The Water of the Wondrous Isles 4-4
CHAPTER IV ~ OF BIRDALONE'S FARING ABROAD
Indeed Birdalone longed on any terms to be out-a-gates and to have some joy of the summer; for now she began to see that she might have to abide some while ere her friends should come to her in the Castle of the Quest; and she was angry with herself that her longing was thus wasting her, and she rebuked herself and said: Where is now that Birdalone who let but few days go by without some joyance of the earth and its creatures? she who bore lightly the toil of a thrall, and gibes and mocking and stripes? Surely this is grievous folly, that I should be worsened since I have come to be the friend of gentle ladies, and noble champions, and mighty warriors. Had it not been better to have abided under the witch-wife’s hand? For not every day nor most days did she torment me. But now for many days there has been pain and grief and heart-sickness hour by hour; and every hour have I dreaded the coming of the next hour, till I know not how to bear it.
So she strove with herself, and became of better heart, and set herself strongly to the learning of the clerkly lore; she gathered her wits together, and no longer looked for every day and every hour to bring about the return of the Champions, nor blamed the day and the hour because they failed therein, and in all wise she strove to get through the day unworn by vain longing.
Wherefore, on a day when three whole weeks were gone since the day of departure, she was glad when the castellan came to her and said: Lady, these two days I have had men out to spy the land, and their word goes that nought is stirring which a score of us well-armed might have cause to fear; wherefore tomorrow, if it be thy will, we shall bring thee out-a-gates, and so please thee, shall be in no haste to come back, but may lie out in the wildwood one night, and come back at our leisure on the morrow of tomorrow. How sayest thou of thy pleasure herein?
She thanked him, and yeasaid it eagerly, and next morning they set forth; and Birdalone had with her three of the women, and they had sumpter-beasts with them, and tents for Birdalone and her maids.
So they rode by pleasant ways and fair meadows, and the weather was good, for it was now the first days of July, and all was as lovely as might be; and for that while Birdalone cast off all her cares, and was merry, and of many words and sweet; and all the folk rejoiced thereat, for all loved her in the Castle of the Quest, besides those one or two that loved her overmuch.
Rode they thus a twelve miles or more, and then they came, as their purpose was, to the beginning of a woodland plenteous of venison, and they hunted here, and Birdalone took her part therein, and all praised her woodcraft; albeit because of her went a head or two free that had fallen else, whereas of the carle hunters were some who deemed the body of her better worth looking on than the quarry.
Howsoever, they slew of hind and roe and other wood-cattle what they would, some deal for their supper in the wilderness, some to bear home to the castle. But when night was nigh at hand they made stay in a fair wood-lawn about which ran a clear stream, whereby they pitched the ladies’ tent; and Birdalone and hers went down into the water and washed the weariness off them; and her ladies wondered at the deftness of Birdalone’s swimming; for they bathed in a pool somewhat great into which the stream widened, so that there was space enough for her therein.
By then they were washen and clad goodly in raiment which they had brought on the sumpters, the men had lighted fires and were cooking the venison, and anon there was supper and banquet in the wildwood, with drinking of wine and pleasant talk and the telling of tales and singing of minstrelsy; and so at last, when night was well worn, and out in the open meadows the eastern sky was waxing grey, then Birdalone and her ladies went to bed in their fair tents, and the men-at-arms lay down on the greensward under the bare heaven.