CHAPTER VI ~ BIRDALONE HEARETH TELL TALES OF THE BLACK VALLEY OF THE GREYWETHERS
On the morrow was Birdalone heavier of heart than ever yet, and wearier for tidings; and she wondered how she could have been so joyous that day in the wildwood. Yet she thought much of the Valley of the Greywethers, and that solaced her somewhat after a while, so sore she longed to go thither; and, as ’tis said, one nail knocks out the other. So that morning, when she had had her lesson of priest Leonard, she spake thereof to him, and told him what Sir Aymeris had said concerning his knowledge thereof; and she asked him what he knew.
I have been there, said he. She started at that word and said: Did aught of evil befall thee?
Nay, said he, but a great fear and dread hung about me; and ’tis said that they try their luck overmuch who go thither twice.
Birdalone said: Tell me now of the tales that be told of that valley. Quoth Leonard: They be many; but the main of them is this: that those Greywethers be giants of yore agone, or landwights, carles, and queans, who have been turned into stone by I wot not what deed; but that whiles they come alive again, and can walk and talk as erst they did; and that if any man may be so bold as to abide the time of their awakening, and in the first moment of their change may frame words that crave the fulfilment of his desire, and if therewith he be both wise and constant, then shall he have his desire fulfilled of these wights, and bear his life back again from out the dale. And thus must he speak and no otherwise: O Earth, thou and thy first children, I crave of you such and such a thing, whatsoever it may be. And if he speak more than this, then is he undone. He shall answer no question of them; and if they threaten him he shall not pray them mercy, nor quail before their uplifted weapons; nor, to be short, shall he heed them more than if they still were stones unchanged. Moreover, when he hath said his say, then shall these wights throng about him and offer him gold and gems, and all the wealth of the earth; and if that be not enough, they shall bring him the goodliest of women, with nought lacking in her shape, but lacking all raiment, so that he shall see her as she is verily shapen. But whoso shall take any one of all these gifts is lost for ever, and shall become one of that Stony People; and whoso naysayeth them all until the cock crow, and abideth steady by his one craving, shall win fulfilment thereof, and, as some say, all those gifts aforesaid; for that the Stony People may not abide the day to take them back again.
He was silent therewith, and nought spake Birdalone, but looked down on the ground, and longing encompassed her soul. Then the priest spake again: This were a fair adventure, lady, for a hapless one, but for the happy it were a fool’s errand. She answered not, and they parted for that time.
But the next week, there being yet no tidings come to hand, Birdalone prayed the castellan to take her out-a-gates again, that she might once more behold the mountains, and the gates thereof; and he yeasaid her asking, and went with her, well accompanied, as before; but this time, by Birdalone’s will, they rode straight to the plain aforesaid, and again she looked into that dale of the Greywethers from the knoll. Somewhat belated they were, so that they might not get back to the castle before dusk, wherefore again they lay out in the wildwood, but there lacked somewhat of the triumph and joyance which they had had that other day. They came back to the castle on the morrow somewhat after noon, and found no news there; nor, to say sooth, did Birdalone look for any; and her heart was heavy.