The Water of the Wondrous Isles 6-2
CHAPTER II ~ OF BIRDALONE AND HER FELLOWSHIP, THEIR FARING OVER THE DOWNLAND
Thus rode they along and loitered not, though they talked blithely together; and Birdalone wondered to herself that she might so much as hold up her head for bitter thoughts of the days and the longings but late passed away, but so it was, that it was only now and again that they stung her into despair and silence, and for the most part she hearkened to the talk of the old man and the lads about the days of Greenford and the alarms of lifting and unpeace, and the ways of the chapmen and the craftsmen.
An hour after noon they rested in a little dale of the downland where was a pool and three thorn-bushes thereby; and when they had lighted down, the old man knelt before Birdalone and took her hand, and swore himself her man to do her will, whatso it were; and then he stood up and bade his sons do likewise; so they two knelt before her in turn, somewhat shy and abashed, for all that they were such stout, bold fellows, and found it hard to take her hand, and then when they had it in theirs, hard to let it go again.
A score of miles and five they rode that day, and had no roof over them at night save the naked heaven, but to Birdalone that was but little scathe: they made a shift to have some fire by them, and the three men sat long about it that even while Birdalone told them somewhat of her life; and as she told of the House under the Wood and the Great Water, Gerard had some inkling of whereabouts it was; but was nought so sure, because, as abovesaid in this tale, seldom did any from the world of men venture in Evilshaw, or know of the Great Water from its banks that gave unto the forest.
In like wise they rode the next day, and came at eventide to a thorp in a fair little dale of the downland, and there they guested with the shepherd-folk, who wondered much at the beauty of Birdalone, so that at first they scarce durst venture to draw nigh unto her until Gerard and his sons had had some familiar converse with them; then indeed they exceeded in kindness toward them, in their rough upland fashion, but ever found it hard to keep their eyes off Birdalone, and that the more after they had heard the full sweetness of her voice; whereas she sang to them certain songs which she had learned in the Castle of the Quest, though it made her heart sore; but she deemed she must needs pay that kindly folk for their guestful and blithe ways. And thereafter they sang to the pipe and the harp their own downland songs; and this she found strange, that whereas her eyes were dry when she was singing the songs of love of the knighthood, the wildness of the shepherd-music drew the tears from her, would she, would she not. Homelike and dear seemed the green willowy dale to her, and in the night ere she slept, and she lay quiet amidst of the peaceful people, she could not choose but weep again, for pity of the bitter-sweet of her own love, and for pity of the wide world withal, and all the ways of its many folk that lay so new before her.