CHAPTER VI ~ HOW THE CHAMPIONS WOULD DO BIRDALONE TO BE CLAD ANEW IN THE CASTLE OF THE QUEST
Lords, she said, now is it clear by the tokens that mine errand is to you and none other; now therefore am I to tell you what to do to come unto your speech-friends and deliver them and bring them back hither. For this is their case, that they are in captivity in a wonder-isle of this great water, and it is called the Isle of Increase Unsought.
Spake the Golden Knight: Fair lady, we have heard before that our friends fared hence, or rather were taken hence over the water. And that is the cause why we builded this castle on the water’s edge, on the very stead where was raised the pavilion, the house made for the ladies to abide therein the battle of the Champions. Since that time, moreover, many a barge and keel have we thrust out into the water, that we might accomplish the Quest whereunto we were vowed; but ever one way went our seafaring, that when we were come so far out into the water as to lose sight of land, came upon us mist, rose against us dusk and darkness; and then a fierce driving wind that drave us back to this shore. It is but six days ago since we tried this adventure for the last time, and belike the same shall befall us the next time we try it. Wherefore I must ask thee, lady, dost thou know any way whereby we may come to the said isle? For if thou dost, full surely we will try it, whatsoever may be the risk thereby to our bodies or our souls.
Full surely I do, said Birdalone; else how had I come from thence hither mine own self? And therewith she told them of the Sending Boat, what it was, and how she had come all the way by means thereof from the Isle of Increase Unsought; and they all hearkened her heedfully, and wondered both at the sorcery, and the valiant heart of her who had driven it as she would in despite of the evil. But in the end she spake and said: Lords, ye have now heard some deal of my story, even that which concerns you thereof; and which must needs be told at once: wherefore doubtless ye shall fare unto your speech-friends by this ferry in the very wise that I shall show you; unless perchance ye deem that I have been lying and making light tales to you, as, sooth to say, I deem ye think it not.
Spake the Golden Knight: Damsel, in all wise we trow in thee and thy tale. And God forbid that we should tarry! Go we hence this very day.
Yea, but hearken, said the Black Squire: Is it not a part of this damsel’s errand that she should deliver to us the raiment of our friends, which now she beareth on her own body, that we may bear it back unto them?
Sooth is that, said Birdalone, and ye may well wot that this may be nought but needful, whereas the said ladies be all beset by sorceries.
See ye then, fellows, said the Black Squire, it may not be today nor yet tomorrow that we may take the road. For ye wot that there is no woman’s gear in all the castle, and we must needs send otherwhere to seek it.
Look thou, maiden, said the Golden Knight, laughing, how duly this young knight thinketh of thee; whereas I, who am his elder, and should be wiser than he, am but heedless of thee. I pray thy pardon.
Moreover, said the Black Squire, there may well be wisdom in abiding; for it is to be thought that our dear loves considered this, and knew what the time of tarrying should be, and have so dight their matter as to fit in therewith; and I may not deem it of them that they would have us array this our dear sister and theirs in unseemly wise. Nay, for that would be an ill beginning of this deal of the Quest.
Now all yeasaid this gladly; and the Green Knight said: It were not so ill done that we should see more of our sister here ere we depart, and hear more of her tale; for meseemeth she began it erewhile but half-way. And he turned to Birdalone, and took her hand and caressed it.
Birdalone smiled on them somewhat shyly, and thanked them; but bade them spend as little time as might be on her arrayal. For, said she, though those ladies may well have reckoned on the time of the arrayal of my body, yet surely also they shall have reckoned with the eager fire of love in the hearts of you, and the haste it shall breed therein.
Well pleased were they with that word of hers, but none the less sent two sergeants and a squire with led horses unto the cheaping-town, a goodly and great town hight Greenford, which was some twenty miles thence, with the errand to bring back with them a good shaper and embroideress, and sewing-women, and cloth and silk and linen, and all things needful.
As for jewels, each one of them was fain to give her something which he prized, and fair and rich were the gifts, though they had not been made for women. As a fair SS collar of gold, which the Golden Knight gave her, and a girdle of broad golden plates, wrought beauteously, which was the gift of the Black Squire. Albeit he did not offer to clasp it round her loins, as she deemed he would; for when the Green Knight brought his gift, a great gold ring, very ancient of fashion, he would have her turn back the sleeve from her fore-arm, that he might set his dwarf-wrought gold upon the bare flesh; neither did he refrain him from kissing it withal.
But the messengers came back with their work-women and stuffs early on the morrow; and now was changed all the manner of the womanless castle, and men were full merry therein.