William Morris Archive


Now had the time so worn that the season was in the first days of August, and weariness and heartsickness increased on Birdalone again, and she began to look pined and pale. Yet when she spake of the tarrying of the Champions both to the castellan and Sir Leonard the priest (who was the wiser man of the two), each said the same thing, to wit, that it was no marvel if they were not yet come, seeing whatlike the adventure was; and neither of those two seemed in anywise to have lost hope.

Thrice in these last days did Birdalone go out-a-gates with Sir Aymeris and his company; and the last of the three times the journey was to the knoll that looked into the Black Valley; but now was Birdalone’s pleasure of the sight of it afar off marred by her longing to be amidst thereof; yet she did not show that she was irked by the refraining of her desire to enter therein, and they turned, and came home safely to the castle.

On the morrow she sat with Sir Leonard the priest over the writing lesson, and she let it be long, and oft he touched her hand, so that the sweetness of unfulfilled desire went deep to his heart.

At last Birdalone looked up and said: Friend, I would ask thee if thou seest any peril in my entering the Black Valley of the Greywethers by daylight if I leave it by daylight? Alone? quoth he. Yea, she said, alone. He pondered a little, and then said: Sooth to say I deem the peril little in the valley itself, if thou be not overcome by terror there. Yea, for my part I am not all so sure that thou shalt see the wonder of the Stony Folk coming alive; for ’tis not said that they quicken save on certain nights, and chiefly on Midsummer Night; unless it be that the trier of the adventure is some one fated above others thereto; as forsooth thou mayst be. And as for peril of evil men, there are few who be like to be as venturesome as thou or I. They durst not enter that black street, save sore need compel them. But forsooth, going thither, and coming back again, some peril there may be therein. And yet for weeks past there has been no word of any unpeace; and the Red Knight it is said for certain is not riding.

Birdalone was silent a while; then she said: Fair and kind friend, I am eating my heart out in longing for the coming back of my friends, and it is like, that unless I take to some remedy, I shall fall sick thereby, and then when they come back there shall be in me but sorry cheer for them. Now the remedy I know, and it is that I betake me alone to this adventure of the Black Valley; for meseemeth that I shall gain health and strength by my going thither. Wherefore, to be short, if thou wilt help me, I will go tomorrow. What sayest thou, wilt thou help me?

He turned very red and spake: Lady, why shouldest thou go, as thy name is, birdalone? Thou hast called me just now thy kind friend, so kind as it was of thee; now therefore why should not thy friend go with thee?

Kindly indeed she smiled on him, but shook her head: I call thee trusty and dear friend again, said she; but what I would do I must do myself. Moreover to what end shouldst thou go? If I fall in with ghosts, a score of men would help me nought; and if I happen on weaponed men who would do me scathe, of what avail were one man against them? And look thou, Sir Leonard, there is this avail in thine abiding behind; if I come not back in two days’ space, or three at the most, thou wilt wot that I have fared amiss, and then mayst thou let it be known whither I went, and men will seek me and deliver me maybe.

Therewith she stayed her words suddenly, and turned very pale, and laid her hand on her bosom, and said faintly: But O my heart, my heart! If they should come while I am away! And she seemed like to swoon.

Leonard was afraid thereat, and knew not what to do; but presently the colour came into her face again, and in a little while she smiled, and said: Seest thou not, friend, how weak I am gotten to be, and that I must now beyond doubt have the remedy? Wilt thou not help me do it?

Yea verily, said he; but in what wise wilt thou have it? He spake as a man distraught and redeless; but she smiled on him pleasantly, and said: Now by this time shouldst thou have devised what was to do, and spared me the pain thereof. Two things I need of thee: the first and most, to be put out of the castle privily betimes in the morning when nought is stirring; the second, to have my palfrey awaiting me somewhat anigh the gate, so that I may not have to go afoot: for I am become soft and feeble with all this house-life.

Leonard seemed to wake up with that word, and said: I have the key of the priest’s door of the chapel, and the postern beyond it; that shall be thine out-gate, lady. I will come and scratch at thy chamber-door much betimes, and I will see to it that thy palfrey is bestowed in the bower wherein thou didst rest the first night thou camest amongst us. She said: I trust thee, friend. And she thanked him sweetly, and then rose up and fell to pacing the hall up and down. Leonard hung about watching her a while, she nought forbidding him, for her thoughts were elsewhere, and she had forgotten him; and at last he went his ways to set about doing what she would.

Return to Table of Contents ♦ Continue to Book 4 Chapter 8