CHAPTER III ~ NOW WOULD BIRDALONE RIDE ABROAD
After a while she came down again, and went to the women, and sat working with them a while, and so wore away two hours. Then she sent for the priest and had her lesson of him; and when she had been at it another two hours, she bade him begin and learn her writing; and nought loth he was thereto; forsooth he had been longing to pray her to suffer him learn her, but durst not. For in such teaching needs must he sit full nigh to her, and watch her hands, and her fingers striving to shape the letters; nay, whiles must he touch her hand with his, and hold it. Wherefore now he promised himself a taste of Paradise. Withal he was full meet to learn her, whereas he was one of the best of scribes, and a fair-writer full handy.
So they fell to the lesson, and she became eager thereover, and learned fast, and clave to the work, while his soul was tormented with longing for her. And thus wore a three hours, and then suddenly she looked up wearily from her work, and her trouble was awake, and the longing for her speech-friend, and she gave the priest leave for that day, but suffered him to kiss her hand for wages.
Then she hurried up to the tower-top, when the afternoon was wearing into evening; and abode there a long while looking over the waters, till it began to dusk, and then came down miserably and went to her women.
The next day was like unto this; nought betid, and she wore the hours whiles going up to the tower-top and looking over the lake, whiles broidering amidst her maids, whiles learning her clerk’s work with Sir Leonard, but ever eating her heart out with her longing.
On the third of these days she called the castellan to her for a talk, and asked him what he thought of it, this delay of his lords’ return. Quoth the greyhead: My lady, we may not wonder if they be tarried for a few days; for this is an adventure on which they have gone, and many haps betide in such tales. Now I beseech thee torment not thyself; for the time is not yet come for thee even to doubt that they have miscarried.
His words solaced her much for that time, whereas she saw that he spake but the sooth; so she thanked him, and smiled upon him kindly; and he was ravished thereat, and was for kneeling before her at once and kissing her hands after his wont; but she smiled again and refrained him, and said: Nay, not yet, fair friend; that is for the departure, and I have yet a word to say unto thee: to wit, that I long to go out-a-gates, and it will solace me and give me patience to abide the coming of my friends. For thou must know, Sir Aymeris, that I was reared amidst the woods and the meadows, with the burning of the sun, and the buffets of the wind; and now for lack of some deal of that am I waxing white and faint. And thou wouldst not have me falling sick on thine hands now, wouldst thou?
Nay, surely, lady, said Sir Aymeris; this very day I will ride out with thee; and two score or more of weaponed men shall ride with us for fear of mishaps. Said Birdalone, knitting her brows: Nay, knight, I need not thy men-at-arms; I would fain go free and alone. For hast thou not heard how that the Red Knight is hurt and keepeth his bed? So what peril is there? Said Sir Aymeris: Yea, lady; but the Red Knight is not the only foe, though he be the worst: but it may well be that the story is but feigned, for the said enemy hath many wiles. And look you, kind lady, it is most like that by now he hath heard how in my poor castle is kept a jewel, a pearl of great price, that hath not its like in the world, and will encompass the stealing of it if he may.
Laughed Birdalone, and said: But how if the said jewel hath a will, and legs and feet thereto, and is ready to take the peril on her, and will wend out-a-gates if she will? What wilt thou do then, lord? Then, said the castellan, I shall fetch thee back, and, though it be a grief to me, shall have thee borne back perforce if nought else may do. For so the oath sworn to my lords compelleth me.
Again laughed Birdalone, and said: Hearken, whereto cometh all this kneeling and hand-kissing! But bear in mind, fair lord, how once on a time thou wouldst have me out-a-gates, would I, would I not, and now, will I, will I not, thou wouldst keep me within; so have times changed, and mayhappen they may change yet again. But tell me, am I mistress over my women to bid them what I will? Certes, said he, and over all of us. Said she: If then I bade them, some two or three, come with me into the meadows and woods a half day’s journey for our disport, how then? For that once, said Sir Aymeris, I should bid them disobey their lady. Said Birdalone: And how if they disobeyed thee, and obeyed me? Quoth Sir Aymeris: If they bring thee back safe, they may chance to sing to the twiggen fiddle-bow, that they may be warned from such folly; but if they come back without thee, by All-hallows the wind of wrath shall sweep their heads off them!
Birdalone flushed red at his word, and was silent a while; then she said, making cheerful countenance again: Thou art a hard master, lord castellan; but I must needs obey thee. Therefore I will take thy bidding, and ride abroad in such wise that I shall scare the land with an army, since no otherwise may I look on the summer land. But today I will not go, nor tomorrow belike; but some day soon. And in good sooth I thank thee for thy heedful care of me, and wish I were better worth it. Nay, nay, thou shalt not kneel to me, but I to thee: for thou art verily the master.
Therewith she rose from beside him, and knelt down before him and took his hand and kissed it, and went her ways, leaving him ravished with love of her. But now she had no scorn of him, but deemed, as was true, that he was both valiant and trusty and kind, and she thanked him in her heart as well as in words.