CHAPTER VII ~ OF BIRDALONE, HOW SHE TOLD THE CHAMPIONS ALL HER TALE
It was a matter of eight days, the making of all Birdalone’s raiment, and meanwhile she was ever with the three Champions, either all three together, or one or other of them. And as to their manners with her, ever was the Golden Knight of somewhat sober demeanour, as if he were an older man than he verily was. The Green Knight was for ever praising Birdalone’s beauty to her face, and seemed to find it no easy matter to keep his eyes off her, and somewhat he wearied her with kisses and caresses; but a gay and sportive lad he was; and when she rebuked him for his overmuch fondness, as now and again she did, he would laugh at himself along with her; and in sooth she deemed him heart-whole, and of all truth to Viridis, and oft he would talk of her to Birdalone, and praise her darling beauty to her, and tell of his longing for his love aloof. Only, quoth he, here art thou, my sister, dwelling amongst us, and shedding thy fragrance on us, and showing to us, wilt thou, wilt thou not, as do the flowers, all the grace and loveliness of thee; and thou so tender of heart withal, that thou must not blame me overmuch if whiles I forget that thou art my sister, and that my love is, woe’s me! far away. So thou wilt pardon me, wilt thou not? Yea, verily, said she, with a whole heart. Yet thou needest not reach out for my hand; thou hast had enough of it this morning. And she hid it, laughing, in the folds of her gown; and he laughed also, and said: Of a truth thou art good in all wise, and a young fool am I; but Viridis shall make me wiser, when we come together again. Sawest thou ever so fair a damsel? Never, she said, and surely there is none fairer in all the world. So hold thee aloof now for a while, and think of her.
As for the Black Squire, hight Arthur, Birdalone was troubled for him, and he made her somewhat sad. True it is that he came not before her again so moody and downcast as when he was giving her the token; yet she deemed that he enforced himself to seem of good cheer. Furthermore, though he sought her company ever, and that lonely with him, and would talk with her almost as one man with another, though with a certain tenderness in his voice, and looking earnestly on her the while, yet never would he take her hand, or touch her in any wise. And true it is that she longed for the touch of his hand.
On the third day of her sojourn in the Castle of the Quest, Birdalone took heart at the much egging of her friends, as they sat all together in the meadow without the castle, to tell them all the story of her; she hid none, save concerning the wood-mother, for she deemed that her sweet friend would love her the better if she babbled not of her.
So the Champions hearkened her telling the tale in her clear lovely voice, and great was their love and pity for the poor lonely maiden. And in especial clear it was to see that they were sore moved when she told how she first came on the Sending Boat, and how the witch-wife tormented her innocent body for that guilt. Then Baudoin laid his hand upon her head, and spake: Poor child, much indeed hast thou suffered! and now I will say it, that it was for us and our loves that thou hast borne all this anguish of captivity and toil and stripes.
But Hugh leaned over to her, as she sat with her head hanging down, and kissed her cheek, and said: Yea! and I was not there to smite the head off that accursed one; and I knew nought of thee and thine anguish, as I took my light pleasure about these free meadows. And he turned very red, and went nigh to weep.
Arthur sat still with his eyes bent down on the ground, and he said nothing; and Birdalone glanced on him wistfully ere she went on with her tale. And she went on and told closely all that had happened unto her in the crossing of the water and on the Isle of Increase Unsought, and the other Wonder Isles; and she deemed it not too much that she should tell it twice over, nor they that twice over they should hearken it.
That same evening as Birdalone walked by herself in the castle pleasance, she saw Arthur peering about as if he were seeking someone; so she stood forth, and asked him was he seeking aught; and he said: Thee was I seeking. But she durst not ask him what he would, but stood silent and trembling before him, till he took her hand, and spake not loud but eagerly.
After what thou hast told us today, I seem to know thee what thou art; and I tell thee that it is a pain and grief to me to leave thee, yea to leave thee were it but for a minute. O I pray thee pity me for the sundering. And therewith he turned about and hastened into the castle. But Birdalone stood there with her heart beating fast and her flesh quivering, and a strange sweetness of joy took hold of her. But she said to herself that it was no wonder though she felt so happy, seeing that she had found out that, despite her fears, this one of her friends loved her no less well than the others. And then she spake it in a soft voice that she would indeed pity him for the sundering, yea, and herself also.
Nevertheless, when they met thereafter, his demeanour to her was none otherwise than it had been; but she no longer heeded this since now she trowed in him.