William Morris Archive


Wore the days then till the winter came upon them, and though the season was not hard, yet was there but little coming and going about the country-side, that is to say for long journeys; but even so the Blue Knight had his hands full of business in seeing to the gathering of men and stuff for the hosting of the Barons' League. But when March was at hand, and the roads were dry, there was no need of further message to him, and he let it be known to all and several that on the very first day of the month he would depart before sunrise. And this he told to the Maiden specially, and by this time she had got to look upon it as a thing already done, so that the news thereof took not much from her cheer, which, to say sooth, was but little.

Mighty was the hubbub and toil of their getting ready; but when the morning was come all was in good order, and the men and their wains and what not were all drawn up in array down on the little plain before the bridge, and they looked as if nothing might overthrow them, so stalwarth they were each man, and so well learned to move as though they were one. The sun was not yet up ere there came a knock on the Maiden's door, and she, who was fully clad, and had been looking out of her window (whence she could see all the array) for a good while, went to the door and opened, and lo! it was Sir Mark, fully armed save his head. She put out her hands to him and said: "Thou hast come to say farewell to me. See, I have saved thee the pain of saying that word; soon may it be that I shall have to say Welcome back!"

He took her hands and kissed her face many times, and she suffered him. Then he said: "O my thanks to thee! Yet hearken: If I come not back at all, when it is known for sure here that I am dead, then I rede thee make as little delay as thou mayest, but get thee gone at once, thou and thy nurse, from the pleasant house of Brookside, and go straight to the house of the Grey Sisters, which thou hast seen from without many a time, and which lieth betwixt wood and water a seven miles down the river, and tell them that I have sent you and bid them to cherish you; then will they see to thy matters in the best way they know. Much more might I say, and I know that thou wouldst hearken me, but I must forbear, lest I soften my heart overmuch for this day and this hour."

Then he turned and went, but came back in a twinkling while she still stood at the door, and said to her: "I tell thee it needeth but a little but that I should do off this weed of war and abide at home while my men wend to battle." Then he turned again and was gone.

But the Maiden went to the window weeping thus to lose her friend, and the Carline came to her there, and they looked forth, and beheld the Knight ride down to his men. And then all the array shook and clashed, as they shouted for joy that their captain was come amongst them; and there were the two young squires, gay and bright in their broidered surcoats, and they fell into their places beside the lord, and Roland bore the wavy banner. Then arose the sun, and Sir Mark drew forth his sword and waved it aloft, and Roland shook the banner loose and displayed in in the clear air. The horns blew up, and the whole band of them got on to the bridge and went their ways toward the place where the road to the south and the east turned off from the northern road. Even so departed that glorious piece of ordered might; and when they were quite gone those two turned away from the window, and the days which were next to come seemed empty and dull.

But the Maiden told the Carline all that the Blue Knight had said to her about fleeing straightway to the Grey Sisters if he himself should fall in the war; and the two looked at each other a while, and each knew the thoughts which were in the other's heart, and which each left unspoken; to wit that Sir Mark feared his mother's pride and malice, what she might do if he were no longer there to refrain it; yea, and she seeking some outlet to her grief and solace for it in wrath and cruelty.

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