CHAPTER V ~ OF THE DEATH OF AUDREY, MOTHER TO BIRDALONE. SHE IS WARNED IN A DREAM TO SEEK THE BLACK SQUIRE, AND IS MINDED TO DEPART THE CITY OF THE FIVE CRAFTS, AND SEEK AGAIN THE CASTLE OF THE QUEST
Thus dwelt Birdalone in the Five Crafts in such rest and peace as her heart would let her; and dear and good friends she had about her; her mother first, whose love and desire for love of her made all things soft and dear unto her. Gerard and the Gerardsons were next, who were ever faithful and true unto her, and deft both of hand and of mind, so that they wrought many things for her avail. Then came the master, Jacobus, who held himself unwedded for her sake, and though he no longer dwelt in the same house with her, might scarce endure to miss the sight of her for two days running: a dear friend she deemed him, as forsooth he was, though whiles he tormented and wearied her, and belike had wearied her more, but for the sorrow which lay on her own heart, whereof it came that she might not think of any man as of one who might be a lover, and so felt safe even with so kind a friend and so stubborn in his love as was this one. Moreover he never again craved love of her in so many words, but only in his goings and comings so did, that it was clear how he had her, and the love of her, ever in his heart.
Wore thus a five years; and then came a sickness on the city, and many died thereof; and the said sickness entered into Birdalone’s house, and slew Audrey her mother, but spared all else therein. Thereby at the first was Birdalone so overwhelmed that she might heed nought, neither her craft nor her friends, nor the days to come on the earth for her. And moreover when she came more to herself, which was not for many days, and asked why her friend Jacobus had not been to see her the last days, she was told that he also was dead of the pestilence; and she sorrowed for him sorely, for she loved him much, though not in the way he would.
And now did the city and land of the Five Crafts begin to look unfriendly to Birdalone, and she fell to thinking that she must needs depart thence, as she well might do, whereas she had foison of goods: and at first it was in her mind to go with Gerard and his sons unto Utterhay; but then she deemed the thought of her mother, and how she would be ever thinking of the loss and the gain, and the loss once more stood in the way; and she turned one thing and another over in her mind, and might not face it.
On a night, as she slept, came to her dreams of her days in the House under the Wood (as very seldom betid), and the witch-wife was speaking to her in friendly fashion (as for her) and blaming her for fleeing away, and was taunting her with the failure of her love, and therewith telling her how fair a man and lovesome was the Black Squire, and what a loss she had of him; and Birdalone was hearkening and weeping for tenderness’ sake, while the witch was unto her neither fearful nor irksome, and forsooth nought save a mouthpiece for words that both grieved Birdalone and yet were an eager pleasure unto her. But in the midst thereof, and ere the dream had time to change, Birdalone awoke, and it was an early morning of later spring, and the sky was clear blue and the sun shining bright, and the birds singing in the garden of the house, and in the street was the sound of the early market-folk passing through the street with their wares; and all was fresh and lovely.
She awoke sobbing, and the pillow was wet with her tears, and yet she felt as if something strange and joyous were going to betide her, and for joy of the love of life the heart beat fast in her bosom.
She arose all darling naked as she was, and went to the window and looked out on the beauty of the spring, while the sound of the market-wains brought to her mind the thought of the meads, and the streams of the river, and the woodsides beyond the city; and she fell a-longing for them, as a while she knelt on the window-seat, half dreaming and asleep again, till the sun came round that way, and its beams fell upon her bosom and her arms; and she stood up and looked on the fairness of her body, and a great desire took hold of her heart that it might be loved as it deserved by him whom she desired. And thus she stood there till she became ashamed, and hastened to do on her raiment; but even as she was about it, it came upon her that what she had will to do was to seek to the Castle of the Quest, and find out where was her love if there he were not, and so to seek him the world over till she found him. And such a flood of joy possessed her when she thought this, and so eager to begone she was, that she deemed every minute wasted till she were on the road.
Nevertheless, in a while, when her mind was steadied, she knew that she had somewhat to do ere she might be gone, and that here, as oft, it would be more haste less speed.
So she abode a little, and then came into her hall duly dight, and found Gerard and his sons there to serve her; and she brake her fast, and bade them sit by her at table, as oft she did; and she spake to them of this and that, and Gerard answered lightly again; but the two Gerardsons looked at one another, as though they would speak and ask a question from time to time, but forbore because they durst not. But Gerard looked on them, and deemed he wotted what was in their minds; so at last he spake: Our lady, both I, and meseemeth my sons also, deem that there is some tidings toward which are great unto thee; for thine eyes sparkle, and the red burns in thy cheeks, and thine hands may not be quiet, nor thy feet abide in one place; wherefore I see that thou hast something in thy mind which strives to be forth of it. Now thou wilt pardon us, our dear lady, that we ask concerning this, because it is in our love for thee that we speak, lest there be some change toward which shall be a grief to some of us.
My men, said Birdalone, flushing red, sooth it is that there is a change at hand, and I shall tell you straightway what it is. Years ago I told you that I was fleeing from my friends; now the change hath betid that I would seek them again; and needs must I leave the Five Crafts behind to do so. And moreover there is this ill word to be said, which I will say at once, to wit, that when I am but a little way gone from the Five Crafts I must wend the other deal of my journey birdalone, as my name is.
All those three sat silent and aghast at that word, and the young men grew pale; but after a while spake Gerard: Our lady most well-beloved, this word which thou hast spoken, to wit, that thou needest us no longer, I have looked to hear any time this five years; and praise be to the saints that it hath come late and not soon. Now there is no more to be said but that thou tell us what is thy will that we should do.
Birdalone hung her head awhile for sorrow of sundering from these men; then she looked up and said: It seemeth, my friends, as if ye deem I have done you a wrong in sundering our fellowship; but all I may say hereon is to pray you to pardon me, that I needs must go alone on my quest. And now what I would have you do, is first of all to fetch hither a notary and scrivener, that he may draw up a deed of gift to you, Gerard and Gerardsons, of this house and all that is therein, saving what money I may need for my journey, and gifts such as I shall bid you to be given to my workwomen. Ye must needs yeasay this, or ye are forsworn of your behest to do my will. But furthermore, I will have you to let the workwomen of mine (and the head one ruling) to hire the aforesaid house, if so they will; for now are they skilled, and may well earn good livelihood by the work. But the next work is simple; it is to furnish for me the array of a young man, with such armour as I may easily bear, to dight me for my road. Forsooth ye wot that not unseldom do women use the custom of going arrayed like men, when they would journey with hidden head; and ye may happen upon such gear as hath been made for such a woman rather than any man; but thou shalt get me also a short bow and a quiver of arrows, for verily these be my proper weapons that I can deal with deftly. Now my last command is that, when all is done, maybe tomorrow, or maybe the next day, ye bring me out of the city and the frank of the Five Crafts, and bring me somewhat on my way over the downs, for loth am I to part from you ere needs must. Then they knelt before her and kissed her hands, and they were full of grief; but they saw that so it had to be.
Thereafter Gerard spake with his sons apart, and in a while came to Birdalone, and said: Our lady, we will do your will in all wise; but we shall tell thee, that the Five Crafts will look but strange to us when thou art gone, and that we have a mind to betake us to Utterhay and the land of our kindred. Wherefore we pray thee to give this house that hath been so dear to us unto thy workwoman and her mates; for we need it not, nor the hire thereof, but shall do well enough with what money or good thou mayst give us. Is this according to thy will, or have I spoken rashly?
She said: Ye are good and ungreedy, and I bless you for it; be it as ye will; and this the more, as I were fain that ye go to Utterhay; for whiles I have deemed that I myself am drawn thitherward, wherefore it may be that we shall meet again in that place.
And when she had so spoken, she might not refrain her tears; and the Gerardsons turned away, for they were ashamed, both that they should see her weep, or she them. But at last she called to them and said: Now make we the speediest end we may of this, for sorry work is the tarrying of farewell; so I pray you, my friends, to go about the work I have bidden you.
So all was done as she would, and the day after the morrow was Birdalone abiding the coming of Gerard and his sons with the horses; and despite of the sundering of friends and the perils that belike lay before her, the world seemed fair to her, and life beginning anew. And she made no doubt that she would soon be at the Castle of the Quest, and there find all things much as she had left them; and there at least would be the welcome of her dear friend Viridis.