CHAPTER IX ~ BIRDALONE COMES TO THE BLACK VALLEY
Little is to tell of Birdalone’s journey unto the knoll above the Black Valley of the Greywethers. It was about noon when she came there, and had met but few folk on the way, and those few were husbandmen, or carlines, or maidens wending afield betimes not far from the Castle of the Quest.
Now she sat on her horse and looked down into the dale and its stony people once more, and saw nought stirring save three ravens who, not far off, were flapping about from stone to stone of the Greywethers, and croaking loud to each other as if some tidings were toward. She watched their play for a little, and then gat off her horse, and sat down on the grass of the knoll, and drew forth her victual, and ate and drank; for she deemed it happier to eat and drink there than in the very jaws of the Black Valley.
Soon was her dinner done, and then she got to her saddle again, and rode slowly down to the little stream, and along it toward the valley and the gates of the mountains, which she had been fain to pass through; but now, as had happed with her that morning when she was boun for the Sending Boat, somewhat she hung back from the adventure, and when she lacked but some five score yards from the very dale itself, she lighted down again, and let her way-beast bite the grass, while she sat down and watched the rippling water.
In a while she drew off shoon and hosen, and stood in the shallow ripple, and bathed her hands and face withal, and stooped up-stream and drank from the hollow of her hands, and so stepped ashore and was waxen hardier; then she strung her bow and looked to the shafts in her quiver, and did on her foot-gear, and mounted once more, and so rode a brisk amble right on into the dale, and was soon come amongst the Greywethers; and she saw that they were a many, and that all the bottom of the dale was besprinkled with them on either side of the stream, and some stood in the very stream itself, the ground whereof was black even as the rest of the valley, although the water ran over it as clear as glass.
As for the dale, now she was fairly within it, she could see but a little way up it, for it winded much, and at first away from her left hand, and the sides of it went up in somewhat steep screes on either side, which were topped with mere upright staves and burgs of black rock; and these were specially big and outthrusting on the right hand of her; and but a furlong ahead of where she was, one of these burgs thrust out past the scree and came down sheer into the dale, and straitened it so much that there was but little way save by the stream itself, which ran swift indeed, but not deep, even there where it was straitened by the sheer rocks.
But up the dale would she go, whatever was before her; and now she told herself her very purpose, as forsooth she scarce had heretofore; to wit, that she would abide in the dale the night over and see what should betide, and if those wights should chance to come alive, then she looked to have valiance enough to face them and crave the fulfilment of her desire.
So she took the water and rode the stream till she was past the said sheer rock, and then the valley widened again, and presently was wider than it was in the beginning; and here again were the Greywethers grown many more and closer together, and, as she deemed, were set in rings round about one very big one, which, forsooth, was somewhat in the shape of a man sitting down with his hands laid on his knees.
Birdalone reined up for a minute, and looked about her, and then went up on to the grass, and rode straight to the said big stone, and there lighted down from off her horse again, and stood by the stone and pondered. Presently she deemed that she saw something dark moving just beyond the stone, but if it were so, it was gone in a twinkling; nevertheless she stood affrighted, and stared before her long, and saw no more, but yet for a while durst not move hand nor foot.
At last her courage came again, and she thought: Yet how if this great chieftain be inwardly stirring and will come awake? Shall I say the word now, lest hereafter it be of no avail? Therewith she stretched out her right hand and laid it on the stone, and spake aloud: O Earth, thou and thy first children, I crave of you that he may come back now at once and loving me. And her voice sounded strange and unkent to her in that solitude, and she rued it that she had spoken.