CHAPTER I ~ OF SIR LEONARD'S TROUBLE AND THE COMING OF THE QUEST
Tells the tale that when the chaplain had departed from Birdalone at the bower in the copse, he went home to the castle sadly enough, because of his love and longing for her, which well he wotted might never be satisfied. Moreover when he was come into the castle again, there fell fear upon him for what might betide her, and he rued it that he had done her will in getting her forth of the castle; and in vain now he set before himself all the reasons for deeming that her peril herein was little or nothing, even as he had laid them before her, and which he then believed in utterly, whereas now himseemed there was an answer to every one of them. So he sighed heavily and went into the chapel, wherein was an altar of St. Leonard; and he knelt thereat, and prayed the saint, as he had erst delivered folk from captivity, now to deliver both him and Birdalone from peril and bonds; but though he was long a-praying and made many words, it lightened his heart little or nothing; so that when he rose up again, that if anything evil happened to this pearl of women, he wished heartily that some one might take his life and he be done with it.
Now was the house astir, and the chaplain came from out the chapel, and thinking all things over, he thought he would go straight to Sir Aymeris and make a clean breast of it, so that weaponed men might be sent at once to seek Birdalone. And he said to himself: What matter if he slay me or cast me into prison, if Birdalone be lost?
So he went his ways to the highest tower, which looked landward and hight the Open Eye, deeming to find Sir Aymeris; but when he got to the topmost, he found neither captain nor carle there: wherefore he stayed a little and looked forth betwixt the battlements, if perchance there were some wild chance of seeing Birdalone’s coming home again; but his keen eyes beheld nothing more than he looked to see, as sheep and neat, and the field-folk of thereabouts. So he turned away and went by the swale toward the next tallest tower, which looked lakewards, and was called Hearts’ Hope; and as he went he fell to framing in his mind the words which he should say to the castellan.
Thus came he, haggard and hapless, on the leads of the tower, which were nought small; and there gathered together in a knot, and all gazing eagerly out over the lake, he found a dozen of men-at-arms and the castellan amongst them. They took no heed of him as he came up, though he stumbled as he crossed the threshold and came clattering over the lead floor, and he saw at once that there was something unwonted toward; but he had but one thought in his mind, to wit, the rescuing of Birdalone.
He went up now behind where the castellan was leaning over the battlement, and pulled his skirt, and when Sir Aymeris turned round, he said: Lord, I have a word for thine ear. But the old knight did but half turn round, and then spake peevishly: Tush, man! another time! seest thou not I have got no eyes for aught save what we see on the lake? Yea, but what then? said the priest. There cometh a boat, said Sir Aymeris, not looking back at him, and our thought is that therein be our lords.
When the priest heard that word, it was to him as if hell had opened underneath his feet; and he had no might to speak for a minute; then he cried out: Sir Aymeris, hearken, I pray thee. But the old knight but thrust him back with his hand, and even therewith one of the men-at-arms cried out: I hear the voice of their horn! Then shouted Sir Aymeris: Where art thou, Noise? Blow, man, blow, if ever thou blewest in all thy life! And therewithal came the blare of the brass, and Sir Aymeris nodded to the trumpeter, who blew blast after blast with all his might, so that the priest might as well have been dumb for any hearing he might get; and all the while to Leonard the minutes seemed hours, and he was well-nigh distraught.
And then when the knight held up his hand for the Noise to stay his blowing, and Leonard strove to speak, the castellan turned on him and said: Peace, Sir Leonard; dost thou not know that now we would listen with our ears to heed if they answer us? Not a word any one man of you, learned or lewd, or ye shall rue it!
Even therewith came clearly the sound of the horn from the water, and again and yet again; and no man spake but the chaplain, who cried out: Hearken, knight, it is of Birdalone. But Sir Aymeris laid his hand on his shoulder and said in an angry whisper: Thou shalt be put downstairs, priest, if thou hold not thy peace.
Leonard drew aback scowling, and went out of the door, and so slowly down the stair, and withdrew him into the cover of the door of the first chamber down from the tower-top, with the mind to waylay Sir Aymeris as he came down; and meanwhile he cursed him for a fool and a dull-wit, and himself yet more, as was but right, for a fool and a licorous traitor.
But he had not tarried there more than a score of minutes, ere he heard a great shout from those up above: They are come! they are come! And next thereafter came all the men clattering down the stair past him, scarce refraining them from shoving each his neighbour on to the next one; Leonard followed on them, and presently arose great shouting and tumult through all the house, and all folk, men and women, hurried flock-meal toward the water-gate, and with them went Leonard perforce; and sick of heart he was, calling to mind the first coming thither of Birdalone.
But now when they came to the water-gate, there verily was the Sending Boat just coming to hand; and in the stern stood the three knights together, all clad in their armour, and before them sat three lovely ladies, clad one in gold, one in green, and one in black: and lo, there was the Quest come home.