CHAPTER VIII ~ BIRDALONE FARE ON HER ADVENTURE
Dawn was but just beginning when Birdalone awoke, and though she had not heard Leonard at the door, she sprang out of bed and clad herself, doing on her black gown; and she had a scrip with some bread therein, and a sharp knife at her girdle. Then even as she had done she heard the priest’s nail on the door, and she turned thereto; but as she went, her eye caught her bow and quiver of arrows where they hung on the wall, so she took the bow in her hand and slung the quiver over her shoulder ere she opened the door and found Leonard standing there. Neither of them spake aught, but they stole downstairs, and so to the chapel and out by the priest’s door and the postern in the wall-nook, and were presently out in the fresh morning air; and Birdalone was joyous and lightfoot, and scarce felt the earth beneath her soles for pleasure of her hope, whereas she deemed she had a thing to crave of the Stony Folk, if they should come alive before her. Fain were she, if she might withal, to give a joy to some other; so that when they were gone but a little way from the castle she reached out her hand to Leonard and took his, and said: Hand in hand we walked when first I went this way, and I deemed thee kind and friendly then, and even so hast thou been sithence.
He was dumbfoundered at first for joy of the touch of her hand and the sweetness of her words; but presently he spake to her confused and stammering, and praised her that she had thought to take her bow and arrows; for, said he, that they might stand her in stead for defence or for getting of food, or for an excuse for wending the woods. She nodded yeasay unto him, and bade him again to bide three days for her, and if she came not again in that time, to make a clean breast of it to Sir Aymeris.
Yea, said the priest, and then . . . Why, what then? He can but shove me out by the shoulders, and then I can seek to the little house of canons that is at Gate Cross on the road to Greenford.
Ah, my friend! said Birdalone, how we women think of nothing at all but ourselves! And wilt thou be thrust out of thine home for helping me herein? Why did I not look to my palfrey myself? And the keys I might have stolen from thee, always with thy good will. But now I see that I have done thee a hurt.
Said Sir Leonard: Lady, a priest hath a home wheresoever is an house of religion. There is no harm done, save Sir Aymeris bethink him of hanging me over the battlements; as I doubt he will not with a priest. Moreover, I pray thee believe, that wert thou gone from the castle, house and home were none for me there. And he looked upon her piteously, as if he were beseeching.
But she knew not what to say, and hung her head adown; and presently they were come to the bower in the copse, which this time was a stable for Birdalone’s palfrey instead of a chamber for herself. So Leonard went in and fetched out the comely beast; and Birdalone stood with him just in the cover of the copse waiting to put her foot in the stirrup; but she might not but abide to look upon the priest, who stood there as if he were striving with his words.
So she said: Now is need of haste to be gone. Yet one word, my friend: Is there aught betwixt us wherein I have done thee wrong? If so it be, I pray thee to say out what it is; for it may be (though I think it not) thou shalt not see me again from henceforth.
He caught his breath, as if he had much ado to refrain the sobbing; but he mastered it, and said: Lady and dear friend, if I see thee not again, I heed not what shall befall me. Thou hast done me no wrong. There is this only betwixt us, that I love thee, and thou lovest not me.
She looked on him sweetly and pitifully, and said: I may not choose but understand thy word, to wit, that thy love for me is the desire of a man toward a woman; and that is unhappy; for I love thee indeed, but not as a woman loveth a man. It is best to say thus much to thee downright. But I feel in my heart that when I have said it, it is as much as to say that I cannot help thee, and therefore am I sorry indeed.
He stood before her abashed, but he said at last: Now art thou so sweet, and so kind, and so true, that I must perforce love thee yet more; and this maketh me bold to say that thou mayst help me a little, or so meseemeth. How so? said Birdalone. Quoth he: If thou wouldst suffer me to kiss thy face this once. She shook her head, and spake: How may it avail thee, when it is for once, and once only, as forsooth it must be? Yet it is thy choice, not mine, and I will not naysay thee.
And therewith she put up her face to him, and he kissed her cheek without touching her otherwise, and then he kissed her mouth; and she knew that he was both timorous and sad, and she was ashamed to look on him, or to speak to him any more, lest she should behold him ashamed; so she but said: Farewell, friend, till tomorrow at least.
And therewith her foot was in the stirrup, and anon she sat in the saddle, and her palfrey was ambling briskly on the way she would.