The Water of the Wondrous Isles 7-3
CHAPTER III ~ OF THE JOURNEYING THROUGH THE FOREST EVILSHAW UNTO THE TOWN OF UTTERHAY
On the morrow in due time Birdalone, going afoot, led Sir Hugh, all-armed and horsed, to the Oak of Tryst, and there they found the three men-at-arms, well-weaponed and in green weed, abiding them. They did obeisance to Sir Hugh, and he greeted them, and then without more ado he kissed Birdalone and went his ways with his way-leaders, but Birdalone turned back to the house and her friends.
Next day Birdalone brought her three she-friends unto the Trysting Oak, and showed them to the wood-mother, and she was kind and soft with them; and both Aurea and Viridis were shy with her, and as if they feared her, but Atra was frank and free, and spake boldly. And thereafter when Birdalone went to meet her wood-mother, Atra would go with her if she were asked, and at last would go alone, when she found that Habundia was fain of her coming, so that there were not many days when they met not; and the wood-wife fell to learning her the lore of the earth, as she had done aforetime with Birdalone; and Atra waxed ruddier and merrier of countenance, whereof was Birdalone right glad, and Arthur yet more glad, and the others well content.
So wore the time till Hugh had been gone for twenty and three days, and as they walked the meadows anigh the house about undern, they saw a knight riding down the bent toward them, and presently they knew him for Hugh, and turned and hastened to meet him, so that he was straightway amidst them, and on foot. Dear then were the greetings and caresses betwixt them, and when it was over, and Birdalone had led away his horse and dight it for him, and had gotten him victuals and drink, and they were all sitting on the grass together, he told them how he had fared. He had done all his matters in the Land under the Green Mountains, and had given over his lands and houses to a man of his lineage, his cousin, a good knight, and had taken from him of gold and goods what he would. Then he had taken his two bairns and their nurse, and an old squire and five sergeants, whereof one was his foster-brother, and the others men somewhat stricken in years, and had departed with them. Sithence he had come his ways to Greenford, and had held talk therein with the prior of a great and fair house of Black Canons, and had given him no little wealth wherewith to re-do the Castle of the Quest what was needed, and for livelihood of four canons to dwell there, and Leonard to be their prior, that there they might remember Sir Baudoin their dear friend daily in the office, and do good unto his soul. Sithence he had ridden to the Castle of the Quest with the said Prior of St. Austin of Greenford, and had found Leonard, and had settled all the business how it was to be done. Thereafter he had returned to Greenford, and gathered his folk, and got him gone, under the guidance of Habundia’s folk, by castles and thorps and towns the nearest way to the edge of Evilshaw. And they had come to the forest, and ridden it six days without mishap; and when they had come to the Oak of Tryst once more, the way-leaders said that it were well if all they together tarried not much longer in the forest; wherefore they had brought them to a fair wood-lawn, and there they encamped, and were there as now. And, said Hugh, there are they abiding me, and it is in my mind that this very eve we go, all of us, and meet them there, if ye may truss your goods in that while; but as to victuals, we have plenty, and it needeth not. And then tomorrow shall we wend our way as straight as may be toward the good town of Utterhay.
All they yeasaid it, though in her heart maybe Birdalone had been fain of abiding a little longer in her own land; but she spake no word thereof. And they all set to work to the trussing up of their goods, and then turned their backs on the Great Water, and came up into the woodland, and so to the camp in the wood-lawn. And there had Viridis a joyful meeting with her babes, and she gladdened the hearts of Sir Hugh’s men-at-arms by her kind greeting; and they rejoiced in meeting Aurea and Atra again, and they wondered at Birdalone and her beauty, and their hearts went out to her, both the old men’s and the young ones. But Habundia’s men looked on it all like images of warriors.
There then they feasted merrily that evening. But when the morrow was come they were speedily on the way toward Utterhay; and the way-leaders guided them so well and wisely, that by noon of the fifth day they were come forth of the wood and on to the bent that looked down upon the town of Utterhay. There turned to Hugh the three way-leaders, and spake: Lord, we have done thee the service which we were bidden; if thou hast no further need of us, give us leave.
Said Hugh: Leave ye have, and I shall give you a great reward ere ye go. Said the chief of them: Nay, lord, no reward may we take, save a token from thee that thou art content with us. What token shall it be? said Hugh. Quoth the way-leader: That each of us kiss the Lady Birdalone on the mouth, for she it is that is verily our mistress under our great mistress.
Laughed Hugh thereat, but the men laughed not; then spake Hugh: This must be at the lady’s own will. Even so, said they.
Then Hugh brought Birdalone thither and told her what was toward, and she consented to the kiss with a good will, and said to each of the men after they had kissed her: Herewith goeth my love to the mistress and queen of the woods; do ye bear the same unto her. And thereafter those way-leaders fared back into the woods.
Now they gather themselves together and go down toward Utterhay, and make a brave show, what with the sumpter-horses, and the goodly array of the four ladies, and the glittering war-gear of the men-at-arms; and Sir Hugh and Sir Arthur displayed their pennons as they went.
All this saw the warders on the wall of Utterhay; and they told the captain of the porte, and he came up on to the wall, and a man with him; and when he saw this bright company coming forth from the wood, he bade men to him, two score of them, all weaponed, and he did on his armour, and rode out-a-gates with them to meet those new-comers; and this he did, not because he did not see them to be but few, but because they came forth out of Evilshaw, and then doubted if they were trustworthy.
So he met them two bowshots from the gate, and rode forward till he was close to the wayfarers; and when he beheld the loveliness of the women, and especially of Birdalone, who wore that day the gleaming-glittering gown which Habundia had given her, he was abashed, and deemed yet more that he had to do with folk of the Faery. But he spake courteously, and said, turning to Hugh, who rode the foremost: Fair sir, would ye tell unto the man whose business it is to safeguard the good town of Utterhay what folk ye be, and on what errand ye ride, and how it is that ye come forth from Evilshaw safe, in good case, with pennons displayed, as if the said wood were your very own livelihood? For, sooth to say, hitherto we have found this, that all men dread Evilshaw, and none will enter it uncompelled.
Thereto answered Hugh: I hight Sir Hugh the Green Knight, and am come from under the Green Mountain; and this is Sir Arthur, called the Black Squire, but a knight he is verily, and of great kindred and a warrior most doughty. And he hath been captain of the good town of Greenford west away through the wood yonder a long way, and hath done the town and the frank thereof mickle good service in scattering and destroying the evil companies of the Red Hold, which hold we took by force of arms from the felons who held it for the torment and plague of the country-side.
Now as to our errand, we be minded to dwell in your good town of Utterhay, and take our part with your folk, and we have wealth enow thereto, so as to be beholden to none; and as time goes on we may serve you in divers wise, and not least in this maybe, that with a good will we shall draw sword for your peace and the freedom of them of Utterhay.
When the captain heard these words, he made obeisance to Sir Hugh, and said: Fair sir, though we be here a long way from Greenford, yet have we heard some tale of the deeds of you, and surely the porte and all the folk shall be fain of your corning. Yet I pray thee be not wrath; for there is a custom of the good town, that none may enter its gates coming from out of this Forest of Evilshaw, save he leave some pledge or caution with me, be it his wealth, or the body of some friend or fellow, or, if nought else, his very own body. Wherefore if thou, Sir Green Knight, wilt but give us some sure pledge, then will I turn about and ride with you back and through the gate into Utterhay; and doubtless, when the mayor hath seen you and spoken with you, the said pledge shall be rendered to you again.
Ere Hugh might answer, came Birdalone forth and said: Sir captain, if I, who am the lady of the Black Squire here, be hostage good enough, then take me, and if need be, chain me to make surer of me. And she drew near unto him smiling, and held out her hands as if for the manacles.
But when the captain saw her thus, all the blood stirred in his body for joy of her beauty, and he might but just sit his horse for his wonder and longing; but he said: The saints forbid it, lady, that I should do thee any hurt or displeasure, or aught save the most worship I may. But thy hostage I will take, Sir Knight if thou be content to yield her, whereas in an hour belike she shall be free again. And now fare we all gateward again.
So then they all rode on together, Birdalone by the captain’s left hand; and as they passed by the poor houses without the wall, she looked and saw the one which had been her mother’s dwelling, so oft and so closely had she told her all about it.
Thus then they entered Utterhay, and the captain led them straight to the mote-house whereas the mayor and the porte were sitting; and much people followed them through the streets, wondering at them, and praising the loveliness of the women, and the frank and gallant bearing of the men-at-arms.
So they lighted down at the mote-house and were brought to the mayor, and when he had spoken them but a little, and had come to himself again from the fear and abashment that he had of them, he showed himself full fain of their coming, and bade them welcome to the good town, and took them into his own house to guesting, until folk might dight a very goodly house which the porte did give unto them.
But some two hours afterwards, when they were housed in all content, as they sat in the hall of the mayor, which was great and goodly, talking and devising with worthies of Utterhay, there entered two fair and frank-looking young men, who went straight up to Birdalone, and the first knelt down before her and kissed her hand, and said: O our lady, and art thou verily come to us! O our happiness and the joy of this day!
But when she saw him and heard him and felt the touch of his hand, she bent down to him and kissed him on the forehead, for she knew him that it was Robert Gerardson.
Then the other man came up to her as if he also would have knelt to her, but his purpose changed, and he cast his arms about her body and fell to kissing her face all over, weeping the while, and then he drew off and stood trembling before her and she, all blushing like a red rose and laughing a little, and yet with the tears in her eyes, said: O Giles Gerardson, and thou, Robert, how fain I am to see you twain; but tell me, is your father well? Yea, verily, our dear lady, said Robert, and it will be unto him as a fresh draught of youth when he wotteth that thou art come to dwell amongst us; for so it is, O lady beloved, is it not? said he. Yea, forsooth, or even so I hope, said Birdalone. But here be other friends that ye must needs know, if we come to dwell together here in peace; and then go and fetch me hither your father.
Therewith she presented them unto Arthur and Hugh and the three ladies of the Quest, and all they greeted them kindly and in all honour; and the Gerardsons loved and worshipped them, and especially the lovely ladies, the she-friends of their lady.
And whiles they were about this, in cometh old Gerard himself, and when Birdalone saw him at the door, she arose and ran to meet him, and cast her arms about him as if she were his own daughter; and most joyful was the meeting betwixt them.