CHAPTER VI ~ OF THE SUNDERING OF BIRDALONE FROM GERARD AND HIS SONS
Presently were the horses come with Gerard and his sons, and Birdalone gat to horse amongst them. She was armed in a light hauberk, and over it a long and loose surcoat that came down beneath the knee of her; and a sallet she had upon her head, wide but light, so that not very much of her face was to be seen. She had made up her mind to this tale upon the road, when she was among folk, that she was under a vow not to do off her helm for a seven days’ space. Withal she had covered up the lovely shapeliness of her legs with long boots of deer-leather, and her surcoat was wide-sleeved; she was well hidden, and whereas she was a tall and strong woman, she might well pass for a young man, slender and fair-faced. She was girt with a good sword, and Gerard had gotten her a strong horseman’s bow and a quiver full of arrows, wherewith, as aforesaid, she knew well how to deal; wherefore she was by no means without defence.
So they went their ways through the streets and out-a-gates; and it must be said, that were not Birdalone’s thoughts turned toward the Castle of the Quest, and what she should meet there, her heart had been somewhat sore at leaving the city which had cherished her so well these years past; nay, as it was, the shadow of the southern gate, as she past thereunder, smote somewhat cold upon her, and she silently bade farewell to the City of the Five Crafts with some sorrow, though with no fear.
Forth they rode then through the frank and up on to the shepherd country, and whereas their horses were of the best, and they had no sumpter-beast with them till they came to Upham, where they must needs have victual, they made but five days of it to the place where the road turned aside from the country of Mostwyke. There then they drew rein, and Birdalone lighted down from her horse, and they all, and they lay upon the grass and ate and drank together.
But when they were done, spake Birdalone and said: Dear friends, this is the hour and the place when we must needs part; for ye shall go back again to Five Crafts, and do what I have bidden of you, and do your will, and wend your ways with your livelihood unto Utterhay. But as for me, I must go my ways first unto Greenford, and thence to seek my friends from whom erst I was fleeing when ye first became my friends. Now perchance ye will say that I have taken you up in my need, and cast you aside at my pleasure; but I may only say that there be at present two deals of my life, and of one of them have ye been partakers, and of the other ye may not be. Forsooth that is a grief unto me, as I suppose unto you is it a greater one. But unto me also were it heavier but that my heart tells me it shall not ever be so; for as I said to you some days agone, I have a hope that we shall yet meet again, be it in Utterhay or in some other place. And now I pray you to pardon me wherein I may have done amiss unto you, and begrudge it not that there be others, who indeed were first-comers in regard to you, and whom I love better than you; for of your truth and your good-will and loving-kindness will I bear witness wheresoever I may be.
Then spake Gerard: Do ye speak, my sons; for I have no grudge against her, nor aught to bewail me as to her, save, it may be, that I am now so well on in years that it may well befall that I shall not live till the time of the meeting in Utterhay. But I will pray thee this, dear lady, that if thou come to the place where I lie dead thou wilt kiss my burial-stone, and sing due masses for me. Nay, she said, but this is the worst shall betide betwixt us.
Then spake Robert Gerardson: I am not deft of speech, but this parting makes me bold to say this: that from the time when first I set eyes on thee I have loved thee in such wise that never mayst thou love me as much as I love thee, if thou hast anywhere, as I deem thou hast, a lover of thy body, whom thou lovest. Now I have seen that for a long while thou hast known this, and hast ever because of it been as meek and kind with me as thou mightest be. And this hath partly grieved me the more, because it hath eked my longing for thee; and yet it hath comforted me the more, because it hath made me deem better of thee, and deem thee worthier of worship and holier; therefore have thou all my blessing for it. And now I know that thou sunderest from us that thou mayst go seek thy very bodily lover; and I say, that if the sundering had been for any lighter cause, grieved at heart should I have been; but since it is even so, once more I bless thee, and ever shall I be happy in the thought of thee; and if ever we meet again, still shalt thou find me as now I am in heart and in soul.
She turned to him, not dry-eyed, and said: I know that what thou sayest is sooth; and thou hast guessed right as to my goings; and I take thy blessing with love and joy.
Then were they silent; but Giles Gerardson was struggling with words, for he was slow to speech; at last he said: I say much as saith my brother: but see thou, our lady, how ill it had gone if thou hadst loved one of us with an equal love; woe worth the strife then! But now I will crave this of thee, that thou kiss me on the lips, now whenas we part; and again, that thou wilt do as much when first we meet again hereafter. And I tell thee right out, that if thou gainsay this, I shall deem it unfriendly in thee, and that those lovely words which thou didst speak e’en now were but words alone, and that thou art not as true as I have deemed thee.
She laughed amidst her tears, and said: Dear lad, doom me not till I have been found guilty! I shall nowise naysay thee this, for I love thee, and now and ever shalt thou be unto me as a brother, thou and Robert also; for even so have ye done by me. But thou wottest, dear lad, that whiles and again must sister sunder from brother, and even so it has to be now.
Then they sat silent all four; and thereafter Birdalone arose and did off her sallet, and kissed and embraced Gerard and his sons, and bade them farewell, and she and the young men wept. Then she armed herself and gat to horse, and went her ways towards Greenford, having nought with her but the raiment and arms that her body bore, and her horse, and some gold pieces and gems in a little pouch. So rode she; and the others turned back sadly toward the Five Crafts.