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 The avenues of the pine forest the harper and the lady. The crowded trunks them with a stubborn and impassive gloom. A faint wind moved in the tree-tops. Dim struck into an ever-deepening mystery of shadow, as into the dark of a dream.  
The wild was as some primæval waste, and terrible, a vast flood of sombre green rolling over hill and valley. Its midnight into the of day. On the hills, the trees stood like traceried , spears blood-red in the sunset, or splashed with the glittering magic of the moon. There were dells sunk deep beneath crags; choked with darkness, unsifted by the sun. white with as with the bones of the dead, wound through seas of gorse. In summer, heather sucked with purple lips at the of the ground, bronze, green, and gold. It was a wild region, and mysterious, a shadowland moaned over by the voice of a wind.
Yeoland held southwards by the vane of the sun. She had turned back her upon her shoulders, and fastened her black hair over her bosom with a brooch of . 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, with all manner of magic colours. She knew the moods of 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 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 like sparks glowing upon tinder. She was no Agnes, no Amorette, pillar of 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 , mute, yet full of a courage.
As for the harper, a rheumy dissatisfaction 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 under the dark eaves of age.
They had pressed a mile or more into the waste, and the day was waxing and yellow in the west. Before them ran a huge , its floor splashed with splendours, the touched with gold by the sun. Its deep bosom hung full of purple gloom, dusted with , wild and windless.
A sudden "hist" from his lady's lips made the harper start in the saddle. Her hand had snatched at his . Both horses came to a halt. The man looked at her as they sat knee to knee; she was alert and , 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.
" swaying in the wind, no more."
Yeoland enlightened him.
"Tush. There's no wind moving. A of , yonder, up the slope."
"Holy Jude!"
"A flash, it has gone."
They held silent under the boughs, listening, with noiseless breath. The breeze made mysterious murmurings with a vague unrest; now and again a cracked, or some forest sound floated down like a filmy on the quiet air. The trees were dumb and , as though resenting suspicion of their sable aisles.
Jaspar, peering over his shoulder, jerked out a word of warning. Yeoland, 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."
"I see it no longer. The saints succour us!"
Yeoland's face was dead white under her hair; her mouth like a circle of jet. She listened constantly. Her head moved in stately fashion on her slim neck, as she shot glances hither and into the glooms, her eyes challenging the world. She felt , but was no craven in the matter--a contrast to Jaspar, who shook as with an ague.
The harper's broke into declaiming.
"Trapped," he said; "I could have guessed as much, with all this fooling. These skulkers are like crows round . 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 breath between his teeth, 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 by some ruffian of a feudatory. He had a mere bodkin of a in his belt, and little for the letting of blood.
"'Tis a chance, madame," he said, with a certain 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 their purpose."
Thinking to see the of shadows under the trees, the glimmer of steel in the forest's murk, they rode on at a lifeless . Nothing echoed to their thoughts. The woods stood impassive, steeped in . 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 above the tramp of , 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 into infinite gloom. Betwixt the black stems of the trees flashed sudden a of , 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 on his , his red the green fringes of the trees.
This solemn figure stood like a sanguinary challenge to Yeoland and the harper. Here at least was something in the flesh, more than a mere shadow. The pair drew , 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 through the wood.
"Pass on," it said, "pass on. Pay ye the of the day."
This forest cry seemed to loosen the . Certainly it bore wisdom in its counsel, seeing that it advised the , and ordered action. Yeoland, bankrupt of resource, took the unseen at his word, and rode on slowly towards the on the black horse.
The man their coming like a statue, his red cloak shining under the sombre green of the boughs. A of golden fire arched him in the west. He sat his horse with a certain splendid , that puzzled not a little the 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 steel. His salade with lowered shone ruddy in the sun. His saddle was of scarlet leather, bossed with and fringed with sable cord. Gules flamed on his shield, of all device, a strong wedge of colour, bare and brave.
The girl caught the gleam of the man's eyes through the 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 from his soundless strength.
Full two minutes passed before a deep voice rolled from the 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, with the deep clamour of a bell through the silence of the woods. The man seemed less and , 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 as to unhelm to me."
Her tone did not stir the man from his reserve of gravity. Her words were indeed like so many breaking against a rock. The voice retorted to her calmly from the helmet.
"Madame, leave matters to my ."
She smiled in his face despite herself, a smile half of , half of .
"You pretend to wisdom, sir."
"Forethought, madame."
"Am I your prisoner?"
"No new thing, madame; I have 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 of the sunset 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, a glance backward over his shoulder into the woods. There was no 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 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 gloom, a big man deep of chest, with shoulders like the broad 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 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 , strained look, the 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 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 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. 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 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 into sudden reflection.
"It is five years ago this Junetide," he said, "since the King and the Court came to Gilderoy."
"You know the town, madame?"
She stared back upon a sudden vision of the past, a past gorgeous with the fires of youth. That Junetide she had worn a new green gown, a silver girdle, a red rose in her hair. There had been in the Gilderoy meadows, much of , much splendour, much pomp of arms. She remembered the and colour of it all; the blaze of tissues of gold and green, purple and . She remembered the of a thousand pennons in the wind, the fair women the galleries like flowers burdening a bowl. The vision came to her undefiled for the moment, a dream-memory, calm as the first pure 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 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 shows again its 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 about the man, a flippant self-knowledge, that touched the girl's fancy. He was either a strong soul, or an utter , posing as a Diogenes. She preferred the former picture in her heart, and began to question him again with a species of .
"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 me a gatherer of taxes."
"Being unfortunates and outcasts from the ways of life, my men and I seek to remedy the of the world by on folk more happy than ourselves."
"Then you 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 on the baser instincts of the business.
"Knight of the red shield," she said.
"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 , or upon his intelligence as a .
"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 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 , "I would give my soul for that fellow's head."
"So," quoth the man, with a keen look, "that would be a most bargain."

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