CHAPTER XIII ~ BIRDALONE BETHINKGS HER TO FULFILL THE PROMISE MADE UNTO ATRA
Again wore a week, and once more came the messenger, and did them of the castle to wit that there had been nought more done at the Red Hold, save skirmishing at the barriers, wherein few were hurt on either side; and also that the engines for battering the walls were now well-nigh all dight, and they would begin to play upon the Hold, and in especial one which hight Wall-wolf, which had been set up by the crafts of Greenford.
This tidings also was deemed good by all, save it might be by Atra, who, as Birdalone deemed, pined and fretted herself at the delay, and would fain that, one way or other, all were over. Atra spake but little to Birdalone, but watched her closely now; oft would she gaze on her wistfully, as if she would that Birdalone would speak unto her; and Birdalone noted that, but she might not pluck up heart thereto.
Wore a third week, and again came the messenger, and told how three days ago, whenas Wall-wolf had sorely battered one of the great towers which hight the Poison-jar, and overthrown a pan of the wall there beside, they had tried an assault on the breach, and hard had been the battle there, and in the end, after fierce give and take, they of the Hold had done so valiantly that they had thrust back the assailants, and that in the hottest brunt the Black Squire had been hurt in the shoulder by a spear-thrust, but not very grievously; but withal that he sent, in so many words, forbidding the ladies to make any account of so small a matter. And, quoth the sergeant, most like my lord will wear his armour in four days’ time; also now we have reared another great slinger, which we call Stone-fretter, and soon, without doubt, we shall be standing victorious within that den of thieves.
Now though these tidings were not so altogether ill, yet were those ladies sore troubled thereby, and especially Atra, who swooned outright when she had heard the last word thereof.
As for Birdalone, she made as little semblance of her trouble as she might, but when all was quiet again she went to find Viridis, and brought her to her chamber and spake to her, saying: Viridis, my sister, thou hast been piteous kind unto me from the first minute that thou sawest me naked and helpless, and fleeing from evil unto worse evil; nowise mightest thou have done better by me hadst thou been verily my sister of blood; and I know it that thou wouldst be loth to part from me.
Viridis wept and said: Why dost thou speak of parting from me, when thou knowest it would break my heart?
Said Birdalone: To say it as short as may be, because the parting must now come to pass. Viridis waxed pale and then red, and she stamped her foot and said: It is unkind of thee to grieve me thus, and thou doest wrong herein.
Hearken, dear sister, said Birdalone: thou knowest, for thou thyself wast the first to tell me thereof, that I am the supplanter in our fellowship, and that I have undone Atra’s hope. This I did not of mine own will, but it came unto me; yet of mine own will I can do the best I may to amend it; and this is the best, that I depart hence before the Red Hold is taken and my lords come back; for if they come back and I see my lord Arthur, so fair and beauteous as he is, before me, never shall I be able to go away from him. And lo thou, I have promised Atra by all the kindness she did me when we were come to the Wailing Tower, and I naked and quaking and half-dead with terror, that if occasion served I would do my utmost to help her, even if it were to my own grief. Now behold this that now is, is the occasion, and there will not be another; for when my love comes home hither and beholdeth me, think thou how all the desire which has been gathering in his heart this while will blossom and break forth toward me; and mayhappen he will make but little semblance of it before other folk, for proud and high of heart is he; but he will seek occasion to find me alone, and then shall I be with him as the lark in the talons of the sparrow-hawk, and he will do his pleasure of me, and that with all the good-will of my heart. And then shall I be forsworn to Atra, and she will hate me, as now she doth not, and then is all the fellowship riven, and that by my deed.
Yet was Viridis wrath, and she said: Meseemeth this is fool’s talk. Will not the fellowship be all the more riven if thou depart and we see thee no more?
O nay, said Birdalone; for when I am gone thy love shall be no less for me, though as now thou art angry; and Atra will love me for that I shall have held to my promise to mine own scathe; and thy man and Aurea will lay it to me that I have done valiantly and knightly. And Arthur, how can he choose but love me; and maybe we shall yet meet again.
And therewithal she did at last bow down her head and fall to weeping, and Viridis was moved by her tears and fell to kissing and caressing her.
After a little Birdalone lifted up her head and spake again: Moreover, how can I dare to abide him? didst thou not see how grim he was to me when they delivered me and brought me back? and he with his own lips told me so much, that it was because he doubted that I had done amiss; and now if I do amiss again, even if it be at his bidding, will it not be so that he will speedily weary of me, and curse me and cast me off? What sayest thou, Viridis mine?
What is to say, said Viridis, save that thou hast broken my heart? But thou mayst heal it if thou wilt take thy words back, and tell me that thou wilt not sunder thee from us.
But Birdalone brake out weeping and lamenting aloud, and she cried out: Nay, nay, it may not be; I must depart, and Atra hath smitten me amidst of my friends. And Viridis knew not what to say or to do.
At last came Birdalone to herself again, and she looked sweetly on Viridis and smiled on her from out her tears, and said: Thou seest, sister, how little a loss thou wilt have of me, a mere wild woman. And now nought availeth either me or thee but I must begone, and that speedily. Let it be tomorrow then. And when the messenger comes at the end of this week, send word by him of what I have done; and look thou to it but both our lords will praise me for the deed.
Said Viridis: But whither wilt thou, or what wilt thou do? To Greenford first, said Birdalone, and after whither the Good Lord shall lead me; and as for what I will do, I am now deft in two crafts, script and broidery to wit; and, wheresoever I be, folk shall pay me to work herein for them, whereby I shall earn my bread. Hearken also, my sister, canst thou give me any deal of money? for though I wot little of such matters, yet I wot that I shall need the same. And I ask this whereas, as e’en now I said, I deem our lords shall praise my deed, and that, therefore, they would not that I should depart hence as an outcast, wherefore they shall not begrudge it to me. Moreover, for the same cause I would thee speak to the old squire Geoffrey of Lea, and tell him that I have an errand to Greenford, and crave of him that he lend me one of the two younglings, Arnold or Anselm, and two or three men-at-arms to bring me safely thither; since now, forsooth, I need no more adventures on the road.
She smiled as she spake; and now all the passion of anguish seemed to have left her for that while; but Viridis cast her arms about her neck and wept upon her bosom, and said: Woe’s me! for I see that thou wilt go whatsoever I may say or do; I strove to be angry with thee, but I might not, and now I see that thou constrainest me as thou dost all else. I will go now straightway and do thine errand.
Thus then they parted for that time; but it was not till the day after the morrow that Birdalone was alboun. Viridis told of her departure both to Aurea and Atra; and Aurea lamented it, but would not do aught to stay her; for she was waxen weary and listless since the death of her man. As for Atra, she spake but little concerning it, but to Viridis praised Birdalone’s valiance and kindness. Yet unto herself she said: Verily she understood my word that I spake to her about the occasion of her helping. Yet woe’s me! for she shall carry his love with her whithersoever she wendeth; and a happy woman is she.
But when Geoffrey the squire knew that the ladies, all three, were at one with Birdalone as to her departure, he doubted nothing, but bade Arnold, his mate, take four good men with him, and bring the Lady Birdalone unto Greenford and do her bidding there. Albeit, he deemed no less but they would bring her back again.