The Water of the Wondrous Isles
The Seventh Part: The Days of Returning
CHAPTER I ~ SIR HUGH ASKETH BIRDALONE WHERE SHE WOULD HAVE THE ABODE OF THEIR FELLOWSHIP TO BE
On the next day, they arose and were glad, and it was to them as if the sun of the early summer had arisen for nought save to shine on their happy day. And they went about from place to place whereas tidings had befallen Birdalone; and she served them one and all as if she were their handmaid, and they loved her and caressed her, and had been fain to do all her will did they but know it.
In this wise wore day after day till June began to wane, and then on a time came Hugh unto Birdalone, and spake unto her and said: All we have been talking together, and I am sent to ask thee what is in thy mind as to abiding here or going elsewhither. For now that we be come together again, not for all the kingdoms of the world would we sunder again; and above all, none of us would leave thee, O my sister. But if thou wilt come with me to our land under the Green Mountains, there is for thee a pleasant place and a fair dwelling, and honour from all folk, and our love that shall never leave thee; and I, and Arthur my brother, we shall win fame together amongst the knighthood, and thou shalt be proud and glad both of him and of me.
She said: And if I may not go with thee thither, what other way is there to escape the sundering? Said Hugh: This, that thou choose in the world what land liketh thee for a dwelling-place, and we will go with thee and leave thee never, and thou shalt be our lady and queen. Then he laughed and said: Yet, our lady, I have left behind me under the Green Mountains certain things which I love, as two fair women-children, and a squire or two whose fathers served my fathers, and whose children I would should serve my children. And moreover I have left there certain matters of avail, my wealth and livelihood to wit. Wilt thou begrudge it if I must needs go fetch these, and bring them to the land where thou dwellest, through whatever peril we may have to face?
Dear art thou, she said, and my very friend, but tell me: how sorry wouldst thou be to leave thine own land and follow after me for the sake of one who is neither thine own true love nor of thy kindred? Said he: Not so sorry that I should grudge against thee thereafter. Moreover if that much of sorrow came to me, I should deem it not ill, lest I grow so over-happy that the luck rise up against me and undo me.
She said, smiling on him kindly: Meseems that I am over-happy, whereas I have such dear cherishing of noble friends. But now I will tell thee all, and maybe thou wilt love me the less for the telling. In these woods here, and lady and mistress of them, dwelleth one who is not of the race of Adam. And she helped and cherished me and gave me wisdom when I was tormented and accursed, and she it was who saved me from the evil witch, and gave me the good hap to meet your loves and to fetch you to their helping; and twice hath she saved me from mortal peril otherwise. And she hath found me my love, thy brother Arthur, and delivered him from unwit and wanhope; and she it is who drew all you hither unto us, and who delivered you from the felons who had mastered you. And I have sworn unto her that I would never wholly sunder me from her; and how shall I break mine oath and grieve her, even had I the will thereto, as God wot I have not? And she wept therewith.
But Hugh kissed her and said: Birdalone, my dear, why weepest thou? Didst thou not hear my word, that thy people should be my people, and thy land my land, and that whither thou goest I will go? Dost thou not trow me then? Or how deemest thou I may tear thy friend Viridis from thee, when she hath just found thee? But tell me, hast thou in thy mind any dwelling-place other than this?
Yea, she said: I may not depart very far from this forest of Evilshaw lest I grieve my wisdom-mother overmuch. But if one go westward through the wood, he shall happen at last, when he cometh forth of it, on a good town hight Utterhay, which lieth on the very edge thereof. There was I born, and there also I look to find three dear and trusty friends to whom I owe return of their much kindness. It is a noble town in a pleasant land, and thou and my lord Arthur may well win both honour and worship and lordship there. And wholly I trust in thy word that thou wilt not grudge against me for dragging thee thither.
Therewith she gave him her hand, smiling on him, though there was yet trouble in her face. But he took the hand and held it, and laughed merrily and said: Lo now! how good it is for friends to take counsel together! What better may we do than go with thee thither? And how greatly will Viridis rejoice when she heareth of this. Now will I go and tell her and the others.
Go then, dear lad, she said; but as to the matter of thy fetching thy children and livelihood hither, that may be not so hard nor so perilous as thou deemest; and thou shalt go about it whenso thou wilt, and the sooner the better, and we shall abide thee here as long as need may be. And therewith he went his ways to tell Viridis and the others of this rede which they had come to between them.
CHAPTER II ~ BIRDALONE TAKETH COUNSEL WITH HER WOOD-MOTHER CONCERNING THE MATTER OF SIR HUGH
On that same day went Birdalone to the Oak of Tryst and called her wood-mother to her, and she came glad and smiling, and kissed and embraced Birdalone, and said unto her: Now I see that thou art well content with this last matter I have done for thee, whereas thou art come to crave a new gift of me. How knowest thou that? said Birdalone, laughing. Said Habundia:
Wouldst thou have come to me so soon otherwise from out of all that happiness? I have come to tell thee of my rede, said Birdalone, and to ask thee if thou art like-minded with me thereon. Said the wood-wife: And what is thy rede, my child? Wood-mother, said Birdalone, we deem that it were good for us all to go down into Utterhay where I was born, and to take up our abode therein.
Said the wood-wife: This rede I praise, and even so would I have counselled you to do; but I abided to see if it should come from out of thy breast, and now even so it hath done; wherefore I understand thy wisdom and rejoice in thee. And now crave thy boon, my child, and thou shalt have it without fail.
Yea, said Birdalone, that will I, and the more that it is a simple one and easy for thee to do. Thou knowest that Hugh the Green Knight hath come with my she-friends seeking us all the way from under the Green Mountains, and he hath left there goods that he needs must have and folk whom he loves; and now he would go back thither, and fetch all that away hither, and see to his matters as soon as may be. And I would have thee counsel us what to do, whether to build a barque, as perchance we may get it done, and sail the lake therein to the Castle of the Quest or thereabout, and thence to ride to his land; or else to take thy guidance and safe-conduct through the wood, and to bring his folk back the same way.
Said the wood-wife: As to the way by water, I may help you little therein, and meseemeth that way be many traps and wiles and many perils. Wherefore I bid you try it not, but let the Green Knight come up hither to this tree tomorrow before noon, all horsed and armed and arrayed, and there shall he find three men armed in green gear, horsed well, and leading two sumpter-beasts with them; and they shall be his until he giveth them back unto me. But if he doubteth any thing betwixt the wood’s end and under the Green Mountains, let him wage what folk he will besides, for these my men will have money enough of his with them. But by no means let him send them away till he hath done with the wood altogether, both betwixt here and the western dwelt-land, and here and Utterhay, save thou be with him. But while these be with him, both he and whatsoever money he bringeth shall be sure from all peril whiles they be in the wood. Now, my child, was not this the boon thou camest up hither to ask of me?
Yea verily, said Birdalone; yet also I came up hither to praise thee and thank thee and love thee. And she threw herself into Habundia’s arms and kissed and caressed her, and Habundia her in like wise.
Spake the wood-wife: Thou art the beloved child of my wisdom; and now I see of thee that thou wilt be faithful and true and loving unto me unto the end. And I think I can see that thou and thy man shall do well and happily in Utterhay; and the Green Knight also and thy she-friends. And whatsoever thou wilt of me that I may do for thee or thy friends, ask it freely, and freely shalt thou have it. But this I will bid thee, that the while the Green Knight shall be gone about his matter, thou shalt come hither to me often; and thy friends also thou shalt bring to me, that I may see them and talk to them and love them. And specially shalt thou bid Atra unto me; for meseems she is so wise already that I may learn her more wisdom, and put that into her heart which may solace her and make her to cease from fretting her own heart, and from grief and longing overmuch. And I were fain to reward her in that she hath forborne to grudge against thee and to bear thee enmity. For I know, my child, not from mine own heart, but from the wisdom I have learned, how hardly the children of Adam may bear to have that which they love taken away from them by another, even if they themselves might in the long last have wearied of it and cast it away their own selves. Go now, my child, and do thy friend to wit what I will do for him.
Therewith they parted, and Birdalone fared home to the house, and found the fellowship of them all sitting by the brookside, and talking sweetly together in all joy and hope of what their life should be in the new land whereto Birdalone would lead them. Straightway then she told them of Hugh and his journey, and how well he should be guarded in the wood both coming and going. And they thought that right good, and they thanked her and praised her, and took her into their talk, and she sat down by them happily.
CHAPTER III ~ OF THE JOURNEYING THROUGH THE FOREST OF EVILSHAW UNTO THE TOWN OF UTTERHAY
On the morrow in due time Birdalone, going afoot, led Sir Hugh, all-armed and horsed, to the Oak of Tryst, and there they found the three men-at-arms, well-weaponed and in green weed, abiding them. They did obeisance to Sir Hugh, and he greeted them, and then without more ado he kissed Birdalone and went his ways with his way-leaders, but Birdalone turned back to the house and her friends.
Next day Birdalone brought her three she-friends unto the Trysting Oak, and showed them to the wood-mother, and she was kind and soft with them; and both Aurea and Viridis were shy with her, and as if they feared her, but Atra was frank and free, and spake boldly. And thereafter when Birdalone went to meet her wood-mother, Atra would go with her if she were asked, and at last would go alone, when she found that Habundia was fain of her coming, so that there were not many days when they met not; and the wood-wife fell to learning her the lore of the earth, as she had done aforetime with Birdalone; and Atra waxed ruddier and merrier of countenance, whereof was Birdalone right glad, and Arthur yet more glad, and the others well content.
So wore the time till Hugh had been gone for twenty and three days, and as they walked the meadows anigh the house about undern, they saw a knight riding down the bent toward them, and presently they knew him for Hugh, and turned and hastened to meet him, so that he was straightway amidst them, and on foot. Dear then were the greetings and caresses betwixt them, and when it was over, and Birdalone had led away his horse and dight it for him, and had gotten him victuals and drink, and they were all sitting on the grass together, he told them how he had fared. He had done all his matters in the Land under the Green Mountains, and had given over his lands and houses to a man of his lineage, his cousin, a good knight, and had taken from him of gold and goods what he would. Then he had taken his two bairns and their nurse, and an old squire and five sergeants, whereof one was his foster-brother, and the others men somewhat stricken in years, and had departed with them. Sithence he had come his ways to Greenford, and had held talk therein with the prior of a great and fair house of Black Canons, and had given him no little wealth wherewith to re-do the Castle of the Quest what was needed, and for livelihood of four canons to dwell there, and Leonard to be their prior, that there they might remember Sir Baudoin their dear friend daily in the office, and do good unto his soul. Sithence he had ridden to the Castle of the Quest with the said Prior of St. Austin of Greenford, and had found Leonard, and had settled all the business how it was to be done. Thereafter he had returned to Greenford, and gathered his folk, and got him gone, under the guidance of Habundia’s folk, by castles and thorps and towns the nearest way to the edge of Evilshaw. And they had come to the forest, and ridden it six days without mishap; and when they had come to the Oak of Tryst once more, the way-leaders said that it were well if all they together tarried not much longer in the forest; wherefore they had brought them to a fair wood-lawn, and there they encamped, and were there as now. And, said Hugh, there are they abiding me, and it is in my mind that this very eve we go, all of us, and meet them there, if ye may truss your goods in that while; but as to victuals, we have plenty, and it needeth not. And then tomorrow shall we wend our way as straight as may be toward the good town of Utterhay.
All they yeasaid it, though in her heart maybe Birdalone had been fain of abiding a little longer in her own land; but she spake no word thereof. And they all set to work to the trussing up of their goods, and then turned their backs on the Great Water, and came up into the woodland, and so to the camp in the wood-lawn. And there had Viridis a joyful meeting with her babes, and she gladdened the hearts of Sir Hugh’s men-at-arms by her kind greeting; and they rejoiced in meeting Aurea and Atra again, and they wondered at Birdalone and her beauty, and their hearts went out to her, both the old men’s and the young ones. But Habundia’s men looked on it all like images of warriors.
There then they feasted merrily that evening. But when the morrow was come they were speedily on the way toward Utterhay; and the way-leaders guided them so well and wisely, that by noon of the fifth day they were come forth of the wood and on to the bent that looked down upon the town of Utterhay. There turned to Hugh the three way-leaders, and spake: Lord, we have done thee the service which we were bidden; if thou hast no further need of us, give us leave.
Said Hugh: Leave ye have, and I shall give you a great reward ere ye go. Said the chief of them: Nay, lord, no reward may we take, save a token from thee that thou art content with us. What token shall it be? said Hugh. Quoth the way-leader: That each of us kiss the Lady Birdalone on the mouth, for she it is that is verily our mistress under our great mistress.
Laughed Hugh thereat, but the men laughed not; then spake Hugh: This must be at the lady’s own will. Even so, said they.
Then Hugh brought Birdalone thither and told her what was toward, and she consented to the kiss with a good will, and said to each of the men after they had kissed her: Herewith goeth my love to the mistress and queen of the woods; do ye bear the same unto her. And thereafter those way-leaders fared back into the woods.
Now they gather themselves together and go down toward Utterhay, and make a brave show, what with the sumpter-horses, and the goodly array of the four ladies, and the glittering war-gear of the men-at-arms; and Sir Hugh and Sir Arthur displayed their pennons as they went.
All this saw the warders on the wall of Utterhay; and they told the captain of the porte, and he came up on to the wall, and a man with him; and when he saw this bright company coming forth from the wood, he bade men to him, two score of them, all weaponed, and he did on his armour, and rode out-a-gates with them to meet those new-comers; and this he did, not because he did not see them to be but few, but because they came forth out of Evilshaw, and then doubted if they were trustworthy.
So he met them two bowshots from the gate, and rode forward till he was close to the wayfarers; and when he beheld the loveliness of the women, and especially of Birdalone, who wore that day the gleaming-glittering gown which Habundia had given her, he was abashed, and deemed yet more that he had to do with folk of the Faery. But he spake courteously, and said, turning to Hugh, who rode the foremost: Fair sir, would ye tell unto the man whose business it is to safeguard the good town of Utterhay what folk ye be, and on what errand ye ride, and how it is that ye come forth from Evilshaw safe, in good case, with pennons displayed, as if the said wood were your very own livelihood? For, sooth to say, hitherto we have found this, that all men dread Evilshaw, and none will enter it uncompelled.
Thereto answered Hugh: I hight Sir Hugh the Green Knight, and am come from under the Green Mountain; and this is Sir Arthur, called the Black Squire, but a knight he is verily, and of great kindred and a warrior most doughty. And he hath been captain of the good town of Greenford west away through the wood yonder a long way, and hath done the town and the frank thereof mickle good service in scattering and destroying the evil companies of the Red Hold, which hold we took by force of arms from the felons who held it for the torment and plague of the country-side.
Now as to our errand, we be minded to dwell in your good town of Utterhay, and take our part with your folk, and we have wealth enow thereto, so as to be beholden to none; and as time goes on we may serve you in divers wise, and not least in this maybe, that with a good will we shall draw sword for your peace and the freedom of them of Utterhay.
When the captain heard these words, he made obeisance to Sir Hugh, and said: Fair sir, though we be here a long way from Greenford, yet have we heard some tale of the deeds of you, and surely the porte and all the folk shall be fain of your corning. Yet I pray thee be not wrath; for there is a custom of the good town, that none may enter its gates coming from out of this Forest of Evilshaw, save he leave some pledge or caution with me, be it his wealth, or the body of some friend or fellow, or, if nought else, his very own body. Wherefore if thou, Sir Green Knight, wilt but give us some sure pledge, then will I turn about and ride with you back and through the gate into Utterhay; and doubtless, when the mayor hath seen you and spoken with you, the said pledge shall be rendered to you again.
Ere Hugh might answer, came Birdalone forth and said: Sir captain, if I, who am the lady of the Black Squire here, be hostage good enough, then take me, and if need be, chain me to make surer of me. And she drew near unto him smiling, and held out her hands as if for the manacles.
But when the captain saw her thus, all the blood stirred in his body for joy of her beauty, and he might but just sit his horse for his wonder and longing; but he said: The saints forbid it, lady, that I should do thee any hurt or displeasure, or aught save the most worship I may. But thy hostage I will take, Sir Knight if thou be content to yield her, whereas in an hour belike she shall be free again. And now fare we all gateward again.
So then they all rode on together, Birdalone by the captain’s left hand; and as they passed by the poor houses without the wall, she looked and saw the one which had been her mother’s dwelling, so oft and so closely had she told her all about it.
Thus then they entered Utterhay, and the captain led them straight to the mote-house whereas the mayor and the porte were sitting; and much people followed them through the streets, wondering at them, and praising the loveliness of the women, and the frank and gallant bearing of the men-at-arms.
So they lighted down at the mote-house and were brought to the mayor, and when he had spoken them but a little, and had come to himself again from the fear and abashment that he had of them, he showed himself full fain of their coming, and bade them welcome to the good town, and took them into his own house to guesting, until folk might dight a very goodly house which the porte did give unto them.
But some two hours afterwards, when they were housed in all content, as they sat in the hall of the mayor, which was great and goodly, talking and devising with worthies of Utterhay, there entered two fair and frank-looking young men, who went straight up to Birdalone, and the first knelt down before her and kissed her hand, and said: O our lady, and art thou verily come to us! O our happiness and the joy of this day!
But when she saw him and heard him and felt the touch of his hand, she bent down to him and kissed him on the forehead, for she knew him that it was Robert Gerardson.
Then the other man came up to her as if he also would have knelt to her, but his purpose changed, and he cast his arms about her body and fell to kissing her face all over, weeping the while, and then he drew off and stood trembling before her and she, all blushing like a red rose and laughing a little, and yet with the tears in her eyes, said: O Giles Gerardson, and thou, Robert, how fain I am to see you twain; but tell me, is your father well? Yea, verily, our dear lady, said Robert, and it will be unto him as a fresh draught of youth when he wotteth that thou art come to dwell amongst us; for so it is, O lady beloved, is it not? said he. Yea, forsooth, or even so I hope, said Birdalone. But here be other friends that ye must needs know, if we come to dwell together here in peace; and then go and fetch me hither your father.
Therewith she presented them unto Arthur and Hugh and the three ladies of the Quest, and all they greeted them kindly and in all honour; and the Gerardsons loved and worshipped them, and especially the lovely ladies, the she-friends of their lady.
And whiles they were about this, in cometh old Gerard himself, and when Birdalone saw him at the door, she arose and ran to meet him, and cast her arms about him as if she were his own daughter; and most joyful was the meeting betwixt them.
CHAPTER IV ~ OF THE ABIDING IN UTTERHAY IN LOVE AND CONTENTMENT
Now when seven days were worn, the mayor made a great feast at his house, and thither were bidden all the men of the porte and other worthies, and great merchants who had come into their town; and the said feast was given in honour of these new-comers, and that day they sat on the dais, and all the guests worshipped them and wondered at their beauty; and nought was spoken of for many days save the glory and hope that there was in this lovely folk.
But the next day after the feast were they brought to their house in all triumph; and it was as fair as might be thought of, and there they dwelt a while in rest and peace, and great recourse there was there of Gerard and his sons.
But ere the winter was over, were Hugh and Arthur and Gerard and his sons taken to the freedom of Utterhay; and thereafter spake the chief men of the porte and the masters of the crafts unto the two knights by the mouth of the mayor; and he told them, what already they partly knew, that the good town had of late gotten many enemies, whereas it was wealthy and not very strong, and that now two such warriors having come amongst them, they were minded to strengthen themselves, if only they two would of their gentleness and meekness become their war-dukes to lead them against the foemen. But the two friends answered that it was well their will to dwell there neighbourly, and do them all the help they might, and that they would not gainsay the worship they offered them nor the work that should go with it.
With that answer were all men well content and more: and then the mayor said that the mind of the porte it was to strengthen the walls and the gates, and to build a good and fair castle, meet for any earl, joining on to the wall by the face that looked west, that is to say, on to Evilshaw; and that liked the war-dukes well.
So when spring came it was set about, but it was five years adoing, and before it was all finished the war-dukes entered into it, and dwelt there with their wives and their friends in all honour. And a little thereafter, whether they would or no, the men of Utterhay had to handle weapons and fare afield to meet the foe with the valiant men of the crafts, and what of waged men they might get. And well and valiantly were they led by their dukes, and they came to their abode, and gained both wealth and honour thereby; and from that time forward began the increase of Utterhay under those two captains, who were unto them as in old time the consuls had been unto the Roman folk, save that they changed them not year by year as the Romans were wont.
So wore the days, and all those friends dwelt together in harmony and joy; though the wearing of time wrought changes amongst them. For Robert Gerardson began in no long while to look on Aurea with eyes of love; and at last he came to Birdalone and craved her leave to woo the said lady, and she granted it with a good will, and was fain thereof, whereas she saw that Aurea sorely lacked a mate; and scarce might she have a better than was Robert; so in process of time they two were wedded and dwelt together happily.
Forsooth Birdalone had been fainer yet might she have seen Giles Gerardson and Atra drawn together. But though they were dear friends and there was much converse betwixt them, this betid not, so far as we have heard.
The old Gerard dwelt happily amongst them all for fifteen years after they had come to Utterhay, and then fell asleep, a very old man.
As to the wood of Evilshaw, it was not once a year only that Birdalone and Arthur sought thither and met the wood-mother, but a half-score of times or more, might be, in the year’s circle; and ever was she kind and loving with them, and they with her.
But of all those fellows it was Atra that had longest dealings with the wood-wife; for whiles would she leave Utterhay and her friends and fare lonesome up into Evilshaw, and find Habundia and abide with her in all kindness holden for a month or more. And ever a little before these departures betid would she fall moody and few-spoken, but she came back ever from the wood calm and kind and well-liking. Amidst all these comings and goings somewhat wore off the terror of Evilshaw; yet never was it accounted other than a daring deed to enter it alone without fellowship; and most had liefer that some man of religion were of their company therein, or they would bear about them something holy or blessed to hold the evil things.
Now when all this hath been said, we have no more to tell about this company of friends, the most of whom had once haunted the lands about the Water of the Wondrous Isles, save that their love never sundered, and that they lived without shame and died without fear. So here is an end.
Text courtesy of the University of Adelaide.