William Morris Archive


Wore that day and the next, and Birdalone fell to talking with her women, whereof were five now left; and four of them were young, the eldest scarce of thirty summers, and the fifth was a woman of sixty, both wise and kind. All these told her somewhat of their own lives when she asked them; and some withal told of folk whom they had known or heard tell of. And well pleased was Birdalone to hear thereof, and learn more of the ways of the world, and quick-witted she was at the lesson, so that she needed not to ask many questions.

Furthermore, she took to her broidering again, and fell to doing a goodly pair of shoon for Atra, since she had worn those borrowed ones somewhat hardly. And the women wondered at her needlework, so marvellous fine as it was, and how that in little space of time were come flowers and trees, and birds and beasts, all lovely; and they said that the faery must have learned her that craft. But she laughed and reddened, and thought of the wood-mother; and, sitting there within the four walls, she longed for the oak-glades, and the wood-lawns, and for the sight of the beasts that dwelt therein.

Again she fell in with Leonard the priest, and he asked her could she read in a book, and when she said nay, he offered to teach her that lore, and she yeasaid that joyously; and thenceforth would she have him with her every day a good while; and an apt scholar she was, and he no ill master, and she learned her A B C speedily.

Now it was the ninth day since the Champions were gone, and all that time she had not been out-a-gates; and after the first two days, had enforced herself to fill up her time with her work as aforesaid: but this last day she might do but little, for she could not but take it for sure that the morrow would be the day of return; nay, even she deemed that they might come in the night-tide; so that when she went to bed, though she was weary, she would wake if she might, so that it was nigh dawn ere she fell asleep.

Some three hours after she woke up, and heard a sound of folk stirring in the house, and the clashing of weapons; and the heart leapt in her, and she said: They are come, they are come! Nevertheless she durst not get out of bed, lest her hope had beguiled her; and she lay awake another hour, and no tidings came to her; and then she wept herself to sleep; and when she awoke once more, she found that she must have wept sleeping, for the pillow beside her face was all wet with the tears.

The sun was high now, and his beams were cast back from the ripple of the lake, and shone wavering on the wall of the chamber, the window whereof gave on to the water. Then came a hand on the latch of the door, and she started, and her heart grieved her; but it was one of the women who opened, and came in, and Birdalone rose up sitting in her bed, and said faintly, for she could scarce speak: Is any tiding toward, Catherine? The maid said: Yes, my lady; for early after sunrise came weaponed men to the gate, and would sell us beeves; and my lord, Sir Aymeris, must needs go forth and chaffer with them, though belike they had been lifting what was neither ours, nor theirs, nor the neighbours’. Maybe Sir Aymeris looked to buy tidings from them as well as beef. Anyhow they departed when they had gotten their money and drunk a cup. And now it is said that the Red Knight hath been hurt in some fray, and keepeth his bed; wherefore the land shall have peace of him awhile. Said Birdalone: I thank thee, good Catherine; I shall lie a little longer; depart now.

The woman went her ways; and when she was gone, Birdalone wept and sobbed, and writhed upon her bed, and found no solace to her grief. But she arose and paced the chamber, and sithence looked out of the window over the empty water, and wept again. Then she said: Yet they may come ere noon, or it may be ere evening, or perchance tomorrow morning. And she stayed her weeping, and was calmer. But still she walked the floor, and whiles looked out of window, and whiles she looked on her limbs, and felt the sleekness of her sides, and she said: O my body! how thou longest!

But at last she clad herself in haste, and went stealthily from the chamber, as if she feared to meet anyone; and she stole up to the tower-top that was nighest, and looked through the door on to the leads, and saw no one there; so she went out, and stood by the battlement, and gazed long over the water, but saw neither boat nor burning mountain coming towards her.

Return to Table of Contents ♦ Continue to Book 4 Chapter 3