CHAPTER XI ~ BIRDALONE IS LED UP THE BLACK VALLEY
As they went, the knight fell a-talking to Birdalone, and that without any of the covert jeering which he had used erewhile; and he showed her places in the dale, as caverns under the burgs, and little eyots in the stream, and certain stones amongst the Greywethers whereof stories ran; and how this and the other one had fared in dealings with the land-wights, and how one had perished, and another had been made happy, and so forth. Withal he told of the mountain-folk, and in especial how they of the plains, when he was scarce more than a boy, had met them in battle in that same dale, and how fierce the fight was; whereas the mountain-men were fighting for a life of desires accomplished, which hitherto had been but a dream unto them; and the men of the plain fought for dear life itself, and for all that made it aught save death in life. Wherefore up and down the dale they fought, at first in ordered ranks and then in knots, and lastly sword to sword and man to man, till there was no foot of grass or black sand there which had not its shower of blood; and the stream was choked with the dead, and ran red out of the dale; till at last well-nigh all the host of the mountain-men was fallen, and scarce less of the folk of the plains, but these men held the field and had the victory.
All this he told her deftly and well, and though he said not so right out, yet let her wot that, youth as he was, he was of the battle; and his voice was clear and good, and Birdalone’s wrath ran off her, and she hearkened his tale, and even asked him a question here and there; and so courteous was this Black Knight now become, that Birdalone began to think that she had fallen short of courtesy to him, because of her fear and the weariness of the waiting which so oppressed her; and that shamed and irked her, for she would fain be of all courtesy. Wherefore now she deemed that perchance she had erred in deeming him an evil man; and she looked on him from time to time, and deemed him goodly of fashion; she thought his eyes were deep, and his face sober and fair of aspect, but that his nose turned down at the end, and was over thin at the bridge, and moreover his lips looked over-sweet and licorous.
Now when the knight was silent of his tales, Birdalone fell to asking him questions sweetly concerning this Stony People which was all about them; and he told her all he knew, soberly enough at first, yet indeed ended by mocking them somewhat, but mocked not at her any more. At last he said: Fair lady, that thou hast not come here all for nought I partly know by those words which I heard come from thy mouth at the King’s Stone; wherefore I marvelled indeed when I heard thee say that thou wouldst go straight out of the dale; for I had deemed thee desirous of trying the adventure of waking this Stony People a-night-tide. Forsooth was this thy mind when thou soughtest hither to the dale?
She reddened at his word, and yeasaid him shortly. Then said he: Is it not thy mind still? Sir, said she, as now I have got to fear it. Yea? and that is strange, said he, for thou wouldst have waked the dale alone; and now thou art no longer alone, but hast me to watch and ward thy waking, thou art more afeard.
She looked on his face steadily, to wot if there were no half-hidden smile therein; but herseemed that he spake in all soberness; and she had nought to say to him save this: Sir, I am now become afraid of the waking. And he said no more thereof.
Now they went thus, and Birdalone not without pleasure, since her fear of the knight was minished, some three hours up the dale, and still were the Greywethers everywhere about them, so that there were well-nigh as many hours as miles in their wending.
At last they seemed to be drawing nigh to the head of the dale, and the burgs and the rocks were before them all round it as a wall, though yet about a mile aloof at the further end; and this end it was wider than elsewhere.
Came they then to a level space of greensward clear of the grey stones, which were drawn all around it in ordered rings, so that it was as some doom-ring of an ancient people; and within the said space Birdalone beheld a great black horse tethered and cropping the grass. The knight led her into the ring, and said: Now are we come home for the present, my lady, and if it please thee to light down we shall presently eat and drink, and sithence talk a little. And he drew nigh to help her off her horse, but she suffered him not, and lighted down of herself; but if she suffered not his hand, his eyes she must needs suffer, as he gazed greedily on the trimness of her feet and legs in her sliding from her horse.
Howsoever, he took her hand, and led her to a little mound on the other side of the ring, and bade her sit down there, and so did she, and from under the nighest of the stones he drew forth a pair of saddle-bags, and took victual and wine thence, and they ate and drank together like old companions. And now Birdalone told herself that the knight was frank and friendly; yet forsooth she wotted that her heart scarce trowed what it feigned, and that she yet feared him.