The Sundering Flood - Chapter 58
PEACEFUL DAYS IN THE CASTLE OF BROOKSIDE
Now the Knight led the Maiden up to the dais, and thereon were squires and priests and ladies; for Sir Mark's mother was there, sitting on a very goodly chair beside his seat of honour, and when these two came on to the dais the said lady stood up to meet them, and put her arms about the knight's neck and kissed him. Then she turned to the Maiden and said: "Thou also art welcome, and thy follower the old woman, since my son hath bidden you to the house which is his own. But look to it that thou be obedient to him, and take more heed of his honour and his welfare than thine own welfare. Then shall I give thee what honour thou art worthy of, and thou shalt find in me a well-willer."
So the Maiden knelt before her and kissed her hand, but the Lady looked no more on her, but on her son. She was a tall and goodly woman of some five and fifty winters; hawk-nosed and hawk-eyed, dark-haired, and her hair waved as the coat-armour of the house. She spoke in no very soft or kind voice, not even to her son, and the Maiden had feared her that while, had it not been that even therewith her heart turned toward the man she loved and whom she sought, and all these that were round about her, even the valiant and generous Knight, had become for the time to her but images that had no part in her life.
But now the tire-woman came to her and led her into a chamber apart, and bathed her and clad her in fair raiment and led her back to the hall, for so had the Blue Knight commanded.
As for the Carline, she was shown to a good place, and sat there heedfully, and had ears for everything that was said and eyes for all that was done. And she said to herself that they should not abide there very long ere she would find out something of the way her bird must follow if she were to have a happy life thenceforth.
But the next morning the Lady-mother took her son into a window of the hall and fell to talking with him. And the Carline was not far off, and heard a good part of all that they said: for she was fine-eared, and had brought lore to bear upon the hearkening.
Now spake the Lady: "Well, son, so thou hast brought home a woman of the husbandmen, a churl's daughter, to dwell with us. What wilt thou do with her? Wilt thou wed her with priest and ring?" "Nay, mother," said Sir Mark; "but thou needest not call her of churl's blood. I wot of these folk of the dales under the mountains, that they are both proud and warrior-like, as if they were earls' kindred." "Is it so?" said the Lady; "But she is neither of the baronage nor the knighthood. I say, wilt thou wed her?" "I shall not," said Sir Mark, reddening and knitting his brows. "What wilt thou do with her then?" said the Lady. Said he: "She shall abide here in all honour and kindness so long as she will." "Even such shall she have from me then," said the Lady, "since it is thy will, so long as thy will is steadfast herein; but when it changes, then must we seek other rede." So the talk between them dropped for that time.
Here then began new days for the Maiden, nor is it to be said that there was aught evil in them, save the abiding on hope deferred; for there was none in the house that looked not kindly on this lovely one, save it were the Lady, the mother of Sir Mark. But then, to say sooth, she looked not kindly on any, scarce even on her son, though in her heart she loved him strongly. And no wrong she did to the Maiden, or put any tasks upon her, nor said nor did aught covertly to make her heart bleed, as belike she might have done had she willed it. The two young squires, Roland and James, did all they might to be with her and have speech of her, and she suffered them frankly, seeing no harm therein. For to her they were but bright and fair youths whose lives had nought to do with hers, but who should find friends and loves and deeds with other folk whom she had never heard of, and in lands far away from the grey Dale where she was born and bred.
As to Sir Mark, it was somewhat different, for such thanks she owed him for her deliverance and for his kindness that never wore thin, and for the faithful love that looked for no reward, nay not even for pity of the love, for ever he bore him frank and merry, and had such kind good-will to all folk worthy who were about him, that none had deemed of him but that was heart-whole, and bore about no pain that fretted his life. So much she owed him, I say, yea and was glad to owe him, and so fain she was to hear and see this friend, that scarce might she think of her life on the earth and he not a part of it in some way.
So wore the spring and summer, and all seemed at peace about Brookside: and many merry days did the Maiden and the Carline share in, as riding in the meadows and woods with hawk and hound, and feasts in the fair land further aloof; and the Midsummer and Michaelmas markets, which were held in the meadow betwixt the Castle and the township of Brookside; and a riding more than two or three to the cheaping-town of that country-side, which was some five leagues distant and was a good and plenteous town. Withal a many folk came a-guesting to the Castle, knowing it to be a guest-kind house, as pilgrims and chapmen, and knights and men-at-arms riding hither and thither on their errands, so that it was no unlikely place to hear tidings of the countries and kingdoms.