When they arose on the morrow they began to think of departure, though they would have kept them in that guest-house for many days; but both of the twain, and especially the Maiden, deemed that, if they might, they should be drawing nigh to that dwelling of the good Knight who had overthrown the League of the Barons; and they both deemed that thereabout, if anywhere, they should have tidings, even had they long to wait for them, of that new champion whom the wise Knight had gotten.
Now then the Carline did wisely, and she got to see the steward, and fell to talk with him, and did him to wit that, for all the simplicity of their raiment, they had both the will and the might to make a fair oblation to the Saint; and she took from the aforesaid necklace two sapphires and two emeralds, all great and very fair, and the steward's eyes danced in the head of him at the sight, and he said: "This is a fair gift indeed, and if ye will come with me into the church I will show you to the Sub-prior, and if ye have any honest desire, as is like, since ye have such love of Holy Church, he and I between us will help you therein. And if not, nought is your time wasted in seeing our church, which is of itself worth a long journey to behold."
So they went, well pleased, and when they were in the church they found that he had said nought but the sooth: so many pillars there were reaching up and toward the sky, so nobly wide it was, and as long as it should be. And there were many altars therein, all as well furnished as might be done; and long had it taken any lettered man to have told up the number of histories on the walls and in the windows, wherein they were all as if done with gemstones; and everywhere the fair stories told as if they were verily alive, and as if they who did them had seen them going on on the earth and in the heavens. So the two waited there ravished while the steward went to fetch the Sub-prior, and brought him presently, a kind and holy man, and humble of demeanour.
He spake to them and said: "My daughters, it is told me that ye need somewhat of our house in all honesty and holiness; now when ye have laid your gift on the altar, if ye will come with me and our steward here to the parlour, I will hearken to all ye have to say, and if the thing ye need of us can be done, done it shall be." They thanked him humbly and went and made their oblation, and prayed, and the Sub-prior blessed them, and brought them out of the church into the parlour, and there they sat down together.
Then the Carline opened her budget, and told how they two had suffered from war and rapine, and when they had been delivered from a foul caitiff by a good Knight who had cherished them with all honours in his house, and all went well a while, it endured not long, for needs must he go to the wars, and there was he slain: how they, to escape the malice of the mother of the said Knight, who was a proud and hard woman, and now that her son was dead neither loved nor feared aught, must needs flee away. "But withal," said the Carline, "even had that good and kind Knight lived and come back to us, needs must we have left his house, and his kindness ere long. For this I must do you to wit," says she, "that we deem we have a weird and a fortune abiding us, and that through all trouble we shall be brought thereto in the end, and that the said Knight's house of Brookside was over-far from it. This therefore we ask of you, since ye have shown such kindness unto us as the man of Samaria to him who fell amongst thieves."
The Sub-prior smiled at her word and said: "Well, dame, neither the priest nor the Levite pass by the poor souls."
"Father," she said, "thou and thy house, are ye foes or friends to the Knight of Longshaw?"
The Sub-prior smiled: "Friends forsooth," said he, "so far as we may do him any good; but ye wot that we give him no carnal help with sword and spear, yea and little indeed might we give were we temporal lords, so far off as we be from Longshaw, and the river and the Wood Masterless lying all between us. And now indeed we begin to deem that the good Knight may yet come to his abode, though ere he had given the Barons' League that great overthrow things seemed much going awry with him. Moreover we have heard of a new champion whom he hath gotten, and who counted for much in that battle with the Barons, and well-nigh as wise in war is he as the Knight himself, say men. But now, my daughters, what would ye with the Knight of Longshaw?"
With that the Maiden took up the word, blushing red like a rose, and she said: "With the Knight of Longshaw it is perhaps little that we have to do, although we wish him all good, but it is rather with that one of whom ye have heard tell that he is a new-come champion of the Knight's." The Sub-prior smiled withal and said: "But what have ye to do with this champion?"
The Maiden blushed no longer, but said: "I will tell you the story in as short a way as it may be told: I was a damsel living much all alone by the side of a terrible river, not lightly to be crossed, or indeed not at all. And on the other side of the said river was there a bold lad of about my years, and we fell into converse, speaking together very sweetly each from our own side of the water. And for a long time this seemed a no such evil fate for the two of us to endure; but time went on, and I grew into a woman and he grew into a man, and indeed as bold a champion as there is in our parts; and then indeed it seemed hard that, though we should meet in speech, yet never should mouth meet mouth or hand meet hand. But we lived on in hope, and trusted to what weird had wrought for us. And it seemed possibly not so unlike but that this bold and eager champion might go wide in the world, and somehow find out the country and the side of the river on which I was born and bred. And in the meantime was I determined above all things never to think of anyone else but this bold and beautiful champion, and even so it is with me now. And this good dame here, who is my very fostermother, and is somewhat wise, though I would hope not more so than Holy Church alloweth, has always bidden me to hope to see my champion again, and even so I do. And we both know that it is only amongst the Knight of Longshaw and his men that he is to be found."
Quoth the Sub-prior: "And when he was found, and ye let him know where ye are, will he come to you, think ye?"
"Even so we believe," said the Maiden. "Well," said the Sub-prior. "tell me what ye would have, and it shall be done for you." Said the Carline: "We would [come across the water and] have guide and guards through the Wood Masterless to some place where we may dwell alone. Can ye do this much for us? And we shall be well willing to pay with suchlike gems as ye have already seen of ours for such a small house."
"Well," said the Sub-prior, "that may well be, and tomorrow morn, if ye will take the whole thing on your own heads, I will send you [down to the ferry that lieth betwixt us and a House of Friars on the further side of the water. At a writing from us these good brothers may find you some such dwelling in the Wood Masterless as ye seek, and will furnish you with way-beasts and guides thereto.] But I leave it to you, Carline, whether ye do not risk greatly to take such a pearl with you into the place which is peopled by the worst of men." Said the Carline: "To tell you the truth, Father, I have pieces of wisdom by which I can blind the eyes of foolish men, so that they will see nothing of the delicate beauty of my daughter here." "Well," said the Sub-prior, and smiled.
So the very next morning it was as the Sub-prior said. [Two lay-brothers brought them down to the water-side, and at parting gave a writing into the hand of the Carline. And when they were safely over the mighty Flood, and landed on a pleasant strand where the water was shallow and the current none so swift, the ferryman spoke a word of them to one of the brotherhood who had stood watching the crossing of that boat. With a friendly greeting he turned and led the way to the Friary, a fair stone building, set with a wall both high and long. Here met the Carline and the Maiden with a kindly welcome, and were set in the guest-house to rest that night. And, said the good brothers, their matter might be seen to, and they would send them on through the Wood Masterless; and that there was such a house as the Carline would have, which is in a good case, said they, though it may want here and there a nail or a plank.
And in the morning two of the brothers were bidden] array themselves and take sumpter-horses and good horses for the women, and to lead them to within such distance of the Castle and Longshaw as might seem good to the Carline, and that forsooth was but some dozen miles.
There then they rested; and from time to time the Carline would go on her errands, and would see folk who would give her tidings of how things went in the world. And ever she found that the tale was the same. For the Lord of Longshaw might not stretch out a hand without thriving; and ever with him at council, or at privy talk, or in the front of the battle, was this marvellous champion, whom it availed nought for any man to gainsay. At last the time began to seem long for the Maiden; and the Carline from time to time, when she did not know that she was nigh, heard her bewailing that her man came not, and she heard her say one day: If he come not before long, then will be perished some deal of that delicate beauty which I would above all things deliver into his keeping, so that he may know that it was no mere shadow of a woman with whom he gave and took in talk on the other side of the Sundering Flood. And in very sooth she began to peak and pine, and the Carline took her to task therefor, and said that she herself would try to set this right. Till on a day the Carline knew for sure that the champion had now turned his head from all his valiances, and was thinking of nothing but of how he might come across her with whom he had such merry days on the other side of the Great Water.
Short it is that is left to tell. The Carline knew of a certainty that he had been smitten in felony and grievously hurt, and that he had been carried to an hermitage and there healed; therefore she waylaid him on a time and brought him to the house wherein they dwelt. And there, whether it were by her planning or by mere chance-hap may scarce be told, but such a thing befel that the wrath of the champion blazed out in him, so that for some few minutes he might scarce tell what was before him. And then it was all over, and they two were sealed for one another for what yet abided them on the earth.
Now this is my tale, and belike it has been somewhat overlong, and therefore it scarce needs that ye bid this damsel tell a tale for her part, which were indeed better told by her casting to earth her grey cloak and showing her body fairly dight. For, indeed, this damsel belongeth to one who is your kinsman and dear friend: and seemly will she think it that she show her body so dight that it shall lack no fairness before you.