William Morris Archive


Now came Birdalone to herself, and that was but little joy unto her, and she yet lay still on the floor for a while, for she loathed the hour that was to come. Then the life stirred in her, and whereas she would not that her women should find her there, she stood up, and clad herself somewhat more seemly; yet she did on her black raiment; and determined in her mind that nought would she wear save black unadorned while her friends were away.

She betook her now to the chamber where her women were gathered together, and watched them working a while, but spake nought. Then she went her ways into the pleasance, and paced the plashed alley up and down, letting the tears run down from her as they would. Then she turned back into the castle, and went out-a-gates and walked over the meadow a little, and might well have gone further than wisdom would. But the castellan espied her from a window, and came hurrying out after her, and with many prayers for pardon, brought her back again, babbling to her by the way; but not a word might he get from her; and when he came into the hall with her, and, after his wont, knelt down to kiss her hands, she caught them away from him peevishly, and was sorry for it thereafter.

Long she sat in the hall, scarce moving, till she heard one entering from the screen, and lo it was Leonard the chaplain. He came her way, and showed her rueful countenance; and pity of him smote her, and she remembered therewith how they first went out of gates together; and at the thought thereof her tears brake forth again, but she made him a sign with her hand to sit down beside her, and he did so; and when she might for her weeping, she looked kindly on him, and he fell to talk, making as if he noted not her tears and sorrow; but she answered him little, for she had shame to begin the talk concerning the Champions and their Quest, and their departure; yet might she not bring her tongue to make any speech else. But presently he took up the word, and asked her how long a while she deemed they would be away, and she answered, smiling on him for thanks, and having reckoned the days on her fingers: If all go better than well, they may be back in ten days’ time. Said the chaplain: There be longer whiles of waiting in most men’s lives. Yea, she said, but this is the delay at the best; it may be far longer; for how may we tell what haps may be?

Yea, said Leonard, shall we then call it twenty days, or thirty? Forsooth, that may be long for thee; though there be some who must needs endure hope deferred a deal longer. But it may run out longer than even thirty days, thy waiting-tide.

She answered not, and he said: Whenso the time hangs heavy on hand with thee, if thou hast will to fare abroad out of the castle, I shall be ever at hand to guide thee. Indeed, I wot that the castellan will be loth to let thee go; but he is old and straitlaced: and yet withal he wotteth, as do we all, that there is now little peril or none were we to fare a five miles or more, whereas we are as good as at peace for the last five days with all save the Red Knight, and of him we wot that he is gone into another land with as many of his folk as be not needed for the warding of his hold.

I thank thee, said Birdalone, but it is like to be my will not to fare out-a-gates till the Champions come back home. I was glad e’en now when the castellan fetched me in again: to say sooth, fear of peril had just entered my heart when he came up with me.

The priest seemed somewhat chapfallen at her answer. He spake little more, and presently he stood up, made his obeisance, and departed.