CHAPTER XI ~ BIRDALONE AND THE BLACK SQUIRE TALK TOGETHER IN THE HALL OF THE CASTLE.
Now within a few days was the body of Baudoin laid in earth in the chapel of the castle; and in the solemnest of fashions was the burial done. When it was over, the two knights and Sir Aymeris turned them heartily to dighting the war against the Red Hold, and less than a month thereafter was the hosting at the Castle of the Quest, and if the host were not very many (for it went not above sixteen hundreds of men all told), yet the men were of the choicest, both of knights and sergeants and archers. There then they held a mote without the castle, whereas Arthur the Black Squire was chosen for captain, and in three days they were to depart for the Red Hold.
Now this while Birdalone had seen but little of Arthur, who was ever busy about many matters, and never had she had any privy talk with him, though sore she longed for it; yet indeed it was more by her will than his that so it was. But when it was come to the very last day before the departure, she said that she must needs see him before he went, and he perchance never to come back again. So when men were quiet after dinner she went into the hall and found him there, pacing up and down the floor. For indeed she had sent a word to him by Leonard the priest that he should be there.
So she went up to him, and all simply she took him by the hand and led him into a shot-window and set him down by her; and he, all trembling for love and fear of her, might not forbear, but kissed her face and her mouth many times; and she grew as hot as fire, and somewhat she wept.
Then she spake after a while: Dear friend, I had it in my mind to say to thee many things that meseems were sage, but now neither will the thought of them come into my mind, nor the words into my mouth. And this is a short hour. And therewith she fell to kissing him, till he was well-nigh beside himself betwixt desire and joy and the grief of departure, and the hardness of the case.
But at last she forbore and said: Will it not be when thou art gone tomorrow as it was when ye were away upon the Quest, and I knew not how to bear myself, so heavy lay all the world and its doings and its fashion upon me? It will be hard to me, he said; evil and grim will be the days. She said: And yet, even now in these last days, when I see thee oft, every day my soul is worn with grief, and I know not what to do with myself. I shall come back, he said, and bear my love with me, and then belike we shall seek some remedy. She was silent a while, and then she said: Meanwhile of thy coming, and I see thee not at all for many days, how will it be with my grief then? Quoth he: More than enough of grief no soul may bear; for either death comes, or else some dullness of the pain, and then by little and little the pain weareth. Then she said: And how would it be if thou come not back and I see thee never again, or if when thou come back thou find me not, for that I be either dead or gone away out of thy reach? He said: I know not how it would be. When thou sayest thou shalt die, dost thou wholly believe it in thy sense or thy body otherwise than Holy Church would? I will tell thee, she said, that now I am sitting by thee and seeing thy face and hearing thy voice, it is that only which I believe in; for I may think of nought else of either grief or joy. Yea, when I wept e’en now, it was not for sorrow that I wept, but for I cannot rightly tell what. And she took his hand and looked fondly upon him.
But presently she looked on his hand, and said: And now meseemeth that we twain are grown to be such close friends that I may ask thee what I will, and thou be neither angry, nor wonder thereat. I see on thy finger here the ring that I brought with me from the Isle of Increase, and which thereafter thou hadst of me when I gave thee back also the shoon which were lent unto me. Tell me how thou hadst it back from Atra, as I suppose thou gavest it unto her. But how now art thou angry? for I see the blood come up in thy face. Nay, beloved, said he, I am not angry, but whenso I hear of Atra, or think of her closely, shame comes on me and confusion, and maybe fear. But now will I answer thee. For even in those hours which we wore on the Isle of the Young and the Old, when all we should have been so happy together, she divined somewhat of my case, or indeed, why do I not say it out, all thereof. And she spake to me such words (for she is both tender and wise and strong of heart) that I cowered before her and her grief and pain; and she gave me back the said ring, which forsooth I gave to her in the Sending Boat in the first hour that the Isle of Increase lay astern of us. And I wear it now as a token of my grief for her grief. See now, love, since I have answered thee this question without anger or amaze, thou needest not fear to ask me any other; for this of all things lies closest to my heart.
Birdalone drooped her head, and she spake in a low voice: Lo now! the shadow of parting and the shadow of death could not come between our present joy; but this shadow of the third one cometh between us and is present between us. Woe’s me! how little did I think of this when thou wert away and I was sick of longing for the sight of thee, and deemed that that would heal it all.
He spake not, but took her hand and held it; and presently she looked up again and said: Thou art good, and wilt not be angry if I ask thee something else; this it is: Why wert thou so grim with me that other day when ye found me in that evil plight in tow of the Red Tyrant, so that I deemed that thou of all others hadst cast me off? That was worse to me than the witch’s stripes, and I kept thinking to myself: How simple was my trouble once, and now how tangled and weary!
Then he might not refrain him, but threw himself upon her, and clipped her and kissed her all he might, and she felt all the sweetness of love, and lacked nought of kindness and love to him. And thereafter they sat still awhile, and he said, as if her question had but that moment left her lips: This, forsooth, was the cause that I looked grim on thee: first, that from the time I first saw thee and heard thy tale, and of thy deeds, I had deemed thee wise above the wisdom of women. But this going forth of thee to the Black Valley, whereof came the slaying of Baudoin, seemed unto me a mere folly, till again I had heard thy tale of that also; and then the tale and thy speech overcame me. But again, though I was grieved and disappointed hereat, belike that had passed from me speedily, but then there was this also which would not let my soul rest, to wit, that I feared concerning that slain knight whose head the Red One had hung about thy neck; for how else, methought, might he have been so wroth with him and thee; and meseemed, moreover, that thou wert kind in thine heart to the dead man, even when we were come to thee; and then, seest thou, my desire for thee and the trouble of Baudoin’s slaying, and the black trouble aforesaid. Lo now, I have told thee this. When wilt thou cease to be angry with me?
She said: I ceased to be grieved with thine anger when thine anger died; yet strange, meseemeth, that thou shouldst trust me so little when thou lovest me so much!
And she leaned against him and caressed him gently, and again was he at point to take her in his arms, when lo! the sound of men coming unto the screen of the hall; so then those two stood up and went to meet them, and there was the speech of their sundering done. Yet belike for a little while both those twain were happy.