."

"Where?"

"I see it no longer.  The saints succour us!"

Yeoland’s face was dead white under her hair; her mouth gaped like a
circle of jet.  She listened constantly. Her head moved in stately
fashion on her slim neck, as she shot glances hither and thither into
the glooms, her eyes challenging the world.  She felt peril, but was no
craven in the matter--a contrast to Jaspar, who shook as with an ague.

The harper’s distress broke forth into petulant declaiming.

"Trapped," he said; "I could have guessed as much, with all this
fooling.  These skulkers are like crows round carrion.  Shall we lose
much, madame?"

"Gold, Jaspar, if they are content with such.  What if they should be of
Gambrevault!"

The harper gave a quivering whistle, a shrill breath between his teeth,
eloquent of the unpleasant savour of such a chance.  It was beyond him
for the moment whether he preferred being held up by a footpad, to being
bullied by some ruffian of a feudatory.  He had a mere bodkin of a
dagger in his belt, and little lust for the letting of blood.

"’Tis a chance, madame," he said, with a certain lame sententiousness,
"that had not challenged my attention. Say nothing of Cambremont; one
word would send us to the devil."

"Am I a fool?  Since these gentlemen will not declare themselves, let us
hold on and tempt their purpose."

Thinking to see the swirl of shadows under the trees, the glimmer of
steel in the forest’s murk, they rode on at a lifeless trot.  Nothing
echoed to their thoughts.  The woods stood impassive, steeped in
solitude.  There was a strange atmosphere of peace about the place that
failed to harmonise their fears.  Yet like a prophecy of wind there
stole in persistently above the muffled tramp of hoofs, a dull,
characterless sound, touched with the crackling of rotten wood, that
seemed to hint at movement in the shadows.

The pair pressed on vigilant and silent.  Anon they came to a less
multitudinous region, where the trees thinned, and a columned ride
dwindled into infinite gloom. Betwixt the black stems of the trees
flashed sudden a streak of scarlet, torchlike in the shadows.  An armed
rider in a red cloak, mounted on a sable horse, kept vigil silently
between the boles of two great firs.  He was immobile as rock, his spear
set rigid on his thigh, his red plume sweeping the green fringes of the
trees.

This solemn figure stood like a sanguinary challenge to Yeoland and the
harper.  Here at least was something tangible in the flesh, more than a
mere shadow.  The pair drew rein, questioning each other mutely with
their eyes, finding no glimmer of hope on either face.

As they debated with their glances over the hazard, a voice came crying
weirdly through the wood.

"Pass on," it said, "pass on.  Pay ye the homage of the day."

This forest cry seemed to loosen the dilemma.  Certainly it bore wisdom
in its counsel, seeing that it advised the inevitable, and ordered
action.  Yeoland, bankrupt of resource, took the unseen herald at his
word, and rode on slowly towards the knight on the black horse.

The man abode their coming like a statue, his red cloak shining
sensuously under the sombre green of the boughs. A canopy of golden fire
arched him in the west.  He sat his horse with a certain splendid
arrogance, that puzzled not a little the conjectures of Yeoland and the
harper. This was neither the mood nor the equipment of a vagabond soul.
The fine spirit of the picture hinted briskly at Gambrevault.

The pair came to a halt under the two firs.  The man towered above them
on his horse, grim and gigantic, a great statue in black and burnished
steel.  His salade with beaver lowered shone ruddy in the sun.  His
saddle was of scarlet leather, bossed with brass and fringed with sable
cord.  Gules flamed on his shield, devoid of all device, a strong wedge
of colour, bare and brave.

The girl caught the gleam of the man’s eyes through the grid of his
vizor.  He appeared to be considering her much at his leisure with a
keen silence, that was not wholly comforting.  Palpably he was in no
mood for haste, or for such casual courtesies that might have ebbed from
his soundless strength.

Full two minutes passed before a deep voice rolled sonorously from the
cavern of the casque.

"Madame," it said, "be good enough to consider yourself my prisoner.
Rest assured that I bring you no peril save the peril of an empty
purse."

There was a certain powerful complacency in the voice, pealing with the
deep clamour of a bell through the silence of the woods.  The man seemed
less ponderous and sinister, giant that he was.  The girl’s eyes fenced
with him fearlessly under the trees.

"Presumably," she said to him, "you are a notorious fellow; I have the
misfortune to be ignorant of these parts and their possessors.  Be so
courteous as to unhelm to me."

Her tone did not stir the man from his reserve of gravity. Her words
were indeed like so many ripples breaking against a rock.  The voice
retorted to her calmly from the helmet.

"Madame, leave matters to my discretion."

She smiled in his face despite herself, a smile half of petulance, half
of relish.

"You pretend to wisdom, sir."

"Forethought, madame."

"Am I your prisoner?"

"No new thing, madame; I have possessed you since you ventured into
these shadows."

He made a gesture with his spear, holding it at arm’s length above his
head, where it quivered like a reed in his staunch grip.  A sound like
the moving of a distant wind arose.  The dark alleys of the wood grew
silvered with a circlet of steel.  The shafts of the sunset flickered on
pike and bassinet, gleaming amid the verdured glooms. Again the man’s
spear shook, again the noise as of a wind, and the girdle of steel
melted into the shadows.

"Madame is satisfied?"

She sucked in her breath through her red lips, and was mute.

"Leave matters to my discretion.  You there, in the brown smock, fall
back twenty paces.  Madame, I wait for you.  Let us go cheek by jowl."

The man wheeled his horse, shook his spear, hurled a glance backward
over his shoulder into the woods.  There was no gainsaying him for the
moment.  Yeoland, bending to necessity, sent Jaspar loitering, while she
flanked the black destrier with her brown jennet.  She debated keenly
within herself whither this adventure could be leading her, as she rode
on with this unknown rider into the wilds.

The man in the red cloak was wondrous mute at first, an iron pillar of
silence gleaming under the trees.  The girl knew that he was watching
her from behind his salade, for she caught often the white glimmer of
his stare.  He bulked largely in the descending gloom, a big man deep of
chest, with shoulders like the broad ledges of some sea-washed rock.  He
was richly appointed both as to his armour and his trappings; to Yeoland
his shield showed a blank face, and he carried no crest or token in his
helmet.

They had ridden two furlongs or more before the man stepped from his
pedestal of silence.  He had been studying the girl with the mood of a
philosopher, had seen her stark, strained look, the woe in her eyes, the
firm closure of her lips.  The strong pride of grief in her had pleased
him; moreover he had had good leisure to determine the character of her
courage.  His first words were neither very welcome to the girl’s ears
nor productive of great comfort, so far as her apprehensions were
concerned. Bluntly came the calm challenge from the casque.

"Daughter of Rual of Cambremont, you have changed little these five
years."

Yeoland gave the man a stare.  Seeing that his features were screened by
his helmet, the glance won her little satisfaction.  She knew that he
was watching her to his own profit, and her discovery, for the reflex
look she had flashed at him, must have told him all he desired, if he
had any claim to being considered observant.  There was that also in the
tone and tenor of his words that implied that he had ventured no mere
tentative statement, but had spoken to assure her that her name and
person were not unknown to him.  Acting on the impression, she tacitly
confessed to the justice of his charge.

"Palpably," she said, "my face is known to you."

"Even so, madame."

"How long will you hold me at a disadvantage?"

"Is ignorance burdensome?"

She imagined of a sudden that the man was smiling behind his beaver.
Being utterly serious herself, she discovered an illogical lack of
sympathy in the stranger’s humour.  Moreover she was striving to spell
Gambrevault from the alphabet of word and gesture, and to come to an
understanding with the doubts of the moment.

"Messire," she began.

"Madame," he retorted.

"Are you mere stone?"

For answer he lapsed into sudden reflection.

"It is five years ago this Junetide," he said, "since the King and the
Court came to Gilderoy."

"Gilderoy?"

"You know the town, madame?"

She stared back upon a sudden vision of the past, a past gorgeous with
the crimson fires of youth.  That Junetide she had worn a new green
gown, a silver girdle, a red rose in her hair.  There had been jousting
in the Gilderoy meadows, much braying of trumpets, much splendour, much
pomp of arms.  She remembered the scent and colour of it all; the blaze
of tissues of gold and green, purple and azure.  She remembered the
flickering of a thousand pennons in the wind, the fair women thronging
the galleries like flowers burdening a bowl.  The vision came to her
undefiled for the moment, a dream-memory, calm as the first pure pageant
of spring.

"And you, messire?" she said, with more colour of face and soul.

"Rode in the King’s train."

"A noble?"

"Do I bulk for a cook or a falconer?"

"No, no.  Yet you remember me?"

"As it were yesterday, walking in the meadows at your father’s
side--your father, that Rual who carried the banner when the King’s men
stormed Gaerlent these forty years ago.  Not, madame, that I followed
that war; I was a mass of swaddling-clothes puking in a cradle.  So we
grow old."

The girl’s face had darkened again on the instant. The man in the red
cloak saw her eyes grow big of pupil, her lips straightened into a
colourless line.  She held her head high, and stared into the purple
gloom of the woods.  Memories were with her.  The present had an iron
hand upon her heart.

"Time changes many things," he said, with a discretion that desired to
soften the silence; "we go from cradle to throne in one score years,
from life to clay in a moment. Pay no homage to circumstance.  The wave
covers the rock, but the granite shows again its glistening poll when
the water has fallen.  A Hercules can strangle Fate.  As for me, I know
not whether I have soared in the estimation of heaven; yet I can swear
that I have lost much of the vagabond, sinful soul that straddled my
shoulders in the past."

There was a warm ruggedness about the man, a flippant self-knowledge,
that touched the girl’s fancy.  He was either a strong soul, or an utter
charlatan, posing as a Diogenes.  She preferred the former picture in
her heart, and began to question him again with a species of picturesque
insolence.

"I presume, messire," she said, "that you have some purpose in life.
From my brief dealings with you, I should deem you a very superior
footpad.  I gather that it is your intention to rob me.  I confess that
you seem a gentleman at the business."

The man of the red cloak laughed in his helmet.

"To be frank, madame," he said, "you may dub me a gatherer of taxes."

"Explain."

"Being unfortunates and outcasts from the lawful ways of life, my men
and I seek to remedy the injustice of the world by levying toll on folk
more happy than ourselves."

"Then you condemn me as fortunate?"

"Your defence, madame."

The girl smiled with her lips, but her eyes were hard and bright as
steel.

"I might convince you otherwise," she said, "but no matter.  Why should
I be frank with a thief, even though he be nobly born?"

"Because, madame, the thief may be of service to the lady."

"I have little silver for your wallet."

"Am I nothing but a money-bag!"

She looked up at him with a straight stare; her voice was level, even
imperious.

"Put up your vizor," she said to him.

The man in the black harness hesitated, then obeyed her. She could see
little of his face, however, save that it was bronzed, and that the eyes
were very masterful.  She ventured further in the argument, being bent
on fathoming the baser instincts of the business.

"Knight of the red shield," she said.

"Madame?"

"I ask you an honest question.  If you would serve me, speak the truth,
and let me know my peril.  Are you the Lord Flavian of Gambrevault, or
no?"

The man never hesitated an instant.  There was no wavering to cast doubt
upon his sincerity, or upon his intelligence as a liar.

"No, madame," he answered her, "I am not the Lord of Gambrevault and
Avalon, and may I, for the sake of my own neck, never come single-handed
within his walls.  I have an old feud with the lords of Gambrevault, and
when the chance comes, I shall settle it heavily to my credit.  If you
have any ill to say of the gentleman, pray say it, and be happy in my
sympathy."

"Ha," she said, with a sudden flash of malice, "I would give my soul for
that fellow’s head."

"So," quoth the man, with a keen look, "that would be a most delectable
bargain."



                                   IV


The stems thinned about them suddenly, and the sky grew great beyond a
more meagre screen of boughs.  To the west, breaking the blood-red
canopy with an edge of agate, rocks towered heavenwards, smiting
golden-fanged into a furnace of splendour.  Waves of light beat in spray
upon the billowy masses of the trees, dying in the east into a majestic
mask of gloom.

Yeoland and the man in red came forth into a little glade, hollowed by
the waters of a rush-edged pool.  A stream, a scolloped sheet of foam,
stumbled headlong into the mere, vanishing beyond like a frail white
ghost into the woods.  A fire danced in the open, and under the trees
stood a pavilion of red cloth.

The man dismounted and held the girl’s stirrup.  A quick glance round
the glade had shown her bales of merchandise, littering the green carpet
of the place, horses tethered in the wood, men moving like gnomes about
the fire.  Even as she dismounted, streaks of steel shone out in the
surrounding shadows.  Armed men streamed in, and piled their pikes and
bills about the pines.

At the western end of the glade, a gigantic fir, a forest patriarch,
stood out above the more slender figures of his fellows.  The grotesque
roots, writhing like talons, tressled a bench of boughs and skins.
Before the tree burnt a fire, the draught sweeping upwards to fan the
fringe of the green fir’s gown.  The man in the black harness took
Yeoland to the seat under the tree.  The boughs arched them like a
canopy, and the wood fire gave a lusty heat in the gloaming.

A boy had run forward to unhelm the knight in the red cloak.  Casque and
sword lay on the bench of boughs and skins.  The girl’s glance framed
for the first time the man’s face.  She surveyed him at her leisure
under drooping lids, with a species of reticent interest that escaped
boldness.  It was one of those incidents to her that stand up above the
plain of life, and build individual history.

She saw a bronzed man with a tangle of tawny-red hair, a great beak of a
nose, and a hooked chin.  His eyes were like amber, darting light into
the depth of life, alert, deep, and masterful.  There was a rugged and
indomitable vigour in the face.  The mouth was of iron, yet not unkind;
the jaw ponderous; the throat bovine.  The mask of youth had palpably
forsaken him; Life, that great chiseller of faces, had set her tool upon
his features, moulding them into a strenuous and powerful dignity that
suited his soul.

He appeared to fathom the spirit of the girl’s scrutiny, nor did he take
umbrage at the open and critical revision of her glances.  He inferred
calmly enough, that she considered him by no means blemishless in
feature or in atmosphere.  Probably he had long passed that age when the
sanguine bachelor never doubts of plucking absolute favour from the eyes
of a woman.  The girl was not wholly enamoured of him.  He was rational
enough to read that in her glances.

"Madame is in doubt," he said to her, with a glimmer of a smile.

"As to what, messire?"

"My character."

"You prefer the truth?"

"Am I not a philosopher?"

"Hear the truth then, messire, I would not have you for a master."

The man laughed, a quiet, soundless laugh through half-closed lips.
There was something magnetic about his grizzled and ironical strength,
cased in its shell of blackened steel.  He had the air of one who had
learnt to toy with his fellows, as with so many strutting puppets.  The
world was largely a stage to him, grotesque at some seasons, strenuous
at others.

"Ha, a miracle indeed," he said, "a woman who can tell the truth."

She ignored the gibe and ran on.

"Your name, messire?"

The man spread his hands.

"Pardon the omission.  I am known as Fulviac of the Forest.  My heritage
I judge to be the sword, and the shadows of these same wilds."

Yeoland considered him awhile in silence.  The firelight flickered on
his harness, glittering on the ribbed and jointed shoulder plates,
striking a golden streak from the edge of each huge pauldron.  Mimic
flames burnt red upon his black cuirass, as in a darkened mirror.  The
night framed his figure in an aureole of gloom, as he sat with his
massive head motionless upon its rock-like throat.

"Five years ago," she said suddenly, "you rode as a noble in the King’s
train.  Now you declare yourself a thief. These things do not harmonise
unless you confess to a dual self."

"Madame," he answered her, "I confess to nothing.  If you would be wise,
eschew the past, and consider the present at your service.  I am named
Fulviac, and I am an outlaw.  Let that grant you satisfaction."

Yeoland glanced over the glade, walled in with the gloom of the woods,
the stream foaming in the dusk, the armed men gathered about the further
fire.

"And these?" she asked.

"Are mine."

"Outcasts also?"

"Say no hard things of them; they are folk whom the world has treated
scurvily; therefore they are at feud with the world.  The times are out
of joint, tyrannous and heavy to bear.  The nobles like millstones grind
the poor into pulp, tread out the life from them, that the wine of
pleasure may flow into gilded chalices.  The world is trampled under
foot.  Pride and greed go hand in hand against us."

She looked at him under her long lashes, with the zest of cavil
slumbering in her eyes.  Autocracy was a hereditary right with her, even
though feudalism had slain her sire.

"I would have the mob held in check," she said to him.

"And how?  By cutting off a man’s ears when he spits a stag.  By
splitting his nose for some small sin.  By branding beggars who thieve
because their children starve. Oh, equable and honest justice!  God
prevent me from being poor."

She looked at him with her great solemn eyes.

"And you?" she asked.

He spread his arms with a half-flippant dignity.

"I, madame, I take the whole world into my bosom."

"And play the Christ weeping over Jerusalem?"

"Madame, your wit is excellent."

A spit had been turning over the large fire, a haunch of venison being
basted thereon by a big man in the cassock of a friar.  Certain of
Fulviac’s fellows came forward bearing wine in silver-rimmed horns,
white bread and meat upon platters of wood.  They stood and served the
pair with a silent and soldierly briskness that bespoke discipline.  The
girl’s hunger was as healthy as her sleek, plump neck, despite the day’s
hazard and her homeless peril.

Dusk had fallen fast; the last pennon of day shone an eerie streak of
saffron in the west.  The forest stood wrapped in the stupendous
stillness of the night.  An impenetrable curtain of ebony closed the
glade with its rush-edged pool.

Fulviac’s servers had retreated to the fire, where a ring of rough faces
shone in the wayward light.  The sound of their harsh voices came up to
the pair in concord with the perpetual murmur of the stream.  Yeoland
had shaken the bread-crumbs from her green gown.  She was comforted in
the flesh, and ready for further foining with the man who posed as her
captor.

"Sincerity is a rare virtue," she said, with a slight lifting of the
angles of her mouth.

"I can endorse that dogma."

"Do you pretend to the same?"

"Possibly."

"You love the poor, conceive their wrongs to be your own?"

Fulviac smiled in his eyes like a man pleased with his own thoughts.

"Have I not said as much?"

"Well?"

"I revere my own image."

"And fame?"

He commended her and unbosomed in one breath.

"Pity," he said, "is often a species of splendid pride.  We toil, we
fight, we labour.  Why?  Because below all life and effort, there burns
an immortal egotism, an eternal vanity.  ’Liberty, liberty,’ we cry,
’liberty and justice man for man.’  Yet how the soul glows at the sound
of its own voice!  The human self hugs fame, and mutters, ’Lo, what a
god am I in the eyes of the world!’"



                                   V


Silence fell between them for a season, a silence deep and intangible as
the darkness of the woods.  The man’s mood had recovered its subtle
calm, even as a pool that has been stirred momentarily by the plashing
of a stone sinks into rippleless repose.  He sat with folded arms before
the flare of the fire, watching the girl under his heavy brows.

She was very fair to look upon, slim, yet spirited as a band of steel.
Her ears shone out from her dusky hair like apple blossoms in a mist of
leaves.  Her lips were blood-red, sensitive, clean as the petals of a
rose.  Her great grief had chastened her.  From the curve of her neck to
the delicate strength of her white hands, she was as rich an idyll as a
man could desire.

Fulviac considered her with a thought that leant philosophically towards
her beauty.  He had grown weary of love in his time; the passions of
youth had burnt to dry ashes; possibly he had been luckless in his
knowledge of the sex.  He had married a wife of irreproachable birth, a
lady with a sharp nose and a lipless mouth, eyes of green, and a most
unholy temper.  She was dead, had been dead many years.  The man had no
delirious desire to meet her again in heaven.  As for this girl, he had
need of her for revolutionary reasons, and his mood to her was more that
of a father.  Her spirit pleased him.  Moreover, he knew what he knew.

Gazing at the flames, he spread his hands to them, and entered again on
the confines of debate.  His voice had the steady, rhythmic insistence
of a bell pealing a curfew. Its tone was that of a man not willing to be
gainsaid.

"Therefore, madame, I would have you understand that I desire in some
measure to be a benefactor to the human race."

"I take your word for it," she answered him.

"That I am an ambitious man, somewhat vain towards fame, one that can
glow in soul."

"A human sun."

"So."

"That loves to be thought great through warming the universe."

"Madame, you are epigrammatic."

"Or enigmatic, messire."

"As you will," he answered her; "your womanhood makes you an enigma; it
is your birthright.  Understand that I possess power."

"Fifty cut-throats tied to a purse."

"Consider me a serious figure in the world’s sum."

"As you will, messire.  You are an outlaw, a leader of fifty vagabonds,
a man with ideals as to the establishing of justice.  You are going to
subvert the country.  Very good.  I have learnt my lesson.  But how is
all this going to help me out of the wood?"

Fulviac took his sword, and balanced it upon his wrist. The red light
from the fire flashed on the swaying steel.

"Our hopes are more near of kin, madame, than you imagine."

"Well?"

"Flavian of Gambrevault’s raiders burnt your home, slew your father,
exterminated your brethren.  This happened but a day ago.  You do not
love this Flavian of Gambrevault."

Her whole figure stiffened spasmodically as at the prick of a sword.
Her eyes, with widely open pupils, flashed up to Fulviac’s face.  She
questioned him through her set teeth with a passionate whisper of
desire.

"How do you know this?"

His face mellowed; the arm bearing the sword was steady as the limb of
an oak.

"I am wiser in many ways than you imagine," he said. "Look at me, I am
no longer young; I hate women; I patronise God.  You are a mere child;
to you life is dark and perilous as this wilderness of pines.  Your
trouble is known to me, because it is my business to know of such
things.  It was my deliberate intent that you should fall into my hands
to-day."

The girl was still rigidly astonied.  She stared at him mutely with
dubious eyes.  The man and his philosophy were beyond her for the
moment.

"Well?" she said to him with a quaver of entreaty.

"First, you will honour me by saying that I have your trust."

"How may I promise you that?"

"Because I am surety for my own honour."

She smiled in his face despite the occasion.

"You seem very sure of your own soul," she said.

"Madame, it has taken me ten years to come by so admirable a state.
Self-knowledge carried to the depths, builds up self-trust.  I may take
it for granted that you hate the Lord Flavian of Gambrevault?"

"Need you ask that!"

Her eyes echoed the mood of the flame.  Fulviac, watching her, saw the
strong wrack of wrath twisting her delicate features for the moment into
pathetic ugliness.

"You have courage," he said to her.

"Ample, messire."

"Flavian of Gambrevault is the greatest lord in the south."

"I am as wise."

"On that score, this Flavian and Fulviac of the Forest are
irreconcilable as day and night."

The man stood his sword pommel upwards in the grass, and ran on.

"Some day I shall slay this same Flavian of Gambrevault. His blood will
expiate the blood of these your kinsfolk.  Therefore, madame, you will
be my debtor."

"That is all?" she asked him with a wistfulness in her voice that was
even piteous.

Fulviac looked long into the fire like a man whose thoughts channel
under the crust of years.  Pity for the girl had gone to the heart under
the steel cuirass, a pity that was not the pander of desire.  His eyes
took a new meaning into their keen depths; he looked to have grown
suddenly younger by some years.  When he spoke again, his voice had lost
its half-mocking and grandiose confidence. It was the voice of a man who
strides generous and eager into the breach of fate.

"Listen," he said to her, "I may tell you that your sorrow has armed my
manhood.  Give me my due; I am more than a mere vagabond.  You have been
cruelly dealt with; I take your cause upon the cross of my sword."

"You, messire?"

"Even so.  I need a good woman, a brave woman. You please me."

"Well?"

"You are a necessity to me."

"And why, messire?"

"For a matter of religion and of justice.  Trust to my honour.  You
shall learn more in due season."

Yeoland, smitten with incredulity, stared at the man in mute surmise.
Here was an amazing circumstance--robbery idealised, soul, body, purse,
at one bold swoop.  In her mystification, she could find nothing to say
to the man for the moment, even though he had promised her a refuge.

"You are very sure of yourself," she said at length.

"I am a man."

"Yet you leave me in ignorance."

"Madame, we are to undertake great deeds together, great perils.  I
could hold up an astonishing future to your eyes, but for the present I
keep silence.  Rest assured that you shall be accorded such honour as
the Virgin herself could desire.  Remember that I give you promise of
vengeance, and a home."

The girl drew a deep breath, as though taking the spirit of the hour
into her bosom.

"If I refuse?" she said to him.

"You cannot refuse," came the level retort.

"And why, messire?"

"Your consent, though pleasant, is not necessary in the matter.  I have
long ago determined to appropriate you to my ambition."



                                   VI


Fulviac’s lair lay deep within the waving wilderness of pines.  Above
the spires of the forest, a massive barrier of rock thrust up its rugged
bartisans into the blue.  East and west it stretched a mile or more,
concavitated towards the north, and standing like a huge breakwater amid
the sea of boughs.

The rocky plateau above was peopled by pines and rowans, thatched also
with a wild tangle of briar, whin, and heather.  Crannies cleft into it;
caves tunnelled its massive bosom; innumerable minarets of stone mingled
with the wind-wracked trees.  The cliffs rose like the walls of a castle
donjon from the forest floor, studded with dwarf trees, bearded with
ferns and grass.  The plateau was inaccessible from the forest save by a
thin rocky track, where the western slope of the cliff tailed off to
merge into the trees.

The significance of the place to Fulviac lay in the existence of a
cavern or series of caves piercing the cliff, and opening both upon the
southern and northern facades of the mass.  A wooden causeway led to the
southern entry, bridging a small gorge where a stream foamed under the
pines.  The yawn of the southern opening had been built up with great
blocks of stone, and the rough walls pierced by narrow squints, and a
gate opening under a rounded arch.

Within, the roof of the main cavern arched abruptly upwards, hollowing a
great dome over the smooth floor beneath.  This grotesque and
rock-ripped hall served as guard-room and dormitory, a very various
chamber. Winding ways smote from it into the black bowels of the cliff.
The height of the main cavern dwindled as it tunnelled northwards into
the rock.  A second wall of stone partitioned the guard-room from a
second and smaller chamber, lit always by a great lamp pendent from the
ceiling, a chamber that served Fulviac as state-room.

From Fulviac’s parlour the cavern narrowed to a throat-like gallery that
had been expanded by human craft into a third and smaller room.  This
last rock chamber was wholly more healthy and habitable than the others.
Its walls stood squarely from floor to rocky roof, and it was blessed
with a wide casement, that stared northwards over a vista of obeisant
trees.  A postern gave entry to the room from a narrow platform, and
from this ledge a stairway cut in the flank of the cliff dwindled into
the murk of the forest below.

A more romantic atmosphere had swept into the bleak galleries of the
place that winter.  Plundered stores were ransacked, bales of
merchandise ungirded, caskets and chests pilfered as for the endowing of
the chamber of a queen. The northern room in the cliff blossomed into
the rich opulence of a lady’s bower.  Its stone walls were panelled with
old oak carvings taken from some ancient manor. There were tapestries of
green, gold, and purple; an antique bed with a tester of silver silk,
its flanks blazoned with coloured escutcheons.  Painted glass, azure,
red, and gold, jewelled the casement, showing also Sebastian bound to
his martyr’s tree.  A Jew merchant plundered on the road had surrendered
a set of brazen ewers, a lute inlaid with pearl, a carpet woven on the
looms of the purple East. There were mirrors of steel about the walls.
A carved prayer-desk, an embroidery frame, a crucifix wrought in ivory:
Fulviac had consecrated all these to Yeoland, dead Rual’s daughter.

A white lily amid a horde of thistles!  The girl’s life had drawn under
the black shadow of the cliff, and into the clanging torrent of these
rough men of the sword.  It was a wild age and a wild region.  Fulviac’s
rogues were like wolves in a forest lair, keen, bloody, and relentless.
There was a rude strain of violence running through the strenuous mood
of the place, like the song of Norse rovers, piercing the roar of the
sea.  Mystery enveloped the girl, war, and the sound of the sword.  She
fumbled at the riddle of Fate with the trembling fingers of one who
unbars a prison gate in the hush of night.  It was all strange and
fantastic beyond the riot of a dream.

"Madame," Fulviac had said to her when he had hung a key at her girdle,
"I have bidden you trust me; remember that I trust you in turn.  Take
this room as your sanctuary.  Lock me out when you will.  I prepare,
among other things, to perfect your vengeance."

Yeoland suffered him and her necessity.  She was shrewdly wise in the
conviction that it would be useless to rebel against the man.  Though
over-masterful and secretive, his purpose appeared benignant in the
opulence of its favour.  Moreover, the forest was as a vast web holding
her within the maze of the unknown.

"I have no alternative," she said to him, "I am in your power.  And yet,
I believe you are no villain."

"Your charity pleases me.  I am a man with a strong purpose."

"For good?"

"Do I not need you?"

"Am I then so powerful a person?"

"You will learn anon."

"You seem something of a mystic," she said to him.

"Madame," he retorted, "trust my discretion.  In due season I shall
unfold to you certain aspects of life that will kindle your sympathies.
I shall appeal to the woman in you.  When you are wise you will commend
my ambition."

"You speak in riddles."

"Wait.  As yet you see through a glass darkly."

From the mountainous north to the warm southern sea, from the wooded
west to the eastern fens, the good King ruled, holding many great barons
in feudal faith, and casting his fetters of gold over Church and State.
Chivalry moved through the world to the clangour of arms and the songs
of the troubadour.  Lutes sounded on terrace and in garden, fair women
bloomed like roses, bathed in a sensuous blaze of romance.  Baron made
war upon baron; glory and death were crowned together.  The painter
spread his colours in the halls of the great; the goldsmith and the
carver wrought wondrous things to charm the eye.  Church bells tolled.
Proud abbots carried the sword, and made fine flutter among the women.
Innumerable saints crowded the avenues to heaven.  It was a fair age and
very lovely, full of colour and desire, music and the odour of romance.

And the poor?  Their lot hung largely on the humour of an overlord, or
the state of a gentleman’s stomach.  They had their saints’ days, their
games, their pageants, their miracle plays.  They had hovels of clay and
wattle; labour in wind and rain; plagues and pestilences in the rotting
filth of their city alleys.  They marked the great folk go by in silks
and cloth of gold, saw the pomp and opulence of that other life,
remembered their own rags and their squealing children.

And yet, consider the broad inclinations of the world. To eat, to be
warm, to satisfy the flesh, to ease a lust, to drink beer.  There was no
very vast gulf betwixt the rich man and the poor.  The one feasted to
music, the other scraped a bone to the dirge of toil.  They had like
appetites, like satisfactions, and hell is considered to be Utopian in
the extreme.  The poor man envied the rich; the rich man ruled the poor.
Envy, that jingling demagogue, has made riotous profit out of such a
stew since the world was young.

Fulviac’s cliff was shut out from the ken of man by leagues of woodland,
moor, and waste.  The great pine forest girded it in its inmost bosom.
No wayfarers rode that way; no huntsman ranged so deep; the place had an
evil rumour; many whom it had welcomed had never returned.  Romancers
had sung of it, the lay of Guingamor. Horror ruled black-browed over its
pine-cumbered hills, its gloomy depths.  Solitude abode there, as over a
primæval sea, and there was no sound save the moan or storm-cry of the
wind over its troubled trees.

According to legend lore, Romulus peopled Rome with the offscourings of
Italy.  Fulviac had emulated the device with the state-craft of a strong
conspirator.  The forest stood a grand accomplice, abetting him with its
myriad sentinels, who gossiped solely with the wind.  The venture had
been finely conceived, finely edificated.  A cliff, a cave, five-score
armed men.  Not a vast power on the face of it to threaten a system or
to shake a throne.  Superficialities were fallacious, the surface false
and fair as glistening ice.  The forest hid more than a company of
ruffians banded together to resist tyranny.  Enthusiasm, genius, vigour,
such torches, like a burning hovel, can fling a city into flame.

As for the girl Yeoland, she was more than mocked by the swift vagaries
of life.  Two days of mordant realism had erased from her heart the
dream visions of childhood. To be declared homeless, kinless, in one
day; to be bereft of liberty the next!  To what end?  She stared round
the richly-garnished room into which Fate had thrust her, fingered the
pearl-set lute, gazed at her own face in the steel mirrors.  She was the
same woman, yet how differently circumstanced!  Fulviac’s mood had not
hinted at love, or at any meaner jest.  What power could he prophesy to
his advantage in the mere fairness of her face? What was the gall of a
woman’s vengeance to a man who had conceived the downfall of a kingdom?

Her knowledge of psychology was rustic in the extreme, and she had no
wit for the unravelling of Fulviac’s subtleties.  There were certain
convictions, however, that abode with her even in her ignorance.  She
could have taken oath that he was no mere swashbuckler, no captain of
outlaws, no mere spoiler of men.  Moreover, she believed him to be the
possessor of some honour, and a large guerdon of virility. Lastly, pity
appealed her as a sentiment not to be discarded. The man, whoever he
might be, appeared desirous of putting his broad shoulders betwixt her
and the world.

Fulviac grew perspicuous sooner than she could have prophesied.  He had
a fine, cloud-soaring way with him that seemed to ignore the mole-hills
of common circumspection. He had wit enough also to impose his trust on
others with a certain graceful confidence that carried bribery in the
very generosity of its hardiness.

March was upon them like a spirit of discord, wild, riotous weather,
with the wind thundering like storm-waves upon the cliff.  The pines
were buffeting each other in the forest, and reeling beneath the
scourgings of the breeze. Fulviac came to the girl one windy noon, when
the caverns were full of the breath of the storm.  His manner to her
seemed as a significant prelude, heralding the deep utterance of some
human epic.

Fulviac took the girl by a winding stair leading from the guard-room--a
stair that circled upwards in the thickness of the rock some hundred
steps or more, and opened into a basin-shaped pit on the plateau above.
Dwarf trees and briars domed the hollow, giving vision of a grey and
hurrying sky.  The pair climbed a second stair that led to a rock
perched like a pulpit on the margin of the southern precipice.  The wind
swept gusty and tempestuous over the cliff.  It tossed back the girl’s
hood, made her stagger; she would have fallen had not Fulviac gripped
her arm.

Below stretched an interminable waste of trees, of bowing pine-tops, and
dishevelled boughs.  The dull green of the forest merged into the grey
of the cloud-strewn sky.  On either hand the craggy bulwarks of the
cliffs stretched east and west, its natural bartisans and battlements
topped by a cornice of mysterious pines.  It was a superb scene, rich
with a wild liberty, stirred by the wizard chanting of the wind.

Fulviac watched the girl as she stood limned against the grey curtain of
the sky.  Her hair blew about her white throat and shoulders in sombre
streams; her eyes were very bright under their dusky lashes; and the
wind had kissed a stronger colour into her cheeks.  She was clad in a
kirtle of laurel-green cloth, bound about the waist with a girdle of
silver.  A white kerchief lay like snow over her shoulders and bosom;
her green sleeves were slashed and puffed with crimson.

"Wild country," he said, looking in her eyes.

"Wild as the sea."

"You are a romanticist."

She gave a curt laugh.

"After what I have suffered!"

"Romance and sorrow go hand in hand.  For the moment my words are more
material.  You see this cliff?"

She turned to him and stood watching his face.

"This cliff is the core of a kingdom.  A granite wedge to hurl feudalism
to ruins, to topple tyranny."

She nodded slowly, with a grave self-reservation.

"You have hinted that you are ambitious," she said.

"Ambition would have stormed heaven."

"And your ladder?"

The man made a strong gesture, like one who points a squadron to the
charge.  His eyes shone with a glint of grimness under his shaggy brows.

"The rabid discontent of the poor, fermenting ever under the crust of
custom.  The hate of the toiler for the fop and the fool.  The iron that
lies under the rusting injustice of riches.  The storm-cry of a people’s
vengeance against the tyrant and the torturer."

Yeoland, solemn of face, groped diligently amid her surmises.  The man
was a visionary by his own showing; it was impossible to mistake him for
a fool.  Like all beings of uncommon power, he combined imagination with
that huge vigour of mind that moves the world.  A vast element of
strength lay coiled in him, subtle, yet overpowering as the body of some
great reptile.  The girl felt the gradual magic of his might mesmerising
her with the inevitableness of its approach.

"You have brought me here?" she asked him.

"As I promised."

"Well?"

"To tell you something of the truth."

She looked at him with a penetrating frankness that was in
spirit--laudatory.

"You put great trust in me," she said.

"That I may trust the more."

He sat himself down on a ledge of rock, and proceeded to parade before
her imagination such visions as were well conceived to daze the reason
of a girl taken fresh from a forest hermitage.  He spoke of riot,
revolution, and revenge; painted Utopias established beneath the
benediction of a just personal tyranny, a country purged of oppression,
a kingdom cleansed of pride.  He told of arms stored in the warrens of
the cliff, of grain and salted meat sufficient for an army.  He pointed
out the vast strength of the place, the plateau approachable only by the
stairway in the cliff, and the narrow causeway towards the west.  He
described it as sufficient for the gathering and massing of a great
host. Finally, he swept his hand over the leagues of forestland, dark as
the sea, isleting the place from the ken of the world.

"You understand me?" he said to her.

She nodded and waited with closed lips.  He gazed at the horizon, and
spoke in parables.

"The King and the nobles are throned upon a pile of brushwood.  A torch
is plunged beneath; a tempest scourges the beacon into a furnace.  The
kingdom burns."

"Yes?"

"Consider me no mere visionary; I have the country at my back.  For five
years the work has gone on in secret.  I have trusted nothing to chance.
It needs a bold man to strike at a kingdom.  I--Fulviac, am that man."



                                  VII


The free city of Gilderoy climbed red-roofed up a rocky hill, a hill
looped south-east and west by the blue breadth of the river Tamar.  Its
castle, coroneting the central rock, smote into the azure, a sheaf of
glistening towers and turrets, vaned with gold.  Lower still, the
cathedral’s sable crown brooded above a myriad red-tiled roofs and
wooden gables.  Many fair gardens blazoned the higher slopes of the
city.  Tall walls of grey stone ringed round the whole, grim and quaint
with bartisan and turret.  To the north, green meadows dipped to the
billowy distance of the woods.  The silver streak of the sea could be
seen southwards from the platforms of the castle.

Gilderoy was a rich city and a populous, turbulent withal, holding
honourable charters from the King, exceeding proud of its own freedom.
Its Guilds were the wealthiest in all the south; the coffers of its
Commune overflowed with gold.  Nowhere was fairer cloth woven than in
Gilderoy.  Nowhere could be found more cunning smiths, more subtle
armourers.  The mansions of its rich merchant folk were wondrous opulent
and great, bedight with goodly tapestry and all manner of rare
furniture.  Painters had gathered to it from the far south; its
courtezans were the joy of the whole kingdom.

Two days after his confessions on the cliff, Fulviac took horse, mounted
Yeoland on a white palfrey, and rode for Gilderoy through the forest.
The man was upholstered as a merchant, in a plum-coloured cloak, a cap
of sables, and a Venetian mail cape.  Yeoland wore a light blue jupon
edged with silver, a green kirtle, a cloak of brocaded Tartarin.  She
rode beside the man, demure as a daughter, her bridle of scarlet leather
merry with silver bells.  Two armed servants and some six packhorses
completed the cavalcade.

Fulviac had fallen into one of his silent moods that day. He was
saturnine and enigmatic as though immersed in thought.  The girl won
nothing from him as to the purpose of their ride.  They were for
Gilderoy; thus much he vouchsafed her, and no more.  She had a shrewd
belief that he was for giving her tangible evidence of the hazardous
schemes that were fermenting under the surface of silence, and that she
was to learn more of the tempest that was gathering in the dark.  Being
tactful in her generation, she asked him no questions, and kept her
conjectures to herself.

They broke their ride to pass the night at a wayside hostelry, where the
road from Gambrevault skirted the forest.  Holding on at their good
leisure on the following day, they entered Gilderoy by the northern
gate, towards evening, with the cathedral bell booming a challenge to
the distant sea.  Crossing the great square with its tall mansions of
carved oak and chiselled stone, they plunged into a narrow highway that
curled downhill under a hundred overhanging gables.  Set back in a murky
court, a tavern hung out its gilded sign over the cobbles, a Golden
Leopard, that groaned in the wind on its rusty hinges.  The inn’s
casements glowed red under the gloom of roof and bracket.  Fulviac rode
into its stone-paved court with its balustraded gallery, its carved
stairways, its creaking lamps swaying under the high-peaked gables.

Their horses were taken by a lean groom, blessed with a most malevolent
squint.  On the lower step of the gallery stair stood a rotund little
man, with a bunch of keys reposing on his stomach, the light from a
lantern overhead shining on his bald pate, as on a half sphere of
alabaster. He seemed to sweat beef and beer at every pore.  Shuffling
his feet, he tilted his double chin to the sky, as though he were
conducting a monologue under the stars.

"No brew yet," he hummed in a high falsetto, throaty and puling from so
ponderous a carcase.

Fulviac set one foot on the stairs.

"St. Prosper’s wine, fat Jean," he said.

The rotund soul turned his face suddenly earthwards, as though he had
been jerked down by one leg out of heaven.

"Ah, sire, it is you."

"Who else?  What of the good folk of Gilderoy?"

"Packed like a crowd of rats in a drain.  Will your honour sup?"

The man stood aside with a great sweep of the hand, and a garlic-ladened
breath given full in Yeoland’s face.

"And the lady, sire, a cup of purple; the roads are dry?"

Fulviac pushed up the stairs.

"We are late, and supped as we came.  Your private cellar will suit us
better."

"Of a truth, sire, most certainly."

"Send the men back with the horses; Damian has his orders, and your
money-bag."

"Rely on my dispatch, sire."

"Well, then, roll on."

Fat Jean, sweaty deity of pot and gridiron, took the keys from his
girdle and a lantern from a niche in the wall. Going at a wheezy
shuffle, he led them by a long passage and two circles of stairs to a
cellar packed with hogsheads, tuns, and great vats of copper.  From the
first cellar a second opened, from the second, a third.  In the last
vault Jean rolled a cask from a corner, turned a flagstone on its side,
showed them a narrow stairway descending into the dark.

Fulviac took the lantern, made a sign to Jean, and passed down the
stairway with Yeoland at his heels.  The tavern-keeper remained above in
the cellar, and closed the stone when the last gleam of the light had
died down the stair. He rolled the cask back into its place, and felt
his way back by cellar and stairway to the benignant glow of his own
tavern room.

Fulviac and the girl had descended the black well of the stair.  Tunnels
of gloom ran labyrinthine on every hand; a musty scent burdened the air,
and fine sand covered the floor.  Fulviac held the lantern
shoulder-high, took Yeoland’s wrist, and moved forward into a great
gallery that sloped downwards into the depths of the rock.  The place
was silent as the death-chamber of a pyramid.  The lantern fashioned
fantastic shadows from the gloom.

Yeoland held close to the man with an instinct towards trust that made
her smile at her own thoughts.  Fulviac had been in her life little more
than a week; yet his unequivocating strength had won largely upon her
liking--in no sentimental sense indeed, but rather with the calm command
of power.  Possibly she feared him a very little. Yet with the despair
of a wrecked mariner she clung to him, in spirit, as she would have
clung to a rock.

As they passed down the gallery with the lantern swinging in Fulviac’s
hand, she began to question him with a quiet persistence.

"What place is this?" she said.

For retort, Fulviac pointed her to the wall, and held the lantern to aid
her scrutiny.  The girl saw numberless recesses excavated in the rock;
some had been bricked up and bore tablets; others were packed with
grinning skulls. There were scattered paintings on the walls, symbolic
daubs, or scenes from scriptural history.  The place was meaningless to
the girl, save that the dead seemed ever with them.

Fulviac smiled at her solemn face.

"The catacombs of the city of Gilderoy," he said; "yonder are the niches
of the dead.  These paintings were made by early folk, centuries ago.  A
veritable maze this, a gallery of skulls, a warren for ghosts to squeak
in."

Yeoland had turned to scan a tablet on the wall.

"We go to some secret gathering?" she asked.

Fulviac laughed; the sound echoed through the passages with
reverberating scorn.

"The same dark fable," he said, "telling of vaults and secret stairs,
passwords and poniards, masks and murder. Remember, little sister, you
are to be black and subtle to the heart’s chords.  This is life, not a
romance or an Italian fable.  We are men here.  There is to be no
strutting on the stage."

The girl loitered a moment, as though her feet kept pace with her
cogitations.

"I am content," she said, "provided I may eschew poison, nor need run a
bodkin under some wretch’s ribs."

"Be at peace on that score.  I have not the heart to make a Rosamund of
you."

Sudden out of a dark bye-passage, like a rat out of a hole, a man sprang
at them and held a knife at Fulviac’s throat.  The mock merchant gave
the password with great unconcern, putting his cap of sables back from
off his face. The sentinel crossed himself, fell on one knee, and gave
them passage.  Turning a bluff buttress of stone, they came abruptly
upon a short gallery that widened into a great circular chamber,
pillared after the manner of a church.

A flare of torches harassed the shadowy vault, and played upon a
thousand upturned faces that seemed to surge wave on wave out of the
gloom.  In the centre of the crypt stood an altar of black marble, and
before it on the dais, a priest with a cowl down, a rough wooden
crucifix in his hand.  A knot of men in armour gleamed about the altar,
ringing a clear space about the steps.  Others, with drawn swords, kept
the entries of the galleries leading to the cavern.  A great quiet hung
over the place, a silence solid as the rock above.

A group of armed men waited for Fulviac at the main entry to the crypt.
He merged into their ranks, exchanging signs and words in an undertone
with one who seemed in authority.  The ring of figures pressed through
the crowd towards the altar, Fulviac and Yeoland in their midst.
Fulviac mounted the steps, and drew the girl up beside him.  He
uncovered his face to the mob with the gesture of a king uncovering to
his people.

"Fulviac, Fulviac!"

The press swayed suddenly like the black waters of a lake, stirred by
the rush of flood water through a broken dam.  The ring of armed men
gave up the shout with a sweeping of swords and a clangour of harness.
The great cavern took up the cry, reverberating it from its thundering
vault.  A thousand hands were thrust up, as of the dead rising from the
sea.

Yeoland watched the man’s face with a mute kindling of enthusiasm.  As
she gazed, it beaconed forth a new dignity to her that she had never
seen thereon before.  A sudden grandeur of strength glowed from its
weather-beaten features.  The mouth and jaw seemed of iron; the eyes
were full of a stormy fire.  It was the face of a man transfigured,
throned above himself on the burning pinnacle of power.  He towered
above the mob like some granite god, colossal in strength, colossal in
courage.  His manhood flamed out, a watch-fire to the world.

As the cry dwindled, the priest, who still kept his cowl down over his
face, held his crucifix on high, and broke into the strident cadence of
a rebel ballad.  The people followed as by instinct, knowing the song of
old.  Many hundred voices gathered strenuously into the flood, the
massed roar rolling through the great crypt, echoing along the galleries
like the sound of some subterranean stream. It was a deep chant and a
stirring, strong with the strength of the storm wind, fanatic as the
sea.

The silence that fell at the end thereof was the more solemn in contrast
to the thundering stanzas of the hymn. Under the flare of the torches,
Fulviac stood forward to turn the task from the crucifix to the sword.

"Men of Gilderoy."

A billow of cheering dashed again to the roof.

"Fulviac, Fulviac!"

The man suffered the cry to die into utter silence, before leaping into
a riot of words, a harangue that had more justification in it than
appeal.  His voice filled the cavern with its volume and depth.  It was
more the voice of a captain thundering commands to a squadron of horse
than the declamatory craft of the orator.  Fulviac knew the mob, that
they were rough and turbulent, and loved a demagogue.  Scholastic
subtleties could never fill their stomachs.

"Men of Gilderoy, I come to you with the sword. Bombast, bombast, come
hither all, I’ll laden ye with devilry, puff you up with pride.  Ha, who
is for being strong, who for being master?  Listen to me.  Damnation and
death, I have the kingdom in the palm of my hand.  Liberty, liberty,
liberty.  We strike for the people. Geraint is ours; Gore is ours; all
the southern coast waits for the beacons.  Malgo of the Mountain holds
the west like a storm cloud under his cloak.  The east raves against the
King.  Good.  Who is for the stronger side, for Fulviac, liberty, and
the people?"

He halted a moment, took breath, quieted all clamour with a sweep of the
hand, plunged on again like a great carrack buffeting tall billows.

"Are there spies here?  By God, let them listen well, and save their
skins.  Go and tell what ye have heard. Set torch to tinder.  Blood and
fire, the country would be in arms before the King could stir.  No, no,
there are no spies in Gilderoy; we are all brothers here.  By my sword,
sirs, I swear to you, that before harvest tide, we shall sweep the
nobles into the sea."

A great shout eddied up to answer him.  Fulviac’s voice pierced it like
a trumpet cry.

"Liberty, liberty, and the people!"

Sound can intoxicate as well as wine.  The thunder of war, the bray of
clarions, can fire even the heart of the coward.  The mob swirled about
the altar of black marble, vociferous and eager.  Torches rocked to and
fro in the cavern; shadows leapt grotesquely gigantic over the rough
groinings of the roof.  Yet Fulviac had further and fiercer fuel for the
fire.  At a sign from him, the circle of armed men parted; two peasants
stumbled forward bearing a cripple in their arms.  They carried him up
the steps and set him upon the altar before all the people, supporting
him as he stared round upon the sea of faces.

He was a shrivelled being, yellow, black of eye, cadaverous. He looked
like a man who had wallowed for years among toads in a pit, and had
become as one of them. His voice was cracked and querulous, as he
brandished a claw of a hand and screamed at the crowd.

"Look at me, mates and brothers.  Five years ago I was a tall man and
lusty.  I forbade the Lord of Margradel my wife.  They racked and
branded me, tossed me into a stinking pit.  I am young, young.  I shall
never walk again."

A woman rushed from the crowd, grey-haired, fat, and bloated.  She
climbed the altar steps, and stretched out her hands in a kind of frenzy
towards the people.

"Look at me, men of Gilderoy.  Last spring I had a daughter, a clean
wench as ever danced.  Seek her from John of Brissac and his devils.
Ha, good words these for a mother.  Men of Gilderoy, remember your
children."

Fulviac’s pageant gathered grimly before the mob.  A blind man tottered
up and pointed to his sightless eyes. A girl held up an infant, and told
shrilly of its father’s murder.  One fellow displayed a tongueless
mouth; another, a face distorted by the iron; a third had lost nose and
ears; a fourth showed arms shrivelled and contracted by fire.  It was a
sinister appeal, strong yet piteous.  The tyranny of the age showed in
the bodies of these wronged and mutilated beings.  They had been mere
carrion tossed under the iron heel of power.  The granite car of
ruthless opulence and passion had crushed them under its reddened
wheels.

At a gesture from Fulviac, the priest upon the steps threw back his cowl
and stood forward in the torchlight. His face was the face of a zealot,
fanatical, sanguine, lined with an energy that was prophetic of power.
His eyes smouldered under their straight black brows.  His hands, white
and bony, quivered as he stretched them out towards the people.

They knew him on the instant; their clamour told as much.  Often had the
shadow of that thin figure fallen athwart the parched highways of
stricken cities.  Often had those hands tended death, those lips smitten
awe into the souls of the drunkard and the harlot.

"Prosper, Prosper the Preacher!"

There rang a rude, rough joy in the clamour that was spontaneous and
eloquent.  It was the heart’s cry of the people, wild, trusting, and
passionate.  Men and women broke through the circle of armed men, cast
themselves upon the altar steps, kissed the friar’s gown, and fawned on
him. He put them back with a certain awkward dignity, and a hot colour
upon his almost boyish face.  The man had a fine humility, though the
strenuous ideals of his soul ran in fire to the zenith.

Anon he signed a benediction, and a hush descended on the place.

"God’s peace to you, people of Gilderoy!"

The clamour revived.

"Preach to us, preach to us!" came the cry.

The friar stretched forth his hands; his voice rang strong and strident
over the packed upturned faces.

"Children, what need have we of words!  To-night have we not seen enough
to scourge the manhood in us, to bear forth the Holy Cross of war?  The
evil beast is with us even yet; Mammon the Mighty treads you under foot.
Ye saints, what cause more righteous since the martyrs fell?  Look on
these scars, these wrongs, these agonies.  Preach!  I am dumb beside
such witnesses as these."

The crypt thundered to him when he lowered his hands. It was the cry of
men bankrupt of liberty, thirsty for revenge.  Fulviac grappled the
climax, and stood forward with uplifted sword.  His lion’s roar sounded
above the din.

"Go, people of Gilderoy," he cried, "go--but remember.  When castles
burn, and bolts scream, when spears splinter, and armies crash to the
charge, remember your children and your wrongs.  Strike home for God,
and for your liberty."



                                  VIII


The crowd had streamed from the cavern, swirling like black water under
the tossing torches, the hollow galleries reverberating to the rush of
many feet.  Prosper had gone, borne away by the seditious captains of
the Commune and the armed burghers who had guarded the entries.  A great
silence had fallen upon the crypt.  Fulviac and the girl were left by
the altar of black marble, their one lamp burning solitary in the gulf
of gloom.

Fulviac had the air of a man whose favourite hawk had flown with fettle,
and brought her quarry tumbling out of the clouds.  He was warm with the
zest of it, and his tawny eyes sparkled.

"May the Virgin smile on us!" he said.  "Gilderoy will serve our ends."

The girl’s eyes searched him gravely.

"You make holy war," she charged him.

"Ha, my sister, it is well to profess a strong conviction in the justice
of one’s cause.  Tell men they are heroes, patriots, martyrs, and you
will make good fighting stuff. Applaud fanaticism, make great parade of
righteousness, hail the Deity as patron, assemble all the saints under
your banner.  Ha, trust me, that is a way to topple a kingdom. Come, we
must stir."

By many labyrinthine passages, strange galleries of death, they passed
together from the dark deeps of the catacombs. At one point the roof
shone silvered as with dew, and the air stood damp as in a marsh on a
winter’s eve.  The river Tamar flowed above them in its rocky bed, so
Fulviac told the girl.  Anon they came out by a narrow stair that opened
by a briar-grown throat into a thicket of old oaks in the Gilderoy
meadows.  The stairhead was covered by a species of stone trap that
could be covered and concealed by sods.  In the thicket a man awaited
them with the bridles of three horses over his arm.  Fulviac held
Yeoland’s stirrup, and they rode out, the three of them, from under the
trees.

A full moon swam in a purple black sky amid a shower of shimmering
stars.  Gilderoy, with its climbing towers and turrets, stood out white
under the moon.  The city walls gleamed like alabaster in the magic
glow.  In the meadows the ringlets of the river glimmered.  Far and
distant rose the nebulous midnight of the woods.

Fulviac had bared his head to an inconstant and torpid breeze.  They
were riding for the west along a bridle track that curled grey and dim
through the sombre meadows. The calm, soundless vault of the world rose
now in contrast to the canopies of stone and the passion-throes of the
catacombs.  Human moil and effort seemed infinitely little under the
eternal scrutiny of the stars.  So thought the man for the moment, as he
rode with his chin sunk upon his breast, watching keenly the girl at his
side.

Yeoland was young.  All the roses of youth were budding about her soul;
idealism, like the essence of crushed violets, hovered heavy over the
world.  Her soul as yet was no frayed and listless lute, thrummed into
discords by the bony hand of care.  She was built for love, a temple of
white marble, lit by lamps of rubeous glory.  Colours flashed through
the red sanctuaries of the flesh.  Yet pain and great woe had smitten
her.  The grim destinies of earth seemed bent on thrusting an innocent
pilgrim into the turbulent contradictions of life.

The pageant in the catacombs that night had stirred her strangely beyond
belief.  The fantastic faces, the zeal, the hot words of gesturing
enthusiasm, these were things new to her, therefore the more vivid and
convincing.  New worlds, new passions, seemed to burst into being under
the stars.  She was utterly silent as she rode, looking forth into the
night.  Her hood had fallen back; her face shone white and clear; her
eyes gleamed in the moonlight. Fulviac, like a chess-player who had
evolved some subtle scheme, rode and watched her with a smile deep in
his eyes.  For the moment he was content to leave her to the magic of
her own thoughts.

At certain rare seasons in life, virgin light floods down into the
heart, as from some oriel opened in heaven.  The world stands under a
grander scheme of chiaroscuro; men comprehend where they once scoffed.
It was thus that Yeoland rose inspired, like a spiritual Venus from a
sea of dreams.  As molten glass is shaped speedily into fair and
exquisite device, so the red wax of her heart had taken the impress of
the hour.  Gilderoy had stirred her like a blazoned page of romance.

Fulviac caught the girl’s half glance at him; read in measure the
meaning of her mood.  Her lips were half parted as though she had words
upon her tongue, but still hesitated from some scruple of pride.  He
straightened in the saddle, and waited for her to unbosom to him with a
confident reserve.

"Well?" he said at length, since she still lingered in her silence.

"How much one may learn in a day," she answered, drawing her white
palfrey nearer to his horse.

Fulviac agreed with her.

"The man on the end of the rope," he said, "learns in two minutes that
which has puzzled philosophers since Adam loved Eve."

She turned to him with an eagerness that was almost passionate even in
its suppressed vigour.

"How long was it before you came to pity your fellows?"

"Some minutes, not more."

"And the conversion?"

"Shall satisfy you one day.  For the present I will buckle up so
unsavoury a fable in my bosom.  Tell me what you have learnt at
Gilderoy."

Yeoland looked at the moon.  The man saw great sadness upon her face,
but also an inspired radiance that made its very beauty the more
remarkable.  He foresaw in an instant that they were coming to deeper
matters. Superficialities, the mannerisms of life, were falling away.
The girl’s heart beat near to his; he felt a luminous sympathy of spirit
rise round them like the gold of a Byzantine background.

"Come," he said, with a burst of beneficence, "you are beginning to
understand me."

She jerked a swift glance at him, like the look of a half-tamed falcon.

"You are a man, for all your sneers and vapourings."

"I had a heart once.  Call me an oak, broken, twisted, aged, but an oak
still."

Yeoland drew quite close to him, so that her skirt almost brushed his
horse’s flank.  Fulviac’s shadow fell athwart her.  Only her face shone
clear in the moonlight.

"I have ceased," she said, "to look upon life as a stretch of blue, a
laughing dawn."

"Good."

"I have learnt that woe is the crown of years."

"Good again."

"That life is full of violence and wrong."

"A platitude.  Yes.  Life consists in learning platitudes."

"I am only one woman among thousands."

"A revelation."

"You jeer."

"Not so.  Few women learn the truth of your proverb."

"Lastly, my trouble is not the only woe in the world. That it is an
error to close up grief in the casket of self."

Fulviac flapped his bridle, and looked far ahead into the cavern of the
night.  He was silent awhile in thought. When he spoke again, he
delivered himself of certain curt cogitations, characteristic
confessions that were wholly logical.

"I am a selfish vagabond," he said; "I appeal to Peter’s keys whether
all ambition is not selfish.  I am an egotist for the good of others.
The stronger my ambition, the stronger the hope of the land in generous
justice.  I live to rule, to rule magnanimously, yet with an iron
sceptre. There, you have my creed."

"And God?" she asked him.

"Is a most useful subordinate."

"You do not mean that?"

"I do not."

She saw again the mutilated beings in the catacombs, aye, even her own
home flaming to the sky, and the white face of her dead father.  Faith
and devotion were great in her for the moment.  Divine vengeance
beaconed over the world, a torch borne aloft by the hand of Pity.

"It is God’s war," she said to him with a finer solemnity sounding in
her voice; "you have stirred the woman in me.  Is that enough?"

"Enough," he answered her.

"And the rest?"

"God shall make all plain in due season."

Gilderoy had dwindled into the east; its castle’s towers still netted
the moonlight from afar.  The meadowlands had ceased, and trees strode
down in multitudes to guard the track.  The night was still and calm,
with a whisper of frost in the crisp, sparkling air.  The world seemed
roofed with a dome of dusky steel.

Before them a shallow valley lay white in the light of the moon.  Around
climbed the glimmering turrets of the trees, rank on rank, solemn and
tumultuous.  The bare gable ends of a ruined chapel rose in the valley.
Fulviac drew aside by a bridle path that ran amid rushes.  To the left,
from the broken wall of the curtilage, a great beech wood ascended, its
boughs black against the sky, its floor ankle-deep with fallen leaves.
The chapel stood roofless under the moon.  Hollies, a sable barrier that
glistened in the moonlight, closed the ruin on the south.  Yews cast
their gloom about the walls.  A tall cross in the forsaken graveyard
stretched out its mossy arms east and west.

The armed groom took the horses and tethered them under a clump of pines
by the wall.  Fulviac and the girl Yeoland passed up through weeds and
brambles to the porch.  A great briar rose had tangled the opening with
a thorny web, as though to hold the ruin from the hand of man.  The
tiled floor was choked with grass; a rickety door drooped rotten on its
rusty hinges.

Fulviac pushed through and beckoned the girl to follow. Within, all was
ruinous and desolate, the roof fallen, the casements broken.

"We must find harbour here," said the man, "our horses go far
to-morrow."

"A cheerful hostel, this."

"Its wildness makes it safe.  You fear the cold.  I’ll see to that."

"No.  I am hungry."

The high altar still stood below the small rose window in the east,
where the rotting fragments of a triptych hid the stonework.  There was
a great carved screen of stone on either side, curiously recessed as
though giving access to an ambulatory.  The altar stood in dense shadow,
with broken timber and a tangle of briars ringing a barrier about its
steps.  On the southern side of the nave, a patch of tiled flooring
still stood riftless, closed in by two fallen pillars.  The groom came
in with two horse-cloaks, and Fulviac spread them on the tiles.  He also
gave her a small flask of wine, and a silver pyx holding meat and bread.

"We crusaders must not grumble at the rough lodging," he said to her;
"wrap yourself in these cloaks, and play the Jacob with a stone pillow."

She smiled slightly in her eyes.  The groom brought in a saddle, ranged
it with a saddle cloth covering it, that it might rest her head.

"And you?" she said to Fulviac.

"Damian and I hold the porch."

"You will be cold."

"I have a thick hide.  The Lady of Geraint give you good rest!"

He threaded his way out amid the fallen stones and pillars, and closed
the rickety gate.  The groom, a tall fellow in a battered bassinet and a
frayed brigantine, stood by the yew trees, as on guard.  Fulviac
gestured to him. The man moved away towards the eastern end of the
chapel, where laurels grew thick and lusty about the walls. When he
returned Fulviac was sitting hunched on a fallen stone in the corner of
the porch, as though for sleep.  The man dropped a guttural message into
his master’s ear, and propped himself in the other angle of the porch.

An hour passed; the moon swam past the zenith towards the west; a vast
quiet watched over the world, and no wind rippled in the woods.  In the
sky the stars shivered, and gathered more closely their silver robes.
In the curtilage the ruined tombs stared white and desolate at the moon.

An owl’s cry sounded in the woods.  Sudden and strange, as though
dropped from the stars, faint music quivered on the frost-brilliant air.
It gathered, died, grew again, with a mysterious flux of sweetness, as
of some song stealing from the Gardens of the Dead.  Flute, cithern, and
viol were sounding under the moon, merging a wizard chant into the magic
of the hour.  Angels, crimson-winged, in green attire, seemed to descend
the burning stair of heaven.

A sudden great radiance lit the ruin, a glory of gold streaming from the
altar.  Cymbals clashed; waves of shimmering light surged over the
broken walls.  Incense, like purple smoke, curled through the casements.
The music rushed in clamorous rapture to the stars.  A voice was heard
crying in the chapel, elfin and wild, yet full of a vague rich sanctity.
It ceased sudden as the brief moan of a prophecy.  The golden glow
elapsed; the music sank to silence.  Nought save the moonlight poured in
silver omnipotence over the ruin.

From the chapel came the sound of stumbling footsteps amid the stones.
A hand clutched at the rotting door, jerked it open, as in terror.  The
girl Yeoland came out into the porch, and stood swaying white-faced in
the shadow.

"Fulviac."

Her voice was hoarse and whispering, strained as the overwrought strings
of a lute.  The man did not stir.  She bent down, dragged at his cloak,
calling to him with a quick and gathering vehemence.  He shook himself,
as from the thongs of sleep, stood up and stared at her.  The groom
still crouched in the dark corner.

"Fulviac."

She thrust her way through the briars into the moonlight. Her hood had
fallen back, her hair loose upon her shoulders; her eyes were full of a
supernatural stupor, and she seemed under the spell of some great shock
of awe. She trembled so greatly, that Fulviac followed her, and held her
arm.

"Speak.  What has chanced to you?"

She still shook like some flower breathed upon by the oracular voice of
God.  Her hands were torn and bloody from the thorns.

"The Virgin has appeared to me."

"Are you mad?"

"The Virgin."

"Some ghost or phantom."

"No, no, hear me."

She stretched out her hands like one smitten blind, and took breath
swiftly in sudden gasps.

"Hear me, I was but asleep, woke, and heard music. The Virgin came out
upon the altar, her face like the moon, her robes white as the stars.
There was great light, great glory.  And she spoke to me.  Mother of
God, what am I that I should be chosen thus!"

"Speak.  Can this be true?"

"The truth, the truth!"

Fulviac fell on his knees with a great gesture of awe. The girl, her
face turned to the moon, stood quivering like a reed, her lips moving as
if in prayer.

"Her message, child?"

"Ah, it was this: ’Go forth a virgin, and lead the hosts of the Lord.’"

Fulviac’s face was in shadow.  He thrust up his hands to the heavens,
but would not so much as glance at the girl above him.  His voice rang
out in the silence of the night:--

"Gloria tibi, Sancta Maria!  Gloria tibi, Domine!"



                                   IX


Faith, golden crown of the Christian!  Self-mesmerism, subtle alchemy of
the mind!  How the balance of belief swings between these twain!

A spiritual conception born in a woman’s brain is as a savour of rich
spices sweetening all the world.  How great a power of obstinacy stirs
in one small body!  A pillar of fire, a shining grail.  She will bring
forth the finest gems that hang upon her bosom, the ruby of heroism, the
sapphire of pity.  She will cast all her store of gold into the lap of
Fate.  Give to her some radiant dream of hope, and she may prove the
most splendid idealist, even if she do not prove a wise one.  Remember
the women who watched about the Cross of Christ.

There had been trickery in the miracle, a tinge of flesh in the vision.
The Virgin, in the ruck of religion, had suffered herself to be
personated by a clever little "player" from Gilderoy, aided and
idealised by a certain notorious charlatan who dealt in magic, was not
above aiding ecclesiastical mummeries on occasions, and conspiring for
the solemn production of miracles.  A priest’s juggling box, a secret
door at the back of the altar used in bygone days for the manipulation
of a wonder-working image, musicians, incense, and Greek fire.  These
had made the portent possible.  As for Fulviac, rugged plotter, he was
as grave as an abbot over the business; his words were wondrous
beatific; he spoke of the interventions of Heaven with bated breath.

It was a superstitious age, touched with phantasy and gemmed with magic.
Relics were casketed in gold and silver; holy blood amazed with yearly
liquefactions the souls of the devout; dreamers gazed into mirrors,
crystals, finger-nails, for visions of heaven.  Jewels were poured in
scintillant streams at the white feet of the Madonna.  It was all done
with rare mysticism, colour, and rich music.  The moon ruled marriage,
corn, and kine.  The saints, like a concourse of angels, walked with
melancholy splendour through the wilds.

As for the girl Yeoland, she had the heart of a woman in the noblest
measure, a red heart, pure yet passionate. The world waxed prophetic
that shrill season.  She was as full of dreams and phantasies as an
astrologer’s missal. Nothing amazed her, and yet all earth was
mysterious. The wind spoke in magic syllables; the trees were oracular;
the stars, white hands tracing symbols in the sky.  She was borne above
herself on the pinions of ecstasy, heard seraph wings sweep the air, saw
the glimmer of their robes passing the portals of the night. Mysticism
moved through the world like the sound of lutes over a moonlit sea.

One March morning, Fulviac came to her in the northern chamber of the
cliff.  Yeoland had masses of scarlet cloth and threads of gold upon her
knees, for she was broidering a banner, the banner of the Maid of
Gilderoy.  Her eyes were full of violet shadow.  She wore a cross over
her bosom, emeralds set in silver; a rosary, dangling on her wrist, told
how her prayers kept alternate rhythm with her fingers.  Fulviac crooked
the knee to the crucifix upon the wall, sat down near her on a rich
bench of carved cedar wood.

The man was in a beneficent mood, and beamed on her like a lusty summer.
He had tidings on his tongue, tidings that he hoarded with the craft of
an epicure.  It was easy to mark when the world trundled well with his
humour.  He put forth smiles like a great oak whose boughs glisten in
the sun.

"You will tire yourself, little sister."

She looked at him with one of her solemn glances, a glance that spoke of
vigils, soul-searchings, and prayer.

"My fingers tire before my heart," she said to him.

"Rest, rest."

"Do I seem weary to you?"

"Nay, you are fresh as the dawn."

He brushed back the tawny hair from off his forehead, and the lines
about his mouth softened.

"I have news from the west."

"Ah!"

"We gather and spread like fire in a forest.  The mountain men are with
us, ready to roll down from the hills with hauberk and sword.  In two
months Malgo will have sent the bloody cross through all the west."

The golden thread ran through the girl’s white fingers; the beads of her
rosary rattled; she seemed to be weaving the destiny of a kingdom into
the device upon her banner.

"How is it with us here?" she asked him.

"I have a thousand stout men and true camped upon the cliff.  Levies are
coming in fast, like steel to a magnet.  In a month we shall outbulk a
Roman legion."

"And Gilderoy?"

"Gilderoy and Geraint will give us a score thousand pikemen."

"The stars fight for us."

Fulviac took her lute from the carved bench and began to thrum the
chords of an old song.

    "Spears crash, and swords clang,
    Fame maddens the world.
      Come battle and love.
          Iseult--
        Ah, Iseult."

He broke away with a last snap at the strings, and set the lute aside.

"Bear with me," he said.

Her dark eyes questioned him over her banner.

"I offer you the first victim."

"Ah!"

"Flavian of Gambrevault."

An indefinite shadow descended upon the girl’s face. The inspired
radiance seemed dimmed for the moment; the crude realism of her thoughts
rang in discord to her dreams.  She lost the glimmering thread from her
needle. Her hands trembled a little as she played with the scarlet folds
of the banner.

"Well?"

"A lad of mine bears news--a black-eyed rogue from the hills of
Carlyath, sharp as a sword’s point, quaint as an elf.  I sent him
gleaning, and he has done bravely. You would hear his tale from his own
lips?"

She nodded and seemed distraught.

"Yes.  Bring him in to me," she said.

Fulviac left her, to return with a slim youth sidling in behind him like
a shadow.  The lad had a nut-brown skin and ruddy cheeks, a pair of
twinkling eyes, a thatch of black hair over his forehead.  Bred amid the
hills of Carlyath, where the women were scarlet Eves, and the land a
paradise, he had served in Gilderoy as apprentice to an armourer.
Carlyath’s wilds and the city’s roguery had mingled in him fantastic
strains of extravagant sentiment and cunning.  Half urchin, half elf, he
stood with bent knees and slouched shoulders, his black eyes alert on
Fulviac, his lord.

The man thrust him forward by the collar, with an eloquent gesture.

"The whole tale.  Try your wit."

The Carlyath lad advanced one foot, and with an impudent southern smirk,
remarked--

"This, madame, is an infatuated world."

Thus, sententiously delivered, he plunged into a declamation with a
picturesque and fanciful extravagance that he had imbibed from the
strolling romancers of his own land.

"In the city of Gilderoy," he said, speaking very volubly and with many
gestures, "there lives a lady of surpassing comeliness.  Her eyes are as
the sky, her cheeks as June roses, her hair a web of gold.  She is a
right fair lady, and daily she sits at her broad casement, singing, and
plaiting her hair into shackles of gold.  She has bound the Lord Flavian
of Gambrevault in a net starred with poppies, scarlet poppies of the
field, so that he ever dreams dreams of scarlet, and sees visions of
lips warm as wine.  Daily the Lord Flavian scours the country between
Avalon and the fair city of Gilderoy, till the very dust complains of
his fury, and the green grass curses his horse’s heels.  But the lady
with the hair of gold compasses him like the sunset; she has stolen the
eyes of heaven, and the stars are blind."

Fulviac smiled over the extreme subtlety of the rendering. It was a
delicate matter, delicately handled.  The Carlyath lad had wit, and a
most seraphic tongue.

"What more?"

"There is yet another lady at Avalon."

"Well?"

"A lady whose name is Duessa, a lady with black hair and a blacker
temper.  Lord Flavian has a huge horror of her tongue.  Therefore he
rides like a thief, without trumpets, to Gilderoy."

"Yet more."

The lad spread his hands with an inimitable gesture, shrugged, and
heaved a most Christian sigh.

"The Lady Duessa is the Lord Flavian’s wife," he said.

"Surely."

"Therefore, sire, he is a coward."

The lad drew back with a bow and a scrape of the foot, keeping his eyes
on the floor with the discretion of a veteran lackey.  At a sign from
Fulviac, he slipped away, and left Yeoland and the man alone.

The girl’s hands were idle in her lap; the great scarlet banner trailed
in rich folds about her feet.  There was a white mask of thought upon
her face, and her eyes searched the distance with an oblivious stare.
All the strong discords of the past rushed clamorous to her brain; her
consecrated dreams were as so many angels startled by the assaults of
hell.

She rose from her chair, cast the casement wide, and stood gazing over
the forest.  Youth seemed in the breeze, and the clear voice of the
Spring.  The green woods surged with liberty; the strong zest of life
breathed in their bosoms. In the distance the pines seemed to beckon to
her, to wave their caps in windy exultation.

Fulviac had stood watching her with the calm scrutiny of one wise in the
passionate workings of the soul.  He suffered her to possess her
thoughts in silence for a season, to come by a steady comprehension of
the past.  Presently he gathered the red banner, and hung it on the
frame, went softly to her and touched her sleeve.

"Shall they kill him on the road?" he asked.

She pondered a moment, and did not answer him.

"It is easy," he said, "and a matter of sheer justice."

The words seemed to steel her decision.

"No," she said, "let them bring him here--to me."

"So be it," he answered her.

Fulviac found her cold and taciturn, desirous of solitude. He humoured
the mood, and she was still staring from the window when he left her.
The woodland had melted before her into an oblivious mist.  In its stead
she saw a tower flaming amid naked trees, a white face staring
heavenwards with the marble tranquillity of death.



                                   X


Down through the woods of Avalon rode the Lord Flavian of Gambrevault,
down towards the forest track in the grey face of the dawn.  In the
meadows and beyond the orchards, water shone, and towers stood mistily.
The voice of Spring pulsed in the air, songs of green woods, the wild
wine of violets, pavements of primrose gold.  Birds piped lustily in
wood and thicket, and the ascending sun lavished his glittering archery
from the chariots of the clouds.

The Lord Flavian was inordinately cheerful that morning, as he rode in
green and red through the prophetic woods.  Heart and weather were in
kindred keeping, and his youth sang like a brook after April rains.  The
woods danced in dew.  Far on its rocky hill the towers of Gilderoy would
soon beckon him above the trees.  Beneath the shadow of the cathedral
tower stood a gabled house with gilded vanes and roofs of generous red.
There in Gilderoy, in a room hung with cloth of purple and gold, white
arms waited, and the bosom of a golden Helen held love like a red rose
in a pool of milky spikenard.

Picture a slim but muscular man with the virile figure of a young David,
a keen, smooth face, a halo of brown hair, eyes eloquent as a woman’s.
Picture a good grey horse trapped in red and green, full of fettle as a
colt, burly as a bull.  Picture the ermined borderings, the jewelled
clasps, brigantine of quilted velvet, fur-lined bassinet bright as a
star.  Youth, clean, adventurous, aglow to the last finger-tip,
impetuous to the tune of thirty breaths a minute.  Youth with all its
splendid waywardness, its generosities, its immense self-intoxications.
Youth with the voice of a Golden Summer in its heart, and for its plume
the gorgeous fires of eve.

Wealth often breeds apathy and parsimonious instincts. It is the beggar
whose purse bursts with joy, whose soul blazes generous red upon the
clouds.  As for Flavian of Gambrevault and Avalon, he was rich but no
miser, proud yet not haughty, sanguine but not vicious.  Like many a man
inspired by an instinctive idealism, his heart ran before his reason:
they not having come cheek by jowl as in later years.  He was very
devout, yet very worldly; very ardent, yet over hasty.  Mark him then, a
lovable fool in the eyes of philosophy; a cup of mingled wine, both
white and red. He was a great lord; yet his serfs loved him.

The Lady Duessa’s parents, good folk, had been blessed with aspirations.
Gambrevault and Avalon had bulked very gloriously under the steel-blue
vault of pride. Moreover, their daughter was a sensuous being, who
panted for poetic surroundings, and lived to music.  A boy of twenty; a
passionate, dark-eyed, big-bosomed houri of twenty and five; bell, book,
and ring--such had been the bridal bargain consummated on church
principles five years ago or more.  A youth of twenty is not supremely
wise concerning the world, or his own heart.  The Lord Flavian’s
marriage had not proved a magic blessing to him.  Parentally sealed
marriage deeds are the edicts of the devil.

Quickly are the mighty fallen, and the chalices of love broken.  It was
no mere chance ambuscade that waited open-mouthed for Flavian, Lord of
Gambrevault and Avalon, Warden of the Southern Marches, Knight of the
Order of the Rose, as he rode that morning to Gilderoy, a disciple of
Venus.  In a certain perilous place, the road ran betwixt walls of rock,
and under the umbrage of overhanging trees.  Twenty men with pike and
gisarme swarming out of the woods; a short scuffle and a stabbed horse;
a gag in the mouth, a bandage over the eyes, a mule’s back, half a dozen
thongs of stout leather.  That same evening the Lord Flavian was brought
like a bale of merchandise into Fulviac’s guard-room, and tumbled on a
heap of straw in a corner.

They were grim men, these forest rangers, not given to pity, or the
light handling of a feud.  A poniard point was their pet oath, a whip of
the sword the best word with an enemy.  They bit their thumb nails at
creation, and were not gentle in the quest of a creed.  Fulviac heard
their news, and commended them.  They were like the ogres of the old
fables; the red blood of a lusty aristocrat smelt fresh for the sword’s
supper.

The girl Yeoland was at her prayer-desk with a blazoned breviary under
her fingers, when Fulviac came to her with tidings of the day’s capture.
She knelt with her hands crossed upon her bosom, as Fulviac stood in the
darkened doorway.  To the man she appeared as the Madonna in some
picture of the Annunciation, the yellow light from the lamp streaming
down upon her with a lustre of sanctity.

"They have brought the boar home."

"Dead?"

"Nay; but his corpse candle walks the cavern."

For the girl it was a descent from spiritual themes to the stark realism
of life.  She left her prayer-desk with a little sigh.  Her hands
trembled as she drew a scarlet cloak about her, and fastened it with a
girdle of green leather. Her eyes dwelt on Fulviac’s face with a species
of dusky pain.

"Come," he said to her.

"Whither?"

"To judge him."

"Not before all, not in the guard-room."

"Leave it to me," he said.  "Be forewarned.  We deal with no mere
swashbuckler."

They went together to Fulviac’s parlour, where a great brazen lamp hung
from the roof, and a book bound in black leather lay chained on the
table.  Yeoland took the man’s carved chair, while he stood behind her
leaning on the rail.  She was paler than was her wont.  Now and again
she pressed a hand to her breast, as though to stay the too rapid
beating of her heart.

Two guards bearing partisans came in from the guard-room with a man
bound and blindfold between them.  A third followed, bearing a
two-handed sword naked over his shoulder.  He was known as Nord of the
Hammer, an armourer like to a Norse Volund, burly, strong as a bear. The
door was barred upon them.  One of the guards plucked the cloth from the
bound man’s face.

In the malicious imagery of thought, Yeoland had often pictured to
herself this Flavian of Gambrevault, a coarse, florid ruffian, burly and
brutal, a fleshly demigod in the world of feudalism.  So much for
conjecture.  What she beheld was a straight-lipped, clean-limbed man,
slim as a cypress, supple as good steel.  The face was young yet strong,
the grey eyes clear and fearless.  Moreover there was a certain lonely
look about him that invoked pity, and angered her in an enigmatic way.
She was wrath with him for being what he was, for contradicting the
previous imaginings of her mind.

Flavian of Gambrevault stood bound before her, an aristocrat of
aristocrats, outraged in pride, yet proud beyond complaint.  The
self-mastery of his breeding kept him a stately figure despite his
tumbling and his youth, one convinced of lordship and the powerful
splendour of his name. The whole affair to him was illogical,
preposterous, insolent.  A gentleman of the best blood in the kingdom
could not be hustled out of his dignity by the horse-play of a bevy of
cut-throats.

Possibly the first vision to snare the man’s glance was the elfin
loveliness of the girl, who sat throned in the great chair as on a
judgment seat.  He marked the rose-white beauty of her skin, her
sapphire eyes gleaming black in certain lights, her ebon hair bound with
a fillet of sky-blue leather.  Moreover, it was plain to the man in turn
that this damoisel in the red gown was deciphering his features in turn
with a curiosity that was no vapid virtue.  As for Fulviac, he watched
them both with his amber-brown eyes, eyes that missed no movement in the
mask of life.  To him the scene under the great brazen lamp was a study
in moods and emotions.

The aristocrat was the first to defy the silence.  He had stared round
the room at his leisure, and at each of its motionless figures in turn.
The great sword, slanted in gleaming nakedness over Nord’s shoulder,
appeared to fascinate him for the moment.  Despite his ambiguous
sanctity, he showed no badge of panic or distress.

Ignoring the woman, he challenged Fulviac, who leant upon the chair
rail, watching him with an enigmatic smile.

"Goodman in the red doublet," quoth he, "when you have stared your fill
at me, I will ask you to read me the moral of this fable."

Fulviac stroked his chin with the air of a man who holds an adversary at
some subtle disadvantage.

"Messire," he said, "address yourself to madame--here; you are her
affair in the main."

The Warden of the Southern Marches bowed as by habit.  His grey eyes
reverted to Yeoland’s face, searching it with a certain courteous
curiosity that took her beauty for its justification.  The woman was an
enigma to him, a most magical sphinx whose riddle taunted his reason.

"Madame," he began.

The girl stiffened in her chair at the word.

"You hold me at a disadvantage, seeing that I am ignorant of sin or
indiscretion against you.  If it is a question of gold----"

"Messire!"

He swept her exclamation suavely aside and ran on mellifluously.

"If it is a question of gold, let me beseech you to be frank with me.  I
will covenant with you instanter.  My seneschal at Gambrevault will
unbolt my coffers, and ease your greed.  Pray be outspoken.  I will
renounce the delight of lodging here for a purse of good rose nobles."

There was the faintest tinge of insolence in the man’s voice, an
insolence that exaggerated to the full the charge of plunder in his
words.  Whether he hinted at blood money or no, there was sufficient
poison in the sneer to fire the brain and scorch the heart to vengeance.

The woman had risen from her chair, and stood gripping the carved
woodwork with a passion that set her arms quivering like bands of
tightened steel.  The milk-white calm had melted from her face.  Wrath
ran riot in her blood.  So large were her pupils that her eyes gleamed
red.

"Ha, messire, I bring you to justice, and you offer me gold."

The man stared; his eyes did not quail from hers.

"Justice, madame!  Of what sin then am I accused? On my soul, I know not
who you are."

She calmed herself a little, shook back her hair from her shoulders,
fingered her throat, breathing fast the while.

"My name, messire?  Ha, you shall have it.  I am Yeoland, daughter of
that Rual of Cambremont whom you slaughtered at the gate of his burning
house.  I--am the sister of those fair sons whom you did to death. Blood
money, forsooth!  God grant, messire, that you are in honest mind for
heaven, for you die to-night."

The man had bent to catch her words.  He straightened suddenly like a
tree whose throat is loosed from the grim grip of the wind.  He went
grey as granite, flushed red again as a dishonoured girl.  The words had
touched him with the iron of truth.

"Hear me," he said to her.

"Ah, you would lie."

"By Heaven, no; give me an hour’s justice."

"Murderer."

"Before God, you wrong me."

He stood with twitching lips, shackled hands twisting one within the
other.  For the instant words eluded him, like fruit jerked from the
mouth of a thirst-maddened Tantalus.  Anon, his manhood gathered in him,
rushed forth redly like blood from a stricken throat.

"Daughter of Rual, hear me, I tell you the truth.  I, Flavian of
Gambrevault, had in my pay a company of hired ’spears,’ rough devils
from the north.  The braggarts served me against John of Brissac, were
half their service drunk and mutinous.  When Lententide had come, their
captain swore to me, ’Lording, pay us and let us go. We have spilt blood
near Gilderoy,’ scullion blood he swore, ’give us good bounty, and let
us march.’  So at his word I gave them largesse, and packed them from
Gambrevault with pennons flying.  Methought they and their brawlings
were at an end.  Before God and the saints, I never knew of this."

Yeoland considered him, strenuous as he seemed towards truth.  He was
young, passionate, sanguine; for one short moment she pitied him, and
pondered his innocence in her heart.  It was then that Fulviac plucked
at her sleeve, spoke in her ear, words that hardened her like a winter
frost.

She stared in the man’s eyes, as she gave him his death-thrust with the
sureness of hate.

"Blood for blood," were her words to him.

"Is this justice!"

"I have spoken."

"Monstrously.  Hear me----"

"Messire, make your peace with Heaven, I give you till daylight."

The man stumbled against the table, white as the moon. Youth strove in
him, the crimson fountain of life’s wine, the wild cry of the dawn.  His
eyes were great with a superhuman hunger.  Fulviac’s strong voice
answered him.

"Hence, hence.  At dawn, Nord, do your duty."



                                   XI


Give doubt the password, and the outer battlements are traitorously
stormed.  Parley with pity, and the white banner flutters on the keep.

Provided her emotions inspire her, a woman is strong; let her take to
logic, and she is a rushlight wavering in the wind.  In her red heart
lies her divinity; her feet are of clay when reason rules her head.

The girl Yeoland took doubt to her chamber that night, a malicious
sprite, sharp of wit and wild of eye.  All the demons of discord were
loosed in the silence of the night. Pandora’s box stood open, and the
hours were void of sleep; faces crowded the shadows, voices wailed in
the gloom.  Her thoughts rioted like frightened bats fluttering and
squeaking round a torch.  Sleep, like a pale Cassandra, stood aloof and
watched the mask of these manifold emotions.

Turn and twist as she would amid her fevered pillows, a wild voice
haunted her, importunate and piteous.  As the cry of one sinking in a
stormy sea, it rang out with a passionate vehemence.  Moreover, there
was a subtle echo in her own heart, a strong appeal that did not spare
her, toss and struggle as she would.  Decision fluttered like a wounded
bird.  Malevolence rushed back as an ocean billow from the bastion of a
cliff that emblemed mercy.

With a beating of wings and a discordant clamour, a screech-owl buffeted
the casement.  A lamp still burnt beneath the crucifix; the glow had
beaconed the bird out of the night.  Starting up with a shiver of fear,
she quenched the lamp, and crept back to bed.  The darkness seemed to
smother her like a cloak; the silence took to ghostly whisperings; a
death-watch clicked against the wall.

The night crawled on like a funeral cortège.  Baffled, outfaced,
sleepless, she rose from her tumbled bed, and paced the room as in a
fever.  Still wakefulness and a thousand dishevelled thoughts that hung
about her like her snoodless hair.  Again and again, she heard the
distant whirr and rattle of wheels, the clangour of the wire, as the
antique clock in Fulviac’s chamber smote away the hours of night.  Each
echo of the sound seemed to spur to the quick her wavering resolution.
Time was flying, jostling her thoughts as in a mill race.  With the
dawn, the Lord Flavian would die.

Anon she flung the casement wide and stared out into the night.  A calm
breeze moved amid the masses of ivy, and played upon her face.  She
bared her breast to its breath, and stood motionless with head thrown
back, her white throat glimmering amid her hair.  Below, the sombre
multitudes of the trees showed dim and ghostly, deep with mystery.  A
vague wind stirred the branches; the dark void swirled with unrest,
breaking like a midnight sea upon a cliff.  A few straggling stars
peeped through the lattice of the sky.

She leant against the sill, rested her chin upon her palms, and brooded.
Thoughts, fierce, passionate, and clamorous, came crying like gusts of
wind through a ruined house.  Death and dead faces, blood, the yawn of
sepulchres, life and the joy of it, all these passed as visions of fire
before her fancy.  Vengeance and pity agonised her soul.  She answered
yea and nay with the same breath; condemned and pardoned with
contradicting zeal.  Youth lifted up its face to her, piteous and
beautiful.  Death reached out a rattling hand into her bosom.

Presently, a far glow began to creep into the sky; a gradual greyness
absorbed the shadows of the night.  The day was dawning.  From the
forest, the trembling orisons of the birds thrilled like golden light
into the air. Unutterable joy seemed to flood forth from the piping
throats. Even the trees seemed to quiver to the sound.  With a rush of
bitter passion, she closed the casement, cast herself upon her bed, and
strove to pray.

Again came the impotent groping into nothingness.  A dense mist seemed
to rise betwixt her soul and the white face of the Madonna.  Aspiration
lessened like an afterglow, and dissolved away into a dark void of
doubt.  Prayer eluded her; the utterances of her heart died in a
miserable endeavour, and she could not think.

The spiritual storm wore itself away as the dawn streamed in with a
glimmer of gold.  Yeoland lay and stared at the casement, and the figure
of Sebastian rendered radiant by the dawn, the whiteness of his limbs
tongued with dusky rills of blood, where the barbs had smitten into the
flesh.  Sombre were the eyes, and shadowy with suffering. A halo of gold
gilded the youthful face.  The painted glass about him blazed like a
shower of gems.

The Sebastian of the casement recalled to her with wizard power the face
of the man whom death claimed at dawn.  The thought woke no new passion
in her.  The night’s vigil had left her reason like a skein of tangled
silk, and with the day she verged towards a wearied apathy. The voice of
pity in her waned to an infrequent whisper that came like the rustling
of leaves on a summer night. She realised that it had dawned an hour or
more; that the man had knelt and fallen to Nord’s sword.

Suddenly the silence was snapped by a far outcry sounding in the bowels
of the cliff.  Gruff voices seemed to echo and re-echo like breakers in
a cavern.  A horn blared. She heard the thudding of a door, the
shrilling of mail, the clangour of iron steps passing up the gallery.

Shivering, she raised herself upon her elbow to listen. Were they
bringing her the man’s head, grey and blood-dabbled, with closed lids
and mangled neck?  She fell back again upon her pillows, pressed her
hands to her face with a great revulsion of pity, for the image had
burnt in upon her brain.

The clangour of harness drew near, with an iron rhythm as of the march
of destiny.  It ceased outside the door.  A heavy hand beat upon the
panelling.

"Who knocks?"

Her own voice, strained and shrill, startled her like an owl’s hoot.
Fulviac’s deep bass answered her from the passage.

"Unbar to me, I must speak with you."

She started up from the bed in passionless haste, ran to a closet, drew
out a cloak and wrapped it about her shoulders.  Her bare feet showed
white under her night-gear as she slid the bolt from its socket, and let
the man in.  He was fully armed save for his salade, which he carried in
the hollow of his arm.  His red cloak swept his heels.  A tower of
steel, there was a clangorous bluster about him that bespoke action.

The girl had drawn apart, shivering, and gathering her cloak about her,
for in the gloom of the place she had thought for an instant that
Fulviac carried a mangled head.

"A rider has brought news," he said to her.  "John of Brissac’s men have
taken Prosper the Preacher, to hang him, as their lord has vowed, over
the gate of Fontenaye. They are on the march home from Gilderoy, ten
lances and a company of arbalestiers.  I ride to ambuscado them. Prosper
shall not hang!"

She stood with her back to the casement, and looked at him with a
restless stare.  Her thoughts were with the man whose grey eyes had
pleaded with her through the night.  Her fears clamoured like captives
at the gate of a dungeon.

"What is more, this vagabond of Avalon has been begging twelve hours’
grace to scrape his soul clean for Peter."

"Ah!" she said, with a sudden stark earnestness.

"I will give him till sunset----"

"If I suffer it----"

"The dog has spirit.  I would thrust no man into the dark till he has
struck a bargain with his own particular saints."

She drew back, sank down into a chair with her hair half hiding her
face.

"You are right in being merciful," she said very slowly.

Magic riddle of life; rare roseate rod of love.  Was it youth leaping
towards youth, the cry of the lark to the dawn, the crimson flowering of
a woman’s pity?  The air seemed woven through with gold.  A thousand
lutes had sounded in the woods.  Voiceless, she sat with flickering
lids, amazed at the alchemy that had wrought ruth out of hate.

Fulviac had drawn back into the gloom of the gallery. He turned suddenly
upon his heel, and his scabbard smote and rang against the rock.

"I take all the men I have," he said to her, "even the dotard Jaspar,
for he knows the ways.  Gregory and Adrian I leave on guard; they are
tough gentlemen, and loyal.  As for the lordling, he is well shackled."

Yeoland was still cowering in her chair with the mysterious passions of
the moment.

"You will return?" she asked him.

"By nightfall, if we prosper; as we shall."

He moved two paces, stayed again in his stride, and flung a last message
to her from the black throat of the passage.

"Remember, there is no recantation over this business. The man is my
affair as well as yours.  He is a power in the south, and would menace
us.  Remember, he must die."

He turned and left her without more palaver.  She heard him go clanging
down the gallery, heard the thunder of a heavy door, the braying of a
horn.  A long while she sat motionless, still as stone, her hands lying
idle in her lap.  When an hour had passed, the sun smote in, and found
her kneeling at her prayer-desk, her breviary dewed with tears.



                                  XII


Fulviac passed away that morning into the forest, a shaft of red amid
the mournful glooms.  Colour and steel streamed after him fantastically.
The great cliff, silent and desolate, basked like a leviathan in the
sun.

Of the daylight and its crown of gold, the girl Yeoland had no deep joy.
When she had ended her passion over the blazoned pages of her breviary,
and mopped her tears with a corner of her gown, she rose to realism, and
turned her mood to the cheating of the dues of time.

The hours lagged with enough monotony to degenerate a saint; Yeoland was
very much a woman.  The night had left her a legacy of evil.  She had
shadows under her eyes, and a constant swirl of thoughts within her
brain that made solitude a torture-house, full of prophetic pain.  There
was her lute, and she eschewed it, seeing that her fingers seemed as
ice.  As for her embroidery, the stitches wandered haphazard, wrought
grotesque things, or lost all method in a stupor of sloth.  She threw
the banner aside in a fume at last, and let her broodings have their
way.

The forenoon crawled, like a beggar on a dusty high-road in the welt of
August.  Time seemed to stand and mock her.  Hour by hour, she was
tortured by the vision of steel falling upon a strong young neck, of a
white face lying in a pool of blood, of a dripping carcase and a
sweating sword.  Though the vision maddened her, what could her weak
hands do?  The man was shackled, and guarded by men with whom she dared
not tamper.  Moreover, she remembered the last look in Fulviac’s keen
eyes.

Towards evening she grew rabid with unrest, fled from the cave by the
northern stair, and took sanctuary amid the tall shadows of the forest.
The pine avenues were ever like a church to her, solemn, stately,
sympathetic as night. There was nought to anger, nought to bring
discord, where the croon of the branches soothed like a song.

It was as she played the nun in this forest cloister, that a strange
thought challenged her consciousness under the trees.  It was subtle,
yet full of an incomprehensible bitterness, that made her heart hasten.
Even as she considered it, as a girl gazes at a jewel lying in her palm,
the charm flashed magic fire into her eyes.  This victim for the sword
lay shackled to the wall in the great guard-room.  She would go and
steal a last glance at him before Fulviac and death returned.

Stairway, bower, and gallery were behind her.  She stood in Fulviac’s
parlour, where the lamp burnt dimly, and harness glimmered on the walls.
The door of the room stood ajar.  She stole to it, and peered through
the crack left by the clumsy hingeing, into the lights and shadows of
the room beyond.

At the lower end of a long table the two guards sat dicing, sprawling
greedily over the board, the lust of hazard writ large in their looks.
The dice kept up a continuous patter, punctuated by the intent growls of
the gamesters.  By the sloping wall of the cavern, palleted on a pile of
dirty straw, lay the Lord Flavian of Gambrevault, with his hands
shackled to a staple in the rock.  He lay stretched on his side, with
his back turned towards the light, so that his face was invisible to the
girl behind the door.

She watched the man awhile with a curious and dark-eyed earnestness.
There was pathos in the prostrate figure, as though Hezekiah-like the
man had turned to the bare rock and the callous comfort despair could
give. Once she imagined that she saw a jerking of the shoulders, that
hinted at something very womanish.  The thought smote new pity into her,
and sent her away from the cranny, trembling.

Yeoland withdrew into Fulviac’s room, and thence into the murk of the
gallery leading to her bower.  A sudden sense of impotence had flooded
into her heart; she even yearned for some shock of Fate that might break
the very bonds that bound her to her vengeance, as to a corpse. On the
threshold of her room, a sudden sound brought her to a halt like a hand
thrust out of the dark to clutch her throat.  She stood listening, like
a miser for thieves, and heard much.

A curse came from the guard-room, the crash of an overturned bench, the
tingling kiss of steel.  She heard the scream as of one stabbed, a
smothered uproar, an indiscriminate scuffling, then----silence.  She
stood a moment in the dark, listening.  The silence was heavy and
implacable as the rock above.  Fear seized her, a lust to know the
worst.  She ran down the gallery into Fulviac’s room.  The door was
still ajar; she thrust it open and entered the great cavern.

Her doubts elapsed in an instant.  At the long table, a man sat with his
head pillowed on his arms.  A red rivulet curled away over the board,
winding amid the drinking horns, isleting the dice in its course.  On
the floor lay the second guard, a smudge of crimson oozing from his grey
doublet, his arms rigid, his hands clawing in the death-agony.  At the
end of the table stood the Lord Flavian of Gambrevault, free.

Three cubits of steel had tangled the plot vastly in the passing of a
minute.  The climax was like a knot of silk thrust through with a sword.
The two stood motionless a moment, staring at each other across the
length of the table, like a couple of mutes over a grave.  The man was
the first to break the silence.

"Madame," he said, with a certain grand air, and a flippant gesture,
"suffer me to condone with you over the lamentable tricks of Fortune.
But for gross selfishness on my part, I should still be chastening
myself for the unjust balancing of our feud.  God wills it, seemingly,
that I should continue to be your debtor."

Despite her woman’s wit, the girl was wholly puzzled how to answer him.
She was wickedly conscious in her heart of a subtle gratitude to Heaven
for the sudden baulking of her malice.  The man expected wrath from her,
perhaps an outburst of passion.  Taking duplicity to her soul, she stood
forward on the dais and tilted her chin at him with dutiful defiance.

"Thank my irresolution, messire," she said, "for this reprieve of
fortune."

He came two steps nearer, as though not unminded to talk with her in
open field.

"At dawn I might have had you slain," she continued, with some hastening
of her tongue; "I confess to having pitied you a little.  You are young,
a mere boy, weak and powerless.  I gave you life for a day."

The man reddened slightly, glanced at the dead men, and screwed his
mouth into a dry smile.

"Most harmless, as you see, madame," he said.  "For your magnanimity, I
thank you.  _Deo gratias_, I will be as grateful as I may."

She stood considering him out of her dark, long-lashed eyes.  The man
was good to look upon, ruddy and clean of lip, with eyes that stared
straight to the truth, and a pose of the head that prophesied spirit.
The sunlight of youth played sanguine upon his face; yet there was also
a certain shadow there, as of premature wisdom, born of pain.  There
were faint lines about the mouth and eyes.  For all its sleek and ruddy
comeliness, it was not the face of a boy.

"Messire," she said to him at last.

"Madame."

"He who lurks over long in the wolf’s den may meet the dam at the door."

He smiled at her, a frank flash of sympathy that was not devoid of
gratitude.

"Haste would be graceless," he said to her.

"How so?" she asked him.

"Ha, Madame Yeoland, have I not watched my arms at night before the high
altar at Avalon?  Have I not sworn to serve women, to keep troth, and to
love God? You judge me hardly if you think of me as a butcher and a
murderer.  For the death of your kinsfolk I hold myself ashamed."

There was a fine light upon his face, a power of truth in his voice that
was not hypocritic.  The girl stared him over with a certain critical
earnestness that boasted a gleam of approval.

"Fair words," she said to him; "you did not speak thus to me last eve."

"Ah!" he cried, beaming on her, "I was cold as a corpse; nor could I
whine, for pride."

"And your shackles?"

He laughed and held up both hands; the wrists were chafed and bloody.

"It was ever a jest against me," he said, "that I had the hands of a
woman, white and meagre, yet strong with the sword.  Your fellows thrust
a pair of wristlets on me fit for a Goliath, strong, but bulky.  My
hands have proved my salvation.  I pulled them through while the guards
diced, crept for a sword, gained it, and my freedom."

She nodded, and was not markedly dismal, though the wind had veered
against her cause.  The man with the grey eyes was a being one could not
quarrel with with easy sincerity.  Probably it did not strike her at the
moment that this friendly argument with the man she had plotted to slay
was a contradiction worthy of a woman.

The Lord of Avalon meanwhile had drawn still nearer to the girl upon the
dais.  His grey eyes had taken a warmer lustre into their depths, as
though her beauty had kindled something akin to awe in his heart.  He
set the point of the sword on the floor, his hands on the hilt, and
looked up at the white face medallioned in the black splendour of its
hair.

"Madame," he said very gravely, "it is the way of the world to feel
remorse when such an emotion is expedient, and to fling penitence into
the bottomless pit when the peril is past.  I shall prove to you that
mine is no such April penitence.  Here, on the cross of my sword, I
swear to you a great oath.  First, that I will build a chapel in
Cambremont glade, and establish a priest there.  Secondly, I will
rebuild the tower, refit it royally, attach to it cottars and borderers
from mine own lands.  Lastly, mass shall be said and tapers burnt for
your kinsfolk in every church in the south.  I myself will do such
penance as the Lord Bishop shall ordain for my soul."

The man was hotly in earnest over the vow--red as a ruby set in the sun.
Yeoland looked down upon him with the glimmer of a smile upon her lips
as he kissed the cross of the sword.

"You seem honest," she said to him.

"Madame, on this sword I swear it.  It is hard to believe any good of an
enemy.  Behold me then before you as a friend.  There is a feud betwixt
us, not of my willing.  By God’s light I am eager to bridge the gulf and
to be at peace."

She shook her head and looked at him with a sudden mysterious sadness.
Such a pardon was beyond belief, the man’s pure ardour, nothing but seed
cast upon sand. Fulviac, a tower of steel, seemed to loom beyond him--an
iron figure of Fate, grim and terrible.

"This can never be," she said.

His eyes were honestly sorrowful.

"Is madame so implacable?"

"Ah!" she said, "you do not understand me."

He stood a moment in thought, as though casting about in his heart for
the reason of her sternness.  Despite her wrongs, he was assured by some
spirit voice that it was not death that stalked betwixt them like an
angel of doom.  As he stood and brooded, a gleam of the truth flashed in
upon his brain.  He went some steps back from her, as though destiny
decreed it that they should sever unabsolved.

"Your pardon, madame," he said to her; "the riddle is plain to me.  I no
longer grope into the dark.  This man, here, is your husband."

She went red as a rose blushing on her green throne at the coming of the
dawn.

"Messire."

"Your pardon."

"Ah, I am no wife," she said to him.  "God knows but for this man I
should be friendless and without home. He has spread honour and chivalry
before my feet like a snow-white cloak.  Even in this, my godless
vengeance, he has served me."

The man strode suddenly towards the dais, with his face turned up to
hers.  A strange light played upon it, half of passion, half of pity.
His voice shook, for all its sanguine strength.

"Ah, madame, tell me one thing before I go."

"Messire."

"Have I your pardon?"

"If you love life, messire, leave me."

"Have I your pardon?"

"Go! ere it is too late."

Like a ghostly retort to her appeal came the sound of armed men
thundering over the bridge.  Their rough voices rose in the night’s
silence, smitten through with the clash and clangour of arms.  Fulviac
had caught John of Brissac’s company in the woods by Gilderoy. There had
been a bloody tussle and much slaughter. Triumphant, they were at the
gate with Prosper the Preacher in their midst.

The pair in the cavern stared at each other with a mute appeal.

"Fulviac," said the girl in a whisper.

"The door!"

"It is barred."

They were silent and round-eyed, as children caught in the midst of
mischief.  Mailed fists and pike staves were beating upon the gate.  A
babel of impatience welled up without.

"Adrian, Gregory!"

"Lazy curs!"

"Unbar, unbar!"

Mocking silence leered in retort.  Yeoland and the Lord of Avalon were
still as mice.  The din slackened and waned, as though Fulviac’s men
were listening for sound of life within.  Then came more blows upon the
gate; fingers fumbled at the closed grill.  The man Gregory lay and
stared at the rocky roof; Adrian sat with his face pooled by his own
blood.

A fiercer voice sounded above the clamour.  It was Fulviac’s.  The girl
shivered as she stood.

"Ho, there, Gregory, Adrian; what’s amiss with ye?"

Still silence, mocking and implacable.  The lull held for the moment;
then the storm gathered.

"Break down the gate," roared the voice; "by God, we will see the bottom
of this damned silence."

The Lord Flavian of Avalon had stood listening with the look of a man
cooped in a cavern, who hears the sea surging to his feet.  He glanced
at the dead guards, and went white.  To save his soul from purgatory it
behoved him to act, and to act quickly.  A single lamp still burnt in
the oratory of hope.  He went near to the girl on the dais, and held up
the crossed hilt of his sword.

"By the Holy Cross, mercy!"

She cast a frightened glance into his eyes, and continued mute a moment.
The thunder grew against the gate, the crash of steel, a rending din
that went echoing into all the pits and passage-ways of the place.
Fulviac’s men had dragged the trunk of a fallen pine up the causeway,
and were charging the gate till the timber groaned.

The man, with his sword held like a crucifix, stood and pleaded with his
eyes.

"Mercy!" he said; "you know this warren and can save me."

"Are you a craven?"

"Craven? before God, no, only desperate.  What hope have I unharnessed,
one sword against fifty?"

For yet another moment she appeared irresolute, dazed by the vision of
Fulviac’s powerful wrath.  He was a stark man and a terrible, and she
feared him.  The timbers of the gate began to crack and gape.  Flavian
of Avalon lifted up his voice to her with a passionate outburst of
despair.

"God, madame, I cannot die.  I am young, look at me, life is at its
dawn.  By your woman’s mercy, hide me. Give me not back to death."

His bitter agitation smote her to the core.  She looked into his eyes;
they were hungry as love, and very piteous. There could be no sinning
against those eyes.  Great fear flooded over her like a green billow,
bearing her to the inevitable.  In a moment she was as hot to save him
as if he had been her lover.

"Come," she said, "quick, before the gate gives."

She led him like the wind through Fulviac’s parlour, and down the
gallery to her own bower.  It was dark and lampless.  She groped to the
postern, fumbled at the latch and conquered it.  Night streamed in.  She
pushed the man out and pointed to the steps.

"The forest," she said, "for your life; bear by the stars for the
north."

A full moon had reared her silver buckler in the sky.  The night was
sinless and superb, drowned in a mist of phosphor glory.  The man knelt
at her feet a moment, and pressed his lips to the hem of her gown.

"The Virgin bless you!"

"Go----"

"I shall remember."

He descended and disappeared where the trees swept up with wizard
glimmerings to touch the cliff.  When he had fled, Yeoland passed back
into the cavern, and met Fulviac before the splintered gate with a lie
upon her lips.



                                PART II



                                  XIII


Fra Balthasar rubbed his colours in the chapel of Castle Avalon, and
stared complacently upon the frescoes his fingers had called into being.

A migratory friar, Fra Balthasar had come from the rich skies, the
purple vineyards, the glimmering orange groves of the far south.  Gossip
hinted that a certain romantic indiscretion had driven him northwards
over the sea.  A "bend sinister" ran athwart his reputation as a priest.
Men muttered that he was an infidel, a blasphemous vagabond, versed in
all the damnable heresies of antiquity.  Be that as it may, Fra
Balthasar had come to Gilderoy on a white mule, with two servants at his
back, an apt tongue to serve him, and much craft as a painter and
goldsmith.  He had set up a _bottega_ at Gilderoy, and had cozened the
patronage of the magnates and the merchants.  Moreover, he had netted
the favour of the Lord Flavian of Avalon, and was blazoning his chapel
for him with the lavish fancy of a Florentine.

Fra Balthasar stood in a cataract of sunlight, that poured in through a
painted window in the west.  He wore the white habit of Dominic and the
long black mantle.  A golden mist played about his figure as he rubbed
his palette, and scanned with the egotism of the artist the _Pietà_
painted above the Lord Flavian’s state stall.  That gentleman, in the
flesh, had established himself on a velvet hassock before the altar
steps, thus flattering the friar in the part of a sympathetic patron.
The Lord of Avalon had dedicated his own person to art as an Eastern
King in the splendour of Gothic arms, kneeling bare-headed before the
infant Christ.

Fra Balthasar was a plump man and a comely, black of eye and full of
lip.  His shaven chin shone blue as sleek velvet.  He had turned from
the _Pietà_ towards the altar, where a triptych gleamed with massed and
brilliant colour.  The Virgin, a palpitating divinity breathing stars
and gems from her full bosom, gazed with a face of sensuous serenity at
the infant lying in her lap.  She seemed to exhale an atmosphere of
gold.  On either wing, angels, transcendant girls in green and silver,
purple and azure, scarlet and white, made the soul swim with visions of
ruddy lips and milk-white hands.  Their wings gleamed like opals.  They
looked too frail for angels, too human for heaven.

The Lord of Avalon sat on his scarlet hassock, and stared at the Madonna
with some measure of awe.  She was no attenuated, angular, green-faced
fragment of saintliness, but by every curve a woman, from plump finger
to coral lip.

"You are no Byzantine," quoth the man on the hassock, with something of
a sigh.

The priest glanced at him and smiled.  There were curves in lip and
nostril that were more than indicative of a sleek and sensuous
worldliness.  Fra Balthasar was much of an Antinous, and doted on the
conviction.

"I paint women, messire," he said.

His lordship laughed.

"Divinities?"

Balthasar flourished his brush.

"Divine creatures, golden flowers of the world.  Give me the rose to
crush against my mouth, violets to burn upon my bosom.  Truth, sire,
consider the sparkling roundness of a woman’s arm.  Consider her
wine-red lips, her sinful eyes, her lily fingers dropping spikenard into
the soul.  I confess, sire, that I am a man."

The friar’s opulent extravagance of sentiment suited the litheness of
his look.  Balthasar had enthroned himself in his own imagination as a
species of Apollo, a golden-tongued seer, whose soul soared into the
glittering infinitudes of art. An immense egotist, he posed as a
full-blooded divinity, palpitating to colour and to sound.  He had as
many moods as a vain woman, and was a mere fire-fly in the matter of
honour.

"Reverend sire," quoth the man on the footstool with some tightening of
the upper lip, "you bulk too big for your frock, methinks."

Balthasar touched a panel with his brush; cast a glance over his
shoulder, with a cynical lifting of the nostril.

"My frock serves me, sire, as well as a coat of mail."

"And you believe the things you paint?"

The man swept a vermilion streak from his brush.

"An ingenuous question, messire."

"I am ever ingenuous."

"A perilous habit."

"Yet you have not answered me."

The friar tilted his chin like a woman eyeing herself in a mirror.

"Religion is full of picturesque incidents," he said.

"And is profitable."

"Sire, you shame Solomon.  There are ever many rich and devout fools in
the world.  Give me a gleaming Venus, rising ruddy from the sea, rather
than a lachrymose Magdalene.  But what would you?  I trim my Venus up in
fine apparel, put a puling infant in her lap.  _Ecce--Sancta Maria_."

The man on the footstool smiled despite the jester’s theme, a smile that
had more scorn in it than sympathy.

"You verge on blasphemy," he said.

"There can be no blasphemy where there is no belief."

"You are over subtle, my friend."

"Nay, sire, I have come by that godliness of mind when man discovers his
own godhead.  Let your soul soar, I say, let it beat its wings into the
blue of life.  Hence with superstition.  Shall I subordinate my mind to
the prosings of a mad charlatan such as Saul of Tarsus?  Shall I, like
each rat in this mortal drain, believe that some god cares when I have
gout in my toe, or when I am tempted to bow to Venus?"

The man on the hassock grimaced, and eyed the friar much as though he
had stumbled on some being from the underworld.  He was a mystic for all
his manhood.

"God pity your creed," he said.

"God, the inflated mortal----"

"Enough."

"This man god of yours who tosses the stars like so many lemons."

"Enough, sir friar."

"Defend me from your mass of metaphor, your relics of barbarism.  We,
the wise ones, have our own hierarchy, our own Olympus."

"On my soul, you are welcome to it," quoth the man by the altar.

Balthasar’s hand worked viciously; he was strenuous towards his own
beliefs, after the fashion of dreamers delirious with egotism.  The very
splendour of his infidelity took its birth from the fact that it was
largely of his own creating.  His pert iconoclasm pandered to his own
vast self-esteem.

"Tell me for what you live," said the man by the altar.

"For beauty."

"And the senses?"

"Colours, odours, sounds.  To breathe, to burn, and to enjoy.  To be a
Greek and a god."

"And life?"

"Is a great fresco, a pageant of passions."

The Lord of Avalon sprang up and began to pace the aisle with the air of
a man whose blood is fevered.  For all his devoutness and his mystical
fidelity, he was in too human and passionate a mood to be invulnerable
to Balthasar’s sensuous shafts of fire.  The Lord Flavian had come by a
transcendental star-soaring spirit, an inspiration that had torched the
wild beacon of romance.  He was red for a riot of chivalry, a passage of
desire.

Turning back towards the altar, he faced the Madonna with her choir of
angel girls.  Fra Balthasar was watching him with a feline sleekness of
visage, and a smile that boasted something of contempt.  The friar
considered spirituality a species of magician’s lanthorn for the
cozening of fools.

"What quip have you for love?" said the younger man, halting by the
altar rails.

Balthasar stood with poised brush.

"There is some sincerity in the emotion," he said.

"You are experienced?"

"Sire, consider my ’habit.’"

The friar’s mock horror was surprising, an excellent jest that fell like
a blunted bolt from the steel of a vigorous manhood.  The Lord Flavian
ran on.

"Shall I fence with an infidel?" he asked.

"Sire, a man may be a man without the creed of Athanasius."

"How much of me do you understand?"

Fra Balthasar cleared his throat.

"The Lady Duessa, sire, is a rose of joy."

"Monk!"

"My lord, it was your dictum that you are ever ingenuous.  I echo you."

"Need I confess to you on such a subject?"

"Nay, sire, you have the inconsistency of a poet."

"How so?"

"Well, well, one can sniff rotten apples without opening the door of the
cupboard."

The younger man jerked away, and went striding betwixt the array of
frescoes with something of the wild vigour of a blind Polyphemus.
Balthasar, subtle sophist, watched him from the angle of his eye with
the sardonic superiority of one well versed in the contradictions of the
world.  He had scribbled a shrewd sketch of the passions stirring in his
patron’s heart.  Had he not heard from the man’s own lips of the
white-faced elf of the pine woods and her vengeance?  And the Lady
Duessa!  Fra Balthasar was as wise in the gossip of Gilderoy as any
woman.

"Sire," he said, as the aristocrat turned in his stride, "I ask of you a
bold favour."

"Speak out."

"Suffer me to paint your mood in words."

The man stared, shrugged his shoulders, smiled enigmatically.

"Try your craft," he said.

Balthasar began splashing in a foreground with irritable bravado.

"My lord, you were a fool at twenty," were his words.

"A thrice damned fool," came the echo.

Balthasar chuckled.

"And now, messire, a golden chain makes a Tantalus of you.  Life crawls
like a sluggish river.  You chafe, you strain, you rebel, feed on your
own heart, sin to assert your liberty.  Youth slips from you; the sky
narrows about your ears.  Well, well, have I not read aright?"

"Speak on," quoth the man by the altar.

"Ah, sire, it is the old tale.  They have cramped up your youth with
book and ring; shut you up in a moral sarcophagus with a woman they call
your wife.  You burn for liberty, and the unknown that shines like a
purple streak in a fading west.  Ah, sire, you look for that one
marvellous being, who shall torch again the youth in your heart, make
your blood burn, your soul to sing.  That one woman in the world,
mysterious as the moon, subtle as the night, ineffably strange as a
flaming dawn.  That woman who shall lift you to the stars; whose lips
suck the sap of the world; whose bosom breathes to the eternal swoon of
all sweet sounds.  She shall light the lust of battle in your heart.
For her your sword shall leap, your towers totter. Chivalry should lead
you like a pillar of fire out of the night, a heroic god striving for a
goddess."

The Lord of Avalon stood before the high altar as one transfigured.
Youth leapt in him, red, glorious, and triumphant.  Balthasar’s tongue
had set the pyre aburning.

"By God, it is the truth," he said.

The friar gathered his brushes, and took breath.

"Hast thou found thy Beatrice, O my son?"

"Have I gazed into heaven?"

Balthasar’s voice filled the chapel.

"Live, sire, live!" he said.

"Ah!"

"Be mad!  Drink star wine, and snuff the odours of all the sunsets!
Live, live!  You can repent in comfort when you are sixty and measure
fifty inches round the waist."



                                  XIV


Dame Duessa had come to Avalon, having heard certain whisperings of
Gilderoy, and of a golden-haired Astarte who kept house there.  Dame
Duessa was a proud woman and a passionate, headstrong as a reformer,
jealous as a parish priest.  She boasted a great ancestry and a great
name, and desires and convictions in keeping.  She was a woman who loved
her robe cupboard, her jewel-case, and her bed.  Moreover, she pretended
some affection for the Lord Flavian her husband, perhaps arrogance of
ownership, seeing that Dame Duessa was very determined to keep him in
bonded compact with herself.  She suspected that the man did not
consider her a saint, or worship her as such. Yet, termagant that she
was, Dame Duessa could suffer some trampling of empty sentiment,
provided Fate did not rob her of her share in the broad demesne and
rent-roll of Gambrevault.

Avalon was a castle of ten towers, linked by a strong curtain wall, and
built about a large central court and garden.  A great moat circled the
whole, a moat broad and silvery as a lake, with water-lilies growing
thick in the shallows.  Beyond the moat, sleek meadows tufted with green
rushes swept to the gnarled piers of the old oaks that vanguarded the
forest.  The black towers slumbered in a mist of green, girded with
sheeny water, tented by the azure of a southern sky.

Dame Duessa, being a lady of silks and tissues, did not love the place
with all her soul.  Avalon of the Orchards was dull, and smacked of
Arcady; it was far removed from that island of fair sin, Lauretia, the
King’s city.  Moreover, the Lord Flavian and his ungallant gentlemen
held rigorously to the northern turrets, leaving her to lodge
ascetically in her rich chamber in a southern tower.

Her husband contrived to exile himself as far as Castle Avalon could
suffer him.  If the pair went to mass, they went separately, with the
frigid hauteur of an Athanasius handing an Aryus over to hell.  When
they hunted they rode towards opposite stars.  No children had chastened
them, pledges of heaven-given life.  The Lady Duessa detested ought that
hinted at caudle, swaddling-clothes, and cradles.  Moreover, all Avalon
seemed in league with the Lord Flavian.  Knights, esquires, scullions,
horse-boys swore by him as though he were a Bayard.  Dame Duessa could
rely solely on a prig of a page, and a lady-in-waiting who wore a wig,
and perhaps on Fra Balthasar, the Dominican.

Meanwhile, the Lord of Avalon had been putting forth his penitence in
stone and timber, and an army of craftsmen from Geraint.  The glade in
Cambremont wood rang to the swing of axes and the hoarse groaning of the
saw. The tower had been purged of its ashes, its rooms retimbered, its
casements filled with glass.  A chapel was springing into life under the
trees; the cleverest masons of the south were at work upon its pillars
and its arches.  Fra Balthasar, the Dominican, held sway over the whole,
subtle in colour and the carving of stone.  Flavian could have found no
better pander to his penitence.  Rose nobles had been squandered.
Frescoes, jewel bright, were to blaze out upon the walls.  The vaulted
roof was to be constellated with glimmering gold stars, shining from
skies of purple and azure.

To turn to Fulviac’s great cliff hid in the dark depths of the forest of
pines.  The disloyal chaff of the kingdom was wafted thither day by day,
borne on the conspiring breeze.  The forest engulfed all comers and
delivered them like ghosts into Fulviac’s caverns.  An army might have
melted into the wilds, and the countryside have been none the wiser.
Amid the pines and rocks of the cliffs there were marchings and
countermarchings, much shouldering of pikes and ordering of companies.
Veterans who had fought the infidels under Wenceslaus, drilled the raw
levies, and inculcated with hoarse bellowings the rudiments of military
reason.  They were rough gentlemen, and Fulviac stroked them with a
gauntlet of iron.  They were to attempt liberty together, and he
demonstrated to them that such freedom could be won solely by discipline
and soldierly concord.  The rogues grumbled and swore behind his back,
but were glad in their hearts to have a man for master.

To speak again of the girl Yeoland.  That March night she had met
Fulviac over the wreckage of the broken gate, and had made a profession
of the truth, so far, she said, as she could conjecture it.  She had
been long in the forest, had returned to the cliff to find the guards
slain, and the Lord Flavian gone.  By some device he had escaped from
his shackles, slain the men, and fled by the northern postern.  The
woman made a goodly pretence of vexation of spirit over the escape of
this reprobate.  She even taunted Fulviac with foolhardiness, and lack
of foresight in so bungling her vengeance.

The man’s escape from the cliff roused Fulviac’s energies to full flood.
The aristocrat of Avalon was ignorant of the volcano bubbling under his
feet, yet any retaliatory meddling on his part might prove disastrous at
so critical an hour.  Fulviac thrust forward the wheels of war with a
heavy hand.  The torrents of sedition and discontent were converging to
a river of revolt, that threatened to crush tyranny as an avalanche
crushes a forest.

The Virgin with her moon-white face still inspired Yeoland with the
visionary behest given in the ruined chapel.  The girl’s fingers toiled
at the scarlet banner; she spent half her days upon her knees, devout as
any Helena.  She knew Fulviac’s schemes as surely as she did the beads
on her rosary.  The rough rangers of the forest held her to be a saint,
and knelt to touch her dress as she passed by.

Yet what are dreams but snowflakes drifting from the heavens, now white,
now red, as God or man carries the lamp of love?  The girl’s ecstasy of
faith was but a potion to her, dazing her from a yet more subtle dream.
A faint voice summoned her from the unknown.  She would hear it often in
the silence of the night, or at full noon as she faltered in her
prayers.  The rosary would hang idle on her wrist, the crucifix melt
from her vision.  She would find her heart glowing like a rose at the
touch of the sun. Anon, frightened, she would shake the human half of
herself, and run back penitent to her prayers.

It was springtide and the year’s youth, when memories are garlanded with
green, and romance scatters wind-flowers over the world.  Many voices
awoke, like the chanting of birds, in Yeoland’s heart.  She desired,
even as a swallow, to see the old haunts again, to go a pilgrim to the
place where the dear dead slept.  Was it yearning grief, or a joy more
subtle, the cry of the wild and the voice of desire?  Mayhap white
flowers shone on the tree of life, prophetic of fruit in the mellow
year.  Jaspar the harper heard her plea; ’twas wilful and eager, but
what of that!  Fulviac, good man, had ridden to Gilderoy. The girl had
liberty enough and to spare.  She took it and Jaspar, and rode out from
the cliff.

Threading the sables of the woods, they came one noon to the open moor.
It was golden with the western sun, solitary as the sea.  The shadows
were long upon the sward when Cambremont wood billowed out in its
valley. There was no hope of their reaching the tower before dusk, so
they piled dead bracken under a cedar, where the shelving eaves swept to
the ground.

They were astir early upon the morrow, a sun-chastened wind inspiring
the woodlands, and sculpturing grand friezes from the marbles of the
sky.  The forest was full of the glory of Spring, starred with anemones
and dusted with the azure campaniles of the hyacinth horde.  Primroses
lurked on the lush green slopes.  In the glades, the forest peristyles,
green gorse blazed with its constellations of gold.

To the dolt and the hag the world is nothing but a fat larder; only the
unregenerate are blind of soul.  Beauty, Diana-like, shows not her naked
loveliness to all.  The girl Yeoland’s eyes were full of a strange
lustre that May morning.  Many familiar landmarks did she pass upon the
way, notched deep on the cross of memory.  There stood the great beech
tree where Bertrand had carved his name, and the smooth bark still bore
the scars where the knife had wantoned.  She forded the stream where
Roland’s pony had once pitched him into the mire.  Her eyes grew dim as
she rode through the sun-steeped woods.

The day had drawn towards noon when they neared the glade in the midst
of Cambremont wood.  Heavy wain wheels had scarred the smooth green of
the ride, and the newly-sawn pedestals of fallen oaks showed where
woodmen had been felling timber.  To Jaspar the harper these signs were
more eloquent of peril than of peace.  He began to snuff the air like an
old hound, and to jerk restless glances at the girl at his side.

"See where wheels have been," he began.

"And axes, my friend."

"What means it?"

"Some one rebuilds the tower."

The harper wagged his head and half turned his horse from the grass
ride.

"Have a care," he said.

"Hide in the woods if you will."

She rode on with a triumphant wilfulness and he followed her.

As they neared the glade, the noise of axe and hammer floated on the
wind, and they saw the scene flicker towards them betwixt the great
boles of the trees.  The tower stood with battlements of fresh white
stone; its windows had been reset, the blasting touch of fire effaced
from the walls.  The glade was strewn with blocks of stone and lengths
of timber; the walls of a chapel were rising from the grass.  Men were
digging trenches for the foundations of the priest’s cell.  Soldiers
idled about gossiping with the masons.

There was a smile in the girl’s eyes and a deeper tint upon her cheeks
as she stared betwixt the trees at the regarnished tower.  Those grey
eyes had promised the truth in Fulviac’s cavern.  She was glad in her
heart of the man’s honour, glad with a magic that made her colour. As
for the harper, he stroked his grey beard and was mute. He lacked
imagination, and was no longer young.

On a stump of an oak tree at the edge of the wood sat a man in a black
mantle and a habit of white cloth.  He had a panel upon his knee, and a
small wooden chest beside him on the grass.  His eyes were turned often
to the rolling woods, as his plump hand flourished a brush with nervous
and graceful gestures.

Seeing the man’s tonsure, and his dress that marked him a Dominican,
Yeoland rode out from the trees, casting her horse’s shadow athwart his
work.  The man looked up with puckered brow, his keen eye framing the
girl’s figure at a glance.  It was his destiny to see the romantic and
the beautiful in all things.

The priest and the girl on the horse eyed each other a moment in
silence.  Each was instinctively examining the other.  The churchman,
with an approving glint of the eye, was the first to break the woodland
silence.

"Peace be with you, madame."

His tone hinted at a question, and the girl adopted therewith an
ingenuous duplicity.

"My man and I were of a hunting party," she said; "we went astray in the
wood.  You, Father, will guide us?"

"Madame has not discovered to me her desire."

"We wish for Gilderoy."

Balthasar rose and pointed with his brush towards the ride by which they
had come.  He mapped the road for them with sundry jaunty flourishes,
and much showing of his white teeth.  Yeoland thanked him, but was still
curious.

"Ah, Father, whither have we wandered?"

"Men call it Cambremont wood, madame."

"And these buildings?  A retreat, doubtless, for holy men."

Balthasar corrected her with much unction.

"The Lord Flavian of Avalon builds here," he said, "but not for monks.
I, madame, am his architect, his pedagogue in painting."

Yeoland pretended interest.  She craned forward over her horse’s neck
and looked at the priest’s panel.  The act decided him.  Since she was
young and comely, Balthasar seized the chance of a chivalrous service.
The girl had fine eyes, and a neck worthy of a Venus.

"Madame has taste.  She would see our work?"

Madame appeared very ready to grant the favour. Balthasar put his
brushes aside, held the girl’s stirrup, and, unconscious of the irony of
the act, expatiated to Yeoland on the beauties of her own home.  At the
end of their pilgrimage, being not a little bewitched by such eyes and
such a face, he begged of her the liberty of painting her there and
then.  ’Twas for the enriching of religious art, as he very properly put
it.

Dead Rual’s grave was not ten paces distant, and Jaspar was standing by
it as in prayer.  Thus, Yeoland sat to Fra Balthasar, oblivious of him
indeed as his fingers brought her fair face into being, her shapely
throat and raven hair. His picture perfected, he blessed her with the
unction of a bishop, and stood watching her as she vanished down the
southern ride, graceful and immaculate as a young Dian.



                                   XV


Hardly had an hour passed, and Fra Balthasar was still touching the
study he had made of Yeoland’s face, when a company of spears flashed
out by the northern ride into the clearing.  At their head rode a knight
in harness of burnished steel, a splendid figure flashing chivalry in
the eyes of the sun.  On his shield he bore "a castle, argent, with
ports voided of the field, on a field vert," the arms of the house of
Gambrevault.  His surcoat was diapered azure and green with three gold
suns blazoned thereon. His baldric, a splendid streak of scarlet silk,
slashed his surcoat as with blood.  His troop, men in half armour, rode
under the Pavon Vert of the demesne of Avalon.

They thundered into the open stretch of grass with a clangorous rattle
of steel.  Flavian, bare-headed, for his salade hung at his saddle-bow
and he wore no camail, scanned the glade with a keen stare.  Seeing Fra
Balthasar seated under a tree, he turned his horse towards him, and
smiled as the churchman put his tools aside and gave him a benediction.
The man made a fine figure; judged by the flesh, Balthasar might have
stood for an Ambrose or a Leo.

"Herald of heaven, how goes the work?"

"Sire, we emulate Pericles."

"What have you there, a woman’s head, some rare Madonna?"

Balthasar showed his white teeth.

"A pretty pastoral, messire.  The study of a lady who had lost her way
hunting, and craved my guidance this morning.  A woman with the face and
figure of a Dian."

"Ha, rogue of the brush, let us see it."

Balthasar passed the parchment into the other’s hand. Flavian stared at
it, flushed to the temples, rapped out an ejaculation in ecclesiastic
Latin.  His eyes devoured the sketch with the insatiable enthusiasm of a
lover; words came hot off his tongue.

"Quick, man, quick, is this true to life?"

"As ruby to ruby."

"None of your idealisations?"

"Messire, but an hour ago that girl was sitting her horse where your
destrier now stands."

"And you sketched this at her desire?"

"At my own, sire; it was courtesy for courtesy: I had shown her our
handiwork here."

"You showed her this tower and chapel?"

"Certainly, sire."

"She seemed sad?"

"Nay, merry."

"This is romance!"  He lifted the little picture at arm’s length to the
sun, kissed it, and put it in his bosom. His face was radiant; he
laughed as though some golden joy rang and resounded in his heart.

"A hundred golden angels for this face!"

Fra Balthasar was in great measure mystified.  The Lord of Avalon seemed
an inflammable gentleman.

"Messire, you are ever generous."

"Man, man, you have caught the one woman in the world."

"Sire----"

"The Madonna of the Pine Forest, the Madonna of Mercy; she whose
kinsfolk were put to the sword by my men; even the daughter of Rual
whose tower stands yonder."

The priest comprehended the whole in a moment. The dramatic quaintness
of the adventure had made him echo Flavian’s humour.  He laughed and
shrugged his shoulders.

"Romance, romance!  By all the lovers who ever loved, by Tristan and the
dark Iseult, by Launcelot and Guinivere, follow that picture."

"Which way went she?"

"By the southern ride, towards Gilderoy."

The man was in heroic humour; his sword flashed out and shook in the
sun.

"By God, I’ll see her face again, and yet again, though I burn in hell
for it.  Roland, Godamar, come, men, come, throw away your spears.
Ride, ride, we chase the sunset.  Life and desire!"

He sprang away on his great bay horse, a shimmering shaft of
youth--youth that flashed forth chivalry into the burgeoning green of
Spring.  The sunlight webbed his hair with gold; his face glowed like a
martyr’s.  Balthasar watched him with much poetic zest, as he swept away
with his thundering knights into the woods.

The friar settled to his work again, but it was fated that he was to
have no lasting peace that morning.  He was painting in a background, a
landscape, to a small Crucifixion.  His hand was out of touch, however;
the subject was not congenial.  A pale face and a pair of dusky eyes had
deepened a different stream of thought in the man. Themes hypersensuous
held his allegiance; from prim catholic ethics, he reverted to his
glorious paganism with an ever-broadening sense of satisfaction.

He was interrupted once more, and not unpleasantly, by a lady, with two
armed servants at her back, riding in from the forest by the northern
ride.  The woman was clad in a cloak of damask red, and a jupon of dark
green, broidered with azure scroll work.  Her hood, fallen back, showed
her purple black hair bound up in a net of gold. Her large dark eyes
flashed and smouldered under their long lashes.  She had high
cheek-bones, a big nose, lips full as an over-ripe rose.  She was big of
body, voluptuous to look upon, as an Eastern odalisque, a woman of great
passions, great appetites.

Fra Balthasar tumbled his brushes and paints aside, and went to meet her
as she rode over the grass.  There was a smile on the man’s lips, a
flush upon his sleek face, as he walked with a courtly and debonair
vanity.  The woman caught sight of him and wheeled her horse in his
direction.  The autumn splendour of her cheeks told of hard riding, and
her horse dropped foam from his black muzzle.

Fra Balthasar crossed himself with much meekness.

"Good greeting, Madame Duessa," were his words, as he kept his eyes on
the ground.

The woman scanned the glade with the strenuous spirit of a Boadicea.

"My Lord Flavian?"

"Madame?"

"He has been here."

"But is here no longer."

"These buildings?"

"Are the Lord Flavian’s."

"And you?"

"I am his architect."

"Morally, messire monk?"

"Madame, I do not edificate souls."

The woman stared him over with a critical comprehensiveness.

"Balthasar."

The man half glanced at her.

"Look me in the face."

He gave a sigh, made a gesture with his hands, looked melancholy and
over-ecstasied to the point of despair.

"Madame, there are thoughts beyond one’s liberty."

"Well?"

"There are women, a woman, one dares not look upon.  There are eyes,
well--well, that are too bright. Pardon me, I would serve you."

She took a deep breath, held out her hand to him, a big, warm hand, soft
and white.  The man’s lips burnt upon it.  She touched his cheek and saw
him colour.

"Well?"

"My Lord Flavian is not here."

"But has been.  Where now?"

"Away hunting."

"Ha, what?"

"Madame, what do men hunt and burn for?"

"Sometimes a stag, a hare, a standard, a woman."

"Sometimes--a woman."

Balthasar, looking slantwise under half-closed lids, saw her eyes flash
and her lips tighten.

"Which way?"

"The southern ride, towards Gilderoy."

Duessa shook her bridle, and threw one look into Balthasar’s eyes.

"Remember," she said, "remember, a woman loves a friend, a true friend,
who can tell a lie, or keep a secret."

Balthasar watched her ride away.  He stood and smiled to himself, while
his long fingers played with the folds of his mantle.  Red wine was
bounding in his blood, and his imagination revelled.  He was a poetic
person, and a poet’s soul is often like tinder, safe enough till the
spark falls.

"_Gloria_," he said to himself with a smirk, "here’s hunting with a
vengeance.  Two women and a man! The devil is loose.  Soul of Masaccio,
that woman has fine eyes."

That day, when the sky was growing red over the woods, Flavian and his
troop drew close on the heels of Yeoland and the harper.  The man, for
all his heat, had kept his horse-flesh well in hand.  Once out of
Cambremont wood, they had met a charcoal-burner, who had seen Yeoland
and her follower pass towards the west.  They had hunted fast over fell
and moor.  While not two miles behind came Duessa of the Black Hair,
biting her lips and giving her brute lash and spur with a woman’s
viciousness.

Yeoland, halting on a slope above the pine woods, looked back and saw
something that made her crane her neck and wax vigilant.  Out of the
wine-red east and the twilight gloom came the lightning of harness, the
galloping gleam of armed men.  Jaspar’s blear eyes were unequal to the
girl’s.  The men below were riding hard, half under the lea of the
midnight pines, whose tops touched the sunset.  A half-moon of steel,
their crescent closed wood and moor.  They had the lead in the west;
they were mounting the slope behind.

Jaspar saw them at last.  He was for galloping. Yeoland held him in.

"Fool, we are caught.  Sit still.  We shall gain nothing by bolting."

A knight was coming up the slope at a canter. Yeoland saw his shield,
read it and his name.  She went red under her hood, felt her heart
beating, wondered at its noise.

Youth, aglitter in arms, splendid, triumphant!  A face bare to the west,
eyes radiant and tender, a great horse reined in on its haunches, a
mailed hand that made the sign of the cross!

"Madame, your pardon."

He drew Balthasar’s picture from his bosom and held it before her eyes.

"My torch," he said, "that led me to see your face again."

The girl was silent.  Her head was thrown back, her slim throat showing,
her face turned heavenwards like the face of a woman who is kissed upon
the lips.

"You have seen your home?"

"Yes, messire."

"God pardon me your sorrow.  You see I am no hypocrite.  I keep my
vows."

"Yes, messire."

"Madame, let me be forgiven; you have trusted one man, trust another."

She turned her horse suddenly and began to ride towards the black maw of
the forest.  Her lips were tightly closed, and she looked neither to the
right nor the left.  Flavian, a tower of steel, was at her side.  Armed
men ranged in a circle about them.  They opened ranks at a sign from
their lord, and gave the woman passage.

"Madame----"

"Messire----"

"Am I to be forgiven?"

She was mute a moment, as in thought.  Then she spoke quietly enough.

"Yes, for a vow."

"Tell it me."

"If you will never see my face again."

He looked at her with a great smile, drew his sword, and held the point
towards her.

"Then give me hate."

"Messire!"

"Hate, not forgiveness, hate, utter and divine, that I may fight and
travail, labour and despair."

"Messire!"

"Hate me, hate me, with all the unreason of your heart.  Hate me a
hundred times, that I may but leap a hundred times into your life.  Bar
me out that I may storm your battlements again and again."

"Are you a fool?"

"A glorious, mad, inspired fool."

They were quite near the trees.  Their black masses threw a great shadow
over the pair.  Higher still the sky burnt.

"Madame, whither do you go?"

"Where you may not venture, messire."

"God, I know no such region."

She flashed round on him with sudden bitterness.

"Go back to your wife.  Go back to your wife, messire; remember her
honour."

It was a home-thrust, but it did not shame or weaken him.  He sheathed
his sword, and looked at her sadly out of his grey eyes.

"What a world is this," he said, "when heaven comes at last, hell yawns
across the path.  When summer burns, winter lifts its head.  Even as a
man would grow strong and pure, his own cursed shackles cumber him.
To-night I say no more to you.  Go, madame, pray for me.  You shall see
my face again."

He let life vanish under the pines, and rode back with the sunset on his
armour, his face staring into the rising night.  His men came round him,
silent statues of steel. He rode slowly, and met his wife.

Her eyes were turbulent, her lips red streaks of scorn.

"Ha, sire, I have found you."

"Madame, I trust you are well?"

They looked at each other askance like angry dogs, as they rode side by
side, and the night came down. The men left them to themselves, and went
on ahead. A wind grew gusty over the moor.

[Illustration: "THEY LOOKED AT EACH OTHER ASKANCE LIKE ANGRY DOGS."]

"Messire, I have borne enough from you."

"Madame, is it fault of mine?"

His whole soul revolted from her with an immensity of hate.  She
cumbered, clogged, crushed him.  Mad brutality leapt in his heart
towards her.  He could have smitten the woman through with his sword.

"Five years ago----" she said.

"You did the wooing.  Damnation, we have been marvellously happy."

She bit her lip and was white as the moon.

"Have a care, messire, have a care."

"Threats, threats."

"Have a care----"

"Look at my shield.  Have I quartered your arms with mine?  God’s blood,
there is nothing to erase."

"Ha!"

"We have no children."

"Go on."

"I shall send gold and an embassage to the Pope."

She clenched her hands and could not speak for the moment.

"You dare do this?"

"I dare ten thousand greater things than this."

"By God, messire."

"By God, woman, am I going down to hell because you are my wife!"

She grew quiet very suddenly, a dangerous move in a woman.

"Very well," she said, "try it, dear lord.  I am no fool. Try it, I am
as strong as you."

And so they rode on towards Avalon together.



                                  XVI


It is impossible for two persons of marked individuality to be much
together without becoming more or less faceted one towards the other.
We appeal by sympathy, and inspire by contrast.  What greater glory
falls to a man’s lot than to be chastened by the warm May of some girl’s
pure heart!  Yeoland had felt the force of Fulviac’s manhood; the more
eternal and holier instincts were being stirred in him by a woman’s
face.

The man’s life had been a transmigration.  In his younger days the world
had banqueted him; new poignancies had bubbled against his lips in the
cup of pleasure. Later had come that inevitable weariness, that distaste
of pomp, the mood that discovers vanity in all things.  Finally he had
set his heart upon a woman, a broken reed indeed, and had discovered her
a hypocrite, according to the measure of her passions.  There had been
one brief burst of blasphemy.  He had used his dagger and had
disappeared.  There had been much stir at the time.  A ruby had fallen
from the King’s crown.  Some spoke of Palestine, others of a monastery,
others of a cubit of keen steel.

Fulviac had begun life over again.  He had fallen back upon elemental
interests--had gone hungry, fought for his supper, slept many a storm
out under a tree.  The breath of the wilderness had winnowed out luxury;
rain had scourged him into philosophic hardihood.  He had learnt in
measure that nothing pleases and endures like simplicity.  Even his
ambition was simple in its audacious grandeur.

Now the eyes of the daughter of Rual were like the eyes of a Madonna,
and she stood in a circle of white lilies like the spirit of purity.
Fulviac had begun to believe in her a little, to love her a little.  She
stood above all other women he had known.  The ladies of the court were
superb and comely, and marvellously kind, but they loved colour and
contemned the robe of white.  They were like a rich posy for a man to
choose from, scarlet and gold, azure, damask or purple.  You could love
their bodies, but you could not trust their souls.

As for the girl Yeoland, she was very devout, very enthusiastic, but no
Agnes.  Her rosary had little rest, and with the suspicions of one not
utterly sure of herself, she had striven to make religion and its
results satisfy her soul. In some measure she had succeeded.  Yet there
is ever that psychic echo, that one mysterious being, subtle as the
stars, that may come before Christ in the heart. Transcendent spirit of
idolatry!  And yet it is often heaven-sent, seeing that it leads many a
soul to God.

It had become Yeoland’s custom to walk daily in the pine wood at the
foot of the stairway leading from the northern room.  She had discovered
a quaint nook, a mile or more from the cliff, a nook where trees stood
gathered in a dense circle about a grassy mound capped by a square of
mouldering stone.  It was a grave, nameless and without legend.  Perhaps
a hermit had crumbled away there under the sods, or the bones of some
old warrior slept within rusty harness.  None knew, none cared greatly.
Fulviac’s men had hinted at treasure, yet even they were kept from
desecrating the place by a crude and superstitious veneration for the
dead.

She had wandered here one day and had settled herself on the grassy
slope of the grave.  The ribbon of her lute lay over her shoulder.  A
breeze sang fitfully through the branches, and a golden haze shimmered
down as from the clerestory windows of a cathedral.  Her lute seemed sad
when it made answer to her fingers.  Thought was plaintive and not
devotional, if one might judge by the mood of the music, and the notes
were wayward and pathetically void of discipline.

It was while the girl thrummed idly at the strings that a vague sound
floated down to her with the momentary emphasis born of a fickle wind.
It was foreign to the forest, or it would not have roused her as it did.
As she listened the sound came again from the west.  It was neither the
distant bay of a hound nor a horn’s solitary note.  There was something
metallic about it, something musical.  When it disappeared, she listened
for its recurrence; when she heard it again, she puzzled over its
nature.

The sound grew clearer at gradual intervals, and then ceased utterly.
The girl listened for a long while to no purpose, and then prepared to
forget the incident.  The decision was premature.  She was startled anon
by the sound breaking out at no great distance.  There was no doubt as
to its nature: it was the clanging of a bell.

Yeoland wondered who could be carrying such a thing in such a place.
Possibly some of Fulviac’s men were coming home with stolen cattle, and
an old bell-wether from some wild moorland with them.

The sound of the bell came very near; it seemed close amid the circling
ranks of pines.  Twigs were cracking too, and she heard the beat of
approaching footsteps.  Then her glance caught something visible, a
streak of white in the shadows, moving like a ghost. The thing went amid
the trees with the bell mute.  The girl’s doubts were soon set at rest
as to whether she had been seen or no.  The figure in grey slipped
between the pines, and came out into the grass circle about the grave,
cowled, masked, bell at girdle, a leper.

The girl stared at it with a cold flutter at her heart. The thing stood
under the boughs motionless as stone. The bell gave never a tinkle; a
white chin poked forward from under the hood; the masked face was in
shadow.  Then the bell jangled, and a gruff voice came from the cowl.

"Unclean, unclean!" it said; "avoid the white death, and give alms."

Yeoland obeyed readily enough, put a portion of the grave betwixt
herself and the leper, fumbled in her pouch and threw the man a piece of
silver.  He came forward suddenly into the light, fell on his knees, put
his hood back, plucked off the mask.

It was the face of the Lord Flavian of Gambrevault.

The girl stood and stared at him with unstinted astonishment.

"You," she said, "you?"

"Madame, I said that you should see my face again."

She conceived a sudden impetuous desire to turn and leave him on his
knees, but some inner potency of instinct restrained her.  She looked
down at the man, with no kindling kindness upon her face.  She did not
know what to say to him, how to tune her mood.  The first thought that
rushed into her mind was seized upon and pressed into service,
discretion or no discretion.

"Madman, they will kill you if they find you here."

"No woman ever loved a coward."

"For Heaven’s sake, go away."

He rose from his knees and lifted up his frock.  The girl saw harness
and a sword beneath it.  This young leopard of the southern shores had
fettle enough, and spirit.  He was a mixture of imperturbable
determination and sanguine Quixotism, as he faced her under the trees.

"This dress is privileged; my bell warns folk away; who would fall foul
of a miserable leper?  If this frock fails me, I have my sword."

She looked at him with the solemnity of a child, hand folded in hand.

"I cannot understand you," she said.

"Not yet."

"Are you the man whose life I saved?  That breath of death on your brow,
messire, should have made you thoughtful of your soul."

"Let me plead a moment."

"For what?"

"My honour."

"Why your honour?"

"Because I want you to believe that I have a soul."

He was vastly earnest, and his eyes followed her, as though she were
some being out of heaven.  She had never seen such a look in a man’s
eyes before; it troubled her. She questioned her own heart, laughed
emptily, and gave in to him.

"We are both mad," she said, "but go on.  I will listen for one minute.
Keep watch lest any one should come upon us suddenly."

She sat down on the grass bank, while he stood before her, holding his
lazar bell by the clapper.

"Look at this dress," he said.

"Yes?"

"It is how I feel in soul when I look at you."

She frowned visibly.

"If you wax personal, messire, I shall leave you."

"No, no, I will keep to my own carcase, and play the egotist.  Well, I
will be brief.  Look at me, I am the first lord in the south, master of
an army, one of the twelve knights of the Order of the Rose."

"Go on."

"When I was twenty years old, certain clever people found me a wife, a
woman five years my senior in time, twenty years my superior in
knowledge of the world. Well, six months had not passed before I hated
her, hated her with my whole soul.  My God, what a thing for a boy to
begin life with a woman who made him half the bounden vassal of the
devil!"

"You seem generous.  The faults were all on her side."

"Madame, I say nothing against the woman, only that she had no soul.  We
were incompatible as day and night, fire and water.  The thing crushed
the youth out of me, made me desperate, and worse, made me old beyond my
years.  I have done my best.  I have groped along like a man in the
dark, knowing nothing, understanding nothing, save that I had a warm
heart in me, and that life seemed one grim jest.  The future had no fire
for me; I drank the wine of the present, strove to please my senses,
plunged into the abysses of the world.  Sometimes I tried to pray.
Sometimes I played the cynic.  The eternal beacon of love had gone out
of my life.  I had no sun, no inspiration for my soul."

She sprang up suddenly, breathing fast like one who is near tears.

"Why do you speak to me of this?"

"God knows."

His voice was utterly lonely.

"What am I to you?  You have hardly seen me three hours in your life.
Why do you speak to me of this?"

He put a hand to his throat, and did not look at her.

"Madame, there are people who come near our hearts in one short hour,
people who are winter to us to eternity. Do not ask me to explain this
truth; as Christ’s death, I know it to be true.  I trust you.  All the
logicians of the world could not tell me why.  I do not know that I
could bring forward one single reason out of my own soul, save that you
showed me great mercy once.  And now--and now----"

He broke down suddenly, and could not speak.  Yeoland appealed to him
out of the quickness of her fear.

"Messire, messire, your promise."

"Let me speak, or I stifle."

"Go, for God’s sake, go!"

He flung his hands towards her with a great outburst of passion.

"Heaven and God’s throne, you shall hear me to the end.  Woman, woman,
my soul flows to you as the sea ebbs to the moon; deep in the sky a new
sun burns; the stars are dust, dust blown from the coffins of the dead
who loved.  Life leaps in me like another chaos. All my heart glows like
an autumn orchard, and I burn. The world is red with a myriad roses.
God’s in the heaven, Christ bleeds on quaking Calvary."

She ran to him suddenly and seized his wrist.

"GO----!"

"I cannot."

"Men are coming, I hear them in the woods, they will kill you!"

"I hear them too."

"Go, go, for my sake and for God’s."

He kissed her sleeve, pulled his cowl down, and fled away into the
woods.



                                  XVII


The Lady Duessa stood in the chapel of water-girded Avalon, with Fra
Balthasar the Dominican beside her. She had slipped in without his
noticing her, and had watched him awhile in silence at his work.  The
jingling of her chatelaine had brought him at last to a consciousness of
her presence.  Now they stood together before the high altar and looked
at the Madonna seated on her throne of gold, amid choirs of angel women.

The Lady Duessa’s intelligence had waxed critical on the subject.

"You have altered the Virgin’s face," she said.

Balthasar stared at his handiwork and nodded.

"The former has been erased, the latter throned in her stead."

The words had more significance for the lady than the friar had perhaps
intended.  A better woman would have snubbed him for his pains.  As it
was, he saw her go red, saw the tense stare of her dark eyes, the
tightening of the muscles of her jaw.  She had a wondrous strong jaw,
had the Lady Duessa.  She was no mere puppet, no bright-eyed, fineried
piece of plasticity.  Fra Balthasar guessed the hot, passionate power of
her soul; she was the very woman for the rough handling of a cause, such
as the Lord Flavian her husband had roused against her.

"I suppose," she said, "this alteration was a matter of art, Balthasar?"

"A matter of heart, madame."

"So?"

"My Lord Flavian commanded it."

"And yonder face is taken from life?"

"Madame, I leave the inference to your charity."

She laughed a deep, cynical laugh, and went wandering round the chapel,
looking at the frescoes, and swinging a little poniard by the chain that
linked it to her girdle. Balthasar made a pretence of mixing colours on
his palette. Worldly rogue that he was, he knew women, especially women
of the Lady Duessa mould.  He had a most shrewd notion as to what was
passing in her mind.  Morally, he was her abettor, being a person who
could always take a woman’s part, provided she were pretty.  He believed
women had no business with religion.  To Balthasar, like fine glass,
their frailty was their most enhancing characteristic. It gave such
infinite scope to a discreet confessor.

The Lady Duessa strolled back again, and stood by the altar rails.

"Am I such a plain woman?" she asked.

"Madame!"

"You have never painted me."

"There are people above the artist’s brush."

"But you paint the Madonna."

"Madame, the Madonna is anybody’s property."

"Am I?"

"God forbid that a poet should speak lightly of beauty."

She laughed again, and touching her hair with her fingers, scanned
herself in a little mirror that she carried at her girdle.

"Tell me frankly, am I worth painting?"

"Madame, that purple hair, those splendid eyes, the superb colour of
those cheeks, would blaze out of a golden background as out of heaven."

She gave a musical little titter.

"Heaven, heaven, ha--ha."

"I should be grateful for so transcendent a chance."

"And you would do me justice?"

"Where inspiration burns, there art soars."

"You would be true?"

"To the chiselling of a coral ear."

"And discreet?"

"To the curve of a lip."

"And considerate?"

"My hands are subtle."

"And your heart?"

"Is ingenuous as a little child’s."

She laughed again, and held out her hands.  Balthasar kissed the white
fingers, crowded with their gems.  His eyes were warm as water in the
sun; the colours and the glimmering richness of the chapel burnt into
his brain.

"You shall paint me," she said.

"Here, madame, here?"

"No, my own bower is pleasanter.  You can reach it by my Lord Flavian’s
stair in the turret.  Here is the key; he never uses it now.  Avalon has
not seen him these six days."

"Madame, I will paint you as man never painted woman before."

Dame Duessa’s bower was a broad chamber on the western walls, joining
the south-western tower.  A great oriel, jewelled with heraldic glass,
looked over the mere with its dreaming lilies, over the green meadows to
the solemn silence of the woods.

Calypso’s grotto!  The bower of a luxurious lady in a luxurious age!
The snuff of Ind and Araby tingled in Balthasar’s nostrils.  The silks
of China and Bagdad, the cloths of Italy, bloomed there; flowers crowded
the window, the couches, every nook.  Blood-red hangings warmed the
walls.

The Lady Duessa sat to Balthasar in the oriel, with her lute upon her
bosom.  She was in azure and violet, with neck and bosom showing under a
maze of gossamer gold.  Her arms were bare to the shoulder, white,
gleaming arms, subtle, sinuous, voluptuous.  Her hair had been powdered
with gold.  Her lips were wondrous red, her eyes dark as wells.  Musk
and lavender breathed from her samites; her girdle glowed with precious
stones.

Fra Balthasar sat on a stool inlaid with mother-of-pearl and ivory.  An
embroidery frame served him as an easel. The man was living under the
many-constellationed vault of beauty.  All the scent and floweriness of
the room played on his brain; all the wealth of it pandered to his art;
all the woman’s splendour made molten wax of his being.

As he painted she sang to him, an old lay of Arthurian love, so that he
might catch the music in her eyes, and watch the deep notes gathering in
her throat.  He saw her bosom sway beneath her lace, saw the inimitable
roundness of her arms.  Often his brush lingered.  He might gaze upon
the woman as he would, drink her beauty like so much violet wine, open
his soul to the opulent summer of her power.  His heart was in a sunset
mood; he lived the life of a poet.

    "And the green spring grew subtle," sang the dame,
    "With song of birds and laughter, and the woods
    Were white for maying.  So fair Guinivere
    Loosed her long hair like rivulets of gold
    That stream from the broad casement of the dawn.
    And her sweet mouth was like one lovely rose,
    And her white bosom like a bowl of flowers;
    So wandered she with Launcelot, while the wind
    Blew her long tresses to him, and her eyes
    Were as the tender azure of the night."

Of such things sang Duessa, while the friar spread his colours.

And then she questioned him.

"Love you the old legends, Balthasar?"

"Madame, as I love life."

"Ah! they could love in those old days."

"Madame, men can love even now."

She put her lute aside, and knelt upon the couch before the window, with
her elbows on the cushioned sill.  Her silks swept close upon her
shapely back, her shoulders gleamed under her purple hair.  In the west
the world grew red; the crimson kisses of the sunset poured upon the
ecstasied green woods.  The mere was flaked with a myriad amber scales.
The meadows broidered their broad laps with cowslips, as with dust of
gold.

"Balthasar."

"Madame?"

"Look yonder at the sunset.  You must be tired of gazing on my face."

He rose up like one dazed--intoxicated by colours, sounds, and odours.
Duessa’s hand beckoned him.  He went and knelt on the couch at her side,
and looked out over the flaming woods.

"And the other woman?" she said.

"The other woman?"

"This Madonna of my lord’s chapel."

"Yes?"

"She amuses me; I am not jealous; what is jealousy to me?  Tell me about
her, Balthasar; no doubt it is a pretty tale, and you know the whole."

"I, madame?"

"I, Duessa."

"But----"

"You are my Lord Flavian’s friend; he was ever a man to be garrulous: he
has been garrulous to you.  Tell me the whole tale."

"Duessa!"

"Better, better, my friend."

She put her hands upon his shoulders, and stared straight into his eyes.
Her lips overhung his like ripe red fruit. Her arms were fragrant of
myrrh and violet; her bosom was white as snow under the moon.

"Can you refuse me this?"

"God, madame, I can refuse you nothing."



                                 XVIII


The girl Yeoland saw nothing of the leper for a season. For several days
she did not venture far into the pine forest, and the nameless grave
heard not the sound of her lute.  The third night after the incident, as
she lay in her room under her canopy of purple cloth, she heard
distinctly the silver clangour of a bell floating up through the
midnight silence.  She lay as still as a mouse, and scarcely drew
breath, for fear the man in grey should venture up the stairway.  The
casement was open, with a soft June air blowing in like peace.  The bell
continued to tinkle, but less noisily, till it vanished into silence.

Other folk from the cliff had seen the leper, and Yeoland could not
claim to have monopolised the gentleman.  One of Fulviac’s fellows had
seen him one morning near the cliff, gliding like a grey ghost among the
pines.  Another had marked him creeping swiftly away through the
twilight.  It was a superstitious age and a superstitious region.  The
figure in grey seemed to haunt the place, with the occasional and
mournful sounding of its bell.  Men began to gossip, as the ignorant
always will.  Fulviac himself grew uneasy for more material reasons, and
contemplated the test of a clothyard shaft or a bolt upon the leper’s
body.  The man might be a spy, and if the bolt missed its mark it would
at least serve as a sinister hint to this troublesome apparition.

It was then that Yeoland took alarm into her woman’s heart.  There was
great likelihood of the man ending his days under the tree with a shaft
sticking fast between his shoulders.  Though he was something of a
madman, she did not relish such a prospect.  The day after she had heard
the bell at midnight near the stair she haunted the forest like a pixie,
keeping constant watch between the cliff and the forest grave.  Fulviac
had ridden out on a plundering venture, and she was free of him for the
day.

It was not till evening that she heard the faint signal of the bell,
creeping down through the gold-webbed boughs like the sound of a distant
angelus.  The sound flew from the north, and beckoned her towards the
forest grave. Fearful of being caught, she followed it as fast as her
feet could carry her, while the deepening clamour led her on. Presently
she called the man by name as she ran.  His grey frock and cowl came
dimly through the trees.

"At last you are merciful," was his greeting.

She stood still and twisted her gown restlessly between her two hands.
Anarchy showed in her face; fear, reason, and desire were calling to her
heart.  The intangible touch of the man’s soul threw her being into
chaos.  She feared greatly for him, stood still, and could say nothing.
Flavian put his cowl back, and stood aloof from her, looking in her
face.

"Seemingly we are both embarrassed," he said.

She made a petulant little gesture.  He forestalled her in speech.

"It is best to be frank when life runs deep.  I will speak the truth to
you, and you may treat me as you will."

Yeoland leant against a tree, and began to pull away the brittle scales
of the bark.

"If you stay here longer, messire----" she began.

"Well, madame, what then?"

"You will be shot like a dog; you are suspected; they are going to try
your leper’s gown with a crossbow bolt."

The man smiled optimistically.

"And you came to tell me this?"

"Yes."

"I thank you."

The wind moved through the trees; a fir-cone came pattering through the
branches and fell at their feet.  On the cliff a horn blared; its
throaty cry came echoing faintly through the trees.

Flavian looked towards the gold of the west.  His mood was calm and
deliberate; he had his enthusiasms in leash for the moment, for there
were more mundane matters in his mind--matters that were not savoury,
however crimson shone the ideal years.

"I have thrown down the glove," he said, "for good or evil, honour or
dishonour.  I will tell you the whole truth."

Yeoland, watching his face, felt her impatient dreads goad her to the
quick.

"Will you talk for ever?" she said to him.

"Take the core then.  I am going to rend my bonds as I would rend flax.
I have appealed to the Church; I have poured out gold."

"To the point, messire."

"I shall divorce my wife."

He threw his head back, and challenged the world in her one person.  Her
good favour was more to him than the patronage of Pope or King.  It was
in his mind that she should believe the worst of him from the beginning,
so that in some later season he might not emulate Lucifer, toppled out
of the heaven of her heart.  She should have the truth from the first,
and build her opinion of him on no fanciful basis.  Even in this justice
to the more sinister side of his surroundings, he was an idealist,
thorough and enthusiastic.

"So you must understand, madame, that I am not without blemishes, not
without things that I myself would rather see otherwise.  With me it is
a question of going to hell for a woman, or getting rid of her.  Being
an egotist, I choose the latter alternative."

Yeoland still evaded his eyes.

"And the woman loves you?"

"Not an atom; she only cares to be called the Lady of Gambrevault,
Signoress of Avalon, the first dame in the south."

"Why do you tell me this?"

"Madame, have I need of more words?  It is for this: that you might not
picture me as I am not, or form any false conception of me.  I have
bared my moral skeleton to you.  Perhaps you will never know what it
costs a man at times to make his mind as glass to the woman he honours
above the whole world."

"Well?"

"It is because I honour you that I have goaded myself to tell you the
whole truth."

Her verdict was more sudden and more human than he might have expected.

"Messire, you are a brave man," she said; "I believe I am beginning to
trust you."

The sky flamed into sunset; the tracery of the trees seemed webbed with
gold into shimmering domes and fans of quivering light.  In the
distance, the great cliff stood out darkly from the scarlet caverns of
the west.  The pine tops rose like the black spires of some vast city.
Above, floated clouds, effulgent mounts of fire, hurled from the abysmal
furnace of the sun.

Flavian came two steps nearer to the woman, leaning against the tree.

"Give me my due," he said; "I have uncovered the difficult workings of
my heart, I have shown you the inner man in his meaner mould.  Suffer me
to speak of my manhood in godlier words.  I have shown you Winter; let
me utter forth Spring."

Yeoland turned and faced him at last.

"You have risked your life and my honour long enough," she said, "I am
going back to the cliff."

"And I with you, as far as the stairway."

"To the threshold of death."

"What care I if I tread it at your side?"

She turned homewards with obstinate intent, and the mild hauteur of a
good woman.  The man followed her, went with her step for step, looking
in her face.

"Hear my confession," he said; "you shall have it before you leave me.
For the sake of your honour, I hold my soul by the collar.  But--but, I
shall win liberty, liberty.  When I am free, ah, girl, girl, I shall
flash golden wings in the face of the sun.  I shall soar to you that I
may look into your eyes, that I may touch your hands, and breathe the
warm summer of your soul.  I want God, I want purity, I want the Eternal
peace, I want your heart. I have said the whole; think of me what you
will."

Twilight had gathered; all the violet calmness of the night came down
upon the world.  Under the shadows of the tall trees, the girl was
deeply stirred beyond her own compassion. She halted, hesitated, went
suddenly near the man with her face turned heavenwards like a new-spread
flower.  Her eyes were very wistful, and she spoke almost in a whisper.

"You have told me the whole truth, you have shown me your whole soul?"

"As I serve you, madame, I have kept nothing back."

"Ah, messire, I will speak to you the truth in turn. God be merciful to
me, but you have come strangely near my heart.  These are bitter words
for my soul. Ah, messire, if you have any honour for me, trust me that I
aspire to heaven.  I cannot suffer you to come deeper into my life."

The man held out his hands.

"Why, why?"

"Because in following me, you go innocently to your death."

He lifted up his arms, and leapt into heroics like an Apollo leaping
into a blood-red sky.

"What care I; you speak in riddles; can I fear death?"

"Messire, messire, it is the woman who fears.  I tell you this, because,
because--God help me----"

She fled away, but that night he did not follow her.



                                  XIX


As a wind sweeps clamorous into a wood, so Modred and his fellows,
household knights, streamed into the great hall of Avalon, where the
Lord Flavian sat at supper. Bearers of angry steel, fulminators of
vengeance, vociferous, strong, they poured in through the screens like a
mill race, bearing a tossed and impotent figure in their midst.  Their
swords yelped and flashed over this bruised fragment of humanity.

A gauntlet of steel was dashed often into the white face. Hands clawed
his collar, clutched his body.  Dragged, jerked onwards, buffeted,
beaten to his knees, he sank down before the Lord Flavian’s chair, blood
streaming from his mouth and nostrils, specking his white habit,
drabbling the floor.  Then only did the flashing, growling circle recede
like waves from a fallen rock.

Modred, a black man, burly, a bigot to honour, stood out a giant before
his fellows.  His great sword quivered to the roof; his deep voice shook
the rafters.

"Blood, sire, blood."

The man in the white habit quailed, and held up his hands.

"Let me smite him as he kneels."

"Sirs, give me the courtesy of silence."

Flavian started from his chair and looked at the man, who knelt, huddled
into himself, at his feet.  It was a scene replete with the grim
cynicism of life.  Here was a man of mind and genius, cowering,
quivering before the strong wrath of a dozen muscular illiterates.  Here
was the promulgator of bold truths, an utter dastard when the physical
part of him was threatened with dissolution. Not that this event was any
proof against the moral power of pagan self-reliance.  Not that there
was any cause for the bleating of sanctimonious platitudes, or the
pointing of a proverb.  A true churchman might have carved a fine moral
fable out of the reality.  It would have been a fallacy.  Fra Balthasar
was a coward.  He had none of the splendid mental anatomy of a Socrates.
He would have played the coward even under the eye of Christ.

Silence had fallen.  Far away, choked by the long throats of gallery and
stair, rose the wild, passionate screaming of a woman.  It had the
rebellious, blasphemous agony of one flung into eternal fire.  Without
modulation, abatement, or increase, malevolent, impotent, ferocious,
piteous, it pealed out in long, tempestuous bursts that swept into the
ears like some unutterable discord out of hell.

The kneeling man heard it, and seemed to contract, to shrink into
himself.  His white habit was rent to the middle; his ashy face splashed
over with blood.  He tottered and shook, his hands clasped over the nape
of his neck, for fear of the sword.  His tongue clave to his palate; his
eyes were furtively fixed on the upreared yard of steel.

Torches and cressets flared.  Servants stared and shouldered and gaped
in the screens; all the castle underlings seemed to have smelt out the
business like the rats they were.  Modred’s knights put them out with
rough words and the flat of the sword.  The doors were barred.  Only
Flavian, the priest, and Modred and his men took part in that tribunal
in the hall of Avalon.

Flavian stood and gazed on Balthasar, the man of tones and colours.  The
Lord of Gambrevault was calm, unhurried, and dispassionate, yet not
unpleased.  The man’s infinite abasement and terror seemed to arrest him
like some superb precept from the lips of a philosopher.  He had the air
of a man who calculates, the look of a diplomat whose scheme has worked
out well.  From Balthasar he looked to Modred the Strong, the torchlight
lurid on his armour, his great sword quivering like a falcon to leap
down upon its prey.  The distant screaming, somewhat fainter and less
resolute, still throbbed in his ears.  He thought of Dante, and the
_bolgias_ of that superhuman singer.

Going close to the Dominican, he spoke to him in strong, yet not
unpitying tones.  Balthasar dared not look above the Lord Flavian’s
knees.

"Ha, my friend, where is all your fine philosophy?"

The man cringed like a beggar.

"Where are all your sonorous phrases, your pert blasphemies, your
subtleties, your fine tinsel of intellect and vanity?"

Balthasar had no word.

"Where is your godliness, my friend, where your glowing and superhuman
soul?  Have we found you out, O Satanas; have we shocked your pagan
heroism?  Be a man.  Stand up and face us.  You could hold forth roundly
on occasions.  Even that Saul of Tarsus was not afraid of a sword."

Balthasar cowered, and hid his face behind his hands. He began to
whimper, to rock to and fro, to sob.  The grim men round him laughed,
deep-chested, iron, scoffing laughter.  Modred pricked the priest’s neck
with the point of his sword.  It was then that Balthasar fell forward
upon his face, senseless from sheer terror.

Flavian abandoned philosophic irony, and addressed himself to Modred and
his knights.

"Put up your swords, sirs; this man shall go free."

"Sire, sire!" came the massed cry.

"Trust my discretion.  The fellow has done me the greatest service of my
life."

"Sire!"

"He has given me liberty.  He has gnawed the shackles from my soul.  You
are all my witnesses in this, and may count upon my gratitude.  But this
man here, he has danced to my whim like a doll plucked by a string.  For
my liberty has he sinned; out of Avalon shall he go scatheless."

The men still murmured.  Modred shot home his sword into its scabbard
with a vicious snap.  Flavian read their humour.

"Do not imagine, gentlemen," he said, "that your vigilance and your
loyalty to my honour can go unrewarded. Modred, your lands are heavily
mortgaged, I free you at a word, with this my signet.  To you, Bertrand,
I give the Manor of Riesole to keep and hold for you and yours.  To all
you, good friends, I give a hundred golden angels, man and man.  And
now, sirs, as to madame, my wife."

They gathered round him in curious conclave, Balthasar lying in their
midst.

"Sir Modred, you will order out my state litter, set the Lady Duessa
therein, and have her borne with all courtesy to Gilderoy, to her
father’s house.  Then you will take these gentlemen who are my true
friends and witnesses, and you will ride to Lauretia, to make solemn
declaration before Bishop Hilary.  He has already received my earlier
embassage. After this affair, we have no need of ethical subtleties and
clerical conveniences.  You will obtain a dispensation at his hands.
_Ex vinculo matrimonii_.  Nothing less than that."

They bowed to him and his commands, like the loyal gentlemen they were.
Modred pointed to the prostrate Balthasar, who was already squirming
back to consciousness, with his fingers feeling at his throat, as though
to discover whether it was still sound or no.

"And this fellow, sire?"

"Pick him up."

Balthasar had found his tongue at last.  He was jerked to his feet, and
held up by force, with the handle of a poniard rammed into his mouth to
stem his garrulity.

Flavian read him an extemporary lecture.  There was something like a
smile hovering about his lips.

"Go back to your missal, man, and forswear women. They are like strong
wine, too much for your flimsy brain. I have more pity for you than
censure.  Say to yourself, when you patter your prayers, ’Flavian of
Gambrevault saved me from the devil once.’  And yet, my good saint, I
have a shrewd notion that you will be just as great a fool two months
hence."

The man gave a scream of delight, and attempted to throw himself at
Flavian’s feet.  His superlative joy was almost ludicrous.  Half a dozen
hands dragged him back.

"Take him away--who cares for such gratitude!"

As they marched him off, he broke like an imbecile into hysterical
laughter.  Tears streamed from his eyes.  He mopped his face with the
corner of his habit, laughed and snivelled, and sang snatches of tavern
ditties.  So, with many a grim jest, they cuffed Fra Balthasar out of
Avalon.

At the end of the drama, Flavian called for tapers, and marched in state
to the chapel.  He knelt before the altar and prayed to the Madonna,
whose face was the face of the girl Yeoland.



                                   XX


"Fulviac, I cannot fasten all these buckles."

The man waited at the door of her room, and looked at her with a
half-roguish smile in his eyes.

She stood by the window in Gothic armour of a grandly simple type, no
Maximilian flutings, no Damascening, the simple Gothic at its grandest,
nothing more.  Her breast-plate, with salient ridge, was blazoned over
with golden fleur-de-lis.  The pauldrons were slightly ridged; vam-brace
and rere-brace were beautifully jointed with most quaint elbow-pieces.
She wore a great brayette, a short skirt of mail, but no tassets.  In
place of cuishes, jambs, and solerets, she had a kirtle of white cloth,
and laced leather shoes.  It was light work and superbly wrought;
Fulviac had paid many crowns for it from an armourer at Geraint.

Her beauty, mailed and cased in steel, seemed to shine upon the man with
a new glory.  When he had played the armourer, she stood and looked at
him with a most conscious modesty, a warm colour in her cheeks, eyes
full of tremulous light, her masses of dark hair rolling down over her
blazoned cuirass.  A hand and a half sword in a gilded scabbard, a rich
baldric, and a light bassinet lay on the oak table.  Fulviac took the
sword, and belted it to her, and slung the baldric over her shoulder.
His hands moved through her dark hair.  For a moment, her eyes trembled
up at him under their long lashes.  He gave the helmet into her hands,
but she did not wear it.

A sudden gust of youth seized the man, an old strain of chivalry woke in
his heart.  Grizzled and gaunt, he went on his knees in front of her and
held up his hands as in prayer.  There was a warm light in his eyes.

"The Mother Virgin keep you, little woman.  May all peril be far from
your heart, all trouble far from your soul. May my arm ever ward you, my
sword guard your womanhood. All the saints watch over you; may the
Spirit of God abide with you in my heart."

It was a true prayer, though Fulviac stumbled up from his knees, looking
much like an awkward boy.  He was blushing under his tanned skin,
blushing, scarred and battered worldling that he was, for his heart
still showed gold to the knife of Time.  Yeoland thought more of him
that moment than she had done these four months.  A shadow passed over
her face, and she touched her forehead with her hand.

Fulviac, a far-away look in his eyes, was furling her great scarlet
banner upon its staff.  Yeoland spoke to him over her shoulder.

"I am in your hands," she said.

Fulviac smoothed out a crease.

"What is your will, you have not yet enlightened me?"

He looked at her gravely for a moment.

"You are ours," he said, "a woman given to us by heaven," he hesitated,
as over a lie; "you are to shine out a star, a pillar of fire before the
host; every man who follows you will know your story; every man who
follows you will worship you in his heart.  You will inspire us as no
mere man could inspire; your blood-red banner will wave on heroes,
patriots.  You will play the comet with an army for your tail."

Some sudden emotion seemed to sweep over her.  She stood motionless with
clasped hands, looking at her crucifix. There was a strange sadness upon
her face, a tragic sanctity, as on the face of a woman who renounces the
world, and more.  For a long while she was silent, as though suffering
some lustre light out of heaven to stream into her heart.  Presently she
answered Fulviac.

"God help me to be strong," she said, "God help me to bear the burden He
has put upon my soul."

"Amen, little woman."

"And now?"

"Prosper is preaching to all our men upon the cliff. He is telling them
your story.  I take you now to set you before them all, that they may
look upon a living Saint. I leave the rest to your soul.  God will tell
you how to bear yourself in the cause of the people.  Come, let us pray
a moment."

They knelt down side by side before the crucifix, like effigies on a
tomb.  Fulviac’s face was in shadow; Yeoland’s turned heavenward to the
Cross.  It was her renunciation.  Then they arose; Fulviac took up the
scarlet banner, and they passed out together from the room.

Traversing parlour and guard-room, finding them empty and silent as a
church, they came by the winding stairway in the rock to the hollow
opening upon the platform above. Two sentinels stood by the rough door.
Above and around, great stones had been piled up so as to form a species
of natural battlement.  Fulviac, bearing the banner, climbed the rocks,
and signed to Yeoland to follow.  They were still within a kind of rude
tower, walled in by heaped blocks of stone on every side.  They were
alone save for the two sentinels.  Above, they saw Prosper the Preacher
standing on a great square mass of rock, his tall figure outlined
against the sky.

They could see that the man was borne along by the strong spirit of the
preacher.  His arms tossed to the sky as he bent forward and preached to
those invisible to Fulviac and the girl.  His oratory was of a fervid,
strenuous type, like fire leaping in a wind, fierce, mobile, passionate.
They could see him stride to and fro on his platform, gesticulate, point
to heaven, smite his bosom, strike attitudes of ecstasy.  His voice rang
out the while, full of subtle modulations, the pathetic abandonments,
the supreme outbursts of the orator.  Much that he said fell deep into
the girl’s heart.  The man had that strange power, that magnetic
influence that exists in the individual, defying analysis, yet real as
the stirring witchery of great music, or as the voice of the sea.

Anon they saw him fall upon his knees, and lift his hands to the
heavens.  He had cast a quick glance backward over his shoulder.
Prosper had soared to his zenith; he had his men listening as for the
climax of some great epic. Fulviac thrust Yeoland forward up the slope.
She understood the dramatic pause in an instant.  Prosper’s words had
been like the orisons of birds preluding the dawn.  She climbed the
rocks, and stepped out at the kneeling monk’s side.

The scene below dazed her for the moment.  Many hundred faces were
turned to her from the slopes at her feet.  Innumerable eyes seemed
fixed upon her with a mesmeric stare.  She saw the whole cliff below her
packed with men, every rock crowned with humanity, even the pine trees
had their living burden.  She saw swords waving like innumerable streaks
of light; she had a confused vision of fanaticism, exultation, power.
Deep seemed calling unto deep; a noise like the noise of breakers was in
her ears.

Then the whole grew clear on the instant.  The sky seemed strangely
luminous; every outline in the landscape took marvellous and intelligent
meaning.  Strange Promethean fire flashed down into her brain.  She felt
her heart leaping, her blood bounding through her body, yet her mind
shone clear as a crystal grael.

Below her, she had humanity, plastic, inflammable, tinder to her touch.
An infinite realisation of power seemed to leap in her as at the beck of
some spirit wand.  She felt all the dim heroism of dreams glowing in her
like wine given of the gods.

Holy fire burnt on her forehead and her tongue was loosed.  She stood
out on the great rock, her armour flashing in the sun, her face bright
as the moon in her strength.  Her voice, clear and silvery, carried far
over cliff and wood, for the day was temperate and without a wind.

"Look upon me well.  I tell you the truth.  I am she to whom the Madonna
appeared from heaven."

Great silence answered her, the silence of awe, not of disbelief or
disapprobation.  Her voice rang solitary as the voice of a wood-fay in
the wilderness.  The huddled men below were silent as children whose
solemn eyes watch a priest before the altar.  She spoke on.

"I am she whose tale you have heard.  God has given me to the cause of
the poor.  To your babes and to your womenfolk I lift my hands; from the
Mother of Jesus I hold my command.  Men of the land, will you believe
and follow my banner?"

A thousand hands leapt to the sun, yet hardly a voice broke the silence,
the calm as of supreme revelation.  All the simple mediæval faith shone
in the rough faces; all the quaint reverence, the unflinching fidelity,
of the unlettered of the age shone in their hearts.  They were warm
earth to the seed of faith.

"Men of the land, I hear great noise of violence and wrong, of hunger
and despair.  Your lords crush you; your priests go in jewels and fine
linen, and preach not the Cross.  Your babes are slaves even before they
see the light.  Your children, like brute beasts, are bound to the soil.
Men of the land, give me your strength, give me your strength for the
cause of God."

She drew her sword from its sheath, pressed the blade to her lips, held
it up to heaven.  Her voice rang over rock and tree.

"Justice and liberty!"

Her shrill hail seemed to lift the silence from a thousand throats.  The
human sea below gave up its soul to her with thundering surges and vast
sound of faith.  As roar followed roar, she stood a bright, silvery
pinnacle above the black fanaticism beneath, transcendent Hope holding
her sword to the eternal sun.

Behind her, Fulviac unwrapped the great scarlet banner she had wrought.
Its cross of gold gleamed out as he lifted the staff with both hands.
Prosper, erect and exultant, stood pointing to its device.  Then, in
sight of all men, he bowed down before the girl and kissed her feet, as
though she had been some rare messenger out of heaven.



                                  XXI


The day had done gloriously till noon, but the sky’s mood changed as
evening advanced.  Clouds were huddled up in grey masses by a gathering
and gusty wind, and the June calm took flight like a girl in a new gown
when rain threatens.

By nightfall, a storm held orgy over the cliff.  Billow upon billow of
wind came roaring over the myriad trees. The pines were sweeping a murky
sky with their black brooms, creaking and moaning in chorus.  Rain
rattled heavily, and over the cliff the storm thundered and cried with
the long wail of the wind over rock and tree.

In Yeoland’s chamber the lamp flared and smoked, and the postern
clattered.  Rain splashed upon the shivering casement; the carpet
breathed restlessly with the draught under the door.  It was late, yet
the girl was still at her devotions.  Her thoughts were dishevelled and
full of discords, while between her fingers the beads of her rosary
moved listlessly, and her prayers were broken by the anathemas of the
storm.

The dual distractions of life had come in her to grappling point again.
She could boast no omnipotence in her own heart, and could but give
countenance to one of the two factions that clamoured for her favour.
As her mood changed like the mood of a fickle despot none too sure of
his throne, so tumult and despair were let loose time after time into
the echoing courts and alleys of her soul.  She had neither the courage
nor the force of will for the moment to compel herself either to satisfy
her womanhood or sacrifice her instincts to a religious conviction. Man
and God held each a half of her being.  The man’s face outstared God’s
face; God’s law overshadowed the man’s.

She had been carried into the palpitating azure of religious exaltation.
The world had rolled at her feet.  She had bathed her forehead in the
infinite forethought of eternity; she had heard the stupendous sounding
of the spheres.  Then some mischievous sprite had plucked the wings from
her shoulders, and she had fallen far into an abyss.  After spiritual
exaltation comes physical depression. Neither is a normal state; neither
strictly sane to the intellect.  Peter-like, she had trod the waves;
faith had played her false; the waters had gone over her soul.

As she knelt brooding before her crucifix, under the wavering lamp, she
was smitten into listening immobility, her rosary idle in her hand.  A
cry had come to her amid the multitudinous voices of the storm, a cry
like a hail from a ship over a tumbling sea at night.

She waited and wondered.  Again the cry rose above the babel of the
wind.  Was it from Fulviac’s room; or a sentinel’s shout from the cliff,
seized upon and carried by the wind with distorting vehemence?  Midnight
covered the world, and the girl was in an impressionable mood.  She took
the lamp from its bracket and, opening the door, peered down the gallery
that led to Fulviac’s room.

A sudden sinister sound made her start back into the room, the lamp
flashing tremulous beams upon the walls, and striking confusion into the
shadows.  A hand was beating heavily upon the postern.

She set the lamp in its bracket, crept to the door, put her ear to the
lock and listened.  The knocking had ceased, and in a momentary lulling
of the wind she even fancied she could hear the sound of deep breathing.
Her heart was hurrying, but suspense emboldened her.

"Who’s there?"

A sudden gust made such a bluster that her voice died almost unheard in
the night.  There was a vague clangour without, as of arms, and the
knocking re-echoed sullenly through the room.  A lull came again.

"Who knocks?"

This time an answer came back to her.

"I--Flavian."

She caught her breath and shivered.

"What do you want at midnight, and in such a storm?"

"Let me in.  Open to me."

"No--no."

"Open to me."

"Are you still mad?"

Silence held a moment.  Then the voice rose again, with the hoarse moan
of the wind for an underchant.

"Liberty, liberty, I am free, I am free."

She shrank aside against the wall.

"The night gave me my chance; I have men in the wood.  Let me in."

"Ah, messire."

"I plead for love and my own soul.  I come to give you life, sword, all.
I cannot leave you; I am in outer darkness; you are in heaven.  Let me
in."

She stood swaying like a reed in a breeze.  Her brain glowed like some
rich scheme of colour, some sun-ravished garden.  The massed moan of a
hundred viols seemed to sweep over her soul.  God, for the courage to be
weak!

"Yeoland!  Yeoland! have you no word for me?"

Her hand trembled to the door; her fingers closed upon the key.  She
hesitated and her dangling rosary caught her glance; sudden revulsions
of purpose flooded back; she stumbled away from the door like one about
to faint.

"I cannot, I cannot," she said.

"I will break down the door."

The threat inspired her.

"No, no, not thus can you win me."

"I will break in."

"Attempt it, and I will call the guard.  You will lose hope of me for
ever.  I swear it."

Her voice rang true and strong as a sword.  With her judgment, silence
fell again, and ages seemed to crawl over the world.  When the man spoke
again, his voice was less masterful, more pathetic.

"Have you no hope for me?" it said.

"I have given you life."

"What is life without love?"

She sighed very bitterly.

"Messire, you do not understand," she said.

"No, you are a riddle to me."

"A riddle that you may read anon; time will show you the truth.  I tell
you I am given to God.  Only in one way can you win me."

"Are you solemn over this?"

"Solemn as death."

"Tell me that only way."

"Only by breaking the bonds about my soul, by liberating me from myself,
by battle and through perils that you cannot tell."

"War and the sword!"

"Yet not to-night.  You would need ten thousand men to take me from this
cliff.  I advise you for your good. Only by great power and the sword
can you win your desire."

"By God, then, let it be war."

An utter sense of loneliness flooded over her.  She sobbed in her
throat, leant against the door, listened, waited.  The wind roared
without, the rain beat upon the quaking casement, and she heard the
multitudinous moaning of the pines.  No voice companioned her, and the
night was void.

A sudden access of passion prompted her.  She twisted at the key, tore
the bolts aside, flung the door open.  The stairway was empty.  Rain
whirled in her face, as she stood out in the wind, and called the man
many times by name.  It was vain and to no purpose.

Presently she re-entered the room, very slowly, and barred the door.
Her rosary rolled under her feet.  She picked it up suddenly and dashed
it away into a corner.  The face on the crucifix seemed to leer at her
from the wall.



                                PART III



                                  XXII


Aurelius, physician of Gilderoy, flourished on the fatness of a
fortunate reputation.  He was a rubicund soul, clean and pleasant, with
a neatly-trimmed beard, and a brow that seemed to dome a very various
and abundant wisdom.  He combined a sprightly humour and an enlivening
presence with the reverent solemnity necessary to his profession.

As for the ladies of Gilderoy, they reverenced Master Aurelius with a
loyalty that became perhaps less remarkable the more one considered the
character of the worthy charlatan.  Aurelius was an Æsculap in court
clothing.  He was ignorant, but as no one realised the fact, the soul of
Hippocrates would have been wasted in his body.  Discretion was his
crowning virtue.  He was so sage, so intelligent, so full of a simple
understanding for the ways of women, that the frail creatures could not
love him enough. The confidences granted to a priest were nothing
compared to the truths that were unmasked to his tactful ken.  The
physician is the priest of the body, a privileged person, suffered to
enter the bed-chamber before the solemn rites of the toilet have been
performed.  He sees many strange truths, beholds fine and wonderful
transfigurations, presides over the confessional of the flesh.  And
Aurelius never whispered of these mysteries; never displayed
astonishment; always discovered extraordinary justification for the
quaintest inconsistencies, the most romantic failings.  He carried a
sweet and sympathetic air of propriety about with him, like a perfume
that exhaled a most comfortable odour of religion.  His salves were
delectable to a degree, his unguents and cosmetics remarkable
productions.  Dames took his potions in lieu of Malmsey, his powders in
place of sweetmeats.  Never did a more pleasant, a more tactful old
hypocrite pander to the failings of an unregenerate world.

Aurelius stood in his laboratory one June morning, balancing a money-bag
in his chubby pink palm.  He seemed tickled by some subtlety of thought,
and wonderfully well pleased with his own good-humour.  He smiled,
locked the money-bag in a drawer that stood in a confidential cupboard,
and, taking his cap and walking-staff, repaired to the street. Pacing
the narrow pavement like a veritable potentate, pretentious as any
peacock, yet mightily amiable from the superb self-satisfaction that
roared in him like a furnace, he acknowledged the greetings of
passers-by with the elevation of a hand, a solemn movement of the head.
It was well to seem unutterably serious when under the eyes of the mob.
Only educated folk can properly understand levity in a sage.

In the Erminois, a stately highway that ran northwards from the
cathedral, he halted before a mansion whose windows were rich with
scutcheons and proud blazonry. Aurelius prospered with the rich.  The
atmosphere of the mean quarters was like a miasma to him; he loved
sunlight and high places where he might bask like a lizard.  He passed
by a great gateway into the inner court, and was admitted into the house
with that ready deference that speaks of familiarity and respect.

Aurelius climbed the broad stairway, and sailed like a stately carrack
into my lady’s chamber.  A dame in blue and silver greeted him from an
oriel.  The compounder of cosmetics bowed, disposed his staff and velvet
cap upon a table, and appropriated the chair the lady had assigned to
him.

"Superb weather, madame."

"Too sultry, though I am a warm-souled person."

"True, madame, true, Gilderoy would be fresher if there were no mean
folk to stifle up the streets like weeds.  The alleys send up such an
unpleasant stench upon the breeze, that it makes the cultured sense
revolt from poverty."

The Lady Duessa’s lips curled approvingly,

"Poverty, poverty, my dear Aurelius, is like a carcase, fit only for
quicklime.  If I had the rule of the place, I would make poverty a
crime, and cram all our human sweepings into lazar quarters."

The man of physic nodded for sympathy.

"Exactly so, madame, but one would have to deal with the inevitable
religious instinct."

"That would be simple enough," she simpered.  "I should confine religion
to shadows and twinkling tapers, lights streaming in through enamelled
casements upon solemn colours bowing before dreamy music; pardons and
absolutions bought with a purse of gold.  It is sad, Aurelius, but who
doubts but that religion makes scavengers of us all?  Away with your
smug widows, your frouzy burgher saints, your yellow-skinned
priest-hunters!  I would rather have picturesque sin than vulgar piety."

The man of herbs sighed like an organ pipe.

"Everything can be pardoned before coarseness," he said; "give me a
dirty heart before a dirty face, provided the sinner be pretty.  I trust
that madame was satisfied with my endeavours, that the perfumes were
such as she desired, the oil of Arabia pleasant and fragrant?"

"Magical, my Æsculap.  The oil makes the skin like velvet, and the drugs
are paradisic and full of languors. Ah, woman, set the tray beside
Master Aurelius’ chair."

The man’s eyes glistened over the salver and the cup. He bowed to his
hostess, sniffed, and pursed his lips over the wine.

"Madame knows how to warm the heart."

"Truth to you.  Who have you been renovating of late?  What carcase have
you been painting, you useful rogue?"

"Madame, my profession is discreet."

"I see your work everywhere.  There is the little brown-faced thing who
is to marry John of Brissac.  Well, she needed art severely.  Now the
lady has a complexion like apple-blossom."

The old man’s eyes twinkled.

"Madame is pleased to jest," he said, "and to think her
fancies--realities.  Were all ladies as fresh as Madame Duessa, what,
think you, would become of my delectable art, my science of beauty?  I
should be a poor bankrupt old man, ruined by too much comeliness."

Aurelius always had the wit to say the pleasantest thing possible, and
to press the uttermost drop of honey from the comb of flattery.  A surly
tongue will break a man, a glib intelligence ensure him a fortune.
Aurelius earned many a fee by a pretty speech, or a tactful suggestion.
Then of course he was never hindered by sincerity.

"Holy Dominic," laughed the lady, "I have proved a good patron to you in
many ways."

"And I trust I shall always deserve madame’s trust."

"A discreet tongue and a comfortable obedience are sweet things to a
woman, Aurelius."

"Madame’s voice recalls Delphi."

"Ah, the Greeks were poets; they knew how to fit their religion to their
pleasures.  ’Tis only we, poor fools, who measure sin by a priest’s
pardon.  Give me a torch before an aspergill."

The man of physic sipped his wine, cogitating over it with Jovian
wisdom.

"The chief aim in life, madame," he said, "should be the perfecting of
one’s own comfort.  ’Tis my contention that a fat bishop is a finer
Christian than a lean friar. The truism is obvious.  Is not my soul the
more mellifluous and benign if its shell is gilded and its vest of
velvet?"

Duessa chuckled, and flipped her chin.

"Give me a warm bed," she laughed, "and I will pity creation.  The
world’s saints are plump and comely; the true goddess has a supple knee.
Am I the worse for being buxom!"

"Madame," said the sage with great unction, "only beggars denounce gold,
and heaven is the dream of diseased souls.  The cult of pleasure is the
seal of health. Discontent is the seed of religion."

The door opened a few inches, and there was the sound of voices in
muffled debate in the gallery.  The Lady Duessa listened, rose from her
chair, appeared restless. The man of physic comprehended the situation,
and with that tact that characterised him, declared that he had
patronage elsewhere to assuage.  The lady did not detain him, but
dismissed him with a smile--a smile that on such a face as hers often
took the place of words.  So Master Aurelius took his departure.

Five minutes later Sforza, Gonfaloniere of Gilderoy, occupied the vacant
chair in the oriel.

There are many ways to fame.  By the broad, embattled gate where the
Cerberus of War crouches; by the glistening stair of glass where all the
beauty of the world gleams as in a thousand mirrors; by the cloaca of
diplomacy and cunning, that tunnels under truth and honour. Sforza of
Gilderoy was a man who never took his finger off a guinea till he had
seen ten dropped into the other palm.  He was a narrow-faced,
long-whiskered rat, ever nibbling, ever poking his keen snout into
prospective prosperity.  He had no real reverence for anything under the
sun.  To speak metaphorically, he would as soon steal the sacrificial
wafer from the altar as the cheese from a burgher’s larder.  When he
lived in earnest, he lived in moral nebulosity, that is to say, he had
no light save his own lantern.  Publicly, he appeared a sleek, dignified
person, quick with his figures, apt at oratory, a man who could quote
scripture by the ell and swear by every saint in the calendar.

Sforza, Gonfaloniere of Gilderoy, sat and faced Dame Duessa over a
little table that held wine and a bowl of roses.  His large hands rested
on the carved arms of the chair.  He had a debonair smirk on his face, a
mask of complacency that suffered him to be vigilant in a polite and
courteous fashion.

"Madame has considered my proposition?"

The woman leant back in her chair and worked her full lower lip against
her teeth.

"I recognise your infallibility, Gonfaloniere."

"Only to the level of human foresight, madame."

"You have a longer nose than most men."

"I take the insinuation as a compliment."

He contemplated her awhile in silence.

"How am I to know that you are sincere?" he said.

"Need you disbelieve me?"

"It is my custom to disbelieve in everybody."

"Till they have satisfied you?"

"Exactly."

Duessa looked out of the window, and played with her chatelaine.

"You know women?"

"I would never lay claim to such an arrogance of cunning."

"Nevertheless you are no fool."

"I am no fool."

"And you imagine my protestations are not sincere, even after what I
have suffered?"

He smiled at her most cunningly.

"You want proof?"

"I do not like unsigned documents."

She started forward in her chair with a strangely strenuous look on her
face.

"Fanatic fools have often made some show of fortitude," she said, "by
thrusting a hand into the fire, or the like. See now if I am a liar or a
coward."

Before he could stay her she drew a small stiletto from her belt, spread
her left hand on the table, and then smote the steel through the thick
of the palm, and held it there without flinching as the blood flowed.

"My signature," she said, with her cheeks a shade paler.

"Madame, you have spirit."

"Do you believe in me?"

"I may say so."

"You will include me in your schemes?"

"I will."

"You remember our mutual bargain?"

"I remember it."

She withdrew the stiletto and wrapped her bleeding hand in her robe.

"You will initiate me--at once."

"To-morrow, madame, you shall go with me to the council."



                                 XXIII


Castle Gambrevault stood out on a great cliff above the sea, like a huge
white crown on the country’s brow. It was as fine a mass of masonry as
the south could show, perched on its great outjutting of the land,
precipiced on every side, save on the north.  Hoary, sullen,
stupendously strong, it sentinelled the sea that rolled its blue to the
black bastions of the cliffs.  Landwards, green downs swept with long
undulations to the valleys and the woods.

That Junetide Gambrevault rang with the clangour of arms.  The Lord
Flavian’s riders had spurred north, east, and west to manor and hamlet,
grange and lone moorland tower.  There had been a great burnishing of
arms, a bending of bows through all the broad demesne.  Steel had
trickled over the downs towards the tall towers of Gambrevault.
Knights, with esquires, men-at-arms, and yeomen, had ridden in to keep
feudal faith.  The Lord Flavian had swept the country for a hundred
miles for mercenary troops and free-lances.  His coffers poured gold.
He had pitched a camp in the Gambrevault meadows; some fifteen hundred
horse and two thousand foot were gathered under his banner.

From the hills cattle were herded in, and heavy wains laden with flour
creaked up to the castle.  There was much victualling, much blaring of
trumpets, much blowing of pennons, much martial stir in the meadows.  It
seemed as though the Lord Flavian had a strenuous campaign in view, and
there was much conjecture on the wind.  The strange part of it was, that
none save Sir Modred had any knowledge for what or against whom they
were to fight. It might be John of Brissac, Gambrevault’s mortal enemy;
it might develop into a demonstration against the magistracy of
Gilderoy.  Blood was to be spilt, so ran the current conviction.  For
the rest, Flavian’s feudatories were loyal, and left the managing of the
business to their lord.

The men had been camped a week, and yet there was no striking of tents,
no plucking up of pennons. Sir Modred had ridden out to bring in a body
of five hundred mercenaries from Geraint.  The Lord Flavian himself,
with a troop of twenty spears, was lodged for a few days in Gilderoy, in
the great Benedictine monastery, where his uncle held rule as abbot.  He
was negotiating for arms, fifty bassinets, two hundred gisarmes, a
hundred ranseurs, fifty glaives, and a number of two-handed swords.  He
had found the Armourer’s Guild peculiarly insolent, and disinclined to
serve him. He had little suspicion that Gilderoy was seething under the
surface like so much lava.

Thus, while the Lord Flavian was preparing for his march into the great
pine forest, Fulviac had completed his web of revolt.  He had heard of
the gathering at Gambrevault, and had hurried on his schemes in
consequence.  Five thousand men were ready at his back. He would gain
ten thousand men from Gilderoy; seven thousand from Geraint.  These
outlaw levies, free-lances, and train-bands would give him the nucleus
of the vast host that was to spring like corn from every quarter of the
land.  Malgo was to head the rising in the west, and to concentrate at
Conan, a little town in the mountains.  In the east, Godamar was to
gather a great camp in Thorney Isle amid the morasses of the fens.
Fulviac would himself overthrow the lords of the south.  Then they were
to converge and to gather strength for the march upon Lauretia, proud
city of the King.

It would be a great war and a bitter, full of fanatical fierceness and
revenge.  Fulviac had given word to take, pillage, and burn all strong
places.  Destiny stood with wild hands to the heavens, a bosom of
scarlet, and hair aghast.  If the horde conquered, the seats of the
mighty would reek amid flame; there would be death, and a great silence
over proud cities.



                                  XXIV


In an antechamber in the palace of Sforza of Gilderoy stood the Lady
Duessa, watching the day die in the west over a black chaos of spires
and gables.  Before her, under the casement, lay the palace garden, a
pool of perfume, banked with tall cypresses, red with the fire of a
myriad roses. As night to the sunset, so seemed this antechamber to the
garden, panelled with black oak, a dark square of gloom red-windowed to
the west.  The place had a sullen, iron-mouthed look, as though its
walls had developed through the years a sour and world-wise silence.

The Lady Duessa was not a woman who could trail tamely in anterooms.  A
restless temper chafed her pride that evening, and kept her footing the
polished floor like a love-lorn nun treading a cloister.  The casements
were open to the garden, and the multitudinous sounds of the city
flooded in--the thunder of the tumbrils in the narrow streets, the
distant blare of trumpets from the castle, the clangour of the cathedral
bells.  A solitary figure companioned the Lady Duessa in the anteroom,
cloaked and masked as was the dame herself.  It was Balthasar the
Dominican, who followed her now in secular habit, having forsworn his
black mantle and taken refuge in her service.  From time to time the two
spoke together in whispering undertones; more than once their lips
touched.

The Lady Duessa turned and stood by a casement with her large white
hands on the sill.  She appeared to grow more restive as the minutes
passed, as though the antique clock on the mantle clicked its tongue at
her each gibing second.

"This is insolence," she said anon, "holding us idling here like ragged
clients."

Balthasar joined her, soft-footed and debonair, his black eyes shining
behind his mask.

"Peter kept Paul before the gate of heaven," quoth he, with a curl of
the lip.  "Sforza is a meddler in many matters, a god-busied Mercury.
As for me, I am content."

Their hands touched, and intertwined with a quick straining of the
fingers.

"Pah," said the woman with a shiver, "this room is like a funeral
litter; it chills my marrow."

Balthasar sniggered.

"See, the sky burns," he said; "yon garden is packed with colour.  We
could play a love chase amid those dark hedges of yew."

She pressed her flank to his; her eyes glittered like amethysts; her
breath hastened.

"My mouth, man."

She pouted out her full red lips to his; suffered his arms to possess
her; they kissed often, and were out of breath.  A door creaked.  The
two started asunder in the shadows with an impatient stare into each
other’s eyes.

Sforza the Gonfaloniere stood on the threshold, clad plainly in a suit
of black velvet, with a sword buckled at his side.  He bowed over
Duessa’s hand, kissed her finger tips, excusing himself the while for
the delay.  He was very suave, very facile, as was his wont.  The Lady
Duessa took his excuses with good grace, remembering their compact, and
the common purpose of their ambitions.

"Gonfaloniere, we wait our initiation."

Sforza’s eyes were fixed on Balthasar with a keen and ironical glitter.

"Very good, madame."

"Remember; Lord Flavian’s head, that is to be my guerdon."

"Madame, we will remember it.  And this gentleman?"

"Is the friend of whom I spoke."

"A most loyal friend, methinks?"

"True."

The Gonfaloniere coughed behind his fingers, and spoke in his half-husky
tenor.

"You are ready to risk everything?"

Duessa reassured him.

"Expect no blood and thunder ceremonial," he said to them; "we are grim
folk, but very simple.  Your presence will incriminate you both.  Be
convinced of that."

He led them by a little closet into the state-room of the palace, a rich
chamber lit by many tapers, its doorway held by a guard of armed men.
Statues in the antique gleamed in the alcoves.  The panelling shone with
gem-brilliant colouring.  Armoires and carved cabinets stood against the
walls.  The ceiling was of purple, with the signs of the Zodiac in gold
thereon.

In the centre of the room, before a slightly raised dais, stood a round
table inlaid with diverse-coloured stones. Scrolls, quills, and inkhorns
covered it.  Some twoscore men were gathered round the table, staring
with masked faces at a map spread before them--a map showing all the
provinces of the south, with towns and castles marked in vermilion ink
thereon.  A big man in a red cloak stood conning the parchment, pointing
out with a long forefinger certain marches to the masked folk about him.

Sforza pointed Duessa and Balthasar to a carved bench by the wall.

"Have the patience to listen for an hour," he said, turning to join the
men about the table.

A silver bell tinkled, and a priest came forward to patter a few prayers
in Latin.  At the end thereof, the masked Samson in the red cloak stood
forward on the dais with uplifted fist.  Instant silence held throughout
the room. The man in red began to speak in deep, full-throated tones
that seemed to vibrate from his sonorous chest.

His theme was the revolt, his arguments, the grim bleak facts that
bulked large in the brain of a leader of men.  He dealt with realism,
with iron detail, and the strong suggestions of success.  Revolt, in the
flesh, bubbled like lava at a crater’s brim, seething to overflow and
scorch the land. It was plain that the speaker had great schemes, and a
will of adamant.  His ardour ran down like a cataract, smiting into foam
the duller courage of the multitude.

When he had ended his heroic challenge to the world, he took by the hand
a girl who stood unmasked at his side. She was clad all in white with a
cross of gold over her bosom, and her face shone nigh as pallid as her
mantle. The men around the table craned forward to get the better view
of her.  Nor was it her temporal beauty alone that set the fanatical
chins straining towards her figure.  There was a radiance as of other
worlds upon her forehead, a glamour of sanctity as though some sacred
lamp shed a divine lustre through all her flesh.

At the moment that the man in the red mask had drawn the girl forward
beside him on the dais, Balthasar, with a stifled cry, had plucked the
Lady Duessa by the sleeve.  She had started, and stared in the friar’s
face as he spoke to her in a whisper, a scintillant malice gathering in
her eyes.  Balthasar held her close to him by the wrist. They were
observed of none save by Fulviac, whose care it was to watch all men.

As Balthasar muttered to her, Duessa’s frame seemed to straighten, to
dilate, to stiffen.  She did not glance at the friar, but sat staring at
the girl in white upon the dais. The Madonna of the chapel of Avalon had
risen before her as by magic; her dispossessor stood before her in the
flesh.  Balthasar’s tongue bore witness to the truth.  In the packed
passion of a moment, Duessa remembered her shame, her dishonour, her
hunger for revenge.

The girl upon the dais had been speaking to the men assembled round her
with the simple calm of one whose soul is assured of faith.  For all her
fierce distraction each word had fallen into Duessa’s brain like pebbles
into a well.  A mocking, riotous scorn chuckled and leapt in her like
the laughter of some lewd faun.  She heard not the zealous mutterings
that eddied through the room.  Her eyes were fixed on the man in the red
cloak, as he bent to kiss the girl’s slim hand.

She saw Fulviac turn and point to a roll of parchment on the table.

"We swim, sirs, or sink together," were his words; "there can be no
traitors to the cause.  In three days we hoist our banner.  In three
days Gilderoy shall rise. Sign, gentlemen, sign, in the name of God and
of our Lady."

The leaders of Gilderoy crowded about the table where Prosper the
Preacher waited with quill and testament, Sforza standing with drawn
sword beside him.  Fulviac had headed those who took the oath, and had
drawn back from the press on to the dais.  Meanwhile Duessa, with
Balthasar muttering discretions in her ear, had skirted the black knot
of conspirators and come close upon Fulviac. While Sforza and the rest
were intent upon the scroll, she plucked the man in red by the sleeve,
and spoke to him in an undertone.

"A word with you in an alcove."

Fulviac stared, but drew aside from the group none the less and followed
her.  She had moved to an oriel and sat down on the cushioned seat, her
black robe sweeping the crimson cloth.  Fulviac stood and faced her,
thus closing her escape from the oriel.  Midway between them and the
table, Balthasar stood biting his nails in sullen vexation, ignorant of
where the woman’s headstrong passions might be bearing them.

Duessa soon had Fulviac at the tongue’s point.

"You are the first man in this assemblage?" she had asked him.

"Madame, that is so."

"I have a truth to make known."

"Unmask to me."

She hesitated, then obeyed him.

"Possibly I am known to you," she said.

Fulviac stood back a step, and looked at her as a man might look at an
old love.  A knot of wrinkles showed on his forehead.

"Duessa of the Black Hair."

"Ah, in the old days."

"What would you now, madame?"

"Let me see your face."

"No."

"You hold me at a disadvantage."

"That is well.  Tell me this tale of yours."

His voice was cold as a frost, and there was an inclement look about him
that should have warned the woman had she been less blinded by her own
malice.  She had lost her cunning in her fuming passion, and denounced
when she should have suggested, blurted the whole when a hint would have
sufficed her.

"I was the Lord Flavian of Gambrevault’s wife," she said.

"That man!"

"That devil!"

Fulviac drew a deep breath.

"Well?" he said.

"The fellow has divorced me; I will tell you why.  You are the man they
call Fulviac.  It was you who took the Lord Flavian in an ambuscade, to
kill him, for the sake of Yeoland of Cambremont, who stands yonder.  The
whole tale is mine.  It was that girl who let the Lord Flavian escape
out of your hands.  A fine fool she is making of you, my friend.  A
saint, forsooth!  Flavian of Avalon might sing you a strange song."

Duessa took breath.  She had prophesied passion, a volcanic outburst.
Fulviac leant against the wainscotting with folded arms, his masked face
impenetrable, and calm as stone.  He stirred never a muscle.  Duessa had
ventured forth into the deeps.

The man thrust a question at her suddenly.

"You can prove the truth of this?"

Duessa pointed him to Fra Balthasar.

"The priest can bear out my tale.  I will beckon him."

"Wait."

"Ah!"

"Does Sforza know of this?"

"None know it, save I and yonder priest."

"Then I uncover to you."

He jerked his mask away, and stood half stooping towards her with a
peculiar lustre in his eyes.  Duessa stared at him as at one risen from
the dead.  Her face blanched and stiffened into a bleak, gaping terror,
and she could not speak.

"Your tale dies with you."

He smote her suddenly in the bosom with his poniard, smote her so
heavily that the blow dragged her to her knees. She screamed like a
trapped hare, pressed her hands over her bosom, blood oozing over them.
A last malevolence leapt into her eyes; she panted and strove to speak.

"Listen, sirs, hear me----"

Fulviac, standing over her like a Titan, smote her again to silence, and
for ever.  With arms thrust upwards, she fell forward along the floor,
her white face hidden by her hood.  A red ringlet curled away over the
polished oak. Fulviac had sprung away with jaw clenched, his face as
stone.  He drew his sword, plucked Balthasar by the throat, hurled him
back against the wainscotting.

"A spy, poniard him."

The great room rushed into uproar; the guards came running from the
door.  Fulviac had passed his sword through Balthasar’s body.  The friar
rolled upon the floor, yelping, and clutching at the swords that stabbed
him.  It was soon over; not a moan, not a whimper.  Sforza, white as a
corpse, gripped Fulviac by the shoulder.

"Know you whom you have killed?"

"Well enough, Gonfaloniere."

"What means it?"

"That I am a brave man."

Sforza quailed from him and ran to the oriel, where several men had
lifted the woman in their arms.  Her lustrous hair fell down from under
her hood; her hands, stained with her own blood, trailed limply on the
floor.  She was a pathetic figure with her pale, fair face and drooping
lids. The men murmured as they held her, like some poor bird, still warm
and plastic, with the life but half flown from her body.

Fulviac stood and looked down into her face.  His sword still smoked
with Balthasar’s blood.

"Sirs," he said, and his strong voice shook, "hear me, I will tell you
the truth.  Once I loved that woman, but she was evil, evil to the core.
To-night she came bringing discord and treachery amongst us.  I have
done murder before God for the sake of the cause.  Cover her face; it
was ever too fair to look upon.  Heaven rest her soul!"



                                  XXV


Two days had passed since the secret assembly in the house of Sforza,
Gonfaloniere of Gilderoy.  They had buried Duessa and Balthasar by night
in the rose garden, by the light of a single lantern, with the fallen
petals for a pall.  It was the evening before the day when the land
should rise in arms to overthrow feudal injustice and oppression.  On
the morrow the great cliff would be desolate, its garrison marching
through the black pine woods on Avalon and Geraint.

Towards eve, when the sky was clear as a single sapphire, Fulviac came
from his parlour seeking Yeoland, to find her little chamber empty.  A
strange smile played upon his face as he looked round the room with
crucifix, embroidery frame, and prayer-desk, with rosary hung thereon.
He picked up her lute, thrummed the strings, and broke broodingly into
the sway of some southern song:

    "Ah, woman of love,
    With the stars in the night,
    I see thee above
    In a circlet of light.
    On the west’s scarlet scutcheon
    I mark thy device;
    And the shade of the forest
    Makes gloom of thine eyes,
    God’s twilight
      To me."


He ended the stanza, kissed the riband, and set the lute down with a
certain quaint reverence.  The postern stood open and admonished him.
He passed out down the cliff stairway to the forest.

An indescribable peace pervaded the woods, a supreme silence such as the
shepherd on the hills knows when the stars beckon to his soul.  Fulviac
walked slowly and thought the more.  He felt the altitude of the forest
stillness as of miles of luminous, windless æther; he felt the
anguishing pathos of a woman’s face; he felt the strangeness of the new
philosophy that appealed to his heart. Nothing is more fascinating than
watching a spiritual upheaval in one’s own soul; watching some great
power breaking up the crust of custom and habit; pondering the while on
the eternal mysteries that baffle reason.

He found Yeoland amid the pines.  She had been to the forest grave and
was returning towards the cliff when the man met her.  She seemed whiter
than was her wont, her dark eyes looking solemn and shadowy under their
sweeping lashes.  She seemed marvellously fair, marvellously pure and
fragile, as she came towards him under the trees.

Something in Fulviac’s look startled her.  Women are like the sea to the
cloudy moods of men, in that they catch every sun-ray and shadow.  An
indefinite something in the man’s manner made her restless and
apprehensive. She went near to him with questioning eyes and laid her
hand upon his arm.

"You have had bad news?"

"Nothing."

"Something has troubled you?"

"Perhaps."

She looked at him pensively, a suspicion of reproach, pity, and
understanding in her eyes.

"Is it remorse, your conscience?"

"My conscience?  Have I had one!"

"You have a strong conscience."

"_Deo gratias_.  Then you have unearthed it, madame."

A vein of infinite bitterness and melancholy seemed to glimmer in his
mood.  It was a moment of self-speculation. The girl still looked up
into his face.

"Why did you kill that woman?"

"Why?"

"Her dead face haunts me, I see it everywhere; there is some strange
shadow over my soul.  O that I could get her last cry from my ears!"

Fulviac, with a sudden burst of cynicism, broke into grim laughter, a
sound like the rattling of dry bones in a closet.  The girl shrank away
with her lips twitching.

"Why cannot you trust me with the truth?"

"Truth is not always beneficent.  It was a matter of policy, of
diplomacy."

"Why?"

"Discords are bad at the eleventh hour.  That woman could have
half-wrecked our cause.  It was policy to silence her and the man.  I
made sure of it by killing them."

Yeoland’s face had a shadow of repugnance upon it; her eyes darkened.
The man seemed in a callous, scoffing humour; it was mere glittering
steel over the bitterness within.

"You will tell me her name?"

"What is it to you?"

"She haunts me."

"Forget her."

"I cannot."

"Have the truth if you will.  She was the wife of the Lord Flavian of
Gambrevault."

The girl stood motionless for a moment; then swayed away several steps
from Fulviac under the trees.  One hand was at her throat; her voice
came in a whisper.

"What did she tell you?"

"Many things."

"Quick, do they touch me?"

Fulviac choked an oath, and played with his sword.

"Then there was some truth in her?" he said.

The girl grew imperious.

"I command you to tell me all."

"Madame, the woman declared you were a traitress, and that this
lordling, this Flavian of Gambrevault, loved you."

"And you killed her----"

"For your sake and the cause.  She might have cast our Saint out of
heaven."

Yeoland went back from him and leant against a tree, with her hands over
her eyes.  Sunlight splashed down upon her dress; she shivered as in a
cold wind, and could not speak.  Fulviac’s voice, level and passionless,
questioned her as she stood and hid her face.

"You let the Lord Flavian escape?"

"I did."

"Have you seen him since?"

"I have."

"Thanks for the truth."

Her responses had come like chords smitten from the strings of a lute.
She started away from the tree and began to walk up and down, wringing
her hands.  Her face was like the face of one in torture, and she seemed
to struggle for breath.

"Fulviac, I could not kill the man."

The words came like a wail.

"He was young, and he besought me when your men were breaking down the
gate.  What could I do, what could I do?  He was young, and I let him go
by the postern and told you a lie.  God help me, I told you a lie."

The man watched her with arms folded.  There was a look of deep
melancholy upon his face, as of one wounded by the truth.  His voice was
sad but resolute.

"And the rest?"

She rallied suddenly and came to him with truth in her eyes; they were
wonderfully piteous and appealing.

"God knows I have been loyal to you.  The man tempted me, but I
withstood him; I kept my loyalty."

"And you told him----?"

"Nothing, nothing; he is as innocent as a child."

Fulviac looked down at her with a great light in his eyes.  He spoke
slowly and with a deeper intonation in his voice.

"I have dealt with many bad women," he said, "but I believe you are
speaking the truth."

"It is the truth."

"I take it as such; you have been too much a woman."

"Ah, if you could only forgive."

He stepped forward suddenly, took her hands, and looked down at her with
a vast tenderness.

"Little woman, if I told you I loved you, would you still swear that you
have spoken the truth?"

"God judge me, Fulviac, I have been loyal."

A strange light played upon his face.

"And I, ye heavens, have I learnt my lesson in these later days?  Girl,
you are above me as the stars; I may but kiss your hands, no more.  You
are not for worldly ways, or for me.  Battered, war-worn veteran, I have
come again by the heart of a boy.  Fear me not, little woman, there is
no anger in a great love, only deep grieving and unalterable honour."



                                  XXVI


It was dawn; mists covered the forest; not a wind stirred or sobbed amid
the boughs.  A vast grey canopy seemed to tent the world, a mysterious
veil that tempered the sun and spread a spiritual gloom over rock and
tree.

The noise of horns played through the misty aisles--horns many-tongued,
faint, clamorous, like the trumpeting of forest elves.  There was the
dull, rhythmic onrush of many thousand feet, the hurrying, multitudinous
tramp of men marching.  Armour gleamed through the glooms; casque and
bassinet, salade and cap of steel flowed on and on as phosphorescent
ripples on a subterranean stream. Pike, glaive, gisarme shone like
stubble over the forest slopes.  The sullen tramp of men, the clashing
clamour of arms, the blaring of a solitary clarion, such were songs of
the great pine forest on that July morning.

Yeoland, rebel lady and saint, on a great white horse, rode at Fulviac’s
side in full armour, save for her helmet. Her horse was cased in
steel--chamfron, crinet, gorget, poitrel, croupiere gleaming like
burnished silver.  She made a fine and martial figure enough, a
glittering dawn star for a heroic cause.  About her rode her guard, the
pick of Fulviac’s men, some fifty spears in all, masses of steel, each
bearing a scarlet cross blazoned upon his white jupon.  Nord of the
Hammer bore the red banner worked by the girl’s own hands.  They were
hardy men and big of bone, sworn to keep and guard her to the death.

Fulviac and Yeoland rode side by side like brothers in arms.  All about
them were rolling spears and rocking helmets moving among the myriad
trees.  The sound of arms surged round them like the ominous onrush of a
sea. War followed like a thunder-cloud on their heels.

Fulviac was in great spirits, somewhat solemn and philosophic, but full
of the exultation of a man who feels his ship surging on the foaming
backs of giant billows. His eyes were proud enough when they scanned the
girl at his side.  His heart thundered an echo to the grim tramp of his
men on the march.

"To-day," he said, making grandiose flourishes with his sword, "the
future unrobes to us.  We plunge like Ulysses into the unknown.  This is
life with a vengeance!"

She had a smile on her lips and a far-away look in her eyes.

"If you love me," she said, "be merciful."

"Ah, you are always a woman."

"There are many women such as I am; there are many hearts that may be
wounded; there are many children."

He looked at her meditatively, as though her words were both bitter and
sweet in his mouth.

"You must play the philosopher, little woman; remember that we work for
great ends.  I will have mercy when mercy is expedient.  But we must
strike, and strike terror, we must crush, we must kill."

"Yet be merciful."

"War is no pastime; men grip with gauntlets of iron, not with velvet
gloves.  Fanaticism, hate, revenge, patriotism, lust of plunder, and the
rest, what powers are these to let loose upon a land!  We have the
oppression of centuries red in our bosoms.  War is no mere subtle game
of chess; the wolf comes from the wilderness; the vulture swings in the
sky.  Fire, death, blood, rapine, and despair, such are the elements of
war."

"I know, I know."

"To purge a field, we burn the crop.  To convert, we set swords leaping.
To cleanse, we let in the sea.  To move the fabrics of custom and the
past, a man must play the Hercules.  God crushes great nations to insure
the inevitable evolution of His will.  To move the world, one must play
the god."

It was noon when the vanguard cleared the trees, and spread rank on rank
over the edge of a moor.  A zealous sun shone overhead, and the world
was full of light and colour, the heather already a blaze of purple, the
bracken still virgin, the dense dark pines richly green against the
white and azure of the sky.

Fulviac, Yeoland, and her guards rode out to a hillock and took station
under the banner of the Cross.  The forest belched steel; rank on rank
swept out with pikes glittering; shields shone, and colours juggled
mosaics haphazard. Horse and foot rolled out into the sun, and gathered
in masses about the scarlet banner and the girl in her silvery harness
on the great white horse.  The forest shadows were behind them, they had
cast off its cloak; the world lay bare to their faces; they were hurling
their challenge in the face of Fate.  Every man in the mass might well
have felt the future glowing upon his brain, might well conceive himself
a hero and a patriot.  It was a deep, sonorous shout that rolled up,
when a thousand points of steel smote upwards to the heavens.  Yeoland,
amid her guards, had dim visions of the power vested in her slender
sword.  Where her banner flew, there brave men would toss their pikes
with a cheer for the charge home.  Where her sword pointed, a thousand
blades would leap to do her bidding. Even as she pondered these things,
the trumpets sounded and the men of the forest marched on.

Fulviac’s plans had been matured but a week.  His opening of the
campaign was briefly as follows.  He was bearing north-west towards
Geraint, and Geraint was to rise that night, massacre the King’s
garrison, and come out to him.  Avalon lay in Fulviac’s path.  He was to
smite a blow at it on his march, surprise the place if possible, and
then hold on for Geraint.  The same night, Gilderoy would rise; the
castellan, who was with the townsfolk, would open the gates of the
castle and deliver up all arms and the siege train that was kept there.
From Geraint, Fulviac trusted to ride on with a single troop to take
command at Gilderoy, leaving Nord, Prosper, and the girl Yeoland in
command at Geraint.  With his numbers raised to some twenty thousand
men, he would have his force divided into two bodies--ten thousand at
Gilderoy, ten thousand at Geraint.  These two bodies would sweep up by
forced marches, converge on Gambrevault, crush the Lord Flavian’s small
armament, shut him up in his castle. Assault or leaguer would do the
rest.  Meanwhile the peasantry would rise and flock in to the standard
of the people.

Free of the forest, Fulviac sent on a troop of horse towards Geraint to
warn the townsfolk of his advance. With the main mass of the foot, he
held northwards over hill and dale, and towards evening touched the hem
of the oak woods that wrapped the manor of Avalon.  The place was but
feebly garrisoned, as the Lord Flavian had withdrawn most of his men to
Gambrevault, dreaming little of the thunder-storm that was shadowing the
land.

Fulviac had his plan matured.  Fifty men-at-arms in red and green, the
Gambrevault colours, were to advance with a forged pennon upon the
place, as though sent as a reinforcement from Gambrevault.  The main
body would follow at a distance and lie ambushed in the woods. If the
ruse answered, and it was an old trick enough, the barbican and gate
could be held till Fulviac came up and made matters sure.  Thus Avalon
would fall, proto-martyr on the side of feudalism.

Nor were Fulviac’s prognostications at fault.  There were not sixty men
in Avalon, and Fulviac’s fifty gained footing in the place and held
their ground till the rest came up.  The affair was over, save for some
desultory slaughter on the turrets, when Fulviac galloped forward over
the meadows with Yeoland and her guard.  The man kept the girl on the
further side of the moat, and did not suffer her to stumble too suddenly
on the realities of war.  He feared wisely her woman’s nature, and did
not desire to overshock her senses.  The butchery was over when they
neared the walls.  They heard certain promiscuous yelpings, and saw half
a dozen men-at-arms, who had made a last stand on a tower, tumbled
headlong over the battlements into the moat below.  Fulviac did not
suffer the girl to cross the bridge.  What passed within was hidden by
the impenetrable massiveness of the sullen walls.

Thus Avalon, fair castle of the woods and waters, sent out her wistful
prophecy to the land.  In her towers and galleries men lay dead, bleak
and stiff, contorted into fantastic attitudes, with pike or sword
sucking their vitals. Blood crept down the stairs; dead men cumbered the
beds and jammed the doors.  There had been much screaming among the
women; even Fulviac’s orders could not cool the passions of the mob; it
was well indeed that he kept Yeoland innocent in the meadows.

Fanaticism, ignorance, lust were loose in Avalon like evil beasts.  All
its fairness was defamed in one short hour.  Hangings were torn down,
furniture wrecked and shattered, chests and cupboards spoiled of all
their store.  In the chapel, where refugees had fled to the altar, there
had been slaughter, merciless and brutal. Bertrand, the old knight and
seneschal, lay dead on the altar steps, with a broken sword and fifty
rents in his carcase.  Men were breaking the images, defacing the
frescoes, strewing all the place with blood and riot.  Nord of the
Hammer stood over the cellar door with his great mace over his shoulder,
and kept the men from the wine. Elsewhere the mob rooted like a herd of
swine in the rich chambers, and worked to the uttermost its swinish
will.

When the day was past, Fulviac and his men, as hounds that have tasted
blood, marched on exultantly towards Geraint.  Night and great silence
settled down over Avalon.  The woods watched like a host of plaintive
mourners over the scene.  The moon rose and shone on the glimmering mere
and swooning lilies, and streamed in through shattered casements on men
sleeping in their blood, on ruin, and the ghastly shape of death.



                                 XXVII


Gilderoy had risen.

It was midnight.  A great bell boomed and clashed over the city, with a
roar of many voices floating on the wind, like the sullen thunder of a
rising sea.  Torches flashed and ebbed along the streets, with hundreds
of scampering shadows, and a glinting of steel.  Knots of armed men
hurried towards the great piazza, where, by the City Cross, Sforza the
Gonfaloniere and his senators had gathered about the red and white
Gonfalon of the Commune.  All the Guild companies were there with their
banners and men-at-arms.  "Fulviac," "Saint Yeoland," "Liberty and the
Commune": such were the watchwords that filled the mouths of the mob.

Cressets had burst into flame on the castle’s towers, lighting a lurid
firmament; while from the steeps of the city, where stood the palaces of
the nobles, smoke and flame began to rush ominously into the night.
Waves of hoarse ululations seemed to sweep the city from north, south,
east, and west.  Trumpets were clanging in the castle, drums beating,
fifes braying.  Through the indescribable chaos the great bell smote on,
throbbing through the minutes like the heart of a god.

It will be remembered that the Lord Flavian was in Gilderoy for the
purchasing of arms.  At midnight you would have found him in his state
bed-chamber in the abbot’s palace, tugging at his hose, fumbling at his
points and doublet, buckling on his sword.  He was hardly awake with the
single taper winking in the gloom.  The shrill ululations of the mob
sounded through the house, with the clash of swords and the crash of
hammers.  The Lord Flavian craned from the window, saw what he could,
heard much, and wondered if hell had broken loose.

"Fulviac and the Commune!"

"Saint Yeoland!"

"Down with the lords, down with the priests!"

The man at the window heard these cries, and puzzled them out in his
peril.  Certainly he was a lord; therefore unpopular.  And Yeoland!
Wherefore was that name sounding on the tongues of brothel-mongers and
cooks! Was he still dreaming?  Certes, these rallying-cries carried a
certain blunt hint, advising him that he would have to care for his own
skin.

Malise, his page, knelt at the door with his ear to the key-hole.  The
boy was in his shirt and breeches, and trembling like an aspen.  Flavian
stood over him.  They heard a rending sound as of a gate giving, a roar
as of water breaking through a dam, a yelp, a scream or two, a confused
medley of many voices.

Flavian told Malise to open the door and look out into the gallery.  He
did so.  A man, more zealous than the rest, sprang out of the dark and
stabbed at the lad’s throat.  He fell with a whimper.  Flavian plunged
his sword home, dragged Malise within, barred the door again. Very
tenderly he lifted the boy in his arms.  Malise’s hands clung about his
lord’s neck; he moaned a little, and was very white.

"Save yourself, messire!"

Flavian bore him towards a door that stood open in the panelling.  He
felt the lad’s blood soaking through his doublet; entreaties were poured
into his ears.

"I die, I die; oh, the smart, the burn of it!  Leave me, messire; let me
lie still!"

"Nonsense----"

"It is no use; I have it deep, the man’s knife went home."

Flavian felt the lad’s hands relax, saw his head droop on his shoulder.
He turned and put him down on the bed, and knelt there, while Malise
panted and strove to speak.

"Go--messire."

Flavian was trying to staunch the flow from the boy’s neck with a corner
of the sheeting.  His own doublet was drenched with blood.  In a minute
he saw the futility of such unconscious heroism; the flickering taper by
the bed told that Malise’s life would ebb before its own light would be
gutted.  Blows were being dealt upon the door. Flavian kissed the lad,
took the taper, and passed out by the panel in the wainscotting.

A stairway led him to a little gate that opened on the abbot’s garden.
He more than thought to find the passage disputed, but the place
stretched quiet before him as he came out with sword drawn.  The scent
of the flowers and fragrant shrubs was heavy on the night air, and the
shouts of the mob sounded over the black roofs, and rang in his ears
with an inspiriting fury.

There was a gate at the far end of the garden, opening through a stone
wall into a narrow alley, and Flavian, as he scoured the paths, could
see pike points bobbing above the wall, and a flare of torches.  Men
were breaking in even here, and he was caught like a rat in a corner.
In an angle of the wall he found a big marrow bed, and crawling under
the leaves like a worm, he smeared dirt over his face and clothes and
awaited developments.  In another minute the garden gate fell away, and
a tatterdemalion rout poured in, strenuous and frothy as any tavern
pack.  They spread over the garden towards the house, shouting and
blaspheming like a herd of satyrs.  Flavian saw his chance, plunged from
his dark corner, and joined the mob of moving figures.  Dirty face and
dirtier clothes were in kindred keeping.  He shouted as lustily as any,
and by dint of gradual and discreet circumlocutions, edged to the gate
and escaped into the now-deserted alley.

Running on, he skirted the abbey and came out into the square that
flanked the abbey church, and the great gate.  A hundred torches seemed
moving behind the abbey windows.  The square teemed and smoked with
riot.  Flavian went into the crowd with drawn sword, screeching out mob
cries like any huckster, smiting men on the back, laughing and swearing
as in excellent humour.  His gusto saved him.  As he passed through the
mob he saw heads, gory and mangled, dancing upon pikes; he saw women
drunk with beer and violence, waving a severed foot or hand, kissing
men, hugging each other, mouthing unutterable obscenities in the mad
delirium of the hour.  He saw whelps of boys scrambling and struggling
for some ghastly relic; scavengers and sweeps dressed up in the habits
of the Benedictines they had slain.  One man carried in his palm an eye
that had been torn from its socket, which he held with a leer in the
faces of his fellows.  Further still, he saw half a dozen beggars
dragging the dead body of a lady over the stones by cords fastened to
the ankles, while dogs worried and tore at the flesh.  He learnt
afterwards that it was the body of his own cousin, a young girl who had
been lately betrothed.  Last of all, he saw a carcase dangling from a
great iron lamp bracket in the centre of the square, and understood from
the crowd that it was the body of the abbot, his uncle.  Men and women
were pelting it with offal.

And he, an aristocrat of aristocrats, dirty and dishevelled, rubbed
shoulders with the scourings of the gutter, shouted their shouts, echoed
their exultation.  At first the grim humour of the thing smote him in
grosser farcical fashion; but the mood was not for long.  He remembered
Malise, whimpering and quivering in his arms; he remembered the body
dragged about the square and worried by dogs; he remembered the carcase
swinging by the rope; he remembered the dripping heads and the fragments
of flesh tossed about by the maddened and intoxicated mob.  It was then
that his eyes grew hot with shame and his blood ran like lava through
his veins.  It was then that the spirit of a vampire rushed into his
heart, and that he swore great solemn oaths by all the bones and relics
of the saints.  God give him a hale body out of Gilderoy, and this city
scum should be scourged with iron and roasted by fire.

He got across the square by dint of his noisy hypocrisy, and turned
morosely into a dark alley that led towards the walls.  Hot-hearted
gentleman, the mere panic-stricken thirst for existence had cooled out
of him, and he was in a fine, rendering passion to his finger-tips, a
striding, blasphemous temper, that longed to take the whole city by the
throat and beat a fist in its bloated face.  He wondered what had become
of his knights, esquires, and men-at-arms. It was told him in later days
how they died fighting in the abbey refectory, died with the
Benedictines at their side, and a rare barrier of corpses to tell of the
swing of their swords.

Flavian dodged into a dark porch to consider his circumstances and the
baffling influence of the same.  He had caught enough from the mob to
comprehend what had occurred, and what was to follow.  Certainly for
many months he had heard rumours, but, like other demigods, he had
turned a deaf ear and smiled like a Saturn.  The largeness of the
upheaval stupefied him at first; now, as he pondered it, it gave a more
heroic colour to his passions.

To be free of Gilderoy: that was the necessity.  He guessed shrewdly
enough that the gates would be well guarded.  And the walls!  He smote
his thigh and remembered where the river coursed round the rocky
foundations, and washed the walls.  A big plunge, a swim, and he would
have liberty enough and to spare.

He set off instanter down alleys and byways, through the most
poverty-stricken quarter of the city.  The place had a hundred stenches
on a hot summer night.  Naturally enough, such haunts were deserted,
save for a few hags garrulous at the doorways, and a few fragments of
dirt, called by courtesy, children.  The rats had gone marauding,
leaving their offal heaps empty.

Keen as a fox, he threaded on, and came before long to the walls, a
black mass, rising above the hovels packed like pigsties to the very
ramparts.  Avoiding a tower, he held along a lane that skirted the wall,
looking for one of the many stairways leading to the battlements.  It
was here, in the light of a tavern window, that he came plump upon two
sweaty artisans, rendered somewhat more gross and insolent by the fumes
of liquor.  The men challenged Flavian with drunken arrogance; they had
their password, to the devil. All the accumulated viciousness of an hour
tingled in his sword arm.  He fell upon the men like a Barak, kicked one
carcase into the gutter, and ran on.

He was soon up a stairway, and on the walls, finding them absolutely
deserted.  The city stretched behind him, a black chaos, emitting a grim
uproar, its dark slopes chequered here and there with angry flame.
Before him swept the river, and he heard it swirling amid the reeds.
Further still, meadows lay open to the stars, and in the distance stood
solemn woods and heights, touched with the silver of the sky.

He moved on to where a loop of the river curled up to wash the walls.
The water was in full flood at the place, and he heard it gurgling
cheerily against the stones. Flavian took a last look at Gilderoy, its
castle red with burning cressets, its multitudinous roofs, its uproar
like the noise of a nest of hornets.  He shook his fist over the city,
climbed the battlements, jumped for it, plunged like a log, came up
spluttering to strike out for the further bank.

In the meadows the townsfolk kept horses at graze. Flavian, aglow to the
finger-tips, with water squelching from his shoes, caught a cob that was
hobbled in a field hard by the river.  He unhobbled the beast, hung on
by the mane, mounted, and set off bare-back for the road to Gambrevault.



                                 XXVIII


Dawn climbing red over pinewoods piled on the hills; dawn optimistic yet
ominous, harbinger of war and such perils as set the heart leaping and
the blood afire; dawn that cried unto the world, "Better one burst of
heroism and then the grave, than a miserable monotony of nothingness, a
domestic surfeiting of the senses with a wife and a fat larder."

Out of the east climbed the man on the stolen horse, riding out of the
dawn with the lurid phantasms of the night still running riot in his
brain.  No sleep had smoothed the crumpled page, or touched the memory
with unguent to assuage the smart.  Maledictions, vengeances, prophecies
of fire and sword rushed with the red dawn over the hills.

With forty miles behind him, he came on his jaded, sweaty beast towards
his own castle of Gambrevault, forded his own stream, saw his mills
gushing foam, heard the thunder of the weir.  How eternally peaceful
everything seemed in the dewy amber light of the dawn! Away rolled the
downs, billows of glorious green, into the west.  Gambrevault’s towers
rose against the blue; he saw the camp in the meadows; his own banner
blowing to the breeze.

The meadows that morning were quiet as a graveyard, as the Lord Flavian
rode through to the great gate of Gambrevault.  Soldiers idling about,
stiffened up, saluted, stared in astonishment at the grim, morose-faced
man, who rode by on a foundered horse, looking neither to the right hand
nor the left.  He cut something of a figure, as though he had been in a
tavern brawl, and had spent the night snoring in a cow-house.  Yet there
was an indescribable power and dignity in the tatterdemalion rider for
all his tumbled look.  The compressed lips, knotted brow, smouldering
eyes spoke of phenomenal emotions, phenomenal passions.  Not a man
cheered, and the silence was yet more eloquent than clamour.  He rode in
by the great gate, and parrying the blank glances and interrogations of
his knights, called for two esquires, and withdrew to his own state
rooms.

His first trouble was to acknowledge such necessities as hunger and
cleanliness.  He contrived to compass both at once, eating ravenously
even while he was in the bath. His next command was for his harness, and
his esquires armed him, agog for news, even waxing inquisitive, to be
snubbed for their pains.

"Assemble my knights and gentlemen in the great hall," ran his order,
and after praying awhile in his own private oratory, he passed down to
join the assemblage, solemn and soul-burdened as a young Jove.

There is a certain vain satisfaction in being the possessor of some
phenomenal piece of news, wherewith to astonish a circle of friends.
The dramatic person blurts it out like a stage duke; the real epicure
lets it filter through his teeth in fragments, watching with a twinkling
satisfaction its effect upon his hearers.  The Lord Flavian’s
revelations that morning were deliberate and gradual, leisurely in the
extreme.  Many a man waxes flippant or cynical when his feelings are
deep and sincere, and he is disinclined to bare his heart to the world.
Flavian addressed his assembled knights with a certain stinted and
pedantic courtliness; when they had warmed to his level, then he could
indulge his sympathies to the full.  The atmosphere about those who wait
to hear our experiences or opinions is often like cold water, somewhat
repellent till the first plunge has been tried.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I regret to inform you that the Abbot Porphyry,
my uncle, is numbered with the saints."

So much for the first confession; it elicited a sympathetic murmur from
those assembled, a very proper and respectable expression of feeling,
but nothing passionate.

"I also have to inform you, with much Christian resignation, that Sir
Jordan and Sir Kay, Malise, my page, and some twenty men-at-arms are in
all human probability dead."

This time some glimmer of light pervaded the hall. There was still
mystification, silence, and an exchanging of glances.

"Finally, gentlemen, I may confess to you that a great insurrection is
afoot in the land; that Gilderoy has declared against the King and the
nobility; that the scum of a populace has made a great massacre of the
magnates; that I, gentlemen, by the grace of God, have escaped to preach
to you of these things."

A chorus of grim ejaculations came from the knights and the captains
assembled.  Astonishment, and emotions more durable, showed on every
face.  Flavian gained heat, and let his tongue have liberty; at the end
of ten minutes of fervid oratory, the men were as wise as their lord and
every wit as vicious.  Gilderoy had signalised her rising in blood; mob
rule had been proclaimed; the peasantry and townsfolk had thrown down
the glove to the nobles. These were bleak, plain facts, that touched to
the quick the men who stood gathered in the great hall of Gambrevault.
Not a sword was in its scabbard when Modred’s deep voice gave the cry--

"God and St. Philip--for the King."

Then like a powder bag flung into a fire came the news of the storming
and wrecking of Avalon.  A single man-at-arms had escaped the slaughter,
escaped by crawling down an offal shoot and hiding till the rebels
evacuated the place and marched under cover of night for Geraint.  The
man had crept out and fled on foot from the stricken place for
Gambrevault.  It was a tramp of ten leagues, but he had stuck to it
through the night like a Trojan, and, knowing the road well, had reached
Gambrevault before the sun was at noon.  They brought him before Flavian
and the rest, fagged to the fifth toe, and hardly able to stand.  He
told the whole tale, as much as he knew of it, in a blunt yet dazed way.
His senses appeared numbed by the deeds that had been done that night.

Flavian leant back in his escutcheoned chair, and gnawed at his lip.
This last thrust had gone home more keenly than the rest.  That castle
of lilies, Avalon the fair, was but a friend of wood and stone, yet a
friend having wondrous hold upon his heart.  He had been born there, and
under the shadows of its towers his mother had taken her last sacrament.
Men can love a tree, a cottage, a stream; Flavian loved Avalon as being
the temple of the unutterable memories of the past.  Desolation and
ruin!  Bertrand, his old master at arms, slain!  He sprang up like an
Achilles with the ghost of Patroclus haunting his soul.

"Gentlemen, shall these things pass?  Hear me, God and the world, hear
my oath sworn in this my castle of Gambrevault.  May I never rest till
these things are reprieved in blood, till there are too few men to bury
the dead.  Though my walls fall, and my towers totter, though I win ruin
and a grave, I swear by the Sacrament to do such deeds as shall ring and
resound in history."

So they went all of them together, and swore by the body and blood of
the Lord to take such vengeance as the sword alone can give to the hot
passions of mankind.

That noon there was much stir and life in Gambrevault. The camp hummed
like a wasp’s nest when violence threatens; the men were ready to run to
arms on the first sounding of the trumpet.  Armourers and farriers were
at work.  Flavian had sent out two companies of light horse to
reconnoitre towards Gilderoy and Geraint. They had orders not to draw
rein till they had sure view of such rebel voices as were on the march;
to hang on the horizon; to watch and follow; to send gallopers to
Gambrevault; on no account to give battle.  Companies were despatched to
drive in the cattle from the hills, and to bring in fodder.  The
Gambrevault mills were emptied of flour, and burnt to the ground, in
view of their being of use to the rebels in case of a siege.  Certain
cottages and outhouses under the castle walls were demolished to leave
no cover for an attacking force.  The cats, tribocs, catapults, and
bombards upon the battlements were overhauled, and cleared for a siege.

Towards evening, human wreckage began to drift in from the country,
bearing lamentable witness to the thoroughness of Fulviac’s
incendiarism.  Gambrevault might have stood for heaven by the strange
scattering of folk who came to seek its sanctuary.  Fire and sword were
abroad with a vengeance; cottars, borderers, and villains had risen in
the night; treachery had drawn its poniard; even the hound had snapped
at its master’s hand.

Many pathetic figures passed under the great arch of Gambrevault gate
that day.  First a knight came in on horseback, a baby in his arms, and
a woman clinging behind him, sole relics of a home.  Margaret, the
grey-haired countess of St. Anne’s, was brought in on a litter by a few
faithful men-at-arms; her husband and her two sons were dead.  Young
Prosper of Fountains came in on a pony; the lad wept like a girl when
questioned, and told of a mother and a sire butchered, a home sacked and
burnt. There were stern faces in Gambrevault that day, and looks more
eloquent than words.  "Verily," said Flavian to Modred the Strong, "we
shall have need of our swords, and God grant that we use them to good
purpose."

So night drew near, and still no riders had come from the companies that
had ridden out to reconnoitre towards Gilderoy and Geraint.  Flavian had
had a hundred duties on his hands: exercising his courtesy to the
refugees, condoling, reassuring; inspecting the defences and the siege
train; superintending the victualling of the place.  He had ordered his
troops under arms in the meadows, and had spoken to them of what had
passed at Gilderoy, and what might be looked for in the future.  There
seemed no lack of loyalty on their part.  Flavian had ever been a
magnanimous and a generous overlord, glad to be merciful, and no
libertine at the expense of his underlings.  His feudatories were bound
to him by ties more strong than mere legalities.  They cheered him
loudly enough as he rode along the lines in full armour, with fifty
knights following as his guard.

Night came.  Outposts had been pushed forward to the woods, and a strong
picket held the ford across the river. On the battlements guards went to
and fro, and clarions parcelled out the night, and rang the changes.  In
the east there was a faint yellowish light in the sky, a distant glare
as of a fire many miles away.  In the camp men were ready to fly to arms
at the first thunder of war over the hills.

Flavian held a council in the great hall, a council attended by all his
knights and captains.  They had a great map spread upon the table, a
chart of the demesnes of Gambrevault and Avalon, and the surrounding
country. Their conjectures turned on the possible intentions of the
rebels, whether they would venture on a campaign in the open, or lie
snug within walls and indulge in raids and forays.  And then--as to the
loyalty of their own troops? On this point Flavian was dogmatic, having
a generous and over-boyish heart, not quick to credit others with
treachery.

"I would take oath for my own men," he said; "their fathers have served
my fathers; I have never played the tyrant; there is every reason to
trust their loyalty."

An old knight, Sir Tristram, had taken a goodly share in the debate, a
veteran from the barons’ wars, and a man of honest experience, no mere
pantaloon.  His grey beard swept down upon his cuirass; his deep-set
eyes were full of intelligence under his bushy brows; the hands that
were laid upon the table were clawed and deformed by gout.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I have not the fitness and youth of many of you,
but I can lay claim to some wisdom in war.  To my liege lord, whom,
sirs, I honour as a man of soul, I would address two proverbs.  First,
despise not, sire, your enemies."

Modred laughed in his black beard.

"Reverence the scum of Gilderoy?"

"Ha, man, if we are well advised, these folk have been breathed upon by
fanaticism.  I tell you, I have seen a meanly-born crowd make a very
stubborn day of it with some of the best troops that ever saw service.
Secondly, sire, I would say to you, turn off your mercenaries if the sky
looks black; never trust your neck to paid men when any great peril
threatens."

Flavian, out of his good sense, agreed with Tristram.

"Your words are weighty," he said.  "So long as we are campaigning, I
will pay them well and keep them.  If it comes to a siege, I will have
no hired bravos in Gambrevault.  And now, gentlemen, it is late; get
what sleep you may, for who knows what may come with the morrow. Modred
and Geoffrey, I leave to you the visiting of the outposts to-night.
Order up my lutists and flute-players; I shall not sleep without a
song."

He passed alone to the outer battlements, and let the night expand about
his soul, the stars touch his meditations.  From the minstrels’ gallery
in the hall came the wail of viols, the voices of flute, dulcimer and
bassoon keeping a mellow under-chant.  He heard the sea upon the rocks,
saw it glimmering dimly to end in a fringe of foam.

So his thoughts soared to the face of one woman in the world, the golden
Eve peering out of Paradise, whose soul seemed to ebb and flow like the
moan of the distant music.  He fell into deep forecastings of the
future. He remembered her words to him, her mysterious warnings, her
inexplicable inconsistencies, her appeal to war. Gilderoy had taught him
much, and some measure of truth shone like a dawn spear in the east.  A
gulf of war and vengeance stretched from his feet.  Yet he let his soul
circle like a golden moth about the woman’s beauty, while the wail of
the viols stole out upon his ears.



                                  XXIX


Little store of sleep had the Lord of Gambrevault that night.  War with
all its echoing prophecies played through his thought as a storm wind
through the rotting casements of a ruin.  He beheld the high hills red
with beacons, the valleys filled with the surging steel of battle.
Gilderoy and its terrors flamed through his brain.  Above all, like the
moon from a cloud shone the face of Yeoland, the Madonna of the Forest.

He was up and armed before dawn, and on the topmost battlements, eager
for the day.  The sun came with splendour out of the east, hurling a
golden net over the woods piled upon the hills.  Mists moved from off
the sea, that shimmered opalescent towards the dawn.  Brine laded the
breeze.  The waves were scalloped amber and purple, fringed with foam
about the agate cliffs.

The hours were void to the man till riders should come in with tidings
of how the revolt sped at Gilderoy and Geraint.  The prophetic hints
that had been tossed to him from the tongues of the mob had served to
discover to him his own invidious fame.  Gambrevault, on its rocky
headland, stood, the strongest castle in the south, a black mass looming
athwart the perilous path of war. The rebels would smite at it.  Of that
its lord was assured.

At noon he attended mass in the chapel, with all his knights, solacing
his impatience with the purer aspirations of the soul.  It was even as
he left the chapel that Sir Modred met him, telling how a galloper had
left the woods and was cantering over the meadows towards the headland.
The man was soon under the arch of the great gate, his sweating horse
smiting fire from the stones, dropping foam from his black muzzle.  The
rider was Godamar, Flavian’s favourite esquire, a ruddy youth, with the
heart of a Jonathan.

Modred brought him to the banqueting-hall, where Flavian awaited him in
full harness, two trumpeters at his back.

"Sire, Geraint has risen."

"Ha!"

"They are marching on Gambrevault."

"Your news, on with it."

Godamar told how the troop had neared Geraint at eve and camped in the
wood over night.  At dawn they had reconnoitred the town, and seen, to
their credit, black columns of "foot" pouring out by all the gates.  The
Gambrevault company had fallen back upon the woods unseen, and had
watched the Gerainters massing in the city meadows about a red banner
and one in armour upon a white horse.  Godamar had lain low in a thicket
and watched the rebels march by in the valley.  They had passed between
two hundred paces of him, and he swore by Roland the Paladin that it was
a woman who rode the great white horse.

Flavian had listened to the man with a golden flux of fancy that had
divined something of the esquire’s meaning.

"Godamar," he said.

"Sire?"

"You rode with me that day when we tracked a certain lady from
Cambremont glade towards the pine forest."

"Sire, you forestall me in thought."

"So?"

"I could even swear upon my sword that it is Yeoland of Cambremont who
rides with the Gerainters."

Flavian coloured and commended him.  Godamar ran on.

"I threaded the thicket, sire, made a detour, galloped hard and rejoined
our company.  The Gerainters were blind as bats; they had never a scout
to serve them.  We kept under cover and watched their march.  They came
due west in three columns, one following the other.  Six miles from
Geraint, Longsword gave me a spare horse and sent me spurring to bring
you the news."

Flavian stroked his chin and brooded.

"Their numbers?" he asked anon.

"Ten thousand men, sire, we guessed it such."

Before Godamar had ended his despatch, a second galloper came in
breathless from Gilderoy.  He had left Fulviac’s rebels massing in the
meadows beyond the river, and had kept cover long enough to see the
foremost column wheel westwards and take the road for Gambrevault.  The
scout numbered the Gilderoy force at anything between eight and twelve
thousand pikes.  Fulviac had been on the march three hours.

The Lord of Avalon stood forward in the oriel in the full light of the
sun.  Sea, hill, and woodland stretched before him under a peerless sky.
There was the scent of brine in the breeze, the banner of youth was
ablaze upon the hills.  A red heart beat under his shimmering cuirass,
red blood flushed his brain.  It was a season of romance and of lusty
daring, an hour when his manhood shone bright as his burnished sword.

Thoughts were tumbling, moving over his mind like water over a wheel.
Geraint stood ten leagues from Gambrevault, Gilderoy thirteen.  The
Geraint forces had been on the march six hours or more, the men of
Gilderoy only three.  Hence, by all the craft of Araby, they of Geraint
were three hours and three leagues to the fore.  Bad generalship without
doubt, but vastly prophetic to the man figuring in the oriel, his
fingers drumming on the stone sill.

Strategy stirred in him, and waxed like a dragon created from some magic
crystal into the might of deeds.  The Lord of Gambrevault caught the
strong smile of chivalry. A great venture burnt upon his sword.  It was
no uncertain voice that rang through the hall of Gambrevault.

"Gentlemen, to horse!  Trumpets, blow the sally!  Let every man who can
ride, mount and follow me to-day. Blow, trumpets, blow!"

The brazen throats brayed from the walls, their shrill scream echoing
and echoing amid the distant hills.  Their message was like the plunging
of a boulder into a pool, smiting to foam and clamour the camp in the
meadows. Swords were girded on, spears plucked from the sods, horses
saddled and bridled in grim haste.  In one short, stirring hour Flavian
rode out from Gambrevault with twelve hundred steel-clad riders at his
back.  Those on the walls watched this mass of fire and colour
thundering over the meadows, splashing through the ford, smoking away to
the east with trumpets clanging, banneroles adance.  There was to be
great work done that day. The sentinels on the walls gossiped together,
and swore by their lord as he had been the King.

Gambrevault and its towers sank back against the skyline, its banner
waving heavily above the keep.  Flavian’s mass of knights and
men-at-arms held over the eastern downs that rolled greenly above the
black cliffs and the blue mosaics of the sea.  A brisk breeze laughed in
their faces, setting plumes nodding, banneroles and pensils aslant.
Their spears rose like the slim masts of many sloops in a harbour.  The
sun shone, the green woods beckoned to the glittering mass with its
forest of rolling spears.

Flavian’s pride whimpered as he rode in the van with Modred, Godamar,
who bore the banner of Gambrevault, and Merlion d’Or, his herald.  The
man felt like a Zeus with a thunderbolt poised in his hand.  A word, the
flash of a sword, the cry of a trumpet, and all this splendid torrent of
steel would leap and thunder to work his will. The star of chivalry
shone bright in the heavens.  As for this woman on the white horse, the
Madonna of the Pine Forest, God and the saints, he would charge the
whole world, hell and its legions, to win so rich a prize.

Turning northwards, with scouts scattered in the far van, they drew to
wilder regions where the dark and saturnine outposts of the great pine
forest stood solemn upon the hills.  Dusky were the thickets against the
sapphire sky, the cloud banners trailing in the breeze.  The very
valleys breathed of battle and sudden peril of the sword. Rounding a
wood, they saw riders flash over the brow of a hill and come towards
them at a gallop.  The men drew rein before the great company of spears.
Their leader saluted his lord, and glanced round grimly upon the sea of
steel dwindling over the green slopes.

"Sire, we are well-fortuned."

"Say on."

"Ten thousand rebels from Geraint are on the march two miles away.
Godamar has given you the news.  We are on the crest of the wave."

Flavian tightened his baldric.

"Good ground to the east, Longsword?"

"Excellent for ’horse,’ sire."

"To our advantage?"

"Half a mile further towards Geraint there lies a grass valley, a league
long, four furlongs from wood to wood. The rebels will march through it,
or I am a dotard. There stands your chance, sire.  We can roll down on
them like a torrent."

Flavian took time by the throat, and called on his man of the tabard.

"Make me this proclamation," quoth he: "’Gentlemen of Gambrevault,
strike for King and chivalry.  Let vengeance dye your swords.  As for
the lady riding upon the white horse, mark you, sirs, let her be as the
Virgin out of heaven.  We ride to take her and her banner.  For the
rest, no quarter and no prisoners.  We will teach this mob the art of
war.’"

The man of the tabard proclaimed it as he was bidden. The iron ranks
thundered to him like billows foaming about a rock.  Modred claimed
silence with uplifted sword.

"Enough, gentlemen, enough.  No bellowing.  Muzzle your temper.  We make
our spring in silence, that we may claw the harder."

A line of hills lay before them, heights crowned with black pine woods,
save for one bare ridge like a great scimitar carving the sky.  Flavian
advanced his companies up the slopes, halted them in a broad hollow
under the brow of the hill.  A last galloper had ridden in with hot
tidings of the rebels.  The Lord of Gambrevault, with Sir Modred and
Longsword, cantered on to reconnoitre.  They drew to a thicket of
gnarled hollies on the hilltop, and looked down upon a long grass valley
bounded north and south by woods.

Half a mile away came the rebel vanguard, a black mass of footmen
plodding uphill, their pikes and bills shining in the sun.  Pennons and
gonfalons danced here and there, while in the thick of the column flew
the red banner of the Forest, girt about by the spears of Yeoland’s
guard.  She could be seen on her white horse in the midst of the press.
The Gerainters were split into three columns, the second column half a
mile behind the first, the third somewhat closer upon the second.  They
were marching without outriders, as though thoroughly assured of their
own safety.

Modred chuckled grimly through his black beard, and smote his thigh.

"Fools, fools!"

"Devilish generalship," quoth Longsword under his beaver.  "We can crush
their van like a wheatfield before the rest can come up.  What say you,
sire, fewtre spears, and at them?"

Flavian had already turned his horse.

"No sounding of trumpets, sirs," he said; "we will deal only with their
van.  Call up our companies.  God and St. Philip for Gambrevault!"

Over the bare ridge, with its barriers of sun-steeped trees, steel
shivered and spears bristled, rank on rank, wave on wave.  With a massed
rhythm of hoofs, the flood crested the hill, plunged down at a gallop
with fewtred spears.  Knee to knee, flank to flank, a thousand streaks
of steel deluged the hillside.  Their trumpets throated now the charge;
the iron ranks clashed and thundered, rocked on with a rush of
glittering shields.

As dust rolling before a March wind, so the horsemen of Gambrevault
poured down on the horde of wavering pikes.  The storm had come sudden
as thunder out of a summer sky.  Before the hurtling impact of that bolt
of war, the palsied ranks of foot crumbled like rotten timber. The
Gerainters were too massed and too amazed to squander or give ground, to
stem with bill and bow the rolling torrent of death.  They were rent and
trampled, trodden like straw under the stupendous avalanche of steel
that crushed and pulverised with ponderous and invincible might.

"God and Gambrevault, kill, kill!"

Such was the death-cry thundered out over the rebel van.  The column
broke, burst into infinite chaos. Yeoland’s guards alone stood firm, a
tough core of oak amid rotten tinder.  Over the trampled wreckage the
fight swirled and eddied, circling about the knot of steel where the red
banner flapped in the vortex of the storm.

Yeoland sat dazed on her white horse, as one in the grip of some
terrific dream.  Nord was at her side, snarling, snapping his jaw like a
wolf, his great iron mace poised over his shoulder.  The red banner
flapped prophetic above their heads.  Around them the fight gathered, a
whirlwind of contorted figures and stabbing steel.

Yeoland’s eyes were on one figure in the press, a man straddling a big
bay horse, smiting double-handed with his sword, his red plume jerking
in the hot rush of the fight.  She saw horse and man go down before him;
saw him buffet his way onward like a galley ploughing against wind and
wave.  His leaping sword and tossing plume came steady and strenuous
through the girdle of death.

Fear, pride, a hundred battling passions played like the battle through
the woman’s mobile brain.  She watched the man under the red plume with
an intensity of feeling that made her blind to all else for the moment.
Love seemed to struggle towards her in bright harness through the fight.
She saw the last rank of the human rampart pierced.  The man on the bay
horse came out before her like some warrior out of an old epic.

None save Nord stood between them, shaggy and grim as a great Norse
Thor.  She watched the iron mace swing, saw it fall and smite wide.
Flavian stood in the stirrups, both hands to the hilt, his horse’s
muzzle rammed against the opposing brute’s chest.  The blow fell, a
great cut laid in with all the culminating courage of an hour.  The
sword slashed Nord’s gorget, buried its blade in the bull-like neck.  He
clutched at his throat, toppled, slid out of the saddle and rolled under
his horse’s hoofs.

[Illustration: "THE SWORD SLASHED NORD’S GORGET, BURIED ITS BLADE IN THE
BULL-LIKE NECK."]

The man’s hand snatched at the girl’s bridle; he dragged her and her
horse out of the press.  She had a confused vision of carnage, of
stabbing swords and trampling hoofs.  She saw her banner-bearer fall
forward on his horse’s neck, thrust through with a sword, while Modred
seized the banner staff from his impotent hand.  The rebel column had
deliquesced and vanished.  In its stead she was girdled by grim and
exultant horsemen whose swords flashed in the sun.

Trumpets blew the retreat.  A thousand glittering riders swarmed about
her and the knight with the red plume.  She had his words confusedly in
her ears, strong, passionate words, heroic, yet utterly tender.  They
rode uphill together amid the clangour of his men.  In a minute they had
won the ridge, and were swinging down the further slope with their faces
towards Gambrevault.



                                  XXX


Paris and Helen have been dead centuries, yet in that universal world of
the mind they still live, young and glorious as when the Grecian galleys
ploughed foam through the blue Ægean.  The world loves a lover.  Troilus
stages our own emotions for us in godlier wise than we poor realists can
hope to do.  We owe an eternal gratitude to those who have stood for
love in history.  All men might well desire to play the Tristan to
Iseult of the Irish eyes.  We forget Gemma Donati, and follow with
Dante’s wistful idealism the gleaming figure of Beatrice in Paradise.

Now the Lord Flavian was one of those happy persons who seem to stumble
into heaven either by prodigious instinct or remarkable good-fortune.
God gives to many men gold; to others intellect; to some truth; to few,
a human echo, a harmony in the spirit, the right woman in the world.
Many of us are such unstable folk that we vibrate vastly to a beautiful
face and hail heaven in a pair of violet eyes.  The chance is that such
a business turns out miserably.  It is a wise rule to search the world
through to find your Beatrice, or bide celibate to the end.  Happy is
the man whose instinctive choice is ratified by all the wisest poetry of
heaven.  Happy is he who finds a ruby as he rakes the ephemeral
flower-gardens of life, a gem eternally bright and beautiful, durable,
unchanging, flashing light ever into the soul.  It is given to few to
love wisely, to love utterly, to love till death.

That summer day Flavian saw life at its zenith, as he rode through the
woods on the way to Gambrevault.  The horse had dropped to a trot, and
the man had taken off his helmet and hung it at his saddle-bow.  He was
still red from the mêlée; his eyes were bright and triumphant. The girl
at his side looked at him half-timidly, a tremor upon her lip, her
glances clouded.  The terrific action of the last hour still seemed to
weigh upon her senses, and she seemed fated to be the sport of
contending sentiments.  No sooner had she struggled to some level of
saintliness than love rushed in with burning wings, and lo, all the
tinsel of her religion fell away, and she was a mere Eve, a child of
Nature.

Flavian watched her with the tenderness of a strong man, who is ready to
give his life for the woman he serves.  Love seemed to rise from her and
play upon him like perfume from a bowl of violets; her eyes transfigured
him, and he longed to touch her hair.

"At last."

"Lord?"

"Treat me as a man, I hate that epithet."

"You are a great signor."

"What are titles, testaments, etiquettes to us!  I am only great so long
as you trust and honour me."

"Your power might appear precarious."

"As you will."

"Yet war is loose!"

He looked round upon the sea of men that rolled on every hand.

"And war at its worst.  I have seen enough in three days to make me
loathe your partisans and their principles."

"Perhaps."

"It is a wicked and inhuman business."

"What are you going to do with me?" she said.

"Remove you from the hands of butchers and offal-mongers; put you like a
pearl in a casket in my own castle of Gambrevault."

"You incur the greater peril."

"Have I not told you that no woman loves a coward?"

She was silent awhile, with her eyes wistful and melancholy, as though
some spiritual conflict were passing in her mind.  Bitterness escaped in
the man’s words for all his tenderness and chivalry.  He needed an
answer.  Anon she capitulated and appeared to surrender herself
absolutely to circumstance.  She began to tell Flavian of her adoption
by Fulviac, of her vision in the ruined chapel, of the part assigned to
her as a woman ordained by heaven.  He heard her in silence, finding
quaint pleasure in listening to her voice, having never heard her talk
at such length before.  Her voice’s modulations, its pathos, its many
tones, were more subtle to him than any music, and seemed to steep in
oblivion the grim realities of the last few days. He watched the play of
thought upon her face, sun and shadow, calm and unrest.  He began to
comprehend the discords he had flung into her life; she was no longer a
riddle to him; her confessions portrayed her soul in warm and delicate
colouring--colouring pathetic and heroically pure.  He had a glorious
sense of joy in an instinctive conviction that this girl was worthy of
all the highest chivalry a man’s heart can conceive of.

Though he had a strong suspicion that he could humanise her Madonna for
her, he refrained from argument, refrained from dilating on the
iniquities her so-called crusades had already perpetrated.  Moreover,
the girl had opened her heart to him with a delicious and innocent
ingenuousness. He felt that the hour had blessed him sufficiently; that
personalities would be gross and impertinent in the light of that
sympathy that seemed suddenly to have enveloped them like a golden
cloud.  The girl appeared to have surrendered herself spiritually into
his keeping, not sorry in measure that a strong destiny had decided her
doubts for her.  They were to let political considerations and the
ephemeral turmoils of the times sink under their feet.  It was
sufficient for them to be but a man and a woman, to forget the forbidden
fruit, and the serpent and his lore. God walked the world; they were not
ashamed to hear His voice.

So they came with their glittering horde of horsemen to Gambrevault, and
rode over the green downs with towers beckoning from the blue.  The
Gilderoy forces were still miles away, and could not have threatened the
retreat on Gambrevault had they been wise as to the event.  Yeoland rode
close at Flavian’s side.  He touched her hand, looked in her eyes, saw
the colour stream to her cheeks, knew that she no longer was his enemy.

"Yonder stands Gambrevault," were his words; "its walls shall bulwark
you against the world.  Trust me and my eternal faith to you.  I shall
see God more clearly for looking in your eyes."

He lodged her in a chamber in the keep, a room that had been his
mother’s and still held the furniture, books, and music she had used.
Its window looked out on the castle garden, and over the double line of
walls to the meadows and woods beyond.  Maud, the castellan’s wife, was
bidden to wait upon her.  Flavian gave her the keys of his mother’s
chests, where silks, samites, sarcenets galore, lace and all manner of
golden fripperies, were stored.  The ewers of the room were of silver,
its hangings of violet cloth, its bed inlaid with ivory and hung with
purple velvet. It had a shelf full of beautifully illumined books, a
prayer-desk and a small altar, a harp, a lute, an embroidery frame, and
numberless curios.  Thus by the might of the sword Yeoland was installed
in the great castle of Gambrevault.

So Duessa and Balthasar were dead.  The girl had told Flavian what had
passed in Sforza’s palace; the news shocked him more than he would have
dreamed.  The dead wound us with their unapproachableness and the mute
pathos of their pale, imagined faces.  They are like our own sins that
stare at us from the night sky, irrevocable and beyond us for ever.
Flavian ordered tapers to be burnt and masses said in the castle chapel
for the souls of these two unfortunates.  He himself spent more than an
hour in silent prayer before he confessed, received penance and
absolution.

That evening, at Flavian’s prayer, Yeoland came down to meet him in the
castle garden, with the castellan’s two girls to serve her as maids of
honour.  She had put aside her armour, and was clad in a jacket of
violet cloth, fitting close to the figure, and a skirt of light blue
silk. In the old yew walk, stately and solemn, amid the bright parterres
and stone urns gushing colour, the two children slipped away and left
Yeoland and the man alone.

She seemed to have lost much of her restraint, much of her independence,
of her reserve, in a few short hours. Her mood inclined towards silence
and a certain delightful solemnity such as a lover loves.  Her eyes met
the man’s with a rare trust; her hands went into his with all the ideal
faith he had forecast in his dreams.

They stood together under the yews, full of youth and innocent joy of
soul, timid, happily sad, content to be mere children.  Flavian touched
her hands as he would have touched a lily.  She seemed too wonderful,
too pure, too transcendent to be fingered.  A supreme, a godly timidity
possessed him; he had such love in his heart as only the strong and the
pure can know, such love as makes a man a saint unto himself, a being
wrapped round with the rarest chivalry of heaven.

Their words were very simple and infrequent.

"I have been thinking," said the girl.

"Yes?"

"How war seems ever in the world."

"How else should I have won you?"

She sighed and looked up over his shoulder at the sunlight glimmering
gold through the yews.

"I have been thinking how I bring you infinite peril. They will not lose
me easily.  What if I bring you to ruin?"

"I take everything to myself."

"They believe me a saint."

"And I!"

"My conscience will reproach me, but now----"

"Well?"

"I am too happy to remember."

Their eyes met and flashed all the unutterable truths of the soul.
Flavian kissed her hand.

"Forget it all," he said, "save the words I spoke to you over that
forest grave.  Whatever doom may come upon me, though death frown, I
care not; all the sky is at sunset, all the world is full of song.  I
could meet God to-morrow with a smile, since you have shown me all your
heart."

From a little stone pavilion hidden by laurels the voices of flutes and
viols swirled out upon the air.  The west grew faint, and twilight
increased; night kissed and closed the azure eyes of the day.  Under the
yew boughs, Flavian and Yeoland walked hand in hand; the music spoke for
them; the night made their faces pale and spiritual under the trees.
They said little; a tremor of the fingers, a glance, a sigh were enough.
When the west had faded, and the last primrose streak was gone, Flavian
kissed the girl’s lips and sent her back to the two children, who were
curled on a bench by the laurels, listening sleepily to the music of
flute and viol.

The man’s soul was too scintillant and joyous to shun the stars.  He
passed up on to the battlements, and listened to the long surge of the
summer sea.

And as he paced the battlements that night, he saw red, impish specks of
flame start out against the black background of the night.  They were
the rebel watchfires burning on the hills, sinister eyes, red with the
distant prophecy of war.



                                  XXXI


It would be difficult to describe the thundercloud of thought that came
down upon Fulviac’s face when news was brought him of the capture of the
girl Yeoland and the decimation of the vanguard from Geraint.  There was
something even Satanic upon his face for the moment.  He was not a
pleasant person when roused, and roused he was that day like any ogre.
His tongue ran through the whole gamut of blasphemy before he recovered
a finer dignity and relapsed into a grim reserve.  His men spoke to him
with great suavity.  He had decreed that Nord of the Hammer should be
hanged for negligence, but the decree was unnecessary, since Flavian’s
sword had already settled the matter.

The Gilderoy forces therefore turned northwards, with their great
baggage and siege train, and in due course came upon the Gerainters
bivouacking on the ridge where the battle had taken place.  The green
slopes were specked with dark motionless figures, dead horses, and the
wreckage of war.  Men were burying the dead upon the battlefield.
Yeoland’s guard had been slaughtered almost to a man; and the whole
affair had damped very considerably the ardour of certain of the less
trustworthy levies.

But Fulviac was not the man to sit and snivel over a defeat; he knew
well enough that he had good men behind him, tough fighting stuff, fired
by fanaticism and a long sense of wrong.  He harangued his whole force,
black-guarded with his lion’s roar those concerned in the march from
Geraint, treating them to such a scourging with words that they snarled
and clamoured to be led on at once to prove their mettle.  Their leaders
had been at fault, nor did Fulviac keep their spirits cooling in the
wind. The power of his own personality was great, and he had twenty
thousand men at his back, who knew that to fail meant death and torture.
They had received a check from the Lord of Gambrevault; it was
absolutely essential to the cause that they should wipe out the defeat,
recapture their Saint and sacred banner, crush Gambrevault once and for
ever.  To this strenuous tune they marched on towards the sea, and that
night lit their fires on the hills that ringed Gambrevault on the north.

As the sun climbed up and spread a curtain of gold over down and upland,
those on the walls of Gambrevault saw steel glinting on the hills, the
pikes and casques of Fulviac’s horde.  Yeoland saw them from her
casement, as she stood and combed her hair.  Flavian, watching with
certain knights on the keep, confronted the event with a merry smile.
The shimmering line of silver on the hills had broadened to a darker
band, splashed lavishly with steel. The rebel host was coming on in a
half moon, with each horn to the sea.  Its centre held towards the ford
and the dismantled Gambrevault mills, positions strongly held on the
southern bank by a redoubt and stockaded trenches.

The criticisms delivered by those watching from the keep were various
and forcible.

"By Jeremy--a rare mob!"

"Let them grip at Gambrevault," said Modred, "and they shall clutch at a
cactus.  Look at that long baggage train in the rear.  Damn them, I
guess they have the siege train from Gilderoy."

"We shall sweat a trifle."

Quoth Tristram, "They have little time to spare for a leaguer, rotting
in trenches, if they are to make the country rise.  They’ll not leaguer
us."

Flavian watched the advance under his hand.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, gentlemen," he said, "we have taken their
Saint, their oracle, and their sacred banner.  I imagine they will do
their best to dispossess us. It is time we made for the meadows; I
reckon we shall have hot work to-day."

When leaving the keep, Flavian crossed the castle garden, and caught
under the tunnel of yews the flutter of a woman’s gown.  Sunlight
glimmered through and wove a shimmering network in the air.  Green and
violet swept the stones; a white face shone in the shadows.

He went to her and kissed her hands.  His eyes were brave and joyous as
she looked into them, and there was no shadow of fear upon his face.
Trumpets were blowing in the meadows, piercing the confused hum of men
running to arms.

"War, ever war!"

"You are sad?"

"Fulviac has the whole kingdom at his back."

"If he led the world, I should not waver."

"With me it is different; I am a woman and you know my heart."

"So well that I seek to know nothing else in the world, I desire no
greater wisdom than my love.  You are with me, and my heart sings.  No
harm can come to you whatever doom may fall on Gambrevault."

"Think you my thoughts are all of my own safety?"

"Ah, golden one, never fear for me.  What is life? a little joy, a
little pain, and then eternity.  I would rather have an hour’s glory in
the sun than fifty years of grey monotony.  It is something to fight,
and even to die, for the love of a woman.  There is no shadow over my
soul."

There was a great heroism in his voice, and her eyes caught the light
from his.  She touched his cuirass with her slim white fingers.

"God keep you!"

"Ha, I do not smell of earth to-day, nor dream of requiems."

"No, you will come back to me."

"Give me your scarf."

She took the green silk and knotted it about his arm; a rich colour
shone in her cheeks, her eyes were warm and wonderfully luminous.

"God keep you!"

So he kissed her lips and left her.

The rebel horde had rolled down in their thousands from the hills.
Flavian saw their black masses moving from the woods, as he rode down
from the great gate. It was evident to him that Fulviac would try and
force the ford and win his way to the open meadows beyond. The river ran
fast with a deep but narrow channel, and there was only one other ford
some nine miles upstream. His own men were under arms in the meadows.
With his knights round him, Flavian rode down to the redoubt and
trenches by the river-bank, packed as they already were with archers and
men-at-arms.  He was loudly cheered as he reined in and scanned the
rebel columns moving over the downs.

Fulviac had ridden forward with a company of spears to reconnoitre.  He
saw the captured banner of The Maid hoisted derisively on Gambrevault
keep; he saw the redoubt and the stockades covering the ford; the foot
massed in the meadows; Flavian’s mounted men-at-arms drawn up under the
castle walls.  Sforza and several captains of note were with Fulviac.
The man was in a grim mood, a slashing Titanic humour.  The passage of
the river was to be forced, Flavian’s men engaged in the meadows.  He
would drive them into Gambrevault before nightfall.  Then they would
cast their leaguer, bring up the siege train taken from Gilderoy, and
batter at Gambrevault till they could storm the place.

Early in the day Fulviac detached a body of two thousand men under
Colgran, a noted free-lance, to march upstream, cross by the upper ford,
and threaten Flavian on the flank.  The fighting began at ten of the
clock, when Fulviac’s bowmen scattered along the river and opened fire
upon the stockades.  Flavian’s archers and arbalisters responded.  A
body of five thousand rebels advanced with great mantlets upon wheels to
the northern bank and entrenched themselves there.  A second body, with
waggons laden with timber and several flat-bottomed boats, poured down
to the river a mile higher up, and began to throw a rough, raft-like
bridge across the stream.  At half-past ten masses of men-at-arms
splashed through the water at the ford, under cover of a hot fire from
the archers lining the bank, and began an assault upon the redoubt and
the stockades.

By twelve o’clock the bridge higher up the stream had been completed,
and a glittering line of pikes poured across, to be met on the southern
bank by Geoffrey Longsword and a body of men-at-arms.  It was hand to
hand, and hot and strenuous as could be.  Men grappled, stabbed, hacked,
bellowed like a herd of bulls.  Flavian had reinforced the defenders of
the ford, who still held Fulviac at bay, despite a heavy archery fire
and the almost continuous assaults poured against the stockades.  Yet by
one o’clock Fulviac’s levies had forced the passage of the bridge and
gained footing on the southern bank.  Longsword’s men, outnumbered and
repulsed, were falling back before the black masses of foot that now
poured into the meadows.

The situation was critical enough, as Flavian had long seen, as he
galloped hotly from point to point.  Fulviac’s rebels had shown more
valour than he had ever prophesied. Flavian packed all his remaining
foot into the trenches, and putting himself at the head of his knights
and mounted men-at-arms, rode down to charge the troops who had crossed
by the pontoons.  Here chivalry availed him to the full.  By a
succession of tremendous rushes, he drove the rebels back into the
river, did much merciless slaughter, cut the ropes that held the bridge
to the southern bank, so that the whole structure veered downstream.
The peril seemed past, when he was startled by the cry that the redoubt
had been carried, and that Fulviac held the ford.

Looking south, he saw the truth with his own eyes.  His troops were
falling back in disorder upon Gambrevault, followed by an ever-growing
mass, that swarmed exultantly into the meadows.  The last and successful
assault had been led by Fulviac in person.  Flavian had to grip the
truth.  The rebels outnumbered him by more than five to one; and he had
underrated their discipline and fighting spirit.  He was wiser before
the sun went down.

"Come, gentlemen, we shall beat them yet."

"Shall we charge them, sire?"

"Blow bugles, follow me, sirs; I am in no mood for defeat."

That afternoon there was grim work in the Gambrevault meadows.  Five
times Flavian charged Fulviac’s columns, hurling them back towards the
river, only to be repulsed in turn by the fresh masses that poured over
by the ford.  He made much slaughter, lost many good men in the mad,
whirling mêlées.  Desperate heroism inspired on either hand.  Once he
stood in great peril of his own life, having been unhorsed and
surrounded by a mob of rebel pikes. He was saved by the devotion and
heroism of Modred and his household knights.  With the chivalry of a
Galahad, he did all that a man could to keep the field.  Colgran’s
flanking column appeared over the downs, and Fulviac had his whole host
on the southern bank of the river.  The masses advanced like one man,
pennons flying, trumpets clanging.  Flavian would have charged again,
but for the vehement dissuasion of certain of his elder knights.  He
contented himself with covering the retreat of his foot, while the great
gate of Gambrevault opened its black maw to take them in.  Many of his
mercenaries had deserted to the rebels.  So stubborn and bloody had been
the day, that he had lost close upon half his force by death and
desertion; no quarter had been given on either side.  He heard the
surging shouts of exultation from the meadows, as he rode sullen and
wearied into Gambrevault.  The great gates thundered to, the
portcullises rattled down.  Fulviac had his man shut up in Gambrevault.



                                 XXXII


The leaguer was drawn that night about the towers of Gambrevault, and
the castle stood clasped betwixt the watch-fires and the sea.  Fulviac’s
rebels, toiling from evening until dawn, banked and staked a rampart to
close the headland.  From the north alone could Gambrevault be
approached, precipices plunging south, east, and west to front the sea.
Athwart the grassy isthmus Fulviac drew his works, running from cliff to
cliff, brown earth-banks bristling with timber.  Mortars, bombards,
basilics, and great catapults had been brought from Gilderoy to batter
the walls.  Redoubts, covered by strong mantlets, were established in
the meadows.  Several small war galleys guarded the castle on the side
of the sea.

Nor was this labour permitted to pass unrebuked before the leaguered
folk upon the headland.  There were sallies, assaults, bloody tussles in
the trenches, skirmishes upon the causeway.  Yet these fiercenesses
brought no flattering boon to the besieged.  The knights and men-at-arms
were masterful enough with an open field to serve them, but behind their
barricades Fulviac’s rebels held the advantage. The command went forth
from Modred the seneschal that there were to be no more sorties
delivered against the trenches.

On the second day of the leaguer the cannonade began. Bombard and mortar
belched flame and smoke; the huge catapults strove with their gigantic
arms; arbalisters wound their windlasses behind the ramparts.  Shot
screamed and hurtled, crashed and thundered against the walls, bringing
down mortar and masonry in rattling showers.  The battlements of
Gambrevault spouted flame; archers plied their bows in bartisan and
turret.  A shroud of dust and smoke swirled about the place, the chaotic
clamour of the siege sending the gulls wheeling and wailing from the
cliffs.

On the very second day Flavian was brought low by a shot hurling a
fragment of masonry upon his thigh and bruising it to the bone.  Stiff
and faint, he was laid abed in his own state room, unable to stir for
the twinging tendons, loth enough to lie idle.  Modred, bluff, lusty
smiter, took the command from him, and walked the walls.  Hourly he came
in to his lord’s chamber to tell of the cannonade and the state of the
castle.  Even Flavian from his cushions could see that the man’s black
face looked grim and sinister.

"How do they vex us?" was his question, as the thunder came to them from
the meadows.

Modred clinked his heels against the wainscotting of the window seat,
and strove to sweeten his looks.  He was not a man given to blandishing
the truth.

"Their damned bombards are too heavy for us.  We are dumb."

"Impossible!"

"Sire, we shall have to hold Gambrevault by the sword."

The man on the bed started up on his elbow, only to fall back again with
a spasmodic twitching of the forehead.

"And our bombards?" he asked.

"Are toppled off their trunnions."

"Ha!"

"For the rest, sire, I have ordered our men to keep cover.  The bowmen
shoot passably.  The outer battlements are swept."

"And the walls?"

Modred grimaced and stroked his beard.

"There are cracks in the gate-house," quoth he, "that I could lay my
fist in."

What goodlier fortune for a man than to lie bruised when Love bears to
him the bowl of dreams!  What softer balm than the touch of a woman’s
hand!  What more subtle music than her voice!  The girl Yeoland had
betrayed a new wilfulness to the world, in that she now claimed as her
guerdon the care of the man’s heart.  She was in and about his room, a
shadow moving in the sunlight, a shaft of youth, supple and very tender.
Her eyes had a rarer lustre, her face more of the dawn tint of the rose.
Love stirred within her soul like the sound of angels psaltering on the
golden battlements of heaven.

As she sat often beside him, Flavian won the whole romance from her,
gradual as glistening threads of silk drawn from a scarlet purse.  She
waxed very solemn over her tale, was timid at times, and exceeding
sorrowful for all her passion.  Some shadowy fear seemed to companion
her beside the couch, some wraith prophetic of a tragic end.  She loved
the man, yet feared her love, even as it had been a sword shimmering
above his head.  Peril compassed them like an angry sea; she heard the
bombards thundering in the meadows.

"Ah, sire," she said to him one morning, as she thrust the flowers she
had gathered in the garden into a brazen bowl, "I am heavy at heart.
Who shall pity me?"

He turned towards her on his cushions with a smile that was not
prophetic of the tomb.

"Do I weary you?"

"Ah no, not that."

"Why then are you sad?"

She held up a white hand in the gloom of the room, her hair falling like
a black cloud upon her bosom.

"Listen," she said to him.

"I am not deaf."

"The thunder of war."

"Well, well, my heart, should I fear it?"

"It is I who fear."

"Ah," he said, taking her hand into his bosom, "put such fears far from
you.  We shall not end this year in dust."

A week passed and the man was on the walls again, bold and ruddy as a
youthful Jove.  Seven days had gone, swelling with their hours the great
concourse in the meadows.  Pikes had sprouted on the hills like
glistening corn, to roll and merge into the girding barrier of steel.
The disloyal south had gathered to Fulviac before Gambrevault like dust
in a dry corner in the month of March.  A great host teemed betwixt the
river and the cliffs.  Through all, the rack and thunder of the siege
went on, drowning the sea’s voice, flinging a storm-cloud over the
stubborn walls.  In Gambrevault men looked grim, and muttered of succour
and the armies of the King.

Yet Flavian was content.  He had taken a transcendent spirit into his
soul; he lived to music; drank love and chivalry like nectar from the
gods.  The woman’s nearness made each hour a chalice of gold.  He
possessed her red heart, looked deep into her eyes, put her slim hands
into his bosom.  Her voice haunted him like music out of heaven.  He was
a dreamer, a Lotos-eater, whose brain seemed laden with all the perfumes
of the East.  Ready was he to drain the purple wine of life even to the
dregs, and to find death in the cup if the Fates so willed it.

And Fulviac?

War had held a poniard at his throat, turning him to the truth with the
threat of steel.  Grim and implacable, he stalked the meadows, bending
his brows upon the towers of Gambrevault.  This girl of the woods was no
more a dream to him, but supple love, ardent flesh, blood-red reality.
Lean, leering thoughts taunted the lascivious fears within his brain.
His moods were silent yet tempestuous. Gambrevault mocked him.
Vengeance burnt in his palm like a globe of molten iron.

His dogged temper roused his captains to strenuous debate.  Fifty
thousand men were idle before the place, and the siege dragged like a
homily.  Their insinuations were strong and strident.  The countryside
was emptying its broad larder; Malgo and Godamar of the Fens were
marching from east and west.  Ten thousand men could leaguer
Gambrevault.  It behoved Fulviac to pluck up his spears and march on
Lauretia, proud city of the King.

For a season Fulviac was stubborn as Gambrevault itself.  His yellow
eyes glittered, and he tossed back his lion’s mane from off his
forehead.

"Till the place is ours," so ran his dogma, "I stir never a foot.  See
to it, sirs, we will put these skulkers to the sword."

His captains were strenuous in retort.

"You mar the cause," said Sforza over the council-board, thin-lipped and
subtle.

"Give me ten thousand men," quoth Colgran the free-lance, "by my bones I
will take the place and bring the Maid out scatheless."

Prosper the Priest put in his plea.

"You are our torch," he said, "our beacon.  Malgo is on the march;
Godamar has massed behind the creeks of Thorney Isle.  The country waits
for you.  Leave Gambrevault to Colgran."

And again the free-lance made his oath.

"Give me ten thousand men," quoth he, "by Peter’s blood the place shall
tumble in a month."

That same evening, as a last justification of his stubborn will, Fulviac
sent forward a trumpeter under a white flag to parley with the besieged.
The herald’s company drew to the walls as the sun sank over the sea,
setting the black towers in a splendour as of fire.  Fulviac’s troops
were under arms in the meadows, their pikes glittering with sinister
meaning into the purple of the coming night.  The Lord of Gambrevault,
in full harness, met the white flag, his knights round him, a crescent
of steel.

Fulviac’s trumpeter proclaimed his terms.  They were insolently simple,
surrender absolute with the mere blessings of life and limb, a dungeon
for the lords, a proffer of traitorous service to the men.  Yeoland the
Saint was to be sent forth scatheless.  The castle was to be garrisoned
and held by the rebels.

Flavian laughed at the bluff insolence of the demand.

"Ha, sirs," he said, "we are the King’s men here. Get you gone before my
gate.  Say to yonder traitor in the meadows, ’We quail not before
scullions and at the frowns of cooks.’"

Thus, under the red canopy of the warring west, ended the parley at the
gate of Gambrevault.  The white flag tripped back behind the trenches;
the castle trumpets blew a fanfare to grace its flight.  Yeoland the
Saint heard it, and her lamp of hope burnt dim.

That night Fulviac paced the meadows, his eyes scanning the black mass
upon the cliffs.  Dark as was his humour, reason ruled him at the
climax, powerful to extort the truth.  Primæval instincts were strong in
him, yet he put them back that hour out of his heart.  Robust and
vigorous, he trampled passion under foot.  At dawn his orders went forth
to the captains and the council.

"Colgran shall command.  Ten thousand men shall serve him.  Let him
storm the place, grant no terms, spare Yeoland the Maid alone.  Let him
butcher the garrison, and let the ruin rot.  When all have been put to
the sword, let him march and join me before the city of Lauretia."



                                 XXXIII


So Fulviac with his host passed northwards from Gambrevault, leaving
Colgran and his ten thousand to guard the trenches.  Flavian saw the
black columns curl away over the green slopes, their pikes glittering
against the blue fringe of the horizon, their banners blowing to the
breeze. The red pavilion stood no longer in the meadows; the man on the
black horse rode no more behind the barricades. Ominous was the marching
of the host over the hills, a prophecy of many battles before the King’s
men could succour Gambrevault.

The gate-house stood in ruins, a shattered pile of masonry barriering
the causeway from the meadows.  The outer curtain wall on the north had
been pierced between two towers; the stone-work crumbled fast, opening a
gradual breach to the rebel sea dammed behind the trenches. The
battlements were rent and ruinous; many a turret gaped and tottered.
Still the bombards thundered, hurling their salvos of shot against the
place, belching flame even through the night, while the arms of the
great slings toiled like giant hands in the dark.

As for the girl Yeoland, her joy was dim and flickering, mocked with
constant prophecies of woe.  The sounds of the siege haunted her
perpetually.  Shafts wailed and whistled, bombards roared, the walls
reeked and cracked. A corner in the garden under the yew walk was the
single nook left her open to the blue hope of heaven.  The clamour of
the leaguer woke a hundred echoes in her heart.  Above all shone the
man’s strong face and passionate eyes; above the moon, the stars, the
blue vault of day, death spread his sable wings, a cloud of gloom.

On the sixteenth day of the siege, Colgran made an assault in force upon
the ruins of the gate-house.  Despite its chaotic state, Flavian clung
to the ruin, and held the stormers at bay.  Thrice Colgran’s rebels
advanced to the attack, and came hand-to-hand with the defenders over
the crumbling piles of stone; thrice they were beaten back and driven to
retreat upon their trenches.  Colgran renounced the gate-house as
impregnable; the slings and bombards were turned upon the outer wall to
widen the breach already made therein.

It was plain enough even to Yeoland that the siege was bearing slowly
yet surely against Gambrevault.  More than half a month had passed, and
still no succouring spears shone upon the hills, no sail upon the sea.
Poor food and summer heat, the crowding of the garrison had opened a
gate to fever and disease.  She saw the stern and moody faces of the
soldiery, their loyalty that took fresh and hectic fire from the courage
of their lord.  She saw the broken walls and ruined battlements, and
heard the rebels shouting in their trenches.

As the man’s peril grew more real and significant, a fear more vehement
entered into her heart.  Sleep left her; she began to look white and
weary, with dark shadows under her eyes.  The man’s warm youth accused
her like a tree that should soon be smitten by the axe. His fine heroism
was a veritable scourge, making the future full of discords, a
charnel-house glimmering with bleached bones.  She began to know how
closely their lives were mingled, even as wine in a cup of gold.  He was
lord and husband to her in the spirit.  Her red heart quaked for him
like the shivering petals of an autumn rose.

On the day of the assault upon the gate-house, he came back to her
wounded in the arm and shoulder.  He was faint, but brave and even
merry.  She would suffer none to come in to him, as he sat in a carved
chair in her room that opened on the garden.  The sight of blood when
harness and gamboison were taken from the caked wounds quickened her
fears into a fever of self-torture. She bathed the wounds and dressed
them with fragrant oil and linen.  Twilight filled the room, and it was
not till her tears fell upon his hand that the man found that she was
weeping.

He drew her towards him with sudden great tenderness, as she knelt and
looked into his face.  Her eyes swam with tears, her lips quivered.

"My life, why do you weep?"

She started away from him with sudden strength, and stood by the window,
trembling.

"Give me my armour and my banner," she said; "let me ride to the
trenches and barter terms by my surrender. Sire, let me go, let me go."

He looked at her sadly under his brows, with forehead wrinkled.

"You would leave me?"

"Ah yes, to save you from the sword.  Is it easy for me to ask you
this?"

"You crave more than I can give."

"No, no."

"I cannot surrender you."

"And for love, you would doom all Gambrevault!"

"Ah!" he cried, "I am wounded, and you would wound me the more."

She gave a whimper of pain, ran to him, and crept into his arms.  As her
sobs shook her, he bent many times and kissed her hair.

"Weep not for me," he said; "even when the end comes no harm can touch
you.  I cannot parley with these wolves; there are women and children
under my roof; should I open my gates to a savage mob?"

"This is your doom," she said to him.

"I take it, child, from heaven."

She wept no more, for a richer heroism took fire within her heart.  She
knelt to the man while he held her face betwixt his hands, bent over
her, and kissed her forehead.

"Courage, courage, what is death!"

"My God, to lose you."

"There, am I not flesh and blood?  God knows, I would rather have death
than give you to these vultures."

She knelt before him with her face transfigured.

"And death, death can touch me also."



                                 XXXIV


August came in with storm and rain, and a dreary wind blew from the
south-west, huddling masses of cloud over a spiritless sky.  Southwards,
the sea tumbled, a grey expanse edged with foam, its great breakers
booming dismally upon the cliffs.  The wind swept over Gambrevault,
moaning and wailing over battlement and tower, driving the rain in
drifting sheets.  The bombards still belched and smoked under their
penthouses, and the arms of the catapults rose and fell against the
sullen sky.

The eighteenth night of the siege came out of the east like a thunder
bank, and the grey shivering ghost of the day fled over the western
hills.  When darkness had fallen, the walls of Gambrevault were
invisible from the trenches. Here and there a light shone out like a
spark in tinder; the sky above was black as a cavern, unbroken by the
crack or cranny of a star.

Flavian, fully armed, kept watch upon the breach with a strong company
of men-at-arms.  He had taken the ugly measure of the night to heart,
and had prepared accordingly. Under the shelter of the wall men slept,
wrapped in their cloaks, with their weapons lying by them.  The
sentinels had been doubled on the battlements, though little could be
seen in the blank murk, and even the keep had to be looked for before
its mass disjointed itself from the background of the night.

It was treacherous weather, and just the season for an adventurous enemy
to creep from the trenches and attempt to rush the breach.  Flavian
leant upon his long sword, and brooded.  The black ends of the broken
wall stood up hugely on either hand; rubble and fallen masonry paved the
breach, and a rough rampart of debris had been piled along the summit.
Around him shone the dull armour of his men, as they stood on guard in
the rain.

The storm deadened soul and body, yet kept Flavian vigilant with its
boisterous laughter, a sound that might stifle the tramp of stormers
pouring to the breach.  He was not lonely, for a lover can do without
the confidences of others, when he has a woman to speak with in his
heart. In fancy he can lavish the infinite tenderness of the soul,
caress, quarrel, kiss, comfort, with all the idealisms of the
imagination.  The spirit lips we touch are sweeter and more red than
those in the flesh.  To the true man love is the grandest asceticism the
world can produce.

Flavian’s figure straightened suddenly as it leant bowed in thought upon
the sword.  He was alert and vigilant, staring into darkness that
baffled vision and hid the unknown.  A dull, characterless sound was in
the air. Whether it was the wind, the sea, or something more sinister,
he could not tell.  Calling one of his knights to his side, they stood
together listening on the wreckage of the wall.

A vague clink, clink, came in discord to the wind, a sound that
suggested the cautious moving of armed men. A hoarse voice was growling
warily in the distance, as though giving orders.  The shrilling noise of
steel grew more obvious each moment; the black void below appeared to
grow full of movement, to swirl and eddy like a lagoon, whose muddy
waters are disturbed by some huge reptile at night.  The sudden hoarse
cries of sentinels rose from the walls.  Feet stumbled on the debris at
the base of the breach; stormers were on the threshold of Gambrevault.

A trumpet blared in the entry; the guard closed up on the rampart;
sleeping men started from the shadows of the wall, seized sword and
shield as the trumpets’ bray rang in their ears.  Colgran’s stormers,
discovered in their purpose, cast caution to the winds, and sent up a
shout that should have wakened all Gambrevault.

In the darkness and the driving rain, neither party could see much of
the other.  The stormers came climbing blindly up the pile of wreckage
in serried masses.  Flavian and his knights, who held the rampart, big
men and large-hearted, smote at the black tide of bodies that rolled to
their swords.  It was grim work in the dark.  It was no sleepy,
disorderly rabble that held the breach, but a tense line of steel, that
stemmed the assault like a wall.  The stormers pushed up and up, to
break and deliquesce before those terrible swords.  Modred’s deep voice
sounded through the din, as he smote with his great axe, blows that
would have shaken an oak.  There was little shouting; it was breathless
work, done in earnest.  Colgran’s men showed pluck, fought well, left a
rampart of dead to their credit, a squirming, oozing barrier, but came
no nearer forcing the breach.

They had lost the propitious moment, and the whole garrison was under
arms, ready to repulse the attacks made at other points.  Scaling
ladders had been jerked forward and reared against the walls; men
swarmed up, but the rebels gained no lasting foothold on the
battlements.  They were beaten back, their ladders hurled down, masonry
toppled upon the mass below.  Many a man lay with neck or back broken in
the confused tangle of humanity at the foot of the castle.

Colgran ordered up fresh troops.  It was his policy to wear out the
garrison by sheer importunity and the stress of numbers.  He could
afford to lose some hundred men; every score were precious now to
Flavian.  It was a system of counter barter in blood, till the weaker
vessel ran dry.  The Lord of Gambrevault understood this rough
philosophy well enough, and husbanded his resources.  He could not
gamble with death, and so changed his men when the opportunity offered,
to give breathing space to all. Conscious of the strong stimulus of
personal heroism, he kept to the breach himself, and fought on through
every assault with Modred’s great axe swinging at his side.  He owed his
life more than once to those gorilla-like arms and that crescent of
steel.

In the outer court, certain of the women folk with Yeoland dealt out
wine and food, and tended the wounded.  In the chapel, tapers glimmered,
lighting the frescoes and the saints, the priest chanting at the altar,
the women and children who knelt in the shadowy aisles praying for those
who fought upon the walls.  Panic hovered over the pale faces, the fear,
the shivering, weeping, pleading figures. There was little heroism in
Gambrevault chapel, save the heroism of supplication.  While swords
tossed and men groped for each other in the wind and rain, old Peter the
cellarer lay drunk in a wine bin, and lame Joan, who tended the linen,
was snivelling in the chapel and fingering the gold angels sewn up in
her tunic.

Five times did Colgran’s men assault the breach that night, each repulse
leaving its husks on the bloody wreckage, its red libations to the
swords of Gambrevault.  The last and toughest tussle came during the
grey prologue before dawn.  The place was so packed with the dead and
stricken, that it was well-nigh impassable.  For some minutes the
struggle hung precariously on the summit of the pass, but with the dawn
the peril dwindled and elapsed. The stormers revolted from the shambles;
they had fought their fill; had done enough for honour; were sick and
weary.  No taunt, command, or imprecation could keep them longer in that
gate of death.  Colgran’s rebels retreated on their trenches.

And with the dawn Flavian looked round upon the breach, and saw all the
horror of the place in one brief moment.  Cloven faces, hacked bodies,
distortions, tortures, blood everywhere.  He looked round over his own
men; saw their meagre ranks, their weariness, their wounds, their
exultation that lapsed silently into a kind of desperate awe.  Some
tried to cheer him, and at the sound he felt an unutterable melancholy
descend upon his soul.  The men were like so many sickly ghosts, a wan
and battered flock, a ragged remnant.  He saw the whole truth in a
moment, as a man sees life, death, and eternity pass before him in the
flashing wisdom of a single thought.

And this was war, this cataclysm of insatiate wrath! His men were too
few, too bustled, to hold the breach against such another storm.  His
trumpets blared the retreat, a grim and tragic fanfare.  They dragged
out their wounded, abandoned the pile of rubbish for which they had
fought, and withdrew sullenly within the inner walls. Colgran, though
repulsed, had taken the outer ward of Gambrevault.

As one stumbling from a dream, Flavian found himself in the castle
garden.  The place was full of the freshness that follows rain; and it
was not till the scent of flowers met him like an odour of peace, that
he marked that the sky was blue and the dawn like saffron.  The
storm-clouds had gone, and the wind was a mere breeze, a moist breath
from the west, bearing a curious contrast to the furious temper of the
night.

Flavian, looking like a white-faced debauchee, limped through the court,
and climbed the stairway of the keep to the banqueting hall and his own
state chambers. Several of his knights followed him at a distance and in
silence.  He felt sick as a dog, and burdened with unutterable care,
that weighed upon him like a prophecy.  He had held the breach against
heavy odds, and he was brooding over the cost.  There was honour in the
sheer physical heroism of the deed; but he had lost old friends and
tried servants, had sacrificed his outer walls; there was little cause
for exultation in the main.

He stumbled into the banqueting hall like a man into a tavern.

"Wine, wine, for the love of God."

A slim figure in green came out from the oriel, and a pair of dark eyes
quivered over the man’s grey face and blood-stained armour.  The girl’s
hands went out to him, and she seemed like a child roused in the night
from the influence of some evil dream.

"You are wounded."

She took him by the arm and shoulder, and was able to force him into a
chair, so limp, so impotent, was he for the moment.  His face had the
uncanny pallor of one who was about to faint; his eyes stared at her in
a dazed and wistful way.

"My God, you are not going to die!"

He shook his head, smiled weakly, and groped for her hand.  She broke
away, brought wine, and began to trickle it between his lips.  Several
of his knights came in, and looked on awkwardly from the doorway at the
girl leaning over the man’s chair, with her arm under his head.  Yeoland
caught sight of them, coloured and called them forward.

The man’s faintness had passed.  He saw Modred and beckoned him to his
chair.

"Take her away," in a whisper.

Yeoland heard the words, started round, and clung to his hand.  There
was a strange look upon her face. Flavian spoke slowly to her.

"Girl, I am not a savoury object, fresh from the carnage of a breach.
Leave me to my surgeon.  I would only save you pain.  As for dying, I
feel like an Adam. Go to your room, child; I will be with you before
long."

She held both his hands, looked in his eyes a moment, then turned away
with Modred and left him.  She was very pale, and there was a tremor
about her lips.

Irrelevant harness soon surrendered to skilled fingers. No great evil
had been done, thanks to the fine temper of Flavian’s armour; the few
gashes, washed, oiled, and dressed, left him not seriously the worse for
the night’s tussle.  Wine and food recovered his manhood.  He was
barbered, perfumed, dressed, and turned out by his servants, a very
handsome fellow, with a fine pallor and a pathetic limp.

His first care was to see his own men attended to, the wounded properly
bestowed, a good supply of food and wine dealt out.  He had a brave word
and a smile for all.  As he passed, he found Father Julian the priest
administering the Host to those whose dim eyes were closing upon earth
and sky.

Modred, that iron man, who never seemed weary, was stalking the
battlements, and getting the place prepared for the next storm that
should break.  Flavian renounced responsibilities for the moment, and
crossed the garden to Yeoland’s room.  He entered quietly, looked about
him, saw a figure prostrate on the cushions of the window seat.

He crossed the room very quickly, knelt down and touched the girl’s
hair.  Her face was hidden in the cushions.  She turned slowly on her
side, and looked at him with a wan, pitiful stare; her eyes were timid,
but empty of tears.

"Ah, girl, what troubles you?"

She did not look at him, though he held her hands.

"Are you angry with me?"

"No, no."

"What is it, then?"

She spoke very slowly, in a suppressed and toneless voice.

"Will you tell me the truth?"

He watched her as though she were a saint.

"I have had a horrible thought in my heart, and it has wounded me to
death."

"Tell it me, tell it me."

"That you had repented all----"

"Repented!"

"Of all the ruin I am bringing upon you; that you were beginning to
think----"

He gave a deep cry.

"You believed that!"

She lay back on the cushions with a great sigh.  Flavian had his arms
about her, as he bent over her till their lips nearly touched.

"How could you fear!"

"I am so much a woman."

"Yes----"

"And something is all the world to me, even though----"

"Well?"

"I would die happy."

He understood her whole heart, and kissed her lips.

"Little woman, I had come here to this room to ask you one thing more.
You can guess it."

"Ah----"

"Father Julian."

She drew his head down upon her shoulder, and he knelt a long while in
silence, with her bosom rising and falling under his cheek.

"I am happy," he said at last; "child-wife, child-husband, let us go
hand in hand into heaven."



                                  XXXV


So with Colgran and his rebels beating at the inner gate, Flavian of
Gambrevault took Yeoland to wife, and was married that same eve by
Father Julian in the castle chapel.  There was pathetic cynicism in the
service, celebrating as it did the temporal blending of two bodies who
bade fair by their destinies to return speedily to dust. The chant might
have served as a requiem, or a dirge for the fall of the mighty.  It was
a tragic scene, a solemn ceremony, attended by grim-faced men in plated
steel, by frightened women and sickly children.  Famine, disease, and
death headed the procession, jigged with the torches, danced like
skeletons about a bier.  Trumpets and cannon gave an epithalamium; bones
might have been scattered in lieu of flowers, and wounds espoused in
place of favours. For a marriage pageant war pointed to the grinning
corpses in the breach and the clotted ruins.  It was such a ceremony
that might have appealed to a Stoic, or to a Marius brooding amid the
ruins of Carthage.

Peril chastens the brave, and death is as wine to the heart of the
saint.  Even as the sky seems of purer crystal before a storm, so the
soul pinions to a more luminous heroism when the mortal tragedy of life
nears the "explicit."  As the martyrs exulted in their spiritual
triumph, or as Pico of Mirandola beheld transcendent visions on his bed
of death, when the Golden Lilies of France waved into luckless Florence,
so Flavian and Yeoland his wife took to their hearts a true bridal
beauty.

When the door was closed on them that night, a mysterious cavern, a
spiritual shrine of gold, came down as from heaven to cover their souls.
They had no need of the subtleties of earth, of music and of colour, of
flowers, or scent, or song.  They were the world, the sky, the sea, the
infinite.  Imperishable atoms from the alembic of God, they fused soul
with soul, became as one fair gem that wakes a thousand lustres in its
sapphire unity.  To such a festival bring no fauns and dryads, no lewd
and supple goddess, no Orphean flute.  Rather, let Christ hold forth His
wounded hands, and let the wings of angels glimmer like snow over the
alchemy of souls.

Flavian knelt beside the bed and prayed.  He had the girl’s hand in his,
and her dark hair swept in masses over the pillow, framing her spiritual
face as a dark cloud holds the moon.  Her bed-gown was of the whitest
lace and linen, like foam bounding the violet coverlet that swept to her
bosom.  The light from the single lamp burnt steadily in her great dark
eyes.

Flavian lifted up his face from the coverlet and looked long at her.

"Dear heart, have no fear of me," he said.

She smiled wonderfully, and read all the fine philosophy of his soul.

"God be thanked, you are a good man."

"Ah, child, you are so wonderful that I dare not touch you; I have such
grand awe in my heart that even your breath upon my face makes me bow
down as though an angel touched my forehead."

"All good and great love is of heaven."

"Pure as the lilies in the courts of God.  Every fragment of you is like
to me as a pearl from the lips of angels; your flesh is of silver, your
bosom as snow from Lebanon, girded with the gold of truth.  Oh, second
Adam, thanks be to thee for thy philosophy."

She put out her hands and touched his hair; their eyes were like sea and
sky in summer, tranquil, tender, and unshadowed.

"I love you for this purity, ah, more and more than I can tell."

"True love is ever pure."

"And for me, such love as yours.  Never to see the wolfish stare, the
flushed forehead, and the loosened lip; never to feel the burning
breath.  God indeed be thanked for this."

"Have no fear of me."

"Ah, like a white gull into a blue sky, like water into a crystal bowl,
I give myself into your arms."



                                 XXXVI


A week had passed, and the Gambrevault trumpets blew the last rally; her
drums rumbled on the battlements of the keep where the women and
children had been gathered, a dumb, panic-ridden flock, huddled together
like sheep in a pen.  The great banner flapped above their heads with a
solemn and sinuous benediction.  The sun was spreading on the sea a
golden track towards the west, and the shouts of the besiegers rose from
the courts.

On the stairs and in the banqueting hall the last remnant of the
garrison had gathered, half-starved men, silent and grim as death, game
to the last finger.  They handled their swords and waited, moving
restlessly to and fro like caged leopards.  They knew what was to come,
and hungered to have it over and done with.  It was the waiting that
made them curse in undertones. A few were at prayer on the stone steps.
Father Julian stood with his crucifix at the top of the stairway, and
began to chant the "Miserere"; some few voices followed him.

In the inner court Colgran’s men surged in their hundreds like an
impatient sea.  They had trampled down the garden, overthrown the urns
and statues, pulped the flowers under their feet.  On the outer walls
archers marked every window of the keep.  In the inner court cannoneers
were training the gaping muzzle of a bombard against the gate.  A sullen
and perpetual clamour sounded round the grey walls, like the roar of
breakers about a headland.

Flavian stood on the dais of the banqueting hall and listened to the
voices of the mob without.  Yeoland, in the harness Fulviac had given
her, held at his side. The man’s beaver was up, and he looked pale, but
calm and resolute as a Greek god.  That morning his own armour, blazoned
with the Gambrevault arms, had disappeared from his bed-side, a suit of
plain black harness left in its stead.  No amount of interrogation, no
command, had been able to wring a word from his knights or esquires.  So
he wore the black armour now perforce, and prepared to fight his last
fight like a gentleman and a Christian.

Yeoland’s hand rested in his, and they stood side by side like two
children, looking into each other’s eyes. There was no fear on the
girl’s face, nothing but a calm resolve to be worthy of the hour and of
her love, that buoyed her like a martyr.  The man’s glances were very
sad, and she knew well what was in his heart when he looked at her.
They had taken their vows, vows that bound them not to survive each
other.

"Are you afraid, little wife?"

"No, I am content."

"Strange that we should come to this.  My heart grieves for you."

"Never grieve for me; I do not fear the unknown."

"We shall go out hand in hand."

"To the shore of that eternal sea; and I feel no wind, and hear no
moaning of the bar."

"The stars are above us."

"Eternity."

"No mere glittering void."

"But the face of God."

A cannon thundered; a sudden, sullen roar followed, a din of clashing
swords, the noise of men struggling in the toils.

"They have broken in."

Flavian’s grasp tightened on her wrist; his face was rigid, his eyes
stern.

"Be strong," he said.

"I am not afraid."

"The Virgin bless you."

The uproar increased below.  The rebels were storming the stairway; they
came up and up like a rising tide in the mazes of a cavern.  A wave of
struggling figures surged into the hall: men, cursing, stabbing, hewing,
writhing on the floor, a tangle of humanity.  Flavian’s knights in the
hall ranged themselves to hold the door.

It was then that Flavian saw his own state armour doing duty in the
press, its blazonings marking out the wearer to the swords of Colgran’s
men.  It was Godamar, Flavian’s esquire, who had stolen his lord’s
harness, and now fought in it to decoy death, and perhaps save his
master.  The mute heroism of the deed drew Flavian from the dais.

"I would speak with Godamar," he said.

"Do not leave me."

"Ah! dear heart; when the last wave gathers I shall be at your side."

Yeoland, with her poniard bare in her hand, stood and watched the tragic
despair of that last fight, the struggling press of figures at the
door--the few holding for a while a mob at bay.  Her eyes followed the
man in the black harness; she saw him before the tossing thicket of
pikes and partisans; she saw his sword dealing out death in that Gehenna
of blasphemy and blood.

A crash of shattered glass came unheard in the uproar. Men had planted
ladders against the wall, and broken in by the oriel; one after another
they sprang down into the hall. The first crept round by the
wainscotting, climbed the dais, seized Yeoland from behind, and held her
fast.

As by instinct the poniard had been pointed at her own throat; the thing
was twisted out of her hand, and tossed away along the floor.  She
struggled with the man in a kind of frenzy, but his brute strength was
too stiff and stark for her.  Even above the moil and din Flavian heard
her cry to him, turned, sprang back, to be met by the men who had
entered by the oriel.  They hemmed him round and hewed at him, as he
charged like a boar at bay.  One, two were down.  Swords rang on his
harness.  A fellow dodged in from behind and stabbed at him under the
arm.  Yeoland saw the black figure reel, recover itself, reel again, as
a partisan crashed through his vizor.  His sword clattered to the floor.
So Colgran’s men cut the Lord Flavian down in the sight of his young
wife.

The scene appeared to transfer itself to an infinite distance; a mist
came before the girl’s eyes; the uproar seemed far, faint, and unreal.
She tried to cry out, but no voice came; she strove to move, but her
limbs seemed as stone.  A sound like the surging of a sea sobbed in her
ears, and she had a confused vision of men being hunted down and stabbed
in the corners of the hall.  A mob of wolf-like beings moved before her,
cursing, cheering, brandishing smoking steel.  She felt herself lifted
from her feet, and carried breast-high in a man’s arms.  Then oblivion
swept over her brain.



                                PART IV



                                 XXXVII


Fortune had not blessed the cause of the people with that torrential
triumph toiled for by their captains.  The flood of war had risen, had
overwhelmed tall castles and goodly cities, yet there were heights that
had baulked its frothy turmoil, mountains that had hurled it back upon
the valleys. Victory was like a sphere of glass tossed amid the foam of
two contending torrents.

In the west, Sir Simon of Imbrecour, that old leopard wise in war, had
raised the royal banner at his castle of Avray.  The nobles of the
western marches had joined him to a spear; many a lusty company had
ridden in, to toss sword and shield in faith to the King.  From his
castle of Avray Sir Simon had marched south with the flower of the
western knighthood at his heels.  He had caught Malgo on the march from
Conan, even as his columns were defiling from the mountains.  Sir Simon
had leapt upon the wild hillsmen and rebel levies like the fierce and
shaggy veteran that he was.  A splendid audacity had given the day as by
honour to the royal arms.  Malgo’s troops had been scattered to the
winds, and he himself taken and beheaded on the field under the black
banner of the house of Imbrecour.

In the east, Godamar the free-lance lay with his troops in Thorney Isle,
closed in and leaguered by the warlike Abbot of Rocroy.  The churchman
had seized the dyke-ways of the fens, and had hemmed the rebels behind
the wild morasses.  As for the eastern folk, they were poor gizardless
creatures; having faced about, they had declared for the King, and left
Godamar to rot within the fens. The free-lance had enough ado to keep
the abbot out.  His marching to join Fulviac was an idle and
strategetical dream.

Last of all, the barons of the north--fierce, rugged autocrats, had
gathered their half-barbarous retainers, and were marching on Lauretia
to uphold the King.  They were grim folk, flint and iron, nurtured amid
the mountains and the wild woods of the north.  They marched south like
Winter, black and pitiless, prophetic of storm-winds, sleet, and snow.
Some forty thousand men had gathered round the banner of Sir Morolt of
Gorm and Regis, and, like the Goths pouring into Italy, they rolled down
upon the luxurious provinces of the south.

Fortune had decreed that about Lauretia, the city of the King, the
vultures of war should wet their talons.  It was a rich region, gemmed
thick with sapphire meres set in deep emerald woods.  Lauretia, like a
golden courtesan, lay with her white limbs cushioned amid gorgeous
flowers. Her bosom was full of odours and of music; her lap littered
with the fragrant herbs of love.  No perils, save those of moonlit
passion, had ever threatened her.  Thus it befell that when the
storm-clouds gathered, she cowered trembling on her ivory couch, the
purple wine of pleasure soaking her sinful feet.

In a broad valley, five leagues south of the city, Fulviac’s rebels
fought their first great fight with Richard of the Iron Hand.  A
warrior’s battle, rank to rank and sword to sword, the fight had burnt
to the embers before the cressets were red in the west.  Fulviac had
headed the last charge that had broken the royal line, and rolled the
shattered host northwards under the cloak of night.  Dawn had found
Fulviac marching upon Lauretia, eager to let loose the lusts of war upon
that rich city of sin.  He was within three leagues of the place, when a
jaded rider overtook him, to tell of Malgo’s death and of the battle in
the west.  Yet another league towards the city his outriders came
galloping back with the news that the northern barons had marched in and
joined the King.  Outnumbered, and threatened on the flank, Fulviac
turned tail and held south again, trusting to meet Godamar marching from
the fens.

He needed the shoulders of an Atlas those September days, for rumour
burdened him with tidings that were ominous and heavy.  Godamar lay
impotent, hedged in the morasses; Malgo was dead, his mountaineers
scattered. Sir Simon of Imbrecour was leading in the western lords to
swell the following of the King.  Vengeance gathered hotly on the rebel
rear, as Fulviac retreated by forced marches towards the south.

It was at St. Gore, a red-roofed town packed on a hill, amid tall,
dreaming woods, that Colgran, with the ten thousand who had leaguered
Gambrevault, drew to the main host again.  Fulviac had quartered a
portion of his troops in the town, and had camped the rest in the
meadows without the crumbling, lichen-grown walls.  He had halted but
for a night on the retreat from Lauretia, and had taken a brief breath
in the moil and sweat of the march.  His banner had been set up in the
market-square before a rickety hostel of antique tone and temper.  His
guards lounged on the benches under the vines; his captains drank in the
low-ceilinged rooms, swore and argued over the rough tables.

It was evening when Colgran’s vanguard entered the town by the western
gate.  His men had tramped all day in the sun, and were parched and
weary.  None the less, they stiffened their loins, and footed it through
the streets with a veteran swagger to show their mettle.  Fulviac came
out and stood in the wooden gallery of the inn, watching them defile
into the market-square.  They tossed their pikes to him as they poured
by, and called on him by name--

"Fulviac, Fulviac!"

He was glad enough of their coming, for he needed men, and the rough
forest levies were in Colgran’s ranks. Ten thousand pikes and brown
bills to bristle up against the King’s squadrons!  There was strength in
the glitter and the rolling dust of the columns.  Yet before all, the
man’s tawny eyes watched for a red banner, and a woman in armour upon a
white horse, Yeoland, wife of Flavian of Gambrevault.

In due season he saw her, a pale, spiritless woman, wan and haggard,
thin of neck and dark of eye.  The bloom seemed to have fallen from her
as from the crushed petals of a rose.  The red banner, borne by a man
upon a black horse, danced listlessly upon its staff.  She rode with
slack bridle, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left, but
into the vague distance as into the night of the past.

Around her tramped Colgran’s pikemen in jerkins of leather and caps of
steel.  The woman moved with them as though they were so many
substanceless ghosts, stalking like shadows down the highway of death.
Her face was bloodless, bleached by grievous apathy and chill pride.
The bronzed faces round her were dim and unreal, a mob of masks, void of
life and meaning.  Sorrow had robed her in silent snow.  The present was
no more propitious to her than a winter forest howling under the moon.

Before the hostelry the column came to a halt with grounded pikes.  The
woman on the white horse stirred from her stupor, looked up, and saw
Fulviac.  He was standing with slouched shoulders in the gallery above
her, his hands gripping the wooden rail.  Their eyes met in a sudden
mesmeric stare that brought badges of red to the girl’s white cheeks.
There was the look upon his face that she had known of old, when
perilous care weighed heavy upon his stubborn shoulders.  His eyes
bewildered her.  They had a light in them that spoke neither of anger
nor reproach, yet a look such as Arthur might have cast upon fallen
Guinivere.

They took her from her horse, and led her mute and passive into the
steel-thronged inn.  Up a winding stair she was brought into a sombre
room whose latticed casements looked towards the west.  By an open
window stood Fulviac, chin on chest, his huge hands clasped behind his
back.  Colgran, in dusky harness, was speaking to him in his rough,
incisive jargon.  The woman knew that the words concerned her heart.  At
a gesture from Fulviac, the free-lance cast a fierce glance at her, and
retreated.

The man did not move from the window, but stood staring in morose
silence at the reddening west.  Hunched shoulders and bowed head gave a
certain powerful pathos to the figure statuesque and silent against the
crimson curtain of the sky.  The very air of the room seemed burdened
and saturated with the gloomy melancholy of the man’s mood.  War, with
its thousand horrors, furrowed his brow and bowed his great shoulders
beneath its bloody yoke.  Her woman’s instinct told her that he was
lonely, for the soul that had ministered to him breathed for him no
more.

He turned on her suddenly with a terse greeting that startled her
thoughts like doves in a pine wood.

"Welcome to you, Lady of Gambrevault."

There was a bluff bitterness in his voice that forewarned her of his
ample wisdom.  Colgran had surrendered her, heart and tragedy in one, to
Fulviac’s mercy.  A looming cloud of passion shadowed the man’s face,
making him seem gaunt and rough to her for the moment.  She remembered
him standing over Duessa’s body in Sforza’s palace at Gilderoy.  Life
had too little promise for her to engender fear of any man, even of
Fulviac at his worst.

"I trust, Madame Yeoland, that you are merry?"

The taunt touched her, yet she answered him listlessly enough.

"Do what you will; scoff if it pleases you."

Fulviac shrugged his shoulders, and tossed his lion’s mane from his
broad forehead.

"It is a grim world this," he said; "when thrones burn, should we seek
to quench them with our tears! Whose was the fault that God made you too
much a woman?  Red heart, heart of the rose, a traitorous comrade art
thou, and an easy foe."

She had no answer on her lips, and he turned and paced the room before
her, darting swift glances into her face.

"So they killed him?" he said, more quietly anon; "poor child, forget
him, it was the fate of war.  Even to the grave he took the love I might
never wear."

She shuddered and hid her face.

"Fulviac, have pity!"

"Pity?"

"This is a judgment, God help my soul!"

"A judgment?"

"For serving my own heart before the Virgin’s words."

The man stopped suddenly in his stride, and looked at her as though her
words had touched him like a bolt betwixt the jointings of his harness.
There was still the morose frown upon his face, the half closure of the
lids over the tawny eyes.  He gripped his chin with one of his bony
hands, and turned his great beak of a nose upwards with a gesture of
self-scorn.

"Since the damned chicanery of chance so wills it," he said, "I will
confess to you, that my confession may ease your conscience.  The
Madonna in that forest chapel was framed of flesh and blood."

"Fulviac!"

"Of flesh and blood, my innocent, tricked out to work my holy will.  We
needed a Saint, we cleansers of Christendom; ha, noble justiciaries that
we are.  Well, well, the Virgin served us, and tripped back to a warm
nest at Gilderoy, reincarnated by high heaven."

Yeoland stood motionless in the shadows of the room, like one striving
to reason amid the rush of many thoughts. She showed no wrath at her
betrayal; her pale soul was too white for scarlet passion.  The
significance of life had vanished in a void of gloom.  She stood like
Hero striving to catch her lover’s voice above the moan of the sea.

Fulviac unbuckled his sword and threw it with a crash upon the table.
He thrust his arms above his head, stretched his strong sinews, took
deep breaths into his knotted throat.

"The truth is out," he said to her; "come, madame, confess to me in
turn."

Yeoland faced him with quivering lips, and a tense straining of her
fingers.

"What have I to tell?" she asked.

"Nothing?"

"Save that I loved the Lord Flavian, and that he is dead."

"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

"Ah, you are avenged," she said, "you have crushed my heart; may the
thought comfort you."

Her parched apathy seemed to elapse of a sudden, and she lost her
calmness in an outburst of passion.  She was athirst for solitude, to be
cloistered from the rough cavil of the world.  Colour glowed upon her
sunken cheeks as she stretched out her arms to the man with a piteous
vehemence.

"Fulviac----"

"Girl."

"Ah, for God’s love, end now this mockery.  Take this armour from me,
for it burns my bosom.  Let me go, that I may hide my wounds in peace."

"Peace!" he said, with a twinge of scorn.

"Fulviac, can you not pity me?  I am broken and bruised, men stare and
jeer.  Oh, my God, only to be out of sight and alone!"

The man stood by the window looking out into the sky with lowering
brows.  The west burnt red above the house-tops; from the street came
the noise of men marching.

"Do not kill yourself," he said with laconic brevity.

"Why do you say that?"

"There is truth in the suspicion."

"Ah, what is life to me!"

"We Christians still have need of you."

The man’s seeming scorn scourged her anguish to a shrill despair.  The
hot blood swept more swiftly through her worn, white body.

"Cursed be your ambition," she said to him; "must you torture me before
the world?"

"Perhaps."

"I renounce this lying part."

"As you will, madame; it will only make you look the greater fool."

"Ah, you are brutal."

He turned to her with the look of one enduring unuttered anguish in the
spirit.  His strong pride throttled passion, twisting his rough face
into tragic ugliness.

"No, believe it not," he said; "I desire even for your heart’s sake that
you should make the best of an evil fortune.  Learn to smile again;
pretend to a zest in life. I have fathomed hell in my grim years, and my
words are true.  Time loves youth and recovers its sorrow.  Know this
and ponder it: ’tis better to play the hypocrite than to suffer the
world to chuckle over one’s tears."



                                XXXVIII


The royal host had massed about the walls of Lauretia, and marched
southwards to surprise Fulviac at St. Gore. Half the chivalry of the
land had gathered under the standard of the King.  Sir Simon of
Imbrecour had come in from the west with ten thousand spears and five
thousand bowmen.  The Northerners under Morolt boasted themselves
twoscore thousand men, and there were the loyal levies of the midland
provinces to march under "The Golden Sun" upon the south.  Never had
such panoply of war glittered through the listening woods.  Their march
was as the onrush of a rippling sea; the noise of their trumpets as the
cry of a tempest over towering trees.

Chivalry, golden champion of beauty, had much to avenge, much to
expurgate.  The peasant folk had plunged the land into ruin and red war.
Castles smoked under the summer sky; the noble dead lay unburied in the
high places of pride.  To the wolf cry of the people there could be no
answer save the hiss of the sword.  Before the high altar at Lauretia,
the King had sworn on relics and the Scriptures, to deal such vengeance
as should leave the land cowering for centuries in terror of his name.

Southwards from St. Gore there stretched for some fifteen leagues the
province of La Belle Forêt, a region of rich valleys and romantic woods,
green and quiet under the tranquil sky.  Its towns were mere gardens,
smothered deep in flowers, full of cedars and fair cypresses.  Its
people were simple, happy, and devout.  War had not set foot there for
two generations, and the land overflowed with the good things of life.
Its vineyards purpled the valleys; its pastures harboured much cattle.
Its houses were filled with rich furniture and silks, chests laden with
cloth of gold, caskets of gems, ambries packed with silver plate.  The
good folk of La Belle Forêt had held aloof from the revolt.
Peace-loving and content in their opulence, they had no fondness for
anarchy and war.

It was into this fair province that Fulviac led his arms on the march
south for Gilderoy and the great forest by the sea.  Belle Forêt,
neutral and luxurious, was spoil for the spoiler, stuff for the sword.
Plundering, marauding, burning, butchering, Fulviac’s rebels poured
through like a host of Huns.  Strength promised licence; there was
little asceticism in the cause, though the sacred banner flew in the van
with an unction that was truly pharisaical. From that flood of war, the
provincials fled as from a plague.  It was Fulviac’s policy to devastate
the land, to hinder the march of the royal host.  Desolation spread like
winter over the fields; Fulviac’s ravagers left ruin and despair and a
great silence to mark their track.

The march became a bloody parable before three days had passed.  Fulviac
had taken burning faggots upon his back, and the iron collar of war
weighed heavy on him that autumn season.  It was a grim moral and a
terrible. He had called up fiends from hell, and their antics mocked
him.  Storm as he would, even his strong wrath was like fire licking at
granite.  Death taunted him, and Murder rode as a witness at his side.
The mob of mad humanity was like a ravenous sea, hungry, pitiless, and
insatiate. Even his stout heart was shocked by the bestial passions war
had roused.  His men were mutinous to all restraint. Fight they would
when he should marshal them; but for their lusts they claimed a
wolf-like and delirious liberty.

Yeoland the Saint rode on her white horse through La Belle Forêt, like a
pale ghost dazed by the human miseries of war.  A captive, she had
surrendered herself to Fate; her heart was as a sea-bird wearied by long
buffetings in the wind.  There was no desire in her for life, no spark
of passion, no hope save for the sounding of a convent bell. She
imagined calmly the face of death.  Her grave stretched green and quiet
to her fancy, under some forest tree.

Even her hebetude of soul gave way at last before the horrors of that
bloody march.  She saw towns smouldering and flames licking the night
sky, heard walls crack and roofs fall with a roar and an uprushing of
fire.  She saw the peasant folk crouching white and stupefied about
their ruined homes.  She heard the cry of the children, the wailing of
women, the cracked voices of old men cursing Fulviac as he rode by.  She
saw the crops burnt in the fields; cattle slaughtered and their carcases
left to rot in the sun.

The deeds of those grim days moved in her brain with a vividness that
never abated.  War with all its ruthlessness, its devilry, its riotous
horror, burnt in upon her soul. The plash of blood, the ruin, the
despair, appalled her till she yearned and hungered for the end.  Life
seemed to have become a hideous purgatory, flaming and shrieking under
the stars.

She appealed to Fulviac with the vehemence of despair. The man was
obdurate and moody, burdened by the knowledge that these horrors were
beyond him.  His very impotence was bitterness itself to his strong
spirit. In the silent passion of his shame, he buckled a sullen scorn
about his manhood, scoffed and mocked when the woman pleaded.  He was
like a Titan struggling in the toils of Fate, flinging forth scorn to
mask his anguish. He had let war loose upon the land, and the riot
mocked him like a turbulent sea.

One noon they rode together through a town that had closed its gates to
them, and had been taken by assault. On the hills around stood the
solemn woods watching in silence the scene beneath.  Corpses stiffened
in the gutters; children shrieked in burning attics.  By the cross in
the market-square soldiers were staving in wine casks, the split lees
mingling with the blood upon the cobbles. Ruffians rioted in the
streets.  Lust and violence were loose like wolves.

Fulviac clattered through the place with Yeoland and his guards, a tower
of steel amid the reeking ruins.  He looked neither to the right hand
nor the left, but rode with set jaw and sullen visage for the southern
gate, and the green quiet of the fields.  His tawny eyes smouldered
under his casque; his mouth was as stone, stern yet sorrowful.  He spoke
never a word, as though his thoughts were too grim for the girl’s ears.

Yeoland rode at his side in silence, shivering in thought at the scenes
that had passed before her eyes.  She was as a lily whose pure petals
quailed before the sprinkling plash of blood.  Her soul was of too
delicate a texture for the rude blasts of war.

She turned on Fulviac anon, and taunted him out of the fulness of her
scorn.

"This is your crusade for justice," she said to him; "ah, there is a
curse upon us.  You have let fiends loose."

He did not retort to her for the moment, but rode gazing into the gilded
glories of the woods.  Even earth’s peace was bitter to him at that
season, but bitterer far was the woman’s scorn.

"War is war," he said to her at last; "we cannot leave the King fat
larders."

"And all this butchery, this ruin?"

"Blame war for it."

"And brutal men."

"Mark you," he said to her, with some deepening of his voice, "I am no
god; I cannot make angels of devils. The sea has risen, can I cork it in
a bottle, or tie the storm wind up in a sack?  Give me my due.  I am
human, not a demi-god."

She understood his mood, and pitied him in measure, for he had a burden
on his soul sufficient for a Hercules. His men were half mutinous; they
would fight for him, but he could not stem their lusts.  He was as a
stout ship borne upon the backs of riotous waves.

"Well would it have been," she said, "if you had never raised this
storm."

"It is easy to be wise at the eleventh hour," he answered her.

"Can you not stay it even now?"

"Woman, can I stem the sea!"

"The blood of thousands dyes your hands."

He twisted in the saddle as though her words gored him to the quick.
His face twitched, his eyes glittered.

"My God, keep silence!"

"Fulviac."

"Taunt me no longer.  Have I not half hell boiling in my heart?"

Thus Fulviac and his rebels passed on spoiling towards Gilderoy and the
sea, where Sforza lay camped with forces gathered from the south.  The
great forest beckoned them; they knew its trammels, and hoped for
strategies therein. Like a vast web of gloom it proffered harbour to the
wolves of war, for they feared the open, and the vengeful onrush of the
royal chivalry.

Meanwhile, the armies of the King came down upon Belle Forêt, a great
horde of steel.  From its black ashes the country welcomed them with the
dumb lips of death. Ruin and slaughter appealed them on the march; the
smoke of war ascended to their nostrils.  Fierce was the cry for
vengeance in the ranks, as the host poured on like a golden dawn
treading on the dark heels of night.



                                 XXXIX


In a cave whose narrow mouth cut a rough cameo from the snow and azure
of the sky, a man lay sleeping upon a bed of heather.  The surge of the
sea rose from the bastions of the cliff, where foam glittered and
swirled over the black rocks that thrust their dripping brows above the
tide.  Gulls were winging over the waves, whose green crests shone
brilliant under the sun.  On a distant headland, bleak and sombre, the
towers of a castle broke the turquoise crescent of the heavens.

In one corner of the cave a feeble fire flickered, the smoke therefrom
curling along the roof to vanish in a thin blue plume of vapour.  Beside
the bed lay a pile of armour, with a broken casque like a cleft skull to
crown it.  Dried herbs and a loaf of rye bread lay on a flat boulder
near the fire.  The figure on the heather was covered by a stained yet
gorgeously blazoned surcoat, that seemed an incongruous quilt for such a
couch.  Near the cave’s entry a great axe glittered on the floor, an axe
whose notched edge had tested the metal of many a bassinet.

Down a rough path cut in the face of the cliff scrambled a gaunt,
hollow-chested figure, doubleted in soiled scarlet, battered shoes on
feet, a black beard bristling on the stubborn chin.  A red cloth was
bound about the man’s head. He breathed hard as he clambered down the
cliff, as though winded by fast running.  Sweat stood on his forehead.
Beneath him ran the sea, a pit of foam, swirling and muttering amid the
rocks.

He reached the entry of the cave and dived therein like a fox into an
"earth."  Standing by the bed, he looked for a moment at the unconscious
figure with the air of one unwilling to wake a weary comrade from his
sleep.  At last he went down on his knees by the heather, and touched
the sleeping man’s cheek with the gentle gesture of a woman.  The figure
stirred at the touch; two thin hands groped over the green and azure
quilt.  The kneeling man gripped them in his great brown paws, and held
them fast.

"Modred."

The voice was toneless, husky, and without spirit.

"Sire."

"Ah, these waking moments.  It had been better if you had let me rot in
Gambrevault."

"Courage, sire, you wake to a better fortune."

"There is new life in your voice."

"The King has come at last."

The man on the heather raised himself upon one elbow. His face looked
grey and starved in the half gloom of the cave.  He lifted up one hand
with a gesture of joy.

"The King!"

Modred of the black beard smiled at him like a father. His hands
trembled as he put the man back gently on the heather, and smoothed the
coverlet.

"Lie still, sire."

"Ah, this is life, once more."

"Patience, patience.  Let us have no woman’s moods, no raptures.  Ha, I
am a tyrannous dog.  Did I drag you for dead out of Gambrevault to let
you break your heart over Richard of Lauretia!  Lie quiet, sire; you
have no strength to gamble with as yet."

The man on the heather reached out again for Modred’s hand.

"The rough dog should have been born a woman," he said to him.

Modred laughed.

"There is a great heart under that hairy chest of yours."

The moist mutterings of the sea came up to them from the rocky shore
beneath.  Clouds in white masses pressed athwart the arch of day.
Modred, seated on a boulder beside the bed, eyed the prostrate figure
thereon with a gaunt and tender pity.  He was a stark man and strenuous,
yet warm of heart for all his bull’s strength and steely sinew. Youth
lay at his feet, thin and impotent, a white willow wand quivering beside
a black and knotty oak.

Modred rose up and stood by the opening of the cave, his broad shoulders
well-nigh filling the entry as he looked out over the sea.  Far over the
amethystine waters, a hundred pearl-white sails glimmered beyond the
cliffs of Gambrevault.  The sun smote on gilded prow and blazoned
bulwark, and upon a thousand streamers tonguing to the breeze.

Modred stretched out his great arms and smiled, a grim shimmer of joy
over his ruffian’s face.  Standing at the mouth of the cave, he began to
speak to the man couched in the inner gloom.

"Yonder, beyond Gambrevault," he said, "I see a hundred sails treading
towards us over the sea.  They are the King’s ships: God cherish them;
their bulwarks gleam in the sun."

Flavian twisted restlessly amid the heather.

"A grand sight, old friend."

Modred stood silent, fingering his chin.  His voice broke forth again
with a bluff exultation that seemed to echo the roar of the waves.

"St. Philip, that is well."

"More ships?"

"Nay, sire, they raise the royal banner on the keep of Gambrevault.  I
see spears shine.  Listen to the shouting. The King’s men hold the
headland."

This time the voice from the cave was less eager, and tinged with pain.

"Modred, old friend, I lie here like a stone while the trumpets call to
me."

"Sire, say not so."

"Ah, for an hour’s youth again, one day in the sun, one moment under the
moon."

"Sire, I would change with you if God would grant it me."

"Bless you, old friend; I would not grant it you if I were God."

A trumpet cried to them from the cliff, sudden, shrill, and imperious.
Modred, leaning against the rock with his hand over his eyes, started
from the cave, and began to climb the path.  He muttered and swore into
his beard as he ascended, queer oaths, spasmodic and fantastic.  His
black eyes were hazy for the moment.  Contemptuous and fervid, he
brushed the tears away with a great brown hand.

On the green downs above him rolling to the peerless sky, he saw armour
gleam and banners blush.  A fanfare of trumpets rolled over the sea.  It
was Richard the King.

Modred bent at the royal stirrup, and kissed the jewelled hand.  Above
him a keen, steely-eyed visage looked out from beneath a gold-crowned
bassinet.  It was the face of a soldier and a tyrant, handsome, haughty,
yet opulently gracious.  The red lips curled under the black tusks of
the long moustache.  The big, clean-shaven jaw was a promontory of
marble thrust forth imperiously over the world.

"Well, man, what of our warden?"

Modred crossed himself, pointed to the cliff, muttered a few words into
the King’s ear.

"So," came the terse response, "that was an evil fortune.  So splendid a
youth, a bright beam of chivalry. Come, lead me to him."

The royal statue of steel dismounted and stalked down with knights and
heralds towards the cliff.  Leaning upon Modred’s shoulder, Richard of
the Iron Hand trod the rough path leading to the little cave.  He bowed
his golden crown at the entry, stooped like a suppliant, stood before
the Lord Flavian’s bed.

The gloom troubled him for a moment.  Anon, he saw the recumbent figure
on the heather, the pile of harness, the brown loaf, and the meagre
fire.  He throned himself on the boulder beside the bed, and laid a
white hand on the sick man’s shoulder.

"Lie still," he said, as Flavian turned to rise; "to-day, my lord, we
can forego ceremony."

Courtesy is the golden crown of power, forged from a poet’s song, and
the wisdom of the gods.  The royal favour donned its robe of red that
day, proffered its gracious signet to the lips of praise, held forth the
sceptre of a radiant pity.  Even the iron of truth becomes as silver on
the lips of kings.  Justice herself flatters, when ranged in simple
white before a royal throne.

"My Lord of Gambrevault," quoth Richard of the Iron Hand, "be it known
to you that your stout walls have saved my kingdom.  You held the
barbican of loyalty till true friends rallied to the country’s citadel.
Bravely have you sounded your clarions in the gate of fame.  My lord, I
give to you the gratitude of a king."

Flattery strutted in the cave, gathering her robes with jewelled hand,
gorgeous as an Eastern queen.  Concerning the fate of a certain rebel
Saint, the royal pardon waxed patriarchal in laconic phrases.

"Say no more, my lord; the boon is yours.  Have I not a noble woman
queening it beside me on my throne, flinging the beams of her bright
eyes through all my life? This quest shall be heralded to the host; I
will offer gold for the damsel’s capture.  Take this ring from me, no
pledge as betwixt Jews, but as a talisman of good to come."

So spoke the royal gratitude.  When the King had gone, Modred returned
to carry his lord heavenwards to the meadows.  He found him prone upon
the heather, covering his eyes with his thin hands as the western
sunlight streaked the gloom.

"Sire," said Modred, kneeling down beside the bed.

The effigy on the heather stirred itself and reached out a hand into
Modred’s bosom.

"Man, man, I am in great darkness of soul.  Who shall comfort me!"

Modred bent to him, laid a great palm on the white forehead.

"Courage, sire, courage."

"Ah, the pity of it, to lie here like a log when swords ring and peril
threatens her."

"Sire, we shall win her back again."

"My God, only to touch her hands once more, to feel the warmth of her
pure bosom, and the thrill of her rich hair."

"We shall win her, sire.  Doubt it not."

"All life is a doubt."

"Before God, I swear it!"

"Modred!"

"Before God, I swear it!"

He sprang up, thrust out his arms till the sinews cracked, filled his
great chest with the breath of the sea. Suddenly he stopped, strained at
a rock lying at the cave’s mouth, lifted it, and hurled it from him, saw
it smite foam from the water beneath.

"Fate, take my gauge," he cried, with a fierce glorying in his strength;
"come, sire, put your hands about my neck.  I will bear you to your
castle of Gambrevault."



                                   XL


Fulviac and his rebels had plunged into the great pine forest for refuge
from the multitudinous glitter of the royal spears.  The wilderness
engulfed them, throwing wide its sable gates to take the war wolves in.
The trees moaned like tall sibyls burdened with prophetic woe.  The gold
had long fallen from the gorse; the heather’s purple hills were dim.
Mystery abode there; a sound as of tragedy rose with the hoarse piping
of the autumn wind.

From the north and from the west the royal "arms" had drawn as a
glittering net towards the sea of pines. A myriad splendid warriors
streaked the wilds, like rich rods flowering at some magic trumpet cry.
The King’s host swept the hills, their banners blazing towards the
solemn woods.  Gambrevault was theirs, and Avalon of the Mere.  Morolt’s
northerners had marched upon Geraint, to find it a dead city, empty of
life and of human sound.  Only Gilderoy stood out for Fulviac.  The King
had failed to leaguer it as yet, for reasons cherished in his cunning
brain.

Some twoscore thousand men had marched with Fulviac into the forest’s
sanctuary.  Over the hills the royal horse had pressed them hard,
cutting down stragglers, hanging on their rear.  Fulviac’s host was a
horde of "foot"; he had not a thousand riders to hurl against the
chivalry of the King.  On the bold, bleak uplands of the north and west
the royal horsemen would have whelmed him like a sea. Necessity turned
strategist at that hour.  Fulviac and his rebels poured with their
stagnant columns into the wilds.

The thickets teemed with steel; the myriad pike points glittered like
silver moths through the dense green gloom. Once more the great cliff
echoed to the clangour of war and the sword.  Fulviac had drawn thither
and camped his men upon the heights, and under the shadow of its mighty
walls.  Watch-fires smoked on the hills.  Every alley had its sentinel,
a net of steel thrown forth to await the coming of the King.  Fulviac
had gathered his cubs into this lair, trusting to trammel the nobles in
the labyrinths of the forest.  It was a forlorn hope, the cunning
purpose of despair.  The spoilers of Belle Forêt were wise in their
generation; little mercy would they win from the Iron Hand of Richard of
Lauretia.

Like a pale pearl set in ebony, Yeoland the Saint had been established
again in her bower of stone.  The room was even as she had left it that
misty summer dawn. Prayer-desk, lute, and crucifix were there, mute
relics of a passionate past.  How much had befallen her in those packed
weeks of peril; how great a guerdon of woe had been lavished on her
heart!  Love was as the last streak of gold in a fading west; only the
stars recalled the unwavering lamps of heaven.

The cliff-room and its relics tortured her very soul. She would glance
at the Sebastian of the casement, and remember with a shuddering rush of
woe the man in whose arms she had slumbered as a wife.  Death had
deified him in her heart.  She remembered his grey eyes, his splendid
youth, his passion, his pure chivalry.  He gazed down on her like a
dream hero from a gloom of dusky gold.  The bitter ecstasy of the past
spoke to her only of the infinite beneficence of death.  The grave
yearned for her, and she had no hope to live.

Those drear days she saw little of Fulviac.  The man seemed to shirk her
pale, sad face and brooding eyes. Her grief stung him more fiercely than
all the flames nurtured in the glowing pit of war.  Moreover, he was
cumbered with the imminent peril of his cause, and the facing of a
stormy fortune.  His one hope lay in some great battle in the woods,
where the King’s mailed chivalry would be cumbered by the trees.  He
made many a feint to tempt the nobles to this wild tussle.  The cliff
stood as adamant, a vast bulwark to uphold the rebels.  Yet Nature
threatened him with other arguments.  His stores were meagre, his mouths
many.  Victory and starvation dangled upon the opposing beams of Fate.

If Fulviac feared procrastination, Richard of Lauretia favoured the
same.  Wise sluggard that he was, he curbed the vengeance of his
clamorous soldiery, content to temporise with the inevitable trend of
fortune.  His light horse scoured the country, garnering food and forage
from the fat lands north of Geraint.  Time fought for him, and the
starving wolves were trapped.  Sufficient was it that he held his
crescent of steel upon the hills, leaving unguarded the barren wilds
that rolled on Gilderoy towards the east.

A week passed, dull and lustreless.  The forest waved dark and solemn
under the autumn sky; no torrents of steel gushed from its sable gates;
no glittering squadrons plunged into its shadows.  The King’s men lay
warm about their watch-fires on the hills, fattening on good food,
tingling for the trumpet cry that should herald the advance.  Richard of
the Iron Hand smiled and passed the hours at chess in his great pavilion
pitched on the slopes towards Geraint. Simon of Imbrecour held the
southern marches; Morolt and his northerners guarded the west.

It was grey weather, sullen and storm-laden, eerie of voice.  The Black
Wild tossed like a sombre sea over hill and valley, its spires rocking
under the scurrying sky, its myriad galleries shrill with the cry of the
wind.  There was no rest there, no breathless silence under the frail
moon. The trees moaned like a vast choir wailing the downfall of a god.
The wild seemed full of death, and of the dead, as though the souls of
those slaughtered in the war screamed about Fulviac’s lair.  The
sentinels, grey figures in a sombre atmosphere, watched white-faced in
the thickets. The clarions of the storm might mask the onrush of the
royal chivalry.

Yeoland the Saint lay full length upon a carved settle before a dying
fire.  She was listening to the wind as it roared over the cliff, amid
the shrill clamour of the trees. It was such an eve as when Flavian had
rattled at the postern to offer her love, and a throne at Avalon.  She
had spoken of war, and war had sundered them, given death to desire, and
a tomb to hope.  The glow of the fire played upon the girl’s face and
shone in her brooding eyes.  Night was falling, and the gloom increased.

She heard footsteps in the gallery, the clangour of a scabbard against
the rock.  The door swung back, and Fulviac stood in the entry, clad in
full harness save for his casque. There were deep furrows upon his
forehead.  His lids looked heavy from lack of sleep, and his eyes were
bloodshot. The tinge of grey in his tawny hair had increased to a web of
silver.

He came in without a word, set his hands on the back of the settle, and
stared at the fire.  Yeoland had started up; she sat huddled in the
angle, looking in his face with a mute surmise.  Fulviac’s face was
sorrowful, yet strong as steel; the lips were firm, the eyes sullen and
sad.  He was as a man who stared ruin betwixt the brows, nor quailed
from the scrutiny though death stood ready on the threshold.

"Cloak yourself," he said to her at last; "be speedy; buckle this purse
to your girdle."

She sprang up as the leather pouch rattled on the settle, and stood
facing Fulviac with her back to the fire.

"Whither do we ride?"

"I send you under escort to Gilderoy."

"And you?"

He smiled, tightened his sword belt with a vicious gesture, and still
stared at the hearth.

"My lot lies here," he said to her; "I meet my doom alone.  What need to
drag you deeper into the dark?"

She understood him on the instant, and the black thoughts moving in his
mind.  Disasters thickened about the cliff; perils were clamorous as the
wind-rocked trees.  Fulviac feared the worst; she knew that from his
face.

"You send me to Gilderoy?" she said.

"I have so determined it."

"And why?"

"Need you doubt my discretion?"

The flames flashed and gleamed upon his breastplate, and deepened the
shadows upon his face.  His eyes were sorrowful, yet full of a strenuous
fire.

"The sky darkens," he said to her, "and the King’s hosts watch the
forest.  I had thought to draw them into the wilds, but the fox of
Lauretia has smelt a snare.  Our stores lessen; we are in the last
trench."

She moved away into a dark corner of the room, raised the carved lid of
a chest, and began to draw clothes therefrom, fingering them listlessly,
as though her thoughts wavered.  Fulviac leant with folded arms upon the
settle, seemed even oblivious of her presence under the burden of his
fate.

"Fulviac," she said at last, glancing at him over a drooping shoulder.

He turned his head and looked at her.

"Must I go then to Gilderoy?"

"The road is open," he answered, with no obvious kindling of his
sympathy; "there will be bloody work here anon; you will be safer behind
stone walls."

"And the King?" she asked him.

He straightened suddenly, like a man tossing some great burden from off
his soul.

"Ha, girl! are you blind as to what shall follow? Richard of the Iron
Hand waits for us with fivescore thousand men.  We shall fight--by God,
yes!--and make a bloody end; there will be much slaughter and work for
the sword.  The King will crush us as a falling rock crushes a scorpion.
There will be no mercy.  Death waits.  Put on that cloak of thine."

She stood motionless a moment, listening to the moaning of the wind.
The man’s grim spirit troubled her. She remembered that he had bulwarked
her in her homeless days, had dealt her much pity out of his rugged
heart. He was alone now, and shadowed by death.  Thus it befell that she
cast the cloak aside upon the bed, and stood forward with quivering lips
before the fire.

"Fulviac."

"Little sister."

"Ah!  God pardon me; I have been a weak and graceless friend.  You have
been good to me, beyond my gratitude. The past has gone for ever; what
is left to me now?  Shall I not meet death at your side?"

He stood back from her, looking in her eyes, breathing hard, combating
his own heart.  He loved the girl in his fierce, staunch way; she was
the one light left him in the gathering gloom.  Now death offered him
her soul.  He tottered, stretched out his hands to her, snatched them
back with a great burst of pride.

"No, this cannot be."

"Ah!"

"I have dared the storm; alone will I fall beneath its vengeance.  You
shall go this night to Gilderoy."

She thrust out her hands to him, but he turned away his face.

"Ah! little sister, this war was conceived for God, but the devil
leavened it.  I have gambled with fire, and the ashes return upon my
head.  I give you life; ’tis little I may give.  Come now, obey me,
these are my last words."

She turned from him very quietly in the shadow, hiding her face with her
arm.  Picking up her cloak, she drew it slowly about her shoulders,
Fulviac watching her, a pillar of steel.

"They wait for you in the forest," he said; "go down the stair.  Colgran
rides with you to Gilderoy.  He is to be trusted."

She drooped her head, staggered to the door, darted back again with a
low cry and a gush of tears.

"Fulviac."

"Little woman."

"God keep you!  Kiss me, this once."

He bent to her, touched her forehead with his lips, thrust her again
towards the door.

"Go, my child."

And she went forth slowly from him, weeping, into the night.



                                  XLI


The prophecies of the King proved the power of their pinions before
fourteen suns had passed over the Black Wild’s heart.  Richard of
Lauretia had plotted to starve Fulviac into giving him battle, or into a
retreat from the forest upon Gilderoy.  The royal prognostications were
pitiless and unflinching as candescent steel.  It was no mere
battle-ground that he sought, but rather an amphitheatre where he might
martyr the rebel host like a mob of revolted slaves.

Whatever tidings may have muttered on the breeze, riders came in hotly
to the royal pavilion towards the noon of the fourteenth day.  There was
soon much stir on the hills hard by Geraint.  Knights and nobles
thronged the royal tent, captains clanged shoulders, gallopers rode
south and west with fiery despatches to Morolt and Sir Simon of
Imbrecour.  Battle breathed in the wind.  Before night came, the King’s
pavilion had vanished from the hills; his columns were winding round the
northern hem of the forest, to strike the road that ran from Geraint to
Gilderoy.

The royal scouts and rangers had not played their master false.  A river
of steel was curling through the black depths of the wild, threading the
valleys towards the east.  The King’s scouts had caught the glimmer of
armour sifting through the trees.  They had slunk about the rebel host
for days while they lay camped in their thousands about the cliff.
Colgran and his small company had passed through unheeded, but they were
up like hawks when the whole host moved.

That midnight Fulviac’s columns rolled from the outstanding thickets of
the wild, and held in serried masses for the road to Gilderoy.  The
King’s procrastination had launched them on this last desperate venture.
They would have starved in the forest as Fulviac had foreseen; their
hopes lay in reaching Gilderoy, which was well victualled, throwing
themselves therein, making what terms they could, or die fighting behind
its walls.  Thus under cover of night they slipped from the forest,
trusting to leave the King’s men guarding an empty lair.

The brisk forethought of Richard of Lauretia had out-gamed the rebels,
however, in the hazardous moves of war. They were answering to his
opening like wild duck paddling towards a decoy.  Ten miles west of
Gilderoy there stretched a valley, walled southwards by tall heights,
banded through the centre by the river Tamar.  At its eastern extremity
a line of hills rolled down to touch the river. The road from Geraint
ran through the valley, hugging the southern bank of the river after
crossing it westwards by a fortified bridge.  Fulviac and his host would
follow that road, marching betwixt the river and the hills.  It was in
this valley that Richard of Lauretia had conceived the hurtling climax
of the war.

Forewarned in season, Sir Simon of Imbrecour and his bristling squadrons
were riding through the night on Gilderoy, shaping a crescent course
towards the east. Morolt and the giants of the north were striding in
his track, skirting the southern spires of the forest, to press level
with the rebel march, screened by the hills.  The King and his
Lauretians came down from Geraint. They were to seize the bridge across
the Tamar, pour over, and close the rebels on the rear.

It was near dawn when Fulviac’s columns struck the highroad from
Geraint, and entered the valley where the Tamar shimmered towards
Gilderoy.  Mist covered the world, shot through with the gold threads of
the dawn.  The river gleamed and murmured fitfully in the meadows; the
southern heights glittered in the growing day; the purple slopes of the
Black Wild had melted dimly into the west.

The mist stood dense in the flats where the Geraint road bridged the
river.  The northern slopes seemed steeped in vapoury desolation, the
road winding into a waste of green.  Fulviac and his men marched on,
chuckling as they thought of the royal troops watching the empty alleys
of the forest.  Fulviac took no care to secure the bridge across the
Tamar.  With the line of hills before them breasted, they would see the
spires of Gilderoy, glittering athwart the dawn.

The columns were well in the lap of the valley before two light horsemen
came galloping in from the far van, calling on Fulviac, who rode under
the red banner, that the road to Gilderoy had been seized.  Fulviac and
Sforza rode forward with a squadron of horse to reconnoitre.  As they
advanced at a canter, the mists cleared from the skirts of the
encircling hills.  Far to the east, on the green slopes that rolled
towards the Tamar, they saw the sun smite upon a thousand points of
steel. Pennons danced in the shimmering atmosphere, shields flickered,
armour shone.  A torrent of gems seemed poured from the dawn’s lap upon
the emerald bosoms of the hills.  They were the glittering horsemen of
Sir Simon of Imbrecour, who had ridden out of the night and seized on
the road to Gilderoy.

Fulviac halted his company, and standing in the stirrups, scanned the
hillside under his hand.  He frowned, thrust forth his chin, turned on
Sforza who rode at his side.

"Trapped," he said with a twist of the lip; "Dick of the Iron Hand has
fooled us.  ’Twas done cunningly, though it brings us to a parlous
passage.  They hold the road."

The Gonfaloniere tugged at his ragged beard, and looked white under the
arch of his open salade.

"Better advance on them," he said; "I would give good gold to be safe in
the streets of Gilderoy."

Fulviac sneered, and shook his head.

"There are ten thousand spears on yonder slopes, the lustiest blood in
the land.  Count their banners and their pennons, the stuff tells an
honest tale.  Pah, they would drive our rapscallions into the river.
Send back and bid our banners halt."

They wheeled and cantered towards the long black columns plodding
through the meadows.  Far to the west over the green plain they saw
spears flash against the sun, a glimmering tide spreading from the
river.  The Lauretians had crossed the bridge and were hurrying on the
rebels’ heels.  Fulviac’s trumpets sounded the halt.  He thundered his
orders to his captains, bade them mass their men in the meadows, and
hedge their pikes for the crash of battle.

A shout reached him from his squadrons of horse who had marched on the
southern wing.  They were pointing to the heights with sword and spear.
Fulviac reined round, rode forward to some rising ground, and looked
southwards under his hand.  The heights bounding the valley shone with
steel.  A myriad glistening stars shimmered under the sun.  Morolt’s
northerners had shown their shields; the hills bristled with their bills
and spears.

Fulviac shrugged his shoulders, lowered his beaver, and rode back
towards his men.  He saw Yeoland the Saint’s red banner waving above the
dusky squares.  He remembered the girl’s pale face and the hands that
had toyed with the gilded silks in the dark chamber upon the cliff.
Though the sun shone and the earth glistened, he knew in his heart that
he should see that face no more.

Richard of Lauretia had forged his crescent of steel. South, east, and
west the royal trumpets sounded; northwards ran the Tamar, closing the
meadows.  Fulviac and his men were trapped in the green valley.  A
golden girdle of chivalry hemmed the mob in the lap of the emerald
meadows.  All about them blazed the panoply of war.

Fulviac, pessimist that he was, took to his heart that hour the lofty
tranquillity of a Scandinavian hero.  His courage was of that stout,
sea-buffeting fibre that stiffened its beams against the tide of defeat.
He set forth his shield, tossed up his sword, rode through the ranks
with the spirit of a Roland.  Life leapt the stronger in him at the
challenge of the Black Raven of death.  His captains could have sworn
that he looked for victory in the moil, so bluff and strenuous was his
mood that day.

Sforza came cringing to him, glib-lipped and haggard, to speak of a
parley.  Fulviac shook his shield in the man’s white face, set his
ruffians to dig trenches in the meadows, and to range the waggons as a
barricade.

"Parley, forsooth," quoth he; "talk no more to me of parleys when I have
twoscore thousand smiters at my back. Let Dick of the Iron Hand come
down to us with the sword.  Ha, sirs, are we stuffed with hay!  We will
rattle the royal bones and make them dance a fandango to the devil."

His spirit diffused itself through the ranks of the rough soldiery.
They cheered wheresoever he went, kindling their courage like a torch,
and tossed their pikes to him with strenuous insolence.

"My children," he would roar to them as he passed, "the day has come, we
have drawn these skulkers to a tussle.  See to it, sirs, let us maul
these velvet gentlemen, these squires of the cushion.  By the Lord, we
will feast anon in Gilderoy, and rifle the King’s baggage."

As for Richard of the Iron Hand, he was content to claim the arduous
blessings of the day.  He held his men in leash upon the hills, resting
them and their horses after the marchings of the night.  Wine was served
out; clarions and sackbuts sounded through the ranks; the King made his
nobles a rich feast in his pavilion pitched by Sir Morolt’s banner.  As
the day drew on, he thrust strong outposts towards the meadows, ordered
his troops to sleep through the long night under arms.  Their
watch-fires gemmed a lurid bow under the sky, with Tamar stringing it, a
chord of silver.  In the meadows the rebel masses lay a black pool of
gloom under the stars.

Fulviac sat alone in his tent at midnight, his drawn sword across his
knees.  His captains had left him, some to watch, others to sleep on the
grass in their armour, Sforza the Gonfaloniere to sneak in the dark to
the King’s lines.  Silence covered the valley, save for the voices of
the sentinels and the sound of the royal trumpets blowing the changes on
the hills.  Their watch-fires hung athwart the sky like a chain of
flashing rubies.

Fulviac sat motionless as a statue, staring out into the night.  Death,
like a grey wraith, stood beside his chair; the unknown, a black and
unsailed sea, stretched calm and imageless beneath his feet.  Life and
the ambition thereof tottered and crumbled like a quaking ruin.  Love
quenched her torch of gold.  The man saw the stars above him, heard in
the silence of thought a thousand worlds surging through the infinitudes
of the heavens.  What then was this mortal pillar of clay, that it
should grudge its dust to the womb of the world?

And ambition?  He thought of Yeoland and her wounded heart; of
Gambrevault and Avalon; of La Belle Forêt smoking amid its ruins.  He
had torched fame through the land, and painted his prowess in symbols of
fire.  Now that death challenged him on the strand of the unknown,
should he, Fulviac, fear the unsailed sea!

His heart glowed in him with a transcendent insolence. Lifting his
sword, he pressed the cold steel to his lips, brandished it in the faces
of the stars.  Then, with a laugh, he lay down upon a pile of straw and
slept.



                                  XLII


Dawn rolled out of the east, red and riotous, its crimson spears
streaming towards the zenith.  Over the far towers of Gilderoy swept a
roseate and golden mist, over the pine-strewn heights, over Tamar
silvering the valley.  A wind piped hoarsely through the thickets, like
a shrill prelude to the organ-throated roar of war.

The landscape shimmered in the broadening light, green tapestries
arabesqued with gold.  To the east, Sir Simon’s multitudinous squadrons
ran like rare terraces of flowers, dusted with the scintillant dew of
steel.  Westwards dwindled the long ranks of the Lauretians.  On the
heights, Morolt’s shields flickered in the sun.  About a hillock in the
valley, the rebel host stood massed in a great circle, a whorl of
helmets, bills, and pikes; Fulviac’s red pavilion starred the centre
like the red roof of a church rising above a town.

On the southern heights, Richard of Lauretia had watched the dawn rise
behind the towers of Gilderoy. He was on horseback, in full panoply of
war, his gorgeous harness and trappings dazzling the sun.  Knights,
nobles, trumpeters were round him, a splendid pool of chivalry, while
east and west stretched the ranks of the grim and gigantic soldiery of
the north.

Hard by the royal standard with its Sun of Gold, a corpse dangled from
the branch of a great fir.  It swayed slightly in the wind, black and
sinister against the gilded curtain of the dawn.  It was the body of
Sforza the adventurer from the south, Gonfaloniere of Gilderoy, whom the
King had hanged to grace his double treachery.

As the light increased, sweeping along the glittering frieze of war,
Morolt of Gorm and Regis stood forward before the King.  He was a lean
man, tall and vigorous as a bow of steel, his black eyes darting fire
under his thatch of close-cropped hair.  The nobles had put him forward
that morning as a man born to claim a boon upon the brink of battle.
Fierce and virile, he bared his sword to the sun, and pointed with
mailed hand to the rebel host in the valley.

"Sire, a boon for your loyal servants."

The King’s face was as a mask of steel heated to white heat, ardent and
pitiless.  He had the spoilers of his kingdom under his heel, and was
not the man to flinch at vengeance.

"Say on, Morolt, what would ye?"

"We are men, sire, and these wolves have slaughtered our kinsfolk."

"Am I held to be a lamb, sirs!"

A rough laugh eddied up.  Morolt shook his sword.

"Give them into our hand, sire," he said; "there shall be no need of
ropes and dungeons."

The iron men cheered him.  Richard the King lifted up his baton; his
strong voice swept far in the hush of the dawn.

"Sirs," he said to them, "take the Black Leopard of Imbrecour for your
pattern, rend and slay, let none escape you.  Every man of my host wears
a white cross on his sword arm.  Let that badge only stay your
vengeance. As for these whelps of treason, they have butchered our
children, shamed our women, clawed and torn at their King’s throne.
To-day who thinks of mercy!  Go down, sirs, to the slaughter."

A roar of joy rose from those rough warriors; they tossed their swords,
gripped hands and embraced, called on the saints to serve them.  Strong
passions were loose, steaming like the incense of sacked cities into
heaven. There was much to avenge, much to expurgate.  That day their
swords were to drink blood; that day they were to crush and kill.

In the valley, Fulviac’s huge coil of humanity lay sullen and silent,
watching the spears upon the hills.  Their russets and sables contrasted
with the gorgeous colouring of the feudalists.  The one shone like a
garden; the other resembled a field lying fallow.  The romance and pomp
of war gathered to pour down upon the squalid realism of mob tyranny.
Beauty and the beast, knight and scullion faced each other on the stage
that morning.

Gallopers were riding east and west bearing the King’s commands to Sire
Julian, Duke of Layonne, who headed the Lauretians, and to Simon of
Imbrecour upon the hills. The King would not tempt the moil that day,
but left the sweat and thunder of it to his captains, content to play
the Cæsar on the southern heights.  His commands had gone forth to the
host.  The first assault was to be made by twenty thousand northmen
under Morolt, and a like force under Julian of Layonne.  The whole
crescent of steel was to contract upon the meadows, and consolidate its
iron wall about Fulviac and his rebels.  Simon of Imbrecour was to leash
his chivalry from the first rush of the fight. His knights should ride
in when the rebel ranks were broken.

An hour before noon, the royal trumpets blew the advance, and a great
shout surged through the shimmering ranks.

"Advance, Black Leopard of Imbrecour."

"Advance, Golden Sun of Lauretia."

"Advance, Grey Wolf of the North."

With clarions and fifes playing, drums beating, banners blowing, the
whole host closed its semilune of steel upon the dusky mass in the
meadows.  The northerners were chanting an old Norse ballad, a grim,
ice-bound song of the sea and the shriek of the sword.  Sir Simon’s
spears were rolling over the green slopes, their trumpets and bugles
blowing merrily.  From the west, the Lauretians were coming up with
their pikes dancing in the sun.  The thunder of the advance seemed to
shake the hills.

Fulviac watched the feudalists from beneath his banner in the meadows.
His captains were round him, grim men and silent, girding their spirits
for the prick of battle.

"By St. Peter," said the man under the red flag, "these fireflies come
on passably.  A fair host and a splendid.  If their courage suits their
panoply, we shall have hot work to-day."

"Faith," quoth Colgran, who had returned from Gilderoy, "I would rather
sweep a flower-garden than a muck-heap.  We are good for twice their
number, massed as we are like rocks upon a sea-shore."

"To your posts, sirs," were Fulviac’s last words to them; "whether we
fall or conquer, what matters it if we die like men!"

Billows of red, green, and blue, dusted with silver, Morolt and his
Berserkers rolled to the charge.  They had cast aside their pikes, and
taken to shield and axe, such axes as had warred in the far past for the
faith of Odin. Fulviac’s rebels had massed their spears into a hedge of
steel, and though Morolt’s men came down at a run, the spear points
stemmed the onrush like a wall.

Despite this avalanche of iron, the rebel ring stove off the tide of
war.  They were stout churls and hardy, these peasant plunderers; death
admonished them; despair tightened their sinews and propped up their
shields. The shimmering flood swirled on their spear points like tawny
billows tossing round a rock.  It lapped and eddied, rushed up in spray,
seeking an inlet, yet finding none. The Lauretian feudatories had
swarmed to the charge. Fulviac withstood them, and held their panoply at
bay.

Richard the King watched the battle from the southern heights.  He saw
Morolt’s men roll down, saw the fight seethe and glitter, swirl in a
wild vortex round the rebel spears.  The war wolves gathered, the
tempest waxed, and still the black ring held.  Like steel upon a granite
rock the onslaughts sparked on it, but clove no breach. Under the late
noon sun the valley reeked with dust and din.  The royal host was as a
dragon of gold, gnashing and writhing about an iron tower.

It was then that the King smote his thigh, plucked off his signet, sent
it by Bertrand his herald to Sir Simon and his knights.

"Go down at the gallop," ran the royal bidding, "cleave me this rock,
and splinter it to dust.  Spare neither man nor horse.  Cleave in or
perish."

The black banner of Imbrecour flapped forth; the trumpets clamoured.
Sir Simon’s knights might well have graced Boiardo’s page, and girded
Albracca with their stalwart spears.  They tightened girths, set shields
for the charge, and rode down nobly to avenge or fall.

As a great ship sails to break a harbour boom, so did the squadrons of
the King crash down with fewtred spears on Fulviac’s host.  They rode
with the wind, leaping and thundering like an iron flood.  No slackening
was there, no wavering of this ponderous bolt.  It rushed like a huge
rock down a mountain’s flank, smoking and hurtling on the wall of
spears.

The corn was scythed and trodden under foot.  Ranks rocked and broke
like earth before a storm-scourged sea. The spears of Imbrecour flashed
on, smote and sucked vengeance, cleaving a breach into the core of war.
The knights slew, took scarlet for their colour, and made the moment
murderous with steel.  Into the breach the King’s wolves followed them;
Morolt’s grim axemen stumbled in, rending and hurling the black mass to
shreds. Battle became butchery.  The day was won.

What boots it to chronicle the scene that travelled as a forest fire in
the track of Sir Simon’s chivalry?  The iron hand of the King closed
upon the wrecked victims in the valley.  Knight and noble trampled the
peasantry; rapine and lust were put to the sword.  The Blatant Beast was
slain by the spear of Romance.  The boor and the demagogue were trodden
as straw before the threshing-floor of vengeance.  The fields were a
shroud of scarlet; Tamar ran like wine; thorn and bramble were fruited
red with blood.  On the heights the tall pines waved over the splendid
masque of death.

It was late in the day when Morolt and his hillsmen, with certain of Sir
Simon’s knights, forced their way through the wreckage of the fight, to
the hillock where stood the banner of the Saint.  South, east, and west
the rout bubbled into the twilight, a riot of slaughter seething to the
distant woods.  About Yeoland’s banner had gathered the last of the
Forest brotherhood, grey wolves red to the throat with battle.  Sullen
and indomitable, they had gathered in a dusky knot of steel as the day
sped into the kindling west.  Even Morolt’s fierce followers stood
still, like hounds that had brought the boar to bay. Simon of Imbrecour
spurred out before the spears, lifted a shattered sword, and called on
Fulviac by name.

"Traitor, we challenge ye."

A burly figure in harness of a reddish hue towered up beneath the fringe
of the banner of the Saint.  He carried an axe slanted over his
shoulder, as he stood half a head above the tallest of his men.  As Sir
Simon challenged him, he lifted his salade, and bared his face to the
war dogs who hemmed him in.

"Black Leopard of the West, we meet again."

The Lord of Imbrecour peered at him keenly from under his vizor.

"Come, sirs, and end it," quoth the man in red, "buffet for buffet, and
sword to sword.  I fling ye a gauge to death and the devil.  Come, sirs,
let us end it; I bide my time."

Morolt sprang forward with sword aloft.

"Traitor and rebel, I have seen your face before."

Fulviac laughed, a brave burst of scorn.  He tossed his axe to them, and
spread his arms.

"Ha, Morolt, I have foined with ye of old.  Saints and martyrs, have I
avenged myself upon the lap-dogs of the court!  Here will we fight our
last battle.  Bury me, sirs, as Fulk of Argentin, the King’s brother,
whom men thought dead these seven years."

A sudden silence hovered above that remnant of a beaten host.  The red
banner drooped, hung down about its staff. Morolt, uttering a strange
cry, smote his bosom with his iron hand.  Old Simon crossed himself,
turned back and rode thence slowly from the field.

Morolt’s voice, gruff and husky, sounded the charge. When he and his war
dogs had made an end, they took Fulviac’s head and bore it wrapped in
Yeoland’s banner to the King.



                                 XLIII


Under the starry pall of night, the last cry of the clarion of tragedy
sounded over wood and meadow.  Gilderoy, proud city of the south, had
closed her gates against the royal host, wise at the eleventh hour as to
the measure of the King’s mercy.  The wreckage from the battle in the
valley had washed on Tamar’s bosom past the walls, corpses jostling each
other in the stream of death. Vultures had hovered in the azure sky.
There was no doom for Gilderoy save the doom of the sword.

The moon rose red amid a whorl of dusky clouds, veiled as with scarlet
for the last orgies of war.  Gilderoy had been carried by assault.
Morolt’s barbarians were pouring through the streets; the gates yawned
towards the night; bells boomed and clashed.  The townsfolk were
scurrying like rats for the great square where the remnant of the
garrison had barricaded the entries, gathering for a death-struggle
under the umbrage of the cathedral towers.

Richard the King had ridden into Gilderoy by the northern gate with Sir
Simon of Imbrecour and a strong guard of knights and men-at-arms.
Fulviac’s head danced on a spear beside the Golden Banner of Lauretia.
The citadel had opened its gates to Sire Julian of Layonne.  In the
square before the ruined abbey of the Benedictines the King and his
nobles gathered to await the judgment of the hour.

A great bell boomed through the night, a deep panting sound in the warm
gloom.  Torrents of steel clashed through the narrow streets, gleaming
under the torch flare, bubbling towards the last rampart of revolt.
From the cathedral square arose a wild, whimpering outcry, the wailing
of women mingling with the hoarse clamour of the last assault.

Word was brought to the King by one of Morolt’s esquires, that the
townsfolk were holding the great square behind their barricades, and
pouring a hot fire from the houses upon his troops.  Morolt desired the
King’s ring and his commands before taking to the resource of the sword.
Richard of the Iron Hand was in no mood for mercy.  His decree went
forth from before the gate of the ruined abbey.

"Consider no church as a sanctuary.  Fire the houses about the square.
Gilderoy shall burn."

The city’s doom was sealed by those iron words.  The torch took up the
handiwork of the sword.  A gradual glow began to rise above the
house-tops; smoke billowed up, black and voluminous, dusted with a
myriad ruddy stars.  Flames rose from casement and from gable, from
chimney, spirelet, roof, and tower.  The houses were faced with wood,
dry as tinder, crisp for the torch as a summer-bleached prairie.  The
flames ran like a red flood from roof to roof, with a roar as from huge
reptiles battling in a burning pit.  The great square, with the
glittering pinnacles of its cathedral, was girded in with fire and
sword.

Men were stabbing and hewing upon the barricades where Morolt’s
feudatories had stormed up from the gloom of the streets.  Beneath the
light of the burning houses, swords were tossed, the dead forgotten and
trodden under foot.  It was not long before the barriers were carried by
assault and the avengers of Belle Forêt poured pitiless into the great
square.

The citizens of Gilderoy had packed their women and children into the
sanctuary of the cathedral choir.  They were penned there amid the
gorgeous gildings of the place, a shivering flock swarming in the
frescoed chapels, huddled beneath the painted figures of the saints.
The glow of the burning city beat in through the jewelled glass,
building the huge aisles in a glittering cavern windowed with living
gems.  Darkness and dawn struggled and fought under the thundering
vaults.  From without came the wild babel, the hoarse death-moan of a
people.

In the great square the fight went on, a ruthless mêlée, strong and
terrible.  Gilderoy had slaughtered her noblesse. She made expiation for
the deed that night with the heart’s blood of her children.  Vengeance
and despair grappled and swayed in that great pit of death.  The blazing
streets walled in a red inferno, where passions ran like Satanic wine.
Gilderoy, proud city of the south, quivered and expired beneath the iron
gauntlet of the King.

Modred of Gambrevault moved through the press with Morolt of the North
fighting at his side.  They had a common quest that night, a common
watchword, chastening the vengeance of their men.

"Seek the Saint.  Save Yeoland of Gambrevault."

It was as a hoarse shout, feeble and futile amid the bluster of a storm.
What hope was there for this pale-faced Madonna amid the burning wreck
of Gilderoy?  She was as a lily in a flaming forest.  Modred sought for
her with voice and sword, thinking of Flavian and the vow upon the
cliff.  Though the city lightened, black Modred’s heart was steeped in
gloom.  Death and despair seemed armed against his hope.

On the eastern quarter a little court stood back from the great square.
A fountain played in the centre, the water-jet, thrown from a mermaid’s
bosom, sparkling like a plume of gems.  The walls of the court were
streaked with flame, its casements tawny with yellow light.  The breath
of the place was as the breath of a furnace; a quaking crowd filled it,
driven to bay by the swords shining in the square.

Modred was a tall man, a pine standing amid hollies. Staring into the
murk of the court wreathed round with a garland of fire, he saw, above
the heads of the crowd, a woman standing on the steps of the fountain,
leaning against the brim of the basin.  Her hair blew loose from under
her open bassinet; her white face like a flower was turned mutely to the
night.  A cuirass glimmered under her cloud of hair.  Modred, when he
saw her, sent up a shout like that of a wrecked mariner sighting a sail
over tumbling waves.  He tossed his sword, charged forward into the
court, began to buffet his way towards the figure by the fountain.

A knot of soldiery, taking his shout as a rallying cry, stormed after
him into the court.  There was a great crush in the entry, men tumbling
in, and using their swords as poniards.  The townsfolk were scattered
like blown leaves towards the burning houses.  In the hot turmoil of the
moment the girl was swept from the fountain steps, and carried by a
struggling bunch of figures towards a corner of the court.  Modred lost
sight of her for the moment, as he ploughed forward through the press.

Flames were rushing from casement and from roof; the breath of the place
was as the breath of a burning desert. The Gilderoy rebels pent in the
court were being put to the sword.  Through the swirl of the struggle
Yeoland’s bassinet shone out again.  Modred saw her standing alone,
shading her face with her hands like some wild, desperate thing, knowing
not whither to escape.  He pushed on, calling her by name.  Before he
could reach her the gabled front of a house undermined by the fire
lurched forward, tottered, and came down with a roar.

A blazing brand struck Modred on the helmet.  He staggered, beheld a
shower of sparks, felt a scorching wind upon his face.  The stones were
littered with crackling woodwork, glowing timber, reeking tiles.  He was
stunned for a moment as by the blow of a mace.  Flames were leaping
heavenwards from the houses, wiping out the mild faces of the stars with
their ruthless hands.

With a great cry Modred had started forward like a charging bull.  He
dragged aside the smouldering wreckage of gable and roof, tore the
rafters aside, nor heeded the heat, for his harness helped him.  His
great body quivered as he drew the girl out and lifted her from the
stones.  Her green kirtle was alight, and with the strong instinct of
the moment he ran with her to the fountain and plunged her bodily in the
broad basin.

Panting, he bore her across the great square in his arms. Yeoland was
making a little moaning whimper, but for all else lay quiet as a
half-dead bird.  Modred dared not look into her face; the scent of her
scorched hair beat up into his nostrils.  He ground his teeth and cursed
Fate as he ran. Was it for this that they had bulwarked Gambrevault?



                                  XLIV


Autumn had cast her scarlet girdle about Avalon; the woods were aflame
with the splendours of the dying year. The oaks stood pavilions of green
and gold; the beeches domes of burnished bronze; from their silver
stems, birches fountained forth showers of amber.  It was a season of
crystal skies, of cloud galleons, bulwarked with gold, sailing the
wine-red west.  Wild Autumn wandered in the ruined woods, her long hair
streaking the gilded gloom, her voice elfin under the stars.  Even as
she passed, the crisp leaves swirled and fell, a pall for the dying
year.

Avalon slumbered amid her lilies and the painted woods, gorgeous as rare
tapestries, curtaining her meadows.  Her mere laughed and glimmered amid
the flags and lily leaves, and lapped at the lichened bases of her
towers.  Avalon had arisen from her desolation.  No longer were her
chambers void, her gates broken, her courts the haunt of death.  The bat
and the screech-owl had fled from her towers.  She had lifted up her
face to the dawn, like a mourner who turns from the grave to gaze again
upon the golden face of joy.

Time with his scythe of silver rested on the hills.  The black dragon of
war had crawled sated to the labyrinths of the past; the red throne of
ambition had been consumed by fire.  Peace came forth with her
white-faced choir, swinging their golden censers, shedding a purple
perfume of hope over the blackened land.  The death wolves had slunk to
the wilds, the vultures had soared from the fields. A splendid calm had
descended upon the land, a silence as of heaven after the hideous masque
of war.  The cloud-wrack and thunder had passed from the sky.  Men heard
again the voice of God.

Six weeks had gone since the sacking of Gilderoy, and dead Duessa’s
bower in Avalon had been garnished for a second mistress.  A white rose
lurked in a whorl of green. The oriel, with its re-jewelled glass,
looked out upon the transient splendours of the woods.  Tapestry clothed
the walls, showing knights and maidens wandering through flowering
meads.  Rare furniture had been taken from the wrecked palaces of
Gilderoy and given to the Lord Flavian by the King.

That autumntide Modred played seneschal in Avalon. He had cleansed and
regarnished the castle by his lord’s command, and garrisoned it with men
taken from the King’s own guard.  Moreover, in Gilderoy he had found an
old man groping miserlike amid the ruins, filthy and querulous.  The
pantaloon when challenged had confessed to the name of Aurelius, and the
profession of Medicine by royal patent in that city.  The townsfolk had
spared his pompous neck for the sake of the benefits of his craft. From
the fat, proud, prosperous worthy he had cringed into a wrinkled,
flap-cheeked beggar.  Him Modred had caught like a veritable pearl from
the gutter, and brought with other household perquisites into Avalon.

In this rich refuge Aurelius awoke as from an unsavoury and penurious
dream.  He regained some of his plump, sage swagger, his rotund
phraseology, his autocratic dogmatism in matters Æsculapian.  The
atmosphere of Avalon agreed with his gullet.  Above all things, he was
held to be a man of tact.

In dead Duessa’s bower there still hung her mirror of steel, whose
sheeny surface had often answered to her languorous eyes and moon-white
face.  Duessa’s hair had glimmered before this good friend’s flattery.
Gems, necklet, broideries, and tiars had sunk deep into its magic
memory.  The mirror could have told truths and expounded philosophies,
had there been some Merlin to conjure with the past.

Aurelius of Gilderoy played the necromancer under more rational
auspices.  He was a benignant soul, subtle, sympathetic to the brink of
dotage.  His professional hint was that dead Duessa’s mirror should be
exiled from the bower of Avalon.  The oracle spoke with much beneficence
as to the delusions of the sick, and the demoniac influence of
melancholy upon the brain.  Yet his wisdom was withstood in the very
quarter where he had trusted to find obedience and understanding.  Dead
Duessa’s mirror still hung in the Lady Yeoland’s bower.

One calm evening, when the west stood a great arch of ruddy gold, a slim
girl knelt in the oriel with her face buried in her hands.  She was clad
in a gown of peacock blue, fitting close to her slight figure, and
girded about the hips with a girdle of green leather.  Her black hair
poured upon her shoulders, clouding her face, yet leaving bare the base
of her white neck where it curved from her pearly shoulders.  She
drooped her head as she knelt before the casement, where the light
entered to her, azure and green, vermilion and purple, silver and rose.

Anon she rose softly, turned towards the mirror hanging on the wall,
gazed into its depths with a species of bewitched fear.  One glance
given, she turned away with a shudder, hid her face in her hands, walked
the room in a mute frenzy of self-horror.  Presently she knelt again
before the window-seat, struggled in prayer, turning her face piteously
to an open casement where the golden woods stood under the red wand of
the west.  The light waned a little.  She rose up again from her knees,
shook her hair forward so that it bathed her face, trod slowly towards
the mirror, stared at herself therein.

The crystal bowl was broken, the ivory throne dishonoured!  The blush of
the rose had faded, the gleam of the opal fallen to dust.  Youth and its
sapphire shield had passed into the gloom of dreams.  The stars and the
moon were magical no more.

She wavered away from the window to a dark corner, hid her face in the
arras.  The same wild cry rang like a piteous requiem through her brain.
The man lived and loved her, and she had come to this!  Burning Gilderoy
had stolen her beauty, made her a mockery of her very self. God, that
Fate should compel her to lift her scars to the eyes of love!

In the gathering dusk, she went again to the mirror, peered therein,
with strained eyes and a tremor of the lip. The twilight softened
somewhat the bitterness of truth. She shook her hair forward, saw her
eyes gleam, fingered her white throat, and smiled a little.  Presently
she lit a taper, held it with wavering hand, peered at the steel panel
once again.  She cried out, jerked away, and crushed the frail light
under her foot.

Darkness increased, seeming to clothe her misery.  She wandered through
the room, twisting her black hair about her wrist, moaning and darting
piteous glances into the gloom.  Once she took a poniard from a table,
fingered the point, pressed her hand over her heart, threw the knife
away with a gesture of despair.  On the morrow the man would come to
her.  What would she see in those grey eyes of his?  Horror and
loathing, ah God, not that!

Anon she grew calmer and less distressed, prayed awhile, lit a lamp,
delved in an ambry built in the wall. That night her hands worked
zealously, while the moon shimmered on the mere, setting silver wrinkles
on its agate face.  The woods were still and solemn as death, deep with
the voiceless sympathy of the hour.  Black lace hung upon Yeoland’s
hands; the sable thread ran through and through; her white fingers
quivered in the light of the lamp.

Her few hours of sleep that night were wild and feverish, smitten
through with piteous dreams.  On the morrow she bound a black fillet
about her brows, and let the dusky mask of lace fall over face and
bosom.  She prayed a long while before her crucifix, but she did not
gaze again into dead Duessa’s mirror.

That same evening Modred the seneschal blasphemed Aurelius in the garden
of Avalon.  The man of the sword was in no easy humour; his convictions
emerged from his hairy mouth with a vigour that was not considerate.

"Dotard, you have no more wit than a pelican."

"My lord, I embrace truth."

"Damn truth; what eyes have you for a goodly close!"

Aurelius spread his hands with the air of a martyr.

"The physician, my lord," he said, "should ever deserve the confidence
of his patron."

For retort, Modred shouldered him into the thick of a rose bush.

"Pedant," quoth he, "crab-apple, say a word on this matter, and I will
drown you in the moat."

Aurelius gathered his robes and still ruffled it like an autocrat.

"Barbarity, sir, is the argument of fools."

"Bag of bones, rot in your wrinkled hide, keep your froth for sick
children."

"Sir!"

"You have as much soul as a rat in a sewer.  Come, list to me, breathe a
word of this, and I’ll starve you in our topmost turret.  Leave truth
alone, gaffer, with your rheumy, broken-kneed wisdom.  You have no wit
in these matters, no, not a crust.  Blurt a word, and I pack you off to
grovel in Gilderoy."

The man of physic shrugged his shoulders, seemed grieved and
incredulous, prepared to wash his hands of the whole business.

"Have your way, my lord; you are too hot-blooded for me; I will meddle
no further."

"Ha, Master Gallipot, you shall acknowledge anon that I have a soul."



                                  XLV


Trumpets were blowing in Avalon of the Twelve Towers, echoing through
the valley where the sun shone upon the woods, the sere leaves
glittering like golden byzants as they fell.  The sky was a clear
canopy, drawn as blue silk from height to height, tenting the green
meadows. Avalon’s towers rose black and strong above the sheen of her
quiet waters.

From Gambrevault came the Lord Flavian to claim his wife once more.
Through the brief days of autumn Aurelius of Gilderoy had decreed him an
exile from the Isle of Orchards, pleading for the girl’s frail breath
and her lily soul that might fade if set too soon in the noon of love.
In Gambrevault the Lord Flavian had moped like a prisoned falcon,
listening to the far cry of the war, hungry for the touch of a woman’s
hand.  Modred had snatched the Madonna of the Pine Forest from burning
Gilderoy.  She had been throned at last above the tides of violence and
wrong.

That day the Lord Flavian rode in state for Avalon, even as an
Arthurian, prince coming with splendour from some high-souled quest.
The woods had blazoned their banners for his march.  Trumpets hailed him
from the towers and battlements.  The sun, like a great patriarch,
smoothed his gold beard and beamed upon the world.

Over the bridge and beneath the gate, Modred led his master’s horse.
The garrison had gathered in the central court; they tossed their
swords, and cheered for Gambrevault.  Trumpets set the wild woods
wailing.  Bombards thundered from the towers.

In the court, amid the panoply of arms, Flavian dismounted, took
Modred’s hand, leant upon the great man’s shoulder.

"Old friend, is she well?"

"Ah, sire, youth turns to youth."

"Let my minstrels play below the stair some old song of Tristan and
Iseult.  And now I go to her.  Lead on."

In dead Duessa’s bower a drooping figure knelt before a crucifix in
prayer.  Foreshadowings of misery and woe were stirring in the woman’s
heart.  She had heard the bray of trumpets on the towers, the thunder of
cannon, the shouts of strong men cheering in the court.  She heard lute,
viol, and flute strike up from afar a mournful melody sweet with an
antique woe.

Time seemed to crawl like a wounded snake in the grass.  The figures on
the arras gestured and grimaced; the jewelled glass in the oriel burnt
in through the dark lattice of her veil.  She heard footsteps on the
stairs; Modred’s deep voice, joyous and strangely tender.  A hand
fumbled at the latch.  Starting up, she ran towards the shadows, and hid
her face in the folds of the arras.

The door had closed and all was silent.

"Yeoland."

The cry smote through her like joy barbed with bitterness. She shuddered
and caught her breath, swayed as she stood with the arras hiding her
face.

"Wife, wife."

With sudden strength, compelling herself, she peered round, and saw a
figure standing in the shadow, a man with white face turned towards the
light, his hands stretched out like a little child’s.  She stood
motionless, breathing fast with short, convulsive breaths, her lips
quivering beneath her veil.

"I am here," she said to him, husky, tremulous, and faint.

"Yeoland."

"Ah!"

"I hear your voice; come near to me."

She wavered forward three steps into the room, stood staring strangely
at the figure by the door.

"Yeoland, are you near?"

"My God!"

"I give myself to you, a broken man.  Ah, where are your hands?"

Sudden comprehension seized her; she went very near to him, gazing in
his face.

"Speak."

"Wife, I shall never see the sky again, nor watch the stars at night,
nor the moon, nor the sea.  I shall never look on Avalon, her green
woods and her lilies, and her sleeping mere.  I shall never behold your
face again.  I am blind, I am blind."

She gave a great cry, tore the veil from her face, and cast it far from
her.

"Husband, I come to you."

His hands were groping in the dark, groping like souls that sought the
light.  She went near him, weeping, caught his fingers, kissed them with
her lips.  The man’s arms circled her; she hung therein, and buried her
head in his bosom.

[Illustration: "HIS HANDS WERE GROPING IN THE DARK."]

"My love, my own."

"I am blind; your hair bathes my face."

"Ah, you are blind, mine eyes are yours, and I your wife will be your
sun.  No more pain shall compass you; there shall be no more grieving,
no more tears."

"Yeoland."

"Husband."

"God in heaven, I give Thee thanks for this."





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