[f. 1] It is told that there was once a young man hight Giles of the Long Frank, who was of knightly lineage, a goodly body, and not lean of wit, but his father was but poor of world’s wealth, yes so poor that he had but two old folk to serve him, who lived as did their master without wage or pay because they were of the house, and their fathers had served his father, and these two were man and wife, and hight Joachm and Anna after the two Hallows of time agone. These two laboured the potherb garden within the walls of Long Frank castle, and heeded the three kine or four who fed down the meadow, and tilled two little closes of acre-land, which mead and acre-land were all the earth which the old lord Thomas (as he was called, half of courtesy, half in jest, for he was no lord, but a gentleman of coat-armour) could call his own. As for Giles, whiles he fared afield bow in hand, and got some poor venison of hare and coney to keep the pot warm at home, whiles also he wended away from home, and abode away a week or two, or a whole month; and when he came back, he mostly had some gain with him; and these whiles he rode in arms. Thus they lived, father and son, being helped withal by certain neighbours who honoured the ancient house, such as the prior of St. James, a good house of Austin Canons scarce a mile from the castle, and which indeed had its first beginnings at the hands of the lords of Long Frank, time was, and the Baron of Broadleigh who in times past had stood shoulder to shoulder beside lord Thomas of Long Frank in more than one sharp bout of battle. For the rest, of God’s mercy it was that the house of Long Frank was stoutly builded and trim and tigg; for if the roof of hall and bower had not kept out wind and weather by the help of Joachim’s patching, and now and then the turn of a hand from his gossip Dick  Hillier, there would have been nought for it but to grin and abide.
Of Giles it has been said that he was goodly of body, but meseems a prater of tales might have said more of the fairness thereof; for he was tall, broad of shoulder, and thin of flank, and as well shapen of limbs as any man you might find in a month of Sundays; brown-haired and well-haired he was, and of all abundance therein; beardless but square-jawed and round-chinned; wide of forehead with hawk-grey eyes which lacked not something of fierceness; his lips full and red, his nose short and straight, his cheeks somewhat hollow; and yet for as warrior-like as he looked, he was such as an amorous woman might dream of and yet not see her life long; and, being even so, it would not be but that he was looked upon kindly even by great ladies and rich, despite his poverty; and there was one gave him a horse that he might follow the hunt with her, and another fair seeming raiment and a scented shirt that he might sit in the chamber with her and not shame her. Such gifts he took at first freely, and yet more freely flowers and garlands and ripe apples and the like from damsels of a lower degree of the folk who were round about his father’s castle; and to these last he had no heart to gainsay kisses and caresses and other amorous toying, such as he might give unto them in al honour of love. But with the rich damsels he might not be so free: for first of all he was ashamed of his poverty, and himseemed that they would but his kindness with more than their sleek skins and lovely hands and flowing hair, which were the due wares for [such] cheaping as they would have with him; and moreover he found that they would have more than he might give them, and that they heeded but little for him [f. 3] the danger of their lords or their fathers or brethren, and were ready in their hot love to risk having to take another love when he should be slain because of their folly and haste and inordinate desire. Wherefore at last, and that before long, he would have naught to do with those proud fools, and took to sending back their gifts, and hardening his heart against the message they would send him. Concerning which matters it is told that on a spring day the said Giles was labouring the pot-herb garden in the castle of Longfrank, not otherwise than a churl’s son had swinked, when Anna the old carline came forth of the hall porch and unto the said young man, and said, ‘My lord squire, here is come to see thee a gay damsel, and to say sooth not uncomely; she is sitting in the feast-hall, and a gallant man-at-arms holdeth her palfrey by the gate yonder; and the damsel will not be denied; and she hath with her somewhat, as much as her arms can bear, folded up in a red silken web.’
Said Giles, ‘Nay, Dame, and why should she be denied? But pray her to abide me awhile, for I must needs go to my chamber to array me.’
Spake Anna, ‘When I was young, damsels were such as that they were liefer to see the open shirt-collar and bare arms and tossing locks of such a fair child as thou, rather than silken sleeve and fine Flemish cloth. I rede thee, go as thou art. Moreover I did not call this one a lady; rather meseems she is a waiting-woman such as should serve folk of lineage, as thou art, with reverence, and take such dealings of them as they may. I rede thee, go as thou art.’
And she looked upon him fondly. But he said, ‘Nay, kind dame, I will do as meseemeth good, and do my best to look my best in what of decent raiment I have; for perchance the newcomer is better than thy word of her. Whereas I know, [f. 4] foster-mother, that thou art not very heedful of the good looks of young women. Come now, is it not so?’, and he smiled kindly upon her.
‘Ah,’ she said, ‘and thou art over heedful: so that if thou come across any woman of under thirty summers, even if she be not very fair of face, thou wilt be straightaway amorous of her hand or her foot or the slimness of her sides or what not, so as to see in her loveliness which she knows not of nor her neighbours either. Come now, is it not so? But fear not, I will do thy message to her, and say so much of thee that she will abide thee more than an hour, yea though she be the proudest of damsels.’
And the old dame turned and went chuckling towards the hall, but Giles, reddening somewhat under her gibes, turned away to where was a well that babbled up amidst a square pool walled and paved with stone, and with steps down into the water, and the said well was hedged squarewise with a high hedge of yew, so that it made a cool little garth in midsummer, and fenced off the wind in March-tide; but therein the young man was wont to bathe at all seasons of the year; and so now he was speedily out of his raiment and washing off his swink in the sweet cold water. Then he cast his shirt over him, and ran indoors, and up to his chamber, and did on such raiment as he had of the best. To wit a green surcoat and a [broidered] cyclas embroidered thereover, and both these seemly if somewhat worn; and a silver-gilt girdle goodly enough he did about his loins, and thereto hung his sword, and what was that but an ancient blade proven in many a fight, the gift of his father who was now no longer fightworthy.
Thus arrayed, and dight with dear youth and loveliness, he went down into the hall by the solar, and by the fire under the luffer, which was [f. 5] but low as by now (for the weather was not cold), he saw a sight was seemly indeed, and that the seemlier the nigher he drew thereto; and that was a young woman, tall and slim, clad in a green gown of fine Flemish cloth, embroidered about the arms and bosom with branches of gold and silver, but short in the skirt as for riding, so that her ankles and green hosen were clear to see; and she had her right foot on the stone of the hearth, and the shape of her toes showed through the deerskin shoes of her, that they were straight and unpinched of a barefoot child. She had her head a little turned away from Giles as he went down the hall, and he saw the line of her cheek and chin, that it was both clean done and dear and wise. The kerchief was off her head and neck and lay on the board anigh her beside the bundle whereof Dame Anna had told, and Giles saw speedily how her gown came low down on her shoulder and bosom, and how all that was bare was white as the privet-flower, and her hair caught up in a knot at the back of her head was black, and rippled. Now she heard him coming, and turned about to face him, and straightway he thought that all was bettered by far, and his heart beat quicker and his feet quaked for the suddenness of desire. For he saw that her eyes were grey and clear, though rather long than large, and roving and piteous; her cheeks and on the pommel of them a little deal of red, and all else of her face save her lips which were fine and firm, but not very full, [white]; her nose was short and straight, her chin round and carven, and her head sat upon her body as the best of flowers upon its stem.
Now their eyes met, and she drew back a little, but lowered not her eyes, and she paled somewhat, but Giles flushed red and fell to speech and said, ‘Dear lady, the sele of the day to thee. They have told me that thou wouldst speak with me, and I were fain if it were true.’
She yet had her eyes on him, and the colour came into [f. 6] her face again, yet so much she reddened that her eyes gleamed white from the flush of her cheeks. She spake in a little, but as one who finds it hard to gather the wits to him; her voice was low and somewhat husky, but honey-sweet Giles deemed it. She but said, ‘Yes, fair lord, true it is, I have a message for thee.’
‘May we know it, lady,’ said he, ‘and what it is that hath made this hour happy with thy coming?’
The damsel answered, ‘I am but little of a lady, fair lord, I but serve a great lady.’
‘Well,’ said Giles, ‘I am no more a lord, I am but a squire’s son, and as poor as any man who eats and drinks under the sun. Thou seest, dear lady, for I will call thee yet, we be alike herein, we two. But I wonder of thee, that this is the first time I have seen thee.’
The damsel smiled, and merriment came into her face, and she spake, ‘Dost thou mean that thou knoest all damsels that are anywise comely hereabout, and that it is a wonder to thee that one is left?’
Forsooth Giles wondered somewhat that she grew so suddenly merry, whereas at first her face had seemed to him somewhat piteous. So he drew nigh her and would have hold of her hand, but she drew it away ere he might touch it. ‘Nay,’ she said, ‘did I not tell thee that I was a waiting-woman; neither is it equal between us, for thou art of lineage, and I but a captive, a noman’s child. So hearken my message that I may depart.’
He said, ‘But I shall see thee again after thy departure.’
Her face reddened again; ‘Yea,’ she said, ‘if thou answerest the message as I deem thou wilt. But we shall not meet as now we meet, and thou shalt know of my servitude by eye-witness.’
‘Tell me all then, dear damsel,’ said Giles, and again he would have her hand, and again she denied it. Then she said, ‘Knowest thou the lord Rainald of Way-warding Knowe?’
Said Giles, ‘If I know the Wayward? He is an earl and most mighty and deep of wealth; [f. 7] and he is told of as not very mild of mood to any that crosses him, a stern man and swift to wrath. What may be his message to me? whereas he would hold me of no more account than the gangrel churl that wends the way under the knowe. I want no message from him, my dear.’
Then his face flushed, and he handled the hilts of his sword, and said in a hard voice, ‘Yet can I die, my sweet, yet can I die, if the worst came to the worst.’
Full sweetly she looked on him and with quivering eyes, and surely he would have [had] his arms about her, had he noted her lovesome face at that moment, but the wrath of a man was stirred in him, and scorn of his poor estate, and he heeded it not.
Then spake the damsel, ‘Nay, fair sir, my message is not from the earl, though I dwell in his house, but from his wife.’
‘Yea,’ said Giles, ‘and is he wedded again? His wife was laid in earth three months ago.’
‘And three weeks ago,’ said the damsel, ‘he brought home a bride, and she hath sent me on an errand to thee, if thou be Giles of Long Frank.’
She fell silent therewith, and seemed as if she were struggling with speech; at last she said, ‘Yet before I give the message, I will tell thee of her what she is like. She is a very fair woman, and young, of five and twenty summers; tall and straight as a spear, her skin of lily and rose, her eyes bright and eager, her hair like golden thread, and falling to her knees when it is loosened; and so shapen of her body is she that none may be better; her voice sweet and alluring when she is happy and none have thwarted her: such she is, and more by a great deal might I tell thee of her goodliness, were I a man and a minstrel.’
Laughed Giles at her word, and reached out for her hand, but she drew it away form him, and stood a little aloof. But Giles said, ‘Yea, my sweet, and what message dost thou bear from the beauteous one and the wedded wife of thy lord, the Earl Wayward?’
[f. 8] ‘This,’ said the damsel, ‘that she sendeth thee fair and dainty raiment, and a sword full goodly, and she biddeth thee do them on and come to her, and clad moreover in thy youth and beauty in three days’ frisk, and she will be with thee at the castle, and will greet thee kindly, and do more than somewhat for thy fortune and thriving, if she and thou become such friends as she deemeth ye shall.’
Therewith the maiden turned to the bundle where it lay upon the board, and did away the red silken wrapping, and drew forth linen fine and fragrant, and a dainty embroidered surcoat, and a cyclas of figured work of the Saracens, and a girdle of goldsmith’s work and such matters, and at last the sword in a fair velvet sheath studded with golden nails, and the hilts golden and gemmed. Then she set her hand to the hilts and would pull forth the blade, but Giles, who had drawn up close to her, said with a face that was grown somewhat stern ‘Nay, maid, refrain they hand, and let the steel lie hidden, for lo, the sword by my side that I shall bear ever till it faileth me in a fight. More battles hath it seen than I am winters old, it hath been proven on the helms of the valiant, and [its] edges [have] notched their edges, and the shreds it hath lost lie in the graves of them, and yet it liveth while one hand of our lineage and house yet may wield it. And as to the gay raiment, such will I wear when I have won it by valour and good faith, and might of body and deftness of hand, and meanwhile this wherein I stand before thee, sweetling, shall serve me when I would be trim before the ladies. And wit thou well, my dear,’ said he, smiling, ‘that other and worser raiment more meet for the lack and poortith of my father’s house must serve me well enough when the said fair ladies are aloof.’
Again the damsel looked on him, with eyes swimming with love, and again he saw it not, but spoke in a grave and sober voice, ‘Therefore, maiden, take back these rich and [f. 9] kindly gifts to thy lady, and say that I thank her for her bounty and open hand, but that I may not take the gift till I have done something to merit it.’
The damsel hung her head; ‘So much for the gifts,’ said she in a voice somewhat faint, ‘but now as to thy going to her, what sayest thou?’
And therewith she sat her down on a bench, and put her hands before her face. And Giles stooped to her, and said kindly, ‘What ails thee, sweetling? Have I said aught to grieve thee? Tell me what thou wilt of me, to do or forebear, and I will do it straightway.’
She put down her hands and smiled on him, as on a dear friend, but her face was pale and quivering as with anguish, as she said, ‘Nought ails me, kind lord, but I am troubled and anxious concerning mine errand, since thou hast naysaid the gifts. So again I ask thee, what sayest thou to the tryst?’
Giles answered not for a while; then he spake, ‘Tell me, this high and beautiful lady, is she in any sore trouble so that she might deem my help needful unto her? for then were I bound to go to her and serve her, whatsoever the risk might be.’
The damsel smiled, but sadly; she said, ‘Forsooth, she is in sore need of thee.’
Said Giles, ‘Then when thou bearest back the gifts, take this message also therewith, that I will come to her as she biddeth.’
‘I shall give thee this rede then,’ said the damsel, ‘that when thou comest before her, thou make no sign to me, or take heed of me, or make as if thou hadst seen me before; and also that thou praise me not to her, nor even so much as speak of me; for if it came out that thou hadst called me sweet and dear many times this morning, and thrice and four times striven to take my hand to caress it, then would it go ill both with thee and with me, for she is of all power [f. 10] in my lord’s house, yea and that the more as he is away now at a tourney and a council for two weeks or more.’
Giles spake, ‘I wot not what thou meanest, damsel, what would this high lady with me?’
The damsel rose up and stood before him with her hands clasped together and her arms strained hard before her, and said, but after a while, ‘Ah, sweet lad, this woman needeth thee sorely indeed, but after such wise as all women well-nigh shall need thee, who have but seen thee once. And the woman is both willful and guileful and hard, and as cruel as a tiger when she is thwarted. Yes, but thou wouldst say, But she has not seen me even one time. So it is, but she has heard tell of thee many times, as I have been by to hear, and that is enough; she longeth for thee, as I – as any woman would.’
Now at last he had her two hands to do as he would with, and eagerly he kissed and caressed them, and he took her by the shoulder and laid his cheek to hers till she turned her face and their lips met, and they kissed together sweetly many times.
Then they stood a little aloof, though he yet held her by the hand, and he said, ‘Now I see thy meaning, sweetling, and thus it is, that thou wouldst have me refrain from going to the great lady of Way-Warding Knowe.’
She said, ‘Yea,’ faintly, and drew him to her a little, and again she was in his arms, and he kissing her face and shoulders and bosom. But at last she drew herself from him and said, ‘If this be so, that thou wilt scorn my lady’s errand, now must we take counsel as to what we must do. For I deem not that thou wilt look for me to carry back thy naysay along with her gifts.’
‘Yea, my dear,’ said Giles, ‘yet why not, if thou but come back to me in a day or two.’
‘Hearken him,’ she said, ‘poor lad, if I go under [f. 11] the gates of Way-Warding Knowe again, save with weaponed men at my back, never come I forth again. What, said I not to thee that they would-be lady is proud and false and cruel, and is she like to spare me now of all folk on the earth? me with thy dear kiss on my body? or dost thou deem that I spake like a woman, more harm of that one than was altogether true. Lo now, I see thee redden, and I know that thy thought was even so. I forgive it thee, but understand that thou art nowise safe in this castle, fordone and ungarnished. She will have thee out of it, and the Earl Wayward will find it no great matter to throw thee into the pit of her wrath; and then is thy father undone, and the old dame that welcomed me even now, and every dog or cat about thy house. So look we to rede, and what sayest thou, my dear?’
‘This first,’ said he, ‘that thou growest fairer ever, as the life rises up in thee, and next that thy rede is easy to see, and short it is; to wit that we flee away as soon as may be, and seek what fortune is doomed for us. Well, the world is wide, and I am ready, so we need [not] talk of that, for or against, any more. So now I bid thee sit and eat and drink as a way-farer should; and I will but bid farewell to my father, and be with thee in short space.’
Then he kissed her hand and went his ways; and found old Anna, and bade her bear the guest victual and make much of her. Then went he to Joachim that was yet digging in the garden, and bade him, in so lordly a voice that the old man had no heart to grudge in words as his wont was, to come up to his chamber and arm him, and they went together, and Joachim took down from the wall an armour [f. 12] which Giles himself kept bright and clean, and which was goodly enough, though somewhat out of fashion, and therein was the young man armed, and looked a gallant helm indeed; but his basnet he bore in his hand till he should have seen his father; and he bade the old carle bear down into the hall the best bow and a great sheaf of shafts headed with the plain pile.
Then went Giles to the great chamber of the castle which was builded over the soler, and there sat his father, and had not stirred abroad since the last summer, for he was very old and spent by now. But when the old warrior heard the clash of arms come into the room, he lifted himself up in the chair, and saw his son’s bright face and goodly curled locks over the gleam of steel, and he said, ‘Hah, son, be tidings toward? would God I could yet cross a war-saddle.’
‘Father,’ said Giles, ‘I am come to say farewell, for there is an adventure come home to seek me, and a fair damsel hath brought me the bidding thereto, and good fortune and fair life abideth me herein.’
‘Praise be to All Hallows, fair son,’ said the old man, ‘that thou hast found something better to do than snaring hares in our meadow, and digging worts with old broken Joachim. Art thou pressed to be gone?’
‘Yea, father,’ said Giles. ‘I may not tarry.’
Said the old squire, ‘Nay, then, kiss me and take my blessing; for I will not ask thee of the lady, or what she will with thee; for well I wot all the honour of love and the blazon of his heralds. But tell me, shalt thou be back in a month’s space?’
‘Belike not in a year, father,’ said Giles.
‘Then belike this is the last time I shall see thee. But good it is, thou shouldst not die of weariness and lack here at home. Yet I charge thee, forget not the old towers, if ever thou mayst win back to them laden with wealth and honour.’
[f. 13] Giles bent over his father and kissed him, and then knelt before him, and the old man laid his hands upon his son’s head and blessed him.
Then Giles arose and went slowly down the stairs, and into the hall once more, and there sat the damsel at the board, and old Anna was going to and fro, waiting on her. But when the damsel saw Giles, she sprang up and ran to him, and put up her two dear hands and took them about his face and cried out, ‘Welcome to the lovely champion,’ and kissed him sweetly. But he was sober and solemn with thinking of the end of his father’s days, and he took her hands and stroked them when he had laid down his basnet, and said, ‘Dear love, meseems our council is not yet over, so let us look to it, and first, what shall we do with the dear-bought treasures yonder, for we may not leave them here lest we be called thieves.’
Quoth the damsel, ‘Doth any man pass hereby on his way to the Earl Wayward’s house?’
‘Yea,’ said Giles, ‘in two days’ time will the earl’s bailiff of Black Netherton pass by on his way; shall he bear back the goodly things?’
‘Yea,’ said the damsel, and was silent, thinking awhile; then she said, ‘Let him take them with this message, that the young master lyeth sick, but as soon as he is on his legs, he will come and pay his duty gratefully to my lady. That will do, meseemeth.’
‘Yea,’ said Giles, ‘it is no very evil lie. Hearest thou, Anna, wilt thou take it in hand?’
‘Yea, certes, my child,’ said the carline, ‘I will make up such a story as Simon the bailiff will take in sweetly, good soul. But do thou come back to us sound and soon, wight and wealthy, and then we will lie no more, but be good and rich till we die.’
The maid and the man both laughed merrily at her [f. 14] word, for sooth to say the hearts were dancing in the bosoms of them for hope and the joy of freedom and love. But Giles said, ‘Thou hast given one rede, sweet-handed, and I will give another, and that is about the way, and shall be the last. We were best to [go] forth singly, lest folk mark our goings overmuch, wherefore do thou go straightway, and ride through the thorp, and so on to the road to Way-Warding Knowe, and ride till thou comest to the river, and that is but little more than a mile and a half hence; then over the bridge and up the bent, and no further than the oak-wood which is on the topmost thereof, but abide me there. But I will leave the thorp on my right hand, and ride till I hit the river, and so along it till I come to the bridge. If thou go a footpace on thy way, thou shalt not have to abide long in the wood.’
‘It is well,’ said the damsel; ‘now for the last rede, which is mine. Here thou leavest thy father and these two ancient folk, have they money? Or hast thou money to leave them?’
Giles shook his head, and smiled. ‘What there is in the house, which is little enough, my father hath; or maybe the good Joachim hath got together a few silver pennies from his much toil, after the house hath been fed and kept together. And sooth to say, thy word hath troubled me for I could earn them venison, though not else, and now they will lack even that.’
The damsel laughed sweetly and put her hand into her broidered scrip, which hung at her side, and Giles heard the gingling of pieces therein, and she drew forth a handful of pieces, all gold, and laid them on the board, and old Anna stood agaze at them with her hands raised for joy of such a glorious sight, and then ran out crying aloud for her man. But the damsel laughed merrily, and said, ‘Lo thou, my friend, [what] we might all so easily do without, were we wise, maketh each man’s head go round. Why, even thou starest wild at me, as if I was making some conjuration which [f. 15] should turn the world upside down. Or dost thou deem me a thief, since I have told thee I am but a thrall and a serving-woman; and art thou afraid of what may betide me for my lifting? Nay, fear not, for it shall not at the worst be for the stealing of gold that the Lady would torment and murder me, but for the stealing of love.’
And therewith she put her hand into the pouch, and drew forth another handful of nobles, newly minted, and laid them by the first heap, and said, ‘There is yet somewhat left, dear champion, if we need it at any while; and moreover, I being what I am, these rings are no heirlooms that I should forebear to sell them if we be in need.’
And therewith she reached out her hands palm downward, and on her dear fingers did Giles behold seven goodly rings of gems that he deemed of great price, sapphires and rubies and emeralds and pearls much great, and the damsel said, ‘These do I deem war-won prize, for every one was given me by my lady when forsooth she owed me somewhat. And now are they thine, both the rings and the hands, sweet friend, by gift of the Lord of Love who hath won my body for thee.’
Even as she spake came Joachim and Anna into the hall, going slowly and timorously as in awe of some great one, and she turned about to them, and straightway they fell upon their knees before her and joined palm to palm. But the damsel said, ‘Rise up, good folk, and come thou hither, Joachim, and look upon this treasure which lieth here.’
Joachim drew near to her trembling, and gazed upon the two heaps of gold as one bewildered.
And the damsel said, ‘Thou good old carle, I have heard of thee as one faithful to the house of Longfrank and that thou wouldest do what thou mightest for it even to the rendering up of thy life and soul; Is that even so?’
‘I wot not,’ said Joachim, [f. 16] ‘how that may be, lady, but we have nought but your master and his son, the Child of Longfrank, and the house that they come of, and all service from us is their due; and whatsoever thou commandest it will we do, if Giles of Longfrank but yeasayeth it.’
‘This I command thee then,’ she said, ‘that thou take this money and lay it by in a safe place, and make no gabbing of the treasure, but spend it piece by piece in the livelihood of the master and of ye twain and the maintenance of the house; and ye be good husbands thereof, it will last out the absence of the Child, who as thou seest is now bound for the road, and for great and high adventure.’
Quoth the old carle, ‘If the Child of Longfrank and the darling of my heart come not back, what have we to do on the earth; for then is the House fallen. But fear not, we shall do all that we may to live, so that we may see him once more, and the new beginning of the House’s blooming. But now, my master’s son, what sayest thou? For howsoever great may be the lady, her will is nought to us, save it be thy will also.’
Spake Giles, ‘Joachim my friend, what the lady hath said is wholly my will; and now I bid thee, that wheresoever or howsoever thou mayst fall in with her, even if [I] be not with her, that thou do her will in all wise. And now, old and dear friend, wilt thou do me service for the last time it may be, and go and saddle Greygoose and bring him round to the porch as soon as thou mayest. And Anna my foster-mother, wilt thou bring me presently what of meal may lie in a bag such as I may bear with me on horseback. Then is all done that ye may do, and I would it were more, whereas I wot well ye would do it with a good heart.’
So those two went about their matter, and now had the damsel done on her wimple and kerchief, and cast a mantle, green like her gown, about her shoulders, and she spake, ‘Fair [f. 17] and dear Champion, we have tarried as long as need be, for longer belike; now I go my ways according to thy rede. Follow me not to toy with me, for surely the tarrying is long.’
‘Nay, abide a little,’ said Giles, ‘until thou hast taken this bow in hand, and hung the quiver over thee, for that is needful, whereas the chief of our livelihood may well be the venison we shall slay.’
She turned about as red as a rose, and let him do the quiver on her, and cast his arms about her and kiss her face and her hands many times; and he took her by the hand and led her to the porch where stood her palfrey awaiting her. Nor was she so pressed for time, but that when he had taken her foot in hand to help her mount, she suffered him to kiss and caress it, nor might the bow quite leave the hand of him till he had kissed hers both back and palm. But at last it was done, and she rode her ways at a foot’s pace toward the thorp and the bridge.
As for Giles, presently was come his horse and his meat-bag, and the horse was all dight; so he kissed and embraced both his and fosterers, and took a good spear in hand and did on his basnet and backed his horse, and rode wisely as he had purposed so that he was little seen, as he wended to the river by the bushes and hedge-rows; and he saw the riding of the damsel when he got sight of the bridge-way, and came upon her on the west of the bent between the oak-boles, and she was sitting on her mare and letting crop the sweet grass below her. And this time he forebore staying to toy with her, and said, ‘Sweetling, let us now ride on readily the way I deem safest and friendliest; and we shall do our best to put as many miles between us and Way-Warding Knowe as may be while the daylight serveth us; which shall be about seven hours hence; for the sun is in the noon of the heavens.’ She turned as his hand pointed, with no more sign than a kind look toward him, and they rode a little trot as the trees and the bushes would suffer them, their [f. 18] [faces] turned to the west, whereas the Earl’s house was south-east of them, or yet more easterly of them.
When they had ridden thus a while, and the oak-wood was grown thinner, Giles turned to his love and said, ‘Needs must we ride on, sweeting, yet, were it but for the saving of our horses, we be not driven to ride on so speedily as that we may not hold speech together. So I begin, and thou wilt ask to wot whitherward we are going, as I would have told thee before in our hall, had time served.’
She looked on him lovingly and said, ‘I heed little, sweet creature, whither we be going, so long as thou art my wayleader. Yet shall I hearken thy tale happily, for [I] cannot have enough of hearing the word of thy mouth.’
Her voice was like many kisses to him, so sweetly as she loved him, and he felt the sweetness of it to the innermost of his heart. But he said, ‘Here have we been riding westward this half-hour on the ridge of sand and gravel that maketh a high bank to our water of Wavewell, and down below us are the meadows and acres of Longfrank thorp not yet done with. And further north be yet more meadows and acres with here and there a copse of oak or ash, and blue bents, not over great, to end it on that side. But before us lie the grass hills which thou sawest from our door, but which thou canst not see hence because of the rising and falling before us of this ridge; but before we come altogether amongst these hills, which run athwart our way, going from north to south, there will, and that in two hours’ space, be an end of meadows and acres and thorps and all will be untilled before us, and pastured but little, and that but by sheep herded by over-bold shepherds, and this ridge falleth by little and little into the waste plain that lieth above Upper [f. 19] Wavewell; and the wilderness goeth on west all the hills aforesaid, and right up to the blue mountains that ye can yet see before us over our way, though not so high they look as they did from Longfrank hall, whereas we be higher up here and more nearly on a level with them. Now it is towards these said blue mountains we be wending if weird will; and nought else save the Blue Mountains have we been wont to call them at home. Tell me, sweet damsel, art thou afraid of this faring, and the mountains at the end thereof?’
‘Champion,’ she said, ‘I fear nought save the wrath of my lady of Way-Warding Knowe, which shall be awake and awork by this time tomorrow.’
‘Nay, but sweet,’ said he, ‘before we come to the mountains, there may be other adventures to meet; for that said Grass-waste is not wholly unpeopled, waste though it be, and though its folk be not a many, yet is that few feared; for rank reivers they be, and lifters of the spoil.’
The damsel laughed merrily: ‘Will they lift me, fair Sir, and sell me to my lady?’ Giles reddened and knotted his brow. ‘Never,’ he said, ‘they be no dastards; rather at a word of mine shall they defend thee against her with their best blood.’
‘Hah, Sir Champion,’ she said, ‘and are we then coming among friends? but well it is, and happy shall I be. But what is the next tale of dread that thou wilt tell me?’
Quoth he, ‘When we have abided amongst these wild folk for a while, then shall we make for the mountains and try the adventure of them, what kind of a world lieth beyond them.’
‘What then,’ she said, ‘knowest thou aught of them?’
‘I have never yet entered their bounds,’ said he, ‘and rumour runneth, both in Longfrank and amongst the wild men, that they be peopled by uncouth wights, as warlocks and [f. 20] spell-workers, and the faery and many devils.’
She said, ‘All that I fear not so much as my lady’s chamber, and the wrath in the eyes of her, and my bound hands before her.’
Said Giles, ‘Valiant is thy dear heart; but wilt thou tell me this: is this lady, so fierce as she is, aught wise in wizardry?’
The damsel reddened and looked the young man in the face for a moment ere she answered: ‘Nay, her might [is] but because of her kindred, and her baron and his kindred; else meseemeth little would avail our fleeing to the Waste and the Fells. But now if she would have us, she must find us by seeking and asking, as other folk do.’
Now was the way gotten rough for a while, and they had to look to their riding and speech failed between them for a while. But when it grew smoother with them before long (and it must here be said that they were riding roadless and pathless, altogether by the leading of Giles), Giles slacked his speed somewhat and fell to speech again, riding quite close to the damsel’s side, and he said, ‘It is now more than an hour since we began to ride from the oak-wood bent, and for two hours were we together in my father’s house, and a world of speech hath been betwixt us, and I have called thee nothing but sweet and dear and love, and such-like.’
‘Yea,’ she said, laughing and turning lovesome eyes on him, ‘even such names as thou hast called other pretty damsels, and mayst do again; and now wouldst thou have a name which is my very own to call me by, whiles thou art in the mood to call me by aught at all. Is it not so?’
He reddened, and stayed his horse and would have stayed hers also, but she laughed again and slipped past him, and spurred, saying as she looked over her shoulder, ‘Nay, nay, is not the avenger behind us? [f. 21] and is there time for tarrying to toy? Abide till we must needs breathe our horses.’
He spurred after, and when he was by her side again, she reined up and reached out a hand to him, and he kissed it fondly and [piteously]; she looked on him the while. Then they went on again and she spake, ‘The hand thou hast kissed is the hand of one Joyeuse; that is the name the priest said over her at the font, when a kind woman held her in her arms. But sithence her name hath been asked, and she hath been called Joyeuse White-Shoulders, or whiles indeed Fair-Shoulders, and if thou wilt ask me who gave me that to-name, I must needs tell thee that it was my mistress the Earl’s wife when she was of a kind mood; as needs must I say moreover, she oft hath been.’
Said Giles, ‘This is a pretty name of a beauteous thing; and as I deem of all truth moreover. I would the horses were weary.’
‘Nay,’ said Joyeuse, ‘let us [ride] and swiftlier if we may over this smooth greensward, and we may talk together nevertheless. Now thou hast heard my name, Champion, and mayst call me thereby, wouldst thou hear anything more of me?’
‘Yea, sweet Joyeuse, yea, dear White-Shoulders,’ said Giles, ‘I would hear all of thee.’
‘Long might that be,’ said Joyeuse, ‘but I love to do thy will, so I shall tell thee somewhat; ride on no slower, but faster if it may be. And part of what I have to tell thee, I know by [my] own eyes and hearing, but part I have been told and trow; whereof this is the first; that in the land anigh that whence came my lady, there dwelt some score of years ago, say two and twenty, a good old knight followed his lord to the wars, and his side came to their above, and he rode back safe home. But on the [f. 22] last day, ere the feud was ended, the men of the said knight’s lord were in a town which they had won by plain force, and as oft will betide at such stours many evil deeds of fire-raising and murder were to hand therein. And the old knight saw a goodly house whereof the door stood open, and he entered it, he and a certain servant of his, not to spoil it or take aught thence, but to take and save any such as were therein, and might not bear weapons, as old men and women and children. But, woe the while, -- he had been forgone, and when he came into the great chamber of the house, there was by seeming but blood upon the hearth and death upon the dais; for amongst the dead folk, hard by the high seat, lay a fair woman of some five and twenty summers, half naked and wholly slain, and the old [knight] stood above her in evil case, exceeding wroth and very piteous, and then was about turning away from her to see if he might do any deed of mercy elsewhere, when, lo, from under the raiment of the dead woman creeps forth a little yearling babe; so the knight took her up (for it was a maiden), and found that though she had blood upon her, it was her mother’s and she was unhurt. What doth my knight thereon, but bethinking him how he and his wife were childless, takes the babe with him away from that murder close, and home to his house? There the dame his wife receives [her] with love and great joy, and presently she is christened and called Joyeuse for the love of the merriment she brought into that kind house. And she is nourished by the husband and wife as heedfully and lovingly as though she had been the very offspring of their bodies. There I dwelt in all honour and served as a maiden of lineage should be till I was of twelve winters; and in silken softness and tenderness was I lapped and knew no sorrow which was not of mine own making, till in that thirteenth year of mine my [f. 23] foster-mother died, an old woman, and her mate followed her in two months’ time. Great was my grief and long-abiding for the loss of all that love and tenderness, albeit I knew that they were not my natural father and mother, for oft and again had they told me so much. Yet more trouble I began to have when the new heir came to the old knight’s house; a spinster of some fifty winters, harsh and bitter-tongued. Then was I no longer my young lady, cosseted and comforted in all ways; but a caitiff and a rag to be made use of, that might be begrudged both bite and bed, and roughly handled and shamed each one in the house that was of a churlish temper, and most of all by the mistress. Nevertheless there were some of the serving folk that were as kind to me as they durst be, so that somehow or other I won through three years there, not always unhappy, and throve withal and grew strong and healthy, and as some said goodly of body and keen of wit.
‘It befell at last when I was of fifteen summers that a great lord came a-guesting at our house; and I was a part of some show that was devised for his pleasure, for sooth to say the said show had gone ill without me, so that I might not be spared. And as I was resting near the door after the chief dance of the show, I heard the guest speak to our lady and say: “Dame, who is yonder dark-haired white-skinned lass that danced so fetishly even now and showed such clean-wrought legs and feet unto us?” (Forsooth we were barefoot in the said dance.) Said the sour-hearted carline, “My lord, speak not of her; she is a rag that my cousin that was picked up in the wars and cherished here; and I have kept her for charity’s sake these three years till I am weary of her impudence and forwardness. Forsooth I noted her even now, that when the other maidens kept their gown-hems about their ankles, she must needs let hers flutter above her knees. Forsooth tomorrow she shall dance with body barer yet, since she deems her so well worth beholding.”
[f. 24] “It is no less,” said the lord, laughing, “and pity it is of her that her mind is less well-fashioned than her body. But may we speak of her presently: for even such a bold maiden do I need for a handmaid to my lady daughter, who may not away with a dull and lumpish servant; and maybe I shall bid thee a price for her.”
‘Now changeth my carline’s take of me, meseemeth, for she sent for me to the dais and I stood before my lord, who was a grizzled man of fifty, and set aside some jeers of his as well as I might; and the mistress made the while a show of being gracious and kind to me. Shortly to tell it, the said lord laid down on the morrow far less gold than he had paid for a filly, and took me with him, new attired and well-pleased, and gave me as a gift to his daughter who was then of eighteen summers, and, I will not hide it, the beauty of the world.
‘Now when the gift of the long-legged maiden was given her, she received it joyfully, and she caressed me and made much of me and said we should be verily sisters; and I for my part was again in Heaven. Nor will I say but she was mostly kind to me in those days. But as the time went on and I drew toward womanhood, her friendliness abated and she began to remember that she was a high-born lady and I a thrall bought with money. Nevertheless my quick tongue and some little understanding over others round about stood me in stead with her, wheres I could not but see and feel, the fairness of my body misliked her. Yet even then at whiles would the old kindness come back to her, and again would she speak sweetly to me and caress me; and it was in one of these moods when she and some of her women were disporting us in a summer water that she gave me that to-name aforesaid. [f. 25] For when she had blamed the fashion of some, and said of another: “Now thou art better-wrought than such an one; yea one may say well-made, and thy shoulders are not sloped away as if a food had been thy fashioner; yet art thou somewhat sallow of skin; and as to this one, who is tinted as the lily and the rose, and her hair long and wavy and golden, yet is she shapen about the shoulders and the hips as though the carpenter had made her; and again is one of kind and pretty face, and plump hands not ill-wrought, but shad had best not strip, for then is she as a bolster, tied tight in one place, swelling out in another. But now look here at my very own thrall, if she be not fairer than I myself or at least well-nigh as fair: sweet she is of shape, [so] truly wrought, so sleek of skin and whiter than any of you. Now shall I call her White-Shoulders; or ye may call her Fair-Shoulders; and I bid you call her nought else, but one of those to-name.” Surely then might you have called me Crimson Cheeks, so red as I blushed, but the name stuck, though therewith, as time went on, I deem she was not best pleased.’
Quoth her man, ‘Tell me, was that when she gave thee those seven goodly rings, and perchance some of the gold thou didst lay down in our house?’
‘Nay,’ said Joyeuse, ‘the gold was of gifts she has given me from time to time, wages of a thrall turned gentle-woman if thou wilt. As for the rings, they were one and all gifts of atonement afterwards repented. She was no niggard to me, either of wealth or love or hate.’ Joyeuse was silent a while; then she said, ‘I will say of her that she made up no charges against me to undo my life with all but no pretext, and none had dared say aught against it. Forsooth at last her hatred grew into something like to folly; so that time and again, when she had set her heart on some man or other, it would be [f. 26] ever in her head that I had drawn their love unto me, or at the least suffered it; and many a peril came near me in this wise, and no little mishandling, so that my lady’s house was grown Hell to me. Then came at last the wooing of the Earl, her baron that is, and at first, and until they were wedded, she held him in much love; and she would have it (whether she had had some lie whispered into her ear I know not), that he had been familiar with me, and held me in his arms night-long, but this I disproved before her in such wise that she might not gainsay my word. Yet she trowed me none the more, and the day before we were bound for the Earl’s house of Way-Warding Knowe, she called me to her privily and said, “Thou White-Shoulders, I have scorn of lying to thee. Know therefore that I am taking thee away from this land to my baron’s house, because I deem that when I am there, away from the crowd of liars, I shall find out the truth of thee, and then shall I destroy thee with a good heart. So look thou to it; and, I tell thee, that the fear of me may eat thy heart out, and that thou mayst die many times before the day of thy death.”
‘So to the Earl’s house she came, but a little while agone, as I have told thee; and as for the lady, her lovge for the Earl her baron outlasted that coming but a few days; and I wondered thereat; but afterwards, I came to know that one of her women, an abider hereabout, had told her closely about thee, and that she had her mind on that talk, and was seeking and questioning elsewhere.
‘And now she made friends with me once more, and all that tale of the Earl fell to the ground; and as a token thereof she gave me that sapphire ring that thou seest here on the little finger of my left hand. [f. 27] But not over-long endured that new friendliness. On a day, and it was yesterday, I came into her chamber, and round her sitting alone with an old woman, a goodly carline as for her years, which might be about seventy. Little bent was she, bright-eyed, with smooth wide fore-head, her cheeks not much fallen in, her mouth firm and shapely yet. She had just broken her speech as I entered, and the Lady turned to me and said, “Abide here, White-Shoulders, if thou wilt, and hearken to this goodly dame; for she hath tales to tell of the folk of the country-side whereto we be new come; and she tells them so well and lively that already I seem to know the folk that she hath told of. Go on now, and tell us of this same castle of Longfrank, now thou hast done us to wit of the thorp; what of the said castle?”
‘The dame smiled; said she, “It is [a] house whereof the inside is meet for the visiting of maidens.”
“Howso,” said my lady; “is it very fair and well-plenished with goodly hallings and with Saracen carpets on the floor? Hath it dainty chambers not over big, and soft beds therein; if that be so, we will go there and ask for guesting, shall we not, White-Shoulders?”
‘The carline shook her head, smiling again, and said, ‘The house is great and goodly of fashion, and its wall-stones are not perished though it be old. The great hall is high and wide, and vaulted as curiously as my lord about’s hall; and the tower of the Falcon is a work of the best of the building masters that were before my mother – rest her soul – was born; but as to the plenishing, God help us! There is the squire’s bed in the great chamber, which is both wide and side, and hung with webs that once were fair. But time trieth all, and its days are many, and for other beds there be three or [f. 28] four truckles in the smallest of the chambers, and that is all. The chapmen have long ago cheapened every halling and every hanging of the chambers; goodly forsooth is the screen of the great hall, and carven with imagery of saints and warriors; and the front of the minstrels’ gallery hath on it the Tale of the Pilgrimage of the Lords of Longfrank who are long departed: the sailing of the ships upon the sea, and the Pope upon his throne, and the Soudan in the palace of the miscreants who defile the Holy City of the Lord. But as for the rest, there be three boards on trestles, and a bench or two, and four joint-stools, and all is said. Plenteous lack there is today in the House of Longfrank, which once maintained knights and squires and serjeants, and the lovely ladies and free lovers whom they cherished.”
‘Laughed the lady and said, “Would thy tale were merrier, dame. And yet, -- shall we yet ask for guesting there, White-Shoulders?”
“I were fain thereof, my lady,” said I. For something had touched my heart in the words of the carline, and I understood that the masters of Longfrank had not lost their wealth for lack of valiancy, but by the stroke of fate, and I began to love the Ancient House that had so many tales built into its weather-beaten walls.’
‘May God love thee for it,’ said Giles, ‘as forsooth he doth, yet not so much as I do.’
Joyeuse cast as loving look on him and went on. “Yea, but, dame, all this maketh a dwelling rather unmeet than meet for maidens. For as for this White-Shoulders here, she is unlike to young and merry maidens, despite her sweet shape; she is dreaming and langorous and loveth the dark wood, and the moon-lit water, and the end of day and the early dawn, and the drifting snow, and the wind in the wall-nook. Despite her name, I deem that she is shaping herself to be a maker, a she-scald, of those whose words are sweet, but their lives bitter, rather than one of the women whom goodly men hold dear and long for, and do doughty deeds to please them.”
‘She looked on as scornful as her words were, and I felt that the storm of wrath and peril was brewing for me, and inwardly I quaked; yet belike the more for the [swayed] in me the sweetness of the longing for the wasted House of Longfrank. – my love and my darling, forbear – let us ride on steadily yet, for there is fear behind us.’
Again spake Joyeuse of the White Shoulders. ‘Said my lady, “So now, dame, what is this word of thine?”
‘Spake the carline: “Lady, for all that thou hast said, yet hold I to my word; and I will tell thee, that were I a young woman, as I was once deemed a fair one, I would liefer go under the gate of the lackpenny house of Longfrank, than enter any king’s palace that may be; for therein dwelleth an angel.”
‘Meseems before she spake it I knew what she would say, and I felt my face burning with blushes, and my heart failed me for the sweetness of desire, and as if through a mist the keen eyes of the lady fixed on my face, and I heard her say, “Said I not truly, White-Shoulders, that thou hast the making of a she-scald in thee? Dame, thou needest not tell her what this word meaneth, for she hath already deemed it, but I pray thee, tell me, who am duller of wit than she is – my she-thrall here.”
‘Spake the dame, “If I have spoken in riddles, it is soon areded; the angel I spoke of is a young man, [f. 30] the Child of Longfrank, and he is so lovely and so kind, and withal so valiant and so true, that scarce a woman may look upon him without desire, and there is no pride or hardness of heart in him, so that his very naysay is sweeter than the yea of another.”
‘And then she fell to telling us of what like thou art, and truly, she told it so far as words may go. But how it is I wot not, I may not utter the words which fashion the likeness of thee; my heart will not suffer it. All I may say is that I sat there, weary with longing and nigh swooning; and the lady arose and walked up and down and to and fro the chamber, with clenched hands and burning cheeks, casting fierce looks at me from time to time, so that I knew well what she was brooding, along with great desire.
‘At last, when the carline had done talking of thee, and had been silent a while, the lady sat down again and said, “Well, mother, thou hast spoken a great deal of poor and feeble folk; tell us more now of the dwellers around who be of some account, that we may know whom we should treat with honour, and whom we should give the go-by.”
‘Fell the carline then to telling us of knightly men, as I suppose; and spoke yet a while, maybe an half-hour or so; but unless I be a fool, my lady heeded no whit thereof, and as for me, I know not, an know not now, what the old wife said. I know but this, after she had talked a while, the lady gave her money, and bade her come again; and therewith she departed, and we two were left together.
‘Then the lady turned on me, and there was no longer any pleasantness or friendliness in her face or her voice, or the words she spake. “Thrall,” she said, “thou wert best to take thy footsoles hence, lest I do [f. 31] thee a mischief; and come to me no sooner than I send for thee.”
‘I went my ways quaking, but on the morrow, (that is this very day, but how long it hath become now with all that hath betide me), she sent for me and I went to her, my sides all a-quiver, for they were as sore afraid as I was; and when I came to her, she laughed, but not so that I trusted her mirth, and she said, “What, White-Shoulders, thy cheeks are as white as thy shoulders this morning; art thou in fear of my last word of yesterday? I pray thee, pardon me, thou who knowest the worst of my moods if not the best of them. Is it forgiven, Fair-Shoulders?” and she took my right hand and set thereon this ring with the great pearl on the first finger thereof, and she kissed me withal, and what might I say, but a very Judas-kiss I deemed it. Then she said, “And now will I show that I love thee, and trust in thee, for I will send thee on an errand wherein I would trust none other than thee. Thou shalt get a good horse saddled, and go to the house of the Angel for me.”
‘It were strange had she not noted how the word moved me; she was silent suddenly, and then she said, “Yesterday thou saidest that thou wouldst be fain to see that wilderness of a house: so were not I; but fain I were to see the dweller therein; wherefore though thou shalt share this last pleasure with me, the other will I give to thee to have all to thyself. Wherefore take this gift to him, and tell him withal this word of my mouth.”
‘And therewith, my champion, she told me that same message which I gave to thee faithfully, and short as it was, she made me say it after her many times. Then she said, “Go now straightway, and I long to hear if all is true that the carline said; and if the said angel hath any wit or keenness; if he hath, it will be well to have him here these days; now that [f. 32] my baron is away, and [hath] taken with him all the gentle knights and bright squires of my household, so that there is none left but old men and women who are afraid of me to say aught to me that quickeneth the heart. But tell me, how long will it be ere thou art back here?”
‘I said, “It is a matter of ten miles, my lady, according to the say of the carline. Give me somewhat more of an hour to go, and the same to come back.”
“Yea,” said she, “and an hour to talk with the Angel, and that is three hours and a half. Go now and I shall not send to seek thee, even if thou make five hours of it.”
‘So I went my ways, thinking to myself, had she said, Come back with an untoward answer, and it shall be the worse for thee; Betray me and it were better for thee not to have been born – had she said this, her mind had been no clearer to me.
‘My lord and master in love, this is all I may tell thee of the past days of Joyeuse White-Shoulders; and now today the days begin again.’
‘O White-Shoulders,’ he said, ‘and how many more names of beauty might I call thee, I thank thee for thy tale; but it is over-short; hast thou no more to tell me?’
‘Hereafter,’ she said, ‘but not now as we [t]read fleeing from our enemies, and while the jingle of thine quiver is ever singing of battle beside me; let us on.’
He said, ‘Art thou not weary, if the horses be not? Lo now, we are on the point of reaching the plain whereas the waste begins, and are now on the last of the bent that ends the ridge.’
‘How many more hours of daylight have we?’
‘Three more,’ he said.
‘Well then,’ said Joyeuse, ‘when we be on the level plain, we will off horse and let the beasts bite, and will sit on the grass a little while; is that [f. 33] to thy mind?’
‘Yea,’ said he, smiling, ‘since it will not better be. Now do I hate that proud lady of thine, who will not suffer us to rest.’
Said Joyeuse laughing, ‘Yet shouldest thou give her thanking, champion, since without her never hadst thou seen these white shoulders. Yet, to speak soberly, for the present thy shalt do well to think of her; for dost thou mind her word of the five hours?’
‘Yea,’ said he; ‘but we be far ahead.’
‘Never trust me,’ said White-Shoulders, ‘if she abide the five hours; else why should she have so said to me? She hath sent even now to Longfrank to see what is toward, and when they find both thee and me gone, there will be seeking and maybe finding. Nought should I wonder if her prickers were already on our slot.’
‘Thou sayest sooth, sweet Joyeuse,’ said Giles, ‘and we will tarry no longer than we needst must; but the horses must be breathed presently, and then will we on; and it may be that if there be foes after us, there will be friends before us. And lo, now are [we] riding down the very end of the ridge, and shall presently be on the plain, and on the very edge of the waste. Withal the sun is westering, and it is four hours after noon, and in an hour it will be getting cool enough to press our horses somewhat. Wherefore I will lead on to a brake in the plain where man and beast may rest, but heedful will we be of what may betide.’
Now they ride on and are in the plain, and the acres and the fenced meadows are done, and the river is turned away from them towards the north, and the hills of the waste, which they are drawing near, hide all but the tops of the Blue Mountains from them. So now they spur [so] they may scarce talk together, save now and then for the throwing of a word at each other.
[f. 34] At last, when they had gone over a good deal of roughish ground, grassed with long and coarse herbage, they came to a long strip of straggling alder copse, growing about an oozy stream, and an ugly piece of marsh land, through which they must flounder as they could, but as they came out of it amongst the alders, Joyeuse said, ‘Is it not good for us to cross a water, my champion, in case that the sleuth-hounds be laid on us? They have fearsome beasts of that sort at Way-Warding Knowe, and I have seen them taken out ere now for the following of runaways.’
Said Giles, ‘Nay, sweetling, I doubt that that yonder trickle of water would stay the nose of a good hound. We must trust to our speedy flight this morning, to get ahead of the chasers, if chased we be; and then belike to some friends of mine, who belike be not far off. But what is [this], White-Shoulders? now thou art pale and weeping. Art thou verily afraid?’
‘Afeared I am,’ said Joyeuse, ‘and yet I see that we needs must rest awhile. And belike my heart will rise thereafter. Now will not the land do?’
And they had come out of the alders copse onto a little rise where the grass grew sweet and short, and there were certain thorn bushes thereon, and in special three very big and ancient standing nigh together on the top of the bent. Thither they fared, and both of them lighted down, and they let their horses bite, and Joyeuse lay under the thorn boughs and Giles brought bread and wine out of the meat-bag, and the damsel assayed to eat, and when she was not very toward at the work, Giles went back to the stream beyond the alders, while she lay quiet there, loving him sore and longing for his coming back. Back cometh he presently, and hath water in his [f. 35] basnet, and she sat up while he bathed her face and her hands, and her bared feet; and then she made better play with her victual, and he ate with her, and she put the morsels into his mouth, and patted his cheeks, and they played like to two birds on a bough. And then must he fall a-wondering at her feet and the delicate fashion of them, as they lay naked on the greensward, and he kissed them all over and over, till she mocked at him, and laughed [and] asked what new treasure he had found that was better than her white shoulders; and then again it must be her shoulders and face that he must kiss.
So they rested and were glad till as Joyeuse lay on the ground with her hands under her head, she heard a noise afar off, and at first she thought it was low thunder of the summer afternoon; but then as she listened hard and intently, her face paled again, and she sprang to her feet and looked round for Giles, and saw him how he was coming back from the copse, leading the horses back from water. Then [fell] she to running to him straightway, all barefoot as she was, and cried out, ‘To horse, to horse, -- they are coming, they are coming!’ and she sprang upon her horse and got the reins in her hands, and cried out, ‘O haste, haste, why should we be taken lingering here?’
‘Sweet,’ he said, I would not have thee ride barefoot; and withal if the riders pass this way, they will come across thy footgear and know that thou hast been here.’ And therewith he led his horse up to the thornbush, and found her foot-raiment, and did them on Joyeuse, would she, would she not, and then put his hand on his saddle and vaulted on his horse all clattering, and spurred, and they two rode together after they had tarried at the baiting place an hour.
After a while they slacked their speed, so that they could speak together, and Giles said, ‘Even now, dear White-Shoulders, I wot not what hath frightened thee or what thou hast heard, since there has forsooth been nought to [f. 36] see.’
She said, faltering, ‘Methought I heard the sound of horse-hoofs afar off. But I am grown timorous now, as never erst was I wont; it is because I have thee all to myself, and I fear all things. Nevertheless I shall tell thee that I am fine-eared.’
Quoth he, ‘Let us borrow a moment or two; rein up, sweetheart.’
So did they, and he got off his horse and knelt down and laid his ear to the ground, and hearkened a little; then he arose and said, ‘ I know not, it may be so, but the summer afternoon hath many noises. Ride we on, for every hour we draw nigher to the helping of friends. Yet must we deal fairly with hour horses, or they will fail us yet.’
So he mounted, and they [rode] on at more than a pace, and Giles said, ‘My sweetling, I pray thee torment not thyself with fear, for even if they be chasing, they may not happen upon us, and moreover at least and at last there is this.’
And he smote his hand on the sheathed sword of him. But Joyeuse smiled ruefully and said, I wot not how that shall avail against my lady’s riders, save thou draw it out and thrust me through ere they lay hand upon me living. I bid thee now, swear upon my hand, that even so wilt thou do.’
‘That will I not,’ said Giles; ‘Whatever betide, if thou be taken, and we two sundered, then shalt thou do thy best to live, through all evil if it must be, that we may meet again upon earth. And now for my part, I bid thee swear by thy love, that thou wilt do this and no otherwise.’
She looked on him fondly, and said, ‘What thou willest, I will, my friend, and I swear my patience to thee;’ and therewith she lifted up her hand, and said, ‘And again I swear.’
Thereafter they quickened their pace somewhat, and they were in the midst of the waste, and came among trees now and then, for the most part low and [f. 37] gnarled oaks, but cumbered every now and then with thick copses of berry-trees, growing as the birds had sown them; and the sun began to sink so that in half an hour it would be down, and there was noise of the nightingales in the trees and brakes, and but little else; and therewithal came a little wind from the south-east, and amidst it even as they rode a sound faint but clear to them, and Giles said, ‘Heart up, my sweeting, for I know thou hearest the chase even as I do.’ And Joyeuse trembled and moaned, but spake not. Now they had been riding along a stream or little river, on the south side thereof, that came from the west, for the lip of it was sound and even greensward, and clear to them against the low sun, some half [a] mile away, was a low knoll about which the river turned, and the said knoll was over-grown with oak-trees. Giles pointed with his hand and sai, ‘Now is there this to di, to ride straight on to yonder knoll, for I know yonder knoll, that on the farther side of it is a thicket of hazel and berry-trees, and there at least shall be cover, and it may be also help enough – fear not, I pray thee, but remember thine oath.’
Thitherward then they fared, and were soon amongst the oak-trees. At the knoll foot Giles bade draw rein, and closer still drew that sound of the case. But as Joyeuse hearkened thereto with a sinking heart, suddenly there rang out close to her the sound of an howlet, though it might be a little louder than most, and the damsel started and said, ‘Heardest thou, friend? The owls wing early here.’
‘Hear it I did,’ said Giles, ‘for I made it; perchance my friends be anear.’
So they sat still a little, and again Giles raised that cry, and again the third time, after a while of silence. And yet they abode, while behind them there waxed the noise of horse-hoofs and thereto heard Giles, as he deemed, the baying of a hound.
[f. 38] Giles turned away from the oaks down to the river again, and Joyeuse followed, not without some trust in him, for all the sinking of her heart; then spake Giles, ‘There is yet time if we hasten to gain the next cover; here it will not do, for none is anigh whom I would see. Come then, sweetling, let us spur, for there is yet time.’
Therewith they rode on past the oak-knoll, and went a hand-gallop; the plain about them, which sloped upward a little on their left hand, was unwooded save for here and there a bush. But before them a two miles off the ground rose into another knoll, lower and wider-spreading than that they had left, and as that one grown over with oak-trees. It was but a matter of a few minutes to them to gain this new oak-grove as they rode; and Giles led without a word straight up to the crest of the knoll, and a little way over it they came into another copse, like that they had left behind them.
Giles got off horse there, and took Joyeuse in his arms, and laid her down in the grass between the boughs, and then led both horses down into a little hollow a yard or two west of where they were. Then he knelt down by his mate, and kissed her mouth, and raised her up, and gave her to drink of the wine, which he had brought from the meat-pack again, for she was feeble with the faintness of grief and fear; and he said to her, ‘Now, my sweet, must we abide what shall befall. Here are we in better stead than in the other copse, for lo thou, west away the oak-trees go straggling a great way, and there be thickets here and there amongst them. And it is not unlike that some of my friends be anigh there, if the riders of this accursed woman should happen upon us. Now I will pray thee first to remember [f. 39] thine oath, and keep alive for me in any case, that sundering may be turned into meeting; and next that if I must neds leave thee, thou wilt not deem me a dastard; for if I be taken with thee, then is all gone. And look thou, the sun is sinking even now, and it will be dark amidst the boughs before long. What sayest thou?’
She put her face to his cheek, and then kissed him as she might for his basnet, and said, though it was but faintly, ‘Fear not, I will keep up my heart for thy sake, or else meseemeth I should hang down my head before the coming death.’
As she spake outburst the noise of the case, and amidst of it the howling of the hounds was clear and loud to hear. Joyeuse rose up to her knees and shuddered, but Giles said, ‘It is but a score of minutes now, ere they will be on us; I must array myself.’
And he fell to doing off his leg-armour and hid it away from him into the bracken; then he drew his sword, and kneeling up beside Joyeuse, raised the cry of the howlet; and some three minutes after Joyeuse deemed she heard the cry answered, faintly and far aloof, and Giles held up a finger and smiled on her, and she said, ‘O depart at once while there is time, and fetch me the succor of thy friends if it may be, or at least life for thyself. O thou darling of the world, depart and live.’
Again he kissed her smiling and bold, and said, ‘Nay, I may not go yet, I must abide the hounds and deal with them, or they may tear thee. For the rest, sure I am that thou wilt not be slain tonight. Or what sayest thou?’
She said, ‘Thou art right; forsooth she will be for having me fetched to her at Way-Warding Knowe – O hearken, hearken.’ And she hid her face in her hands, for now so close [f. 40] and loud was the clatter of the hounds and the voice of the sleuth-hands that they both knew the men were come to the foot of the knoll. And twilight was stealing over the earth.
But amidst all that noise and clatter anear them again came the clear faraway sound of the howlet, though belike Joyeuse heard it not to know what it was, amidst the sounds of terror that rent her heart; but this she heard, that close to her the howlet sang again, and she took her hands from her face, and looked with the love of death drawn anigh upon Giles, and kissed him once again.
And now the noise fell somewhat, and Joyeuse deemed that she heard some way off the clear shrill voice of a woman betwixt the voices of the hounds who gave tongue at whiles; and next came the sound of footsteps coming somewhat wearily through the dead leaves and bracken; and then a low voice cried out, ‘Hold, Dragon; Hold, Caesar, hold but tear not.’ She cast a glance on Giles, and saw how he knelt there, his sword in his right hand, his dagger over-handed in his left, his brow knitted, his eyes fierce; then came a great rush of some heavy thing, the sword ran forth at the right hand, and the great-jowled beast turned over without [a sound]; and then the dagger fell on the left, and there was a sharp howl as the steel went home into the hound. Then she saw how Giles turned about, and went stooping low and thrusting hard through the brakes, and she looked not round lest some one of the chasers might note it, and for a while she was kneeling all along betwixt the two slain dogs. Then the boughs parted, and a tall man, hard-faced and grizzled, green-coated but with a bright [f. 41] basnet on his head and a drawn short-sword in his hand, stood before her, and she knew him at once for Richard a Green, the great huntsman of the Earl, a knight and no ill man. And even in that minute cheer came into her heart to see a face she knew, though it were the servant and minister of her enemy. And she rose up and faced him, holding out her hands beseeching.
Quoth the knight, ‘Yea, mistress White-Shoulders, we have thee then as I looked to it. A long and weary chase thou hast held us, but I begrudge it not to thee, and had rather thou hadst got away, so we had taken that other. But how now, -- he hath been here three minutes ago, and slain these dogs. Here now, you others – three or four of you – five of you, down the bent, and quarter the land till you find the lad of Longfrank; and ye know the word: ‘tis I said to the dogs, hold but tear not, worry not. Fetch him unharmed down there to me and my Lady. Thirst thousand devils’ heads,’ cried he as the men were hurrying, three on horse-back, two on foot, down the bentside, ‘It is but a thin chance of their taking him, twilight, and two dogs slain, and I doubt but that the lither lad knows these wastes and shaws better than we do. But, thirty thousand devils’ heads, what are we to do with thee,’ said he, turning to Joyeuse, ‘I have been thinking thereof this last half-hour, ever since I knew for sure that we should take thee.’
She stood cowering before him and spake not; and he said, ‘I was about saying to thee what might have hurt thy heart, poor White-Shoulders. But belike it shall not be as ill as that, and we shall do our best therein, short of being dastards to [f. 42] my lady. Yet now there is nothing for it, but that I lead thee to my lady.’
Therewith he took her hand and led her out of the copse, parting the boughs before her, and dealing with her gently, so that her heart went out towards him. But her heart sank indeed, when she heard that the Lady was to hand; for she deemed there would be but little time for the rescue of her. Whereas no doubt she had but that Giles was gone to seek help for her rescue.
So they went through the oak-clad bent and down it toward the river, and the twilight was closing in, but she could see nigh a score of men, some a-horse, but some afoot beside their horses. They came out of the oak-grove on to the smooth greensward of the river bank; and beside the river were another score of men armed but lightly to ride the swifter, and these were afoot and their horses grazing down the wide brink betwixt bent and water, and they stood on each side of a big thorn-bush, as men in reverent service, and under the said tree on his gnarled roots sat a woman clad in a strait short gown of green, all broidered with gold; her white hands lay in her lap; her face, as fair as a flower, was [turned] to the yellow glow of the western sky, and lit by it; the bosom of her gown was a little unlaced for coolness sake; her feet were naked on the green for she had been cooling them by wading the shallow of the stream. Beside her stood two maidens clad like herself, and a little lower downstream amidst the greensward was set up a fair little tent of white linen flecked with gold and little Saracen foot-carpets about it.
She let the Great Huntsman and Joyeuse draw near unto her without heeding them, though all else heeded. [f. 41] Then she turned quietly towards the knight, but heeded Joyeuse no more, and said, ‘So, Sir Richard, thou hast brought back our runaway, and that is well. But where is the bold warrior that hath misled her? Meseeming my debt is more to him than to her.’
Quoth the knight, ‘So he deemed belike, my lady, for he hath fled and left her. But I have sent men after him, and it is to be looked for that they shall take him, if not by night and cloud, at least tomorrow.’
There burned a red spot now amidst each cheek of her, but she but said, ‘It is well, Great Huntsman, and tomorrow thou shalt gather thy men and set out on the chase of him, and we shall abide thy fetching him with our damsels; we shall be enough to deal with this willful one. But now I pray thee, take thee and thy men out of earshot; and ye damsels also. But first do thou, Cecily, bring a cord and bind the hands and feet of her; lest she have a mind to flee the second time.’
So the damsel fetched silken cords from the tent, and did her bidding by Joyeuse, and made not the bonds over easy for her; for she hated her. And all the folk got them a stone’s throw away.
There then sat the Earl’s wife playing with her left foot, silent a while, but looking at Joyeuse with neither grief nor wrath in her face; but at lasat she said in a mild voice, ‘Thou hast nought to say, White-Shoulders. Why art thou silent?’
‘What is there to say?’ said Joyeuse.
Said the she-earl, ‘Belike thou art thinking how there is an end of thy love, since thy lover hath chosen life rather than love, and run away from thee, like the dastard he is.’
Joyeuse kept silence, but her cheeks burned.
‘Hah,’ said the lady, ‘I am glad that I miss him from the first, and that I have neither lain in his arms as thou hast. Else would he have run away from [f. 44] me like a dastard when my need was.’
Joyeuse kept silence yet, and hung her head. Said the lady, ‘Thou art silent, runaway; is that because thou deemest thee dead?’
Joyeuse lifted up her head, and said, ‘Thou scarce seemest to me like the giver of life.’
The lady was silent a little while, then suddenly she leapt up and stood before White-Shoulders, her body quivering all over, her hands clenched, her cheeks flaming, and her eyes a-fire; and she jutted out her head towards the damsel, and spake in a harsh voice like a scream held back and said, ‘What! I have been striving with myself to bear it, and I cannot, I cannot. And thou – why didst thou suffer him to depart? Dost thou think I would have slain him? What, when I had taken him from thee. And thou who hast taken from me every love and every delight, and I have pardoned thee time after time. O thou, shall I pardon thee now?’
Joyeuse laughed over her bound hands. ‘Every time the pardon came after the punishment,’ said she.
The lady lifted up her face as if she would have smitten her, but let it fall again without the blow. Then she spake in that covert shriek and said, ‘Even so shall it be now ever so shall it be now; but this time the punishment shall last for ever, till I die.’
Said Joyeuse proudly, ‘There shall be rest at last, and meanwhile when he is not with thee, thou hast him not; but wherever he is, I have him; for he loves me.’
The other stood staring at her for a while, but said nothing; then she slowly sank down again, and sat caressing her left foot as erst she was doing. And Joyeuse stood before her, eying her curiously; and now [f. 45] her seemed that her fear was gone, if her hope had gone therewith.
At last the Earl’s wife cried out in a loud voice, but calmly. ‘Sir Richard, Sir Richard, Great Huntsman, hither to me.’
And the knight came hastening, and the lady pointed to White-Shoulders, and said, ‘Take this runaway lady, and keep her safe the night long, and thy head be on it; for we will have us back to Way-Warding Knowe; but maltreat her in nowise.’
Then she rose up, and went a step or two towards her tent, but turned her head over her shoulders to say, ‘And as to the reiver who lifted her as if she were a beef, and had to let her go again, we will see to it tomorrow if it be worth our while to follow him.’
Therewithal she went her ways to her tent and entered it; and her two damsels came to her for their service.
But the Great Huntsman unbound Joyeuse tenderly and took her by the hand, and led her up into the oak-wood and set her down by the bole of a big tree; then he called to one of his men, and bade fetch her victual and wine; and another he bade make her a bed of bracken; and then he sat down by her and bade her eat, but she loathed the meat; nevertheless for her oath’s sake she enforced herself to swallow a mouthful or two and drink a cup of good wine. And Sir Richard comforted her and said as he ate, ‘Now dear White-Shoulders, thou seest all is not so bad as thou wert deeming; despite of thy trespass, which forsooth may well be paid for a little deal. So heart up; and in a few days thou shalt be as thy name goes. What, my dear, thou hast had dealings aforetime with my Lady in suchlike moods, [f. 46] and hast come off with but little scathe.’
Joyeuse thanked him kindly for his good will, but smiled sadly and said, ‘Fair Sir, not every time comes the pitcher unbroken from the well; and meseemeth this is the breaking time for me. But at least tonight I shall be alive to pray my lady St. Anne to do all good for thee, as she sits by Our Lady Mother amongst the lilies, where is that joyous garden which now alone I hope for.’ And she reached out her hand to him, and he took it and kissed it, and said, ‘Here now is thy bed dight, and a cloak for thee to lie under; and I deem not that we need bind thee, runaway though thou be; whereas all these stout lads shall be lying down about thee. Herewith I bid thee a good night.’
So he left her, and she lay down on her pleasant bed, and it was now as fully night as it would be, save that the moon, which had been bright some time, was now sinking. Joyeuse was weary to the very bones, and now at last was quiet after all the turmoil and the straining of heart-strings; and whether she would or no, her body now would think nought of the morrow, but wholly of the rest of that hour; so that presently she fell asleep and slept long and peaceably.
When she awoke again it was yet night, under the oak-boughs at least, and the moon was down, so that it was dark in that place, and it was not easy to see the tree-boles a few yards off; but as she deemed there was none of all that folk standing upon his feet thereabout; then she thought, How if I might creep quietly away in this hush, and give my doom the go-by. And her heart beat fast thereat, and had she been alone she had tried it; but again she thought, My love shall come and seek me here, else had he not left me alone [f. 47] in that stour, and if he come and find me not, then is he undone; and she lay still.
Presently she deemed she saw something like the grey shadow of a child of Adam flitting about from man to man and tree to tree; and after a little it drew near to her, nay seemed to be coming her way; and then saw it was a shape of man clad in long dark raiment, and at first she deemed it might be her love come to deliver her; and she say quite still, and scarce dared to breathe; but as it drew nigher yet she saw it was not of the stature of a tall man, but of a woman rather. And thereat she deemed it must be the lady, and that she was making towards her perchance to murder her before her time. Her blood ran cold at the thought, but yet she stirred not. But the shape stood still and hung above the green knight as he lay on his back snoring, some ten paces off. Then it went and stood over a sleeping man-at-arms who lay nearer to her yet, and next it moved and came straight to Joyeuse herself, and stood over her clad in a long black cloak that hung down from her very head, which was hooded as it were a shroud. Joyeuse had been fain to feign sleep, and to shut eyes; for now indeed she deemed it was the lady; but all will seemed to forsake her and she lay there on her back with open eyes looking upward to the shrouded shape. But a hand came out from the cloak, nowise like the lady’s, but worn and brown; and it put aside the folds about the face a moment, and Joyeuse beheld a face black-haired and dark-eyed, of a woman nowise young; and she shook her hand over Joyeuse, who felt now that all wit was departing, and the heaven above her dwindled and the oak-boughs faded out, and say lay there in deep slumber.
[f. 48] When she woke again, she was still lying on her back under the bare heaven; and she remembered in a trice all that had befallen her from the she-earl and her men; and her heart was sick and failed her. But in a while she looked aside and saw that she was not in the same place; for the boughs about her were upheld by the smooth and winded boles of beech; and the sun came twinkling through their bright green leaves, and flecking the ground about her, which was bare of grass and brown and hard with the mast of many seasons.
She wondered, and again she looked; and saw tall men about her, many whereof were armed and all they bore the same weapons and armour as those amongst whom she fell asleep the last night, and on the coats of most was the Earl’s badge, a silver bridge over a blue stream.
Then she considered if perchance she had been borns on in her sleep on the road to the Earl’s house, but at least it was nought like to the road whereby they had come out. Withal the Great Huntsman had not been to her, nor had the lady sent to her, though the day was no longer young; and she looked about for the lady and might see no sign of her or her damsels, albeit there was a woman going about, young and not ill-favoured; but as an up-country lass, clad in a russet coat, and with bare feet seemly enough, but brown with the summer’s tan, and such as were not delicate and white with the wont of wearing of foot-raiment. Another woman she saw, tall and clad in black, who had her head away from her, but turning it somewhat she showed the face of a woman of forty summers, dark-eyed and black-haired, and it seemed to Joyeuse that she had seen it before, [f. 49] but might not rightly say where.
Now she deemed it were no peril to her if she should show that she was awake; so she raised herself on her elbow and sat up, and there were four men standing together a two-score paces from her, not very clear to see amidst the beech-boughs, and she saw that one who had his back to her was unarmed in a greet surcoat and with a garland of oak-leaves about his head and hiding his hair; but one of the others saw how she stirred, and touched the garlanded man on the shoulder, and that one turned about and fell to running towards Joyeuse, and she knew him at once for her lover and gave a glad cry and held out her arms towards him, and in a trice he was down on his knees and his arms about her, and was kissing her face and her shoulders and her hands full sweet and soft, and she gasped and moaned for jo, but had no words for a while. At last she said, ‘And am I wrong to be glad, and art thou a captive as I am?’
‘As thou art not, sweeting,’ said he, ‘thou art as free as I am, and I am as free as thou art.’
‘Yea,’ she said; ‘but who be these men, these greencoats here with the Earl’s badge, and the armour and weapons whereto I am wont?’
‘It is not a long story,’ said Giles, ‘so I will tell it thee. When I fled from thee last even, I went by tracks and through coverts I well knew, so that the men that the Green Knight sent after me could do nought [but] turn back; or had they gone on, they had come to the worse; for I had gone scarce half a mile before I fell in with some of these howlets, of whom thou mightest have heard one, and they brought me to the great band of them who were hard by, and some threescore strong. There I told them the tale of how we were chased and thou taken; and I prayed them of help; and albeit [f. 50] that Robin Rendshield is now away to the West driving the spoil, these good fellows were all hot to be helping me, and they armed at once, and they were to follow me afoot (for they were but ill-horsed as then: forsooth we have amended that sithence); and we were to fall on these riders of the Earl, whenas they were unawares and disarrayed. But therewith stood [forth] the Wise Woman who knoweth all lore, and bade us tarry and she should so [do] that they should gather great mail and I should get my love again all skatheless. Quoth she, “Give me two hours’ space ere ye set out and I shall work such a spell that I shall cast them all into such slumber that if ye will ye may strip them naked to the skin, and they none the wiser for eight hours or more; and then may ye come away at your leisure and ease, and need not slay a head of them; and that shall be good; for why should the Earl have a blood-feud against you; and moreover the woman may be slain in the fray if ye have battle.”
“But,” said one, “how know we but that the Earl’s wife shall slay our friend’s darling before tomorrow?”
“That is all one,” said the Wise Wife, “if she have a will to slay her straightway, it is done by now; but by what this man saith, she shall have no such will; wherefore there is time enough and to spare.”
‘Now we all yeasaid the Wise Wife’s rede; and shortly to say it we drew close up to that campment of the Earl’s men, and heard no one stirring. Then went the Wise Wife in among them, and did her sorcery, I know not what, and then came forth to us and bade us do what we would. And as for me, I would nothing but thee; yet gat I withal my jambeaux and cuisses which I had left amongst the bracken, and therewithal I gat a horse exceeding good [f. 51] for thee, and another for me. As for the others, all the horses they took, and all the weapons and armour, whatever there was; so that they can scarce follow us till they have come back to Way-Warding Knowe; and, God’s Love, they will come thither a ragged company. For when our howlets had done disarming them, they peeled them, surcoat and girdle, coat and shoon and hosen, and left nought on carl or queen save shirt and shift; but they would not bind them; for they said, that would but mean an hour’s lying for some thereof. So with all that booty we came away, and thee before me on the saddle-bow.’
‘And the Lady,’ said Joyeuse, ‘was she disarrayed like her maids?’
‘Yea,’ said Giles, ‘as I heard; for I troubled myself not about her.’
‘Well,’ said Joyeuse, ‘when her first mad rage is lulled, she will make the most of it, and think of it as a procession of pilgrims about the holiness of her beauty.’
And she laughed withal, and her laughter was frank and merry, so that it seemed sweet music to the Child of Long Frank, and his heart swelled with happiness. Yet when he kissed her face again, and maybe this time somewhat timidly, as though he feared her anger somewhat for this second caress after the first outburst of joy for the salvation; when he kissed her again and was timid, I say, her happiness was greater than his.
Yet did she draw aback from him somewhat, as if she would no more, and spake to him in a voice of everyday: ‘Tell me next, my friend, who be these weaponed men and others about us?’
‘Does it seem to thee of them,’ said Giles laughing, ‘that they be reiversand lifters of the spoil?’
‘Yea forsooth,’ she said.
‘Even so they be,’ said Giles, ‘and yet friends of mine. And I shall tell thee that they rob not poor men, as most often do lords of castles and lands and others of the lineage, nor do they take aught from good yeomen, [f. 52] as most commonly the King doth; and if at whiles they make chapmen pay for a passage, they do but as the Mayors and Echevins of the cities do, and to boot are more of measure in the dealing with them.’
Joyeuse laughed. ‘I would know,’ said she, ‘since they rob not so large as Lords and Kings and Mayors, how they live; whereas like the others they follow no craft save lifting, as I understand, and neither labour the earth nor sweep the sea with nets?’
Said Giles, ‘My sweet heart, thou shalt know that they hold them free to rob them that live by robbing others; and in the lands about them the tyrant and oppressor is not over safe from the danger of them; and thus they full oft gather some little wealth with mickle peril; and I myself have ridden with them now and again, when the business was dealing with such lords aforesaid, and have whiles gotten good gain for my father’s son, so poor and downfallen as our house now is.’
Said Joyeuse, ‘But tell me, when thou didst lead me hither, didst thou purpose that we should dwell amongst these bold companions?’
‘Nay,’ he said, ‘I was but looking to drawing thee forth of peril, and thought that they might help us, as they have done, and that we should be safe amongst them in the wild wood, till we could come at the passes of the Blue Mountains; and they or some of them, and in special Robin Rendshield, might tell us somewhat of the said passes, and of what lies beyond them, though wild and unkent they be. But thou needst both meat and rest meseemeth. Wherefore first I will fetch thee somewhat to break thy fast withal; for the women have goats here and have been milking them, and they have made bread of my meal that I brought from Longfrank; for they had none of their own; and then, when thou hast eaten and drunk, thou shalt tell me what else thou wilt.’
She said, ‘Thou art kind and sweet to me, and I will take the bread and milk from thine hand. But as to rest, [f. 53] the rest that I crave most is that we get us on as speedily as may be towards the Blue Mountains.’
‘This likes me well also,’ said Giles, ‘and to say the sooth, the lads here will be fain of thy word; for they wait only for thee to be ready.’
‘They be over-good, these reivers of thine,’ said Joyeuse.
‘Nay,’ said Giles, ‘if they slay thee with hastening and hustling, it were nought: then had they better have let alone the delivering of thee.’
Laughed White-Shoulders, and said, ‘Art thou boun for Paris and a chair of the Masters there? Go fetch me the breakfast, for each moment now I grow more glad so that I long to eat.’
He hastened away, and was back speedily with the bread and milk and strawberries which the folk had gathered in a clearing of the beech wood; and Joyeuse ate with a good will, but when she had eaten, she bade Giles purvey for her some well or pool to bathe her withal, if there were time thereto before the folk departed; and Giles said that they would not get to the road for another [hour]; and he fetched her that damsel whom Joyeuse had seen when she first awoke, and bade her find Joyeuse what she needed, and the damsel was fain of the work, and brought White-Shoulders to a little hollow in a bent where the beech-trees failed for a space, and from the bent-side came a well gushing out that ran into a little gravelly pool as clear as glass; therein did Joyeuse bathe, and the damsel with her, who made much of her and marveled at the whiteness of her, and the exceeding fair fashion of her limbs and all her body. But indeed the damsel herself was full fairly shapen, and though she were brown where the sun had tanned her yet was she white otherwhere, bright and clear-skinned all over and as sweet as nuts in September.
[f. 54] So when they had bathed they went up hand in hand to the camp again; and the damsel asked many things of Joyeuse concerning her life and the land she came from; and she told her for her part how they lived when they rested from their wanderings in a nook of the hills under the Blue Mountains.
‘Thither now,’ said she, ‘I supposed ye will be wending, for thy man will be wanting to see Robin Rendshield, and talk with him of many things. And O! but he is a fell fighter.’
‘Robin to wit?’ said Joyeuse.
‘That is he,’ said the damsel, ‘but I was meaning thy man, the Child of Longfrank, who is as valiant as he is lovely.’
Joyeuse reddened, and kissed her cheek, and said, ‘Fair child, he is his own man as yet, and not mine.’
‘Thou art a dear and sweet liar,’ said the other, laughing outright.
Joyeuse answered nought, but said in a while, ‘And what man is this Robin Rendshield, of whom I have heard these two or three times?’
Said the damsel, ‘He is our chief and our father, a man most valiant and mighty, exceeding wise and kind and pious; he hath gotten us a priest for our town, which hight Owl-nook, a holy man and well-learned, who knows many tales of the Blue Mountains, and we have builded him a church of time full goodly.’
Spake Joyeuse, ‘And hast thou ever been up in the Blue Mountains?’
‘Holy Mary forfend,’ said the damsel.
‘Wherefore?’ said Joyeuse.
Said the other, ‘Because it is a place unkent and dwelt in by strange and evil wights; therein is no abiding place for the children of Adam. Forsooth three of our young men have gone up thither, of whom two came back never; and the third, though he came back, would never tell a word [f. 55] of what had befallen him, or what he had seen, but is ever a moody and downcast man, and few-spoken.’
‘Is he with these in the campment?’ said Joyeuse, somewhat eagerly, and blushing withal.
Her new friend looked on her and laughed and said, ‘No, sweet friend, he is not here, but with Robin westaway. What, thou deemest thou couldst make his speak; and if any could, it would be thou. But it would be time and pains thrown away.’
So as they spake together with all joy and good will, they were come into the camp; and there were all busking them for departure, and Joyeuse’s new friend must go her ways to her business, while Joyeuse make towards where Giles stood between two good horses; but on her way she started suddenly and stood still, for there right before her but ten paces off she seemed to see the Earl’s wife talking familiarly with a tall red-haired young man clad in one of the coats of the Earl’s men; for there was the gay, green gold-broidered gown which Joyeuse knew well; and Joyeuse quaked and a pang shot through her heart. But presently she burst out a-laughing; for the gown of my Lady turned about, and therein was a goodly young woman, who had been well-built and trim, had she not been big with child, so that the green gown scarce met over her body.
So Joyeuse went lightly with a smiling face to where stood Giles and when he saw her coming so fair and fresh from out the water, and so happy in the blithe summer morning, himseemed that she had waxed in beauty since he first looked on her in the hall of Longfrank, and that all the world held nothing half so fair.
[f. 56] Now they gat to horse and rode their ways merrily, and there was nought to stay them, for the way was well-known to every one there save Joyeuse. When noon of day was, they had gotten venison enough and they spared not to make great fires in the midst of the hot day; and they ate the roast and were as happy as if they were Dukes and Earls. As for Joyeuse, she saith that she has never been so happy as that day, since she was a little maiden in the house of the good old knight and his dame; and on a time she gat her away into the wood with apples and bread, and went down the water-side, and played with the birds and the coneys what they would suffer, which was nought. And she sat by the side of a little foss (for the water was but a brook) and ate her dinner alone in the wild, and her nurse came and fetched her thence and brought her before the dame, who made a show as if she would punish her, but did it not at all; rather she kissed and caressed her and bade her not weep, which sooth to say the little Joyeuse had no purpose to do.
So that day their travel was a game to play to them, as they went riding the waste, the throng of them together, over the heaths and betwixt the thickets, and threading the oak-trees; and Joyeuse would give no occasion to Giles for the caresses and kisses of yesterday, or as few as might be, since now she knew him wholly hers, and feared no chase, nor sundering. And in [the] evening they supped merrily, twixt the sun and moon, and they sung and were merry till the moon was getting low; and then Joyeuse lay down on the bracken bed which her lover had dight her; and he lay anigh her but not beside her, for even so would she have it.
Thus then she slept under the bare heavens again, and woke not but with [f. 57] the first song of the birds in the early hour before the sun was arisen; and all the camp was astir about her, for the woodmen were fain to ride far before the sun grew hot upon them. And her friend Judith came to her and again led her to the bath in a clear pool of a little stream, whence as they waded the water they could look up and see afar the Blue Mountains through where two of the near hills sunk down to meet each other.
But the woodland maiden mocked Joyeuse sweetly, and said, ‘Forsooth our child of the castle hath a merry mate who will laugh and sing with the best of us, and not go drooping and sighing for love, nor suffer him so to do; and well is that; for all we love him, and sore it were for us that his valiance should be clouded by the love of one woman.’
Joyeuse blushed at her word, and said, ‘Yea my friend, it is well; and call to mind that I told thee yesterday: how that he was no man of mind, but my fellow-farer in our fleeing from evil and the tyrant; and thou sawest yesterday how I held him aloof and would have none of his toying and over-sweet words. Didst thou not?’
Judith fell a-laughing and said, ‘Call to mind how I called thee a fair, sweet liar, as now I do again. I noted the manner of your riding together, ye twain, and said I to myself: Sly she is and more loving than any, since she deems it good to keep his longing a tip-toe, and behold it in the eyes of him, that she may eke her own longing by beholding his which she knowest and cherisheth ever; and nought of this would she do if she knew it not well, and were [not] all sure of him. Thou didst cast no dust in my eyes, my dear.’
[f. 58] Joyeuse held her peace and looked down on the ground, for as now they were wending their ways to the stirring of the camp. But presently she lifted up her face to Judith, and said to her, ‘I would have thee ride beside me all this day, dear maid of the woods, whosoever may ride anigh.’
‘If I ride with thee,’ said Judith, ‘and thy man, I must array myself somewhat richer than now I am dight, and to say sooth I gat a gay gown from out the spoil, and belike I could carry it home no easier than on my body.’
And therewith she ran away from Joyeuse, for they were now come into the camp itself, and most men were a-horseback, but Giles abode his love as the day before; and she came up to him fair-faced and smiling, and he set her tenderly on her horse and left hold of her no sooner than need was, neither did she seem to loathe the girdle of his arms. And he was unarmed now save for his sword, for all his defences he had left with the sumpter beasts whereof the woodmen had enow, and that all the more as some of them had wended on with their bows, wherewas venison would not come unhandy to them that day. For all headgear withal the Child of Longfrank had nought but an oak-wreath and Joyeuse thought she would ask him whence he had it and at whose hands.
Now when they were both in saddle, up comes Judith bestriding a great black horse which erst a man-at-arms of the Earl had backed, and which was none of the lamest or softest gains; and Joyeuse laughed merrily when she set eyes on the damsel; who had donned a cyclas which Cecily the foe had owned; of blue Saracen silk it was, all interwoven with a device of lions and towers, and the sun-burst; it was knit together under the armpit by a golden clasp, but was open else right out through the gold-broidered hem, and Cecily was wont to wear it over [f. 59] a dark red gown reaching to her heels, but now of raiment was nought to be seen thereunder but a shift of linen, nought fine and exceeding curt; the rest was but the wood-maiden herself, and that was dearer than any loom might weave.
Now she cried out, ‘Here I come, ye fair children, by the bidding of one of you; and if the other would have none of my company, let him say as much. Yet meseemeth I may serve the turn of the twain, when speech falls down between you.’
But Giles greeted her kindly and said, ‘Nay dear maiden, for this day at least shall three be good company; but tomorrow who knows?’
So they took to the way and Joyeuse rode on a dapple-gray mare, slender and not right great, but fair to look on, and as long-enduring as she was fair, and Giles bestrode a red roan stout and strong, for Grey-Goose had he left today to run free; and forth they went in all the triumph and joy of folk who fear not the coming hour.
Such wise rode Joyeuse and Giles and their she-fellow that whiles was Judith on one [side] of the two, and whiles on the other; whiles again she would lag behind and come up with them again at a gallop, and whiles would she ride on ahead and abide in some nook of a thicket till they came up with her; and in much of all this she made pretence to give occasion for the two lovers to have joy of kissing and caressing; though sooth to say howsoever Joyeuse began by withdrawing her from Giles’s hand, yet she held her purpose but ill, for there was no least bone in her body which was not stirred by longing for him; and little did either of them heed if Judith were within sight or within touch of them that they should forbear their toying because of her.
[f. 60] At last when it was nearing noon-tide and the day was hot though [they] were riding the green shade of a beech-wood again, the wood-maiden was grown somewhat sober again, and she rode peaceably by Joyeuse’s right hand, as Giles rode by her left, and she fell to speech and said, ‘White-Shoulders my friend, why must thou laugh so long and merrily, when I came riding up to you two this morning? I have been turning it over in my mind, and have been thinking that I must have done something amiss that thou shouldst laugh so much at me. There, now thou art laughing somewhat again.’
Quoth Joyeuse, ‘Yea laugh I did, and that was partly for triumph of thy fairness and trimness and the merriment of thee that went with it, and thy dearness and friendliness toward me and my man – for even so shalt thou call him now if thou wilt.’
‘Ah yea,’ said Judith, ‘fain am I that thou liest no more concerning that, though sweet was thy lying – Thou Longfrank thou wouldst not have lied to me concerning White-Shoulders, to please me, wouldst thou?’
‘Nay, and why should I lie, sugar-sop,’ said Giles.
‘I will not tell thee,’ said she, ‘since thou needst telling. But what else made thee laugh at me, Castle lady, beside my kindness for thee.’
‘Sweet child,’ said Joyeuse, ‘that comes into my tale, whereas that same cyclas which thou wearest now hath been known to me more than a little while, and she wore it erst who was (and this I tell thee, Giles my dear, as one confess[ing] to the priest) who was more my tyrant than my Lady when she durst, and she it was who sowed the seed of lies to bear harvest of my Lady’s wrath, as not unseldom it did. And I laughed to see the silk dancing about thee so blithe and frank and true as thou art, that once hung about her the guileful and grim creature, and that which was once so hateful [f. 61] become now dear and joyous.’
‘But what did this one unto thee, White-Shoulders,’ said Judith, knitting her brows.
Giles rode on a little way, as Joyeuse turned to answer, but when she saw it, she turned again to him, and said aloud and clear, ‘Nay it is an old tale now, and left long behind; let it be.’
‘Nevertheless,’ said Judith, ‘might I come across that foe of thine, I should deem it a little matter to break the neck of her, or shove her down into the peat-bog.’ And therewith she smote her horse’s flank so hard with her heel and held him so hard by the head, that the beast bounded beneath her and swerved withal, so that Joyeuse was all disarrayed by her and scarce kept her saddle and Giles cried out, ‘Hail to thy words, stoutheart and friend. And there is this to be said of thee, that thou art as kind and valiant as thou art fair, and that is saying no little.’
At that word Judith gave her horse the head and he tore off down the glad, and she outwent the others so far, that though they mended their pace it was some while ere they came up with her, and then they found her off her horse and sitting leaning against a big-boled tree, and when they drew near she brake out singing. Nevertheless her face was flushed, and Joyeuse might not fail to see that the tears had been on the cheeks of her.
Now they all rode on quietly together, and there were many of the fellowship riding anigh them, and they were come out of the beech-wood, and the hills rose high before them as they rode a good grassy plain swelling up towards the passes of the said fells, and the river besides which Joyeuse had stood before the Earl’s wife was winding about their road and was gotten but a pretty trickling stream, and at a bight thereof some half mile ahead, whereas were a few low oaks and some thorns to give them [f. 62] [firing], they saw the blue smoke go up wavering and the red flame breaking through the woodpiles and men moving about them, and they knew their fore-runners had fetched them venison and were making them the roast.
Now was Judith riding between those two, and they making much of her, and she spake somewhat softly, ‘I have been falling into thought of what ye shall do when ye go from us into the mountains, and I had a mind to tell you tales and rumours, more than I told thee, White-Shoulders, a while ago, but now I see that dinner is to hand and there will be noise and stir of the feast anon, so I will keep it awhile till men be full, and then it you will, let us sit together in some nook while folk are busy sleeping and resting; and then my tales shall out.’
This they yeasaid blithely, and they rode straight to their wide feast hall of the wilderness, and there were gathered presently all the sort of the woodmen. Joyfully then they fell to their meat, which sooth to say was little but the venison, for of bread they had scarce any, and of wine but such as they had found on the sumpters that had followed the Earl’s men, and had come up with them after they had made their catch of one damsel; nevertheless they had a mouthful or two, each man of them, and as much of water as they would, for clear was the stream that ran thereby, and whatso they ate and drank, it was with goodwill one to the other.
But when they were full and had sang a while and talked a while with no little noise, the more part of them lay down in the shade to sleep. Judith brought Giles and White-Shoulders somewhat up stream where there was again a little deal of trees, and chiefly three quicken-trees down by the water’s edge where the stream thereof was nought noisy, and there [f. 63] they sat peaceably looking across the water, and far aloof over a dip in the grasshills the Blue Mountains showed before them.
Then said the frank maiden, ‘Tell me, you twain, what think ye to do in the Blue Mountains?
Joyeuse hung her head as she played with a stalk of quaking-grass, and said, ‘I know not. Giles it was that bade me wend thither.’
But Giles said, ‘My maid, the Blue Mountains be not the end [of] all things; the World’s edge lieth some way beyond them, I deem, and sooth it is that I must seek a new world in lieu of that one which three days ago sufficed me, and I deem that few will go seeking me through the wall of the said mountains. Wherefore when we come through them, we shall be safe from what lieth behind us.’
‘What,’ said Judith, ‘deem ye then that the Earl will send and search the wilderness for you two?’
‘Meseems the Earl’s wife will,’ said Joyeuse, ‘even as she did the day before yesterday; and she will be hotter in the chase than she was erst, for she will deem that she has something more to pay me for, though I had nought to do with it.’
‘Well,’ said the woodland damsel, ‘as for us, with Robin Rendshield to aid, we may well shift for ourselves, but --.’ Then she reddened and said, ‘Yea, friend Giles, I deem after [all] that thou dost well to get thee and her clear of our company. But I will tell thee outright that I would there were some other road out of it save through the Blue Mountains.’
‘Tell us tales of them, thou wood-darling,’ said Joyeuse, ‘that we may fear the less when we find no evil amidst them.’
Spake Judith, ‘The tales I know be either too little or too long; and the longer ones are they that [f. 64] I have learned while I was waxing up in these woods, and the shorter ones are such as I have heard whispered to me in these last few years; and since he who came back thence has been wandering mournfully amongst us. But hearken; First there is the White Rider, and none see him save when trouble is come to hand; and next there is the House of the Coal-Blue Halls, and none entereth there who is doomed to a happy life; and sore I long, White-Shoulders, for happy days for thee and thy mate; for thou hast looked on me with kind eyes; and once it has seemed to me that I might have come to lie by his side. Now moreover there is the Rosy-Red Hind, and she is for the solace of them that cannot be comforted. And again there is the City of Women, and folk say that neither man nor woman who cometh within its walls shall ever know love again. And many other perils and wonders be within that land, and the wanderer therein can have no forecast of them, nor ward himself against them. And ill it is for friends to fade from us into the House of Death, even if otherwise we should never come to see them again in this life.’
Joyeuse stroked her face, and said, ‘Kind friend, tell me next with lieth beyond the Blue Mountains.’
Quoth Judith, ‘I know nought thereof.’
‘And these of thy folk,’ said Joyeuse, ‘who went thither and came not back, might it not be that they passed safe through all these perils, and are now thriving in some fair land beyond them?’
‘None of us so deemeth;’ said Judith, ‘rather we deem them miserably cast away.’
Then were they silent awhile; then said Giles, ‘Judith, I deem not thou wouldst fear all these perils so much, [f. 65] but thou wouldst try the adventure if thou mightest serve some dear friend.’
Judith spake nought, but the tears came into her eyes, and her lips were writhen. Then said Giles, looking away from her, ‘Now therefore I bid thee come with us, and share our peril in the Blue Mountains.’
She knit her brow and the salt tears ran over her lips, but she said presently, ‘No, I will not come,’ and therewith she arose and went a little aloof from them, and they two sat looking on each other wistfully; and Giles took a hand of Joyeuse, and caressed it and kissed it.
Thereafter Judith came back again, and sat by them, and fell to speech about other matters, as of their dwelling among the hills, and the deeds of Robin Rendshield since the Child of Longfrank was last amongst them; and Joyeuse noted her closely, and was sorry for her and loved her. And they talked together blithely till the woodfolk fell to bestirring them for the road; then they three gat their horses and rode on diligently, and were of more sober mood than they were in the morning. And because they had rested long in the hottest of the day, long did they ride that even, and stayed not till sunset; and then they supped and lay down to sleep in a little valley amongst the grass hills, which the woodmen knew full well, and deemed safe and sure.
The next day those three rode somewhat soberly, and otherwise in the journey was nought to tell of till an hour before sunset, when, being come into a strait pass between two bents, and having ridden down the same some way, they saw it open out into a dale not right great, and ringed about everywhere save by the said pass with fair grass hills bare of trees; and when they had gone a little [f. 66] further and were in the very dale they saw at the further end and going up the bent, frame houses not a few, well builded enow; a church of the like work with a sharp spire rose from amidst the said houses, and in front of them toward the flat of the dale went a stout wall of timber and pales. Even as Joyeuse was well aware of this dwelling, two or three of the woodmen who were foremost fell to sounding on their horns from the dwelling and a banner came up over the pale-wall, and as the evening breeze blew it out, was clear to see thereon the image of a howlet on a white field.
Then spake Giles, ‘Now sweetheart are we presently at home, and we shall have news of Robin Rendshield, and whatever he be in Owl-nook or not; and sooth to say I would he were, as I have many things to ask him.’
Therewith they pricked on, and saw fair meadows on the right hand and the left, and many neat feeding down the greensward, and nearer the dwelling certain closes of cornland wherein the wheat was even now blossoming.
It was but a little after when the gate opened and a half-score of men came out afoot, and there was nought to hide that one of them was Robin Rendshield, for the woodmen set up a shout when they saw the out-goers; and when Robin saw the riding of Giles and Joyeuse he made straight for them, and Giles got off his horse and Robin embraced and kissed him. The said Robin was a man not very high, but broad of shoulder and long of arm and big-handed, and somewhat bow-legged. His face was wide, fresh-coloured with blue eyes set far apart and a nose a little [f. 67] snubbed; his hair was short and curled in close rings all over his head, and as yellow as oaten straw, his beard short and then of the same colour, his lips and his chin round and well-shapen; a man who seemed neither fierce nor surly; he was by seeming of some forty winters. He turned now and looked on Joyeuse as she sat on her horse, and made her obeisance, and said, ‘Fair squire, who is this lovely lady that thou hast with thee? Is she of thy Kindred, and would she any service of us?’
He seemed to Joyeuse both kind and courteous, so she spake and said, ‘If I may speak before my friend and thine, Giles of Longfrank, I would tell thee, chieftain, that I am but a runaway thrall of the Lady of Way-Warding Knowe, and nowise of the kin of [him]; and that his kindness hath delivered me from an evil death, or a life worse maybe; but the said kindness had not brought me deliverance but for the timely and valiant aid of thy men; wherefore the service which I would have of thee is done already, though little thanks have I rendered for it. And for the rest if any more is needed, it is for thy friend Giles to ask for it, and what he willeth I will.’
She reddened as she spake, and Robin said, ‘Lady, if thou hast been a thrall, I will dare swear that it hath not been of thy fault or evil conditions; and in any case no thrall art thou now, but the friend of our friend, and I bid thee light down and come into our dwelling, and deem that thou hast a home therein as long as thou wilt; and understand that there is no man of our company but will hold thee safe of Earl or King, till we fall one over the other.’
And therewith he came to her and helped her off her horse right courteously, and took her hand to lead her within the gate; [f. 68] and Giles went beside them, and the whole company of them followed after.
Now bade Robin to Judith that she should bring Joyeuse to a chamber of his house, and serve her body with all due service that might be, and nothing loathe she went with her, but Robin took Giles to a chamber [and] himself did for him what he needed of fair linen and bathing; and thereafter they went together to the great feast-hall which was amidst of the dwelling, builded long and high, and nowise ungoodly of timber, and dight with hallings which came from no looms of the wilderness, but had been won with diligent riding, and maybe by a sword-stroke or two. There Robin and Giles sat them down in a window, and Giles asked the woman much concerning the Blue Mountains, and Robin told him what he knew thereof, which was but little more than Giles had heard from Judith or indeed than he knew form tales that were afoot about Longfrank, or that he had heard when he was amongst the reivers aforetime. At last spake Robin, ‘When all is said, Child of Longfrank if thou art seeking a new land and dwelling-place aloof from the Earl’s wrath, why wilt thou not go north or south, skirting the Blue Mountains, buty not entering them, and thou shalt find some good town, wherein are all things meet for the life of knightly folk?’
‘Yea forsooth,’ said Giles laughing, ‘and meseemeth thou and I have ridden in the lands of the said good towns or of their upholders and tyrants, the lords of the castles which lie thereaway, and it may be that our deeds be remembered there.’
‘Mine belike,’ said Robin laughing in his turn, ‘but not thine, lad, for nameless didst thou ride ever.’
‘And when they ask me whence I come to them, what shall I tell [f. 69] them? that I am from Owl-nook? Fair should be my welcome then.’
Said Robin, ‘Thou mayest say that thou comest from the castle of Longfrank.’
‘Yea,’ said Giles, ‘then will it be made straightforward when the Earl’s men come seeking me, and presently I shall be riding to Way-Warding Knowe with all my ancles tied together under the horse’s belly.’
Robin laughed. ‘Thou wilt neither abide here, which meseemeth were best, or go north now south, nor anywhere save into the Blue Mountains; and I see of thee that thou hast it fixed in thy mind to try that adventure. Well then even so must it be. And I will not say of thee when we sunder tomorrow that I shall see thy face no more, for truly in the said face I see luck written. But now stand we up, for the lads are coming into the hall, and yonder I see Judith leading thy damsel in; and truly thou art in the right of it to heed her in all thou mayest, wherefore forbear and suffer me to lead her to the high seat.’
So they went both of them unto Joyeuse, and Robin took her hand again, and deemed that no mishap. For Joyeuse, now that she was bathed and rested, looked as fair as an angel, and she was garlanded with roses and her hair hung adown, and her shoulders shone out from it, and her cheeks were flushed with joy and love, and her eyes glittered as she turned about to Giles, she going up the hall before him.
Now was there great feast and joyance in the hall, for besides that prey which the Howlets had gotten in the helping of Joyeuse, Robin had brought back another, and that goodly and of matters which they lacked much at Owl-nook, and chiefly was it of wine and spicery and wheaten flour, which they lacked at Owl-nook till the harvest should be.
[f. 70] The night fell, and yet they sat there, and the moon came up and shone in at the windows athwart the candle-lit wall, and they sat there still; and the moon sank and the night waned. Many a time had Joyeuse been at point to rise to her feet, and ask leave to go her way to her chamber, but it seemed to her that she knew not how; and oft as she sat there above the merry noise of the hall, shame came upon her and her colour came and went, and when she spake to those anigh her it was to her as if the voice was none of hers, though she knew the meaning of the words.
As for Giles now it seemed as if all the boldness of the journey was departed from him, and there he sat wondering when she would arise to depart and with what words he should speak to her and beseech her to suffer him to lead her to her chamber and abide there with her; and he sat on one side of Robin and she on the other; and as it grew later and she arose not from the board, he durst not lean forward to look at her, lest she should arise in haste and go her ways without bidding him to follow by and word or look. Many were the tales he told himself of the feast’s ending and the hours before sunrise, and every one of them made him afraid, for he told himself that he should have looked lower for his love than the fairest woman of the world.
But at last, when the men in the hall had fallen to singing a song, one of the latest of the night, and it was all done with the clashing of arms and stamping of feet and the smiting of sword upon shield, Joyeuse looked to her right and her left and stood upon her feet and slipped back to [the] wall of the dais behind the high seat. That saw Judith who sat three seats outward from her, and she arose in haste with a pale face, and thrust past her betwixt wall and board and came to Giles who had [f. 71] also risen, and took her hand to his shoulder and thrust him from her, as who should say ‘go forth’ and he went down from the dais, as if he were fain not to be heeded; then she turned back and took Joyeuse by the hand, and led her off the dais and down the hall without any word, and when they came out of the hall under the stars (for the moon was low down now), they saw a man standing without [by] the streams of light that came from the hall-windows, and knew it was the Child of Longfrank. And Judith led Joyeuse up to him and left them and stood aloof.
But Giles stood gazing whereas he saw but dimly the fairness of Joyeuse’s face, and then reached out his hand to her and she took it, and he led her along, Judith going on before them. And they came to the door of the house where Joyeuse was guested, and then was Judith gone, and they entered it and came to the chamber door, and it was open so that they saw into it that the floor thereof glimmered a little, because the sky was growing grey with dawn.
Then Joyeuse let her hand fall down from his, and spake in a voice low and husky, and said, ‘Let the dawn come, beloved, for I am afraid.’
He held his peace awhile, and neither of them moved and a great wave of noise of the revel came upon them from the hall, and amidst it he said, ‘Bid me go if thou wilt, and I will go; for there shall be many days of our life after this one.’
But she said nothing, but stood hanging her head.
Then he said, ‘Bid me lead thee into the chamber if thou wilt; but be not afraid to bid me go this once if thou wilt.’
Yet she stood and spake not, and he said, ‘Thou wouldst have me gone this once, and fearest to say it lest thou hurt me? Now if thou sayest nought, I shall wot that so it is.’
She held her peace; and he abode a while, and then he said, ‘Now I know thy will and thy mind, beloved, and it is like that [f. 72] [thou] wouldst have me forbear till we be in the land of peril amidst the Blue Mountains, lest all our love and joy be over in a day.’ Still she hung her head and spake not; but he turned about and went his way softly, nor durst he to kiss her.
But when she was left alone, she stood a little while, and spake inwardly: O, if it had been day and he could have seen my face. Then she stole softly into the chamber and went to the bed and lay down thereon all clad as she was, and said to herself: I will not bare my body to the dawn and the day, since I might not bare it to him. But sweet it is to think that he knew my mind though he knew not my will and my desire. And the dawn began to whiten the sky, and still she lay there alone, but in a while and before the sun was up, yea before the first song of the birds, the weariness of the long day weighed uon her and she lay there sleeping all clad.
Now for Giles, he wandered about a while, and then came to a nook of the wall but a little way from the house wherein was Joyeuse, and there he slept till the sun was up in the heavens, and then arose and stood by the door of the said house till folk began to stir therein; then he came to the chamber, and Joyeuse herself met him in the door, and they kissed together fondly, and she said, ‘Now is the dawn gone and the day come, and would we were upon our way.’
He said, ‘And I long for it no less, and the woodmen are stirring now in the dwelling, so wend we straightway to the hall; for I know it of Robin that though he were fain might he keep me here, he shall not hinder our departure.’
So they went both of them, and found Robin sitting on the steps of the hall porch; and he rose up and greeted them, and he said thereafter, ‘Well, [f. 73] Child of Longfrank, I see it in thine eyes that thou wouldst be gone from us into the Land of Peril; and forsooth I lay no wyte on thee for thy eagerness in seeking adventures. Nay, if it were not for these few poor sheep in the wilderness, deem that I would have bidden thee take me for a faring-fellow. But how about this fair lady, who scarce seems meet to endure the many terrors that may befall you. Nay,’ said he, smiling, ‘this morning her body seems even frailer and more delicate, if her spirit be more eager, than last night it was.’
Quoth Joyeuse, smiling kindly on him, ‘Thou needest fear nought for me, whereas in my life-time I have endured hard trials enough now and again; and as thou seest am but little worsened thereby; and moreover I have to tell thee, that fain were I also in the Blue Mountains, since he must needs be there; and nowhere else would I be.’
Said Robin, ‘So it must be then, and since thou wilt have it so, I will speed thee on thy journey what I may; and folk shall dight the horses while we eat a morsel to break our fast.’
So they gat them into the hall together, and Robin bade some of the folk therein, and when they had broken their fast were the horses at the door, three of them, for Robin would show them the way; and as for the horses for Giles and Joyeuse, they were the best of all those that they had gotten from the Earl’s men, and moreover had run loose these three days, so that they had many a mile in the bellies of them.
Now there was Judith standing beside the horses, and when Joyeuse came forth she stepped up beside the woodland damsel, and cast her arms about her and kissed her. But Judith slipped from out of her embrace and stood looking on Giles as [f. 74] [he] went slowly toward his way-wearer; and he brushed past her and took hold of the reins, for Joyeuse was already in the saddle, and then suddenly as if bethinking him of something, he turned aback, and took Judith by the hand and drew her to him and kissed her cheek and her mouth, but somewhat she shrunk aback from him, which forsooth he noted not, but spake to her in a cheery voice and said, ‘Farewell, dear maiden and friend, belike when I come from the Blue Mountains thou shalt not be very far from Robin Rendshield and the folk; and we shall meet then in all joyance.’
Nought spake Judith, but turned away and went into the hall without looking back, as one who has some errand to hand and must set about it.
Therewith they rode out a-gates, and Robin said, ‘Meseems if we ride diligently, by about noon we shall come to such a place as that I may leave you there to find your way to the perils, which ye would outface.’
Transcribed by Peter Wright, 2014.