CHAPTER XXIX ~ THOSE TWAIN WILL SEEK THE WISDOM OF THE WOOD-WIFE
Again next day was their life such as it had been the day before; and as they lay in cool shadow of a great oak, Birdalone fell to telling Arthur all the whole story of her dealings with the wood-wife, and how that she had so loved her and holpen her, that through her love and her help she had escaped the witch and her snares, who would have turned her into a half-devil for the undoing of manfolk. And how that the said wood-wife had never appeared to her but as an image and double of herself, save on the time when she played the leech to him. Then she told him how all had gone when the wood-wife had sought him out for the fulfilment of their love, and of the dreadful day when they had come upon him out of his wit and but little manlike.
Then she asked, would he, within the next day or two, that they should go see the wood-wife together and thank her for her help, and bring him within the ring of her love and guarding; and he yeasaid it with a good will.
After this she would have him tell her of how things had gone with him since that evil day when he had come home from the Castle of the Quest and found her gone. So he told her somewhat, and of his dole and misery, and his dealings with the foemen of Greenford; but yet scantly, and as one compelled; and at last he said:
Dear love, since thou art cossetting me with all solace of caresses, I pray thee remember my trouble and grief, how sore they were, and do with me as with a sick man getting well, as I wot surely thou wouldest do; and do thou that which is at this present the softest and merriest to me, and that forsooth is, that thou shouldest talk and tell, and I should hearken the sweetness of the music, and only here and there put in a word to rest thee and make thy tale the sweeter.
She laughed with love on him, and without more ado fell to telling everything she might think of, concerning her days in the House of Captivity, both when she was but a bairn, and when she was grown to be a young woman; and long was she about the tale, nor was it all done in one day; and a multitude of things she told him which are not set down in this book.
In the evening when they were going again to and fro the meads, it was other talk they fell on, to wit, of their fellows of the Quest, both of Sir Hugh and the three lovely ladies: and now was Arthur nought but kind when he spake of Atra, nor spake Birdalone otherwise; but she said: I shall now say a hard word, yet must thou bear it, my loveling, since we twain are now become one, and have but one joy together and one sorrow. Deemest thou that Atra is yet alive? Sooth it is, said Arthur, it may well be that I have slain her. And what may we do by her if ever we fall in with her alive? said Birdalone. I wot not, said Arthur; some would say that we have done penance for our fault, both thou and I; and what other penance may we do, save sundering from each other? And by God above I will not. By thine head and thine hands I will not, said Birdalone.
So said they; but therewith their eyes told tales of the fair eve and the lovely meadows, and the house, the shrine of the dear white bed no less sweet to them than erst; but then presently Birdalone stayed her love, and took her arms about him, and each felt the sweetness of the other’s body, and joy blossomed anew in their hearts. Then fell Arthur to telling of the deeds and the kindness of Baudoin, whom never again they should see on the earth; and they turned back home to the house, and on the way spake Birdalone: This is what I would we should do: whereas I have sought thee and thou me, and we have found each other, whereas ye sought me when I went astray in the Black Valley of the Greywethers, and before, when ye three sought your own loves, now I would that we should seek our fellows and have joy in them, and thole sorrow with them as in days gone by.
Spake Arthur: Dear is the rest with thee in this wilderness; yet were it a deed of fame, and would bring about a day of joy, might we find our friends again, and knit up the links of the fellowship once more. But thou the wise and valiant! belike thou hast in thine head some device whereby this might be set about.
Birdalone said: Simple is my device, to wit, that we ask one who is wiser than I. Let us tarry not, but go tomorrow and see the wood-wife and talk with her concerning it. Then she smiled upon him and said: But when thou seest her, wilt thou be aghast if she come before us in my shape of what I was five years agone, or six?
Nay, nay, he said, thou art not so terrible as that; not very far do I run from thee now. And therewith they kissed and embraced, and so entered the House of Love.