The Well at the World's End
Part 6 out of 11
and gilded, and the chapiters carved most excellently:
not many hangings on the walls, for the walls themselves were carven,
and painted with pictures in the most excellent manner;
the floors withal were so dainty that they seemed as if they
were made for none but the feet of the fairest of women.
And all this was set amidst of gardens, the like of which they
had never seen.
But they entered without more ado, and were brought by the pages
to the Lady's innermost chamber; and if the rest of the house
were goodly, this was goodlier, and a marvel, so that it seemed wrought
rather by goldsmiths and jewellers than by masons and carvers.
Yet indeed many had said with Clement that the Queen who sat there
was the goodliest part thereof.
Now she spake to Clement and said: "Hail, merchant!
Is this the young knight of whom thou tellest, he who seeketh his
beloved that hath been borne away into thralldom by evil men?"
"Even so," said Clement. But Ralph spake: "Nay, Lady,
the damsel whom I seek is not my beloved, but my friend.
My beloved is dead."
The Queen looked on him smiling kindly, yet was her face somewhat troubled.
She said: "Master chapman, thy time here is not over long for all that thou
hast to do; so we give thee leave to depart with our thanks for bringing
a friend to see us. But this knight hath no affairs to look to:
so if he will abide with us for a little, it will be our pleasure."
So Clement made his obeisance and went his ways. But the Queen bade
Ralph sit before her, and tell her of his griefs, and she looked
so kindly and friendly upon him that the heart melted within him,
and he might say no word, for the tears that brake out from him,
and he wept before her; while she looked on him, the colour coming
and going in her face, and her lips trembling, and let him weep on.
But he thought not of her, but of himself and how kind she was to him.
But after a while he mastered his passion and began, and told her
all he had done and suffered. Long was the tale in the telling,
for it was sweet to him to lay before her both his grief and his hope.
She let him talk on, and whiles she listened to him, and whiles, not, but all
the time she gazed on him, yet sometimes askance, as if she were ashamed.
As for him, he saw her face how fair and lovely she was, yet was there
little longing in his heart for her, more than for one of the painted
women on the wall, for as kind and as dear as he deemed her.
When he had done, she kept silence a while, but at last she enforced her,
and spake: "Sad it is for the mother that bore thee that thou art not
in her house, wherein all things would be kind and familiar to thee.
Maybe thou art seeking for what is not. Or maybe thou shalt seek
and shalt find, and there may be naught in what thou findest, whereof to
give thee such gifts as are meet for thy faithfulness and valiancy.
But in thine home shouldst thou have all gifts which thou mayest desire."
Then was she silent awhile, and then spake: "Yet must I needs
say that I would that thine home were in Goldburg."
He smiled sadly and looked on her, but with no astonishment,
and indeed he still scarce thought of her as he said:
"Lady and Queen, thou art good to me beyond measure.
Yet, look you! One home I had, and left it; another I
looked to have, and I lost it; and now I have no home.
Maybe in days to come I shall go back to mine old home;
and whiles I wonder with what eyes it will look on me.
For merry is that land, and dear; and I have become sorrowful."
"Fear not," she said; "I say again that in thine home shall all things
look kindly on thee."
Once more she sat silent, and no word did his heart bid him speak.
Then she sighed and said: "Fair lord, I bid thee come and go in this
house as thou wilt; but whereas there are many folk who must needs see me,
and many things are appointed for me to do, therefore I pray thee to come
hither in three days' space, and meanwhile I will look to the matter
of thy search, that I may speed thee on the way to Utterness, which is
no great way from Utterbol, and is the last town whereof we know aught.
And I will write a letter for thee to give to the lord of Utterbol,
which he will heed, if he heedeth aught my good-will or enmity.
I beseech thee come for it in three days wearing."
Therewith she arose and took his hand and led him to the door,
and he departed, blessing her goodness, and wondering at her
courtesy and gentle speech.
For those three days he was still seeking tidings everywhere,
till folk began to know of him far and wide, and to talk of him.
And at the time appointed he went to the Queen's House and was
brought to her chamber as before, and she was alone therein.
She greeted him and smiled on him exceeding kindly, but he might
not fail to note of her that she looked sad and her face
was worn by sorrow. She bade him sit beside her, and said:
"Hast thou any tidings of the woman whom thou seekest?"
"Nay, nay," said he, "and now I am minded to carry on the search
out-a-gates. I have some good friends who will go with me awhile.
But thou, Lady, hast thou heard aught?"
"Naught of the damsel," she said. "But there is something else.
As Clement told me, thou seekest the Well at the World's End,
and through Utterness and by Utterbol is a way whereby folk seek thither.
Mayst thou find it, and may it profit thee more than it did my
kinsman of old, who first raised up Goldburg in the wilderness.
Whereas for him was naught but strife and confusion, till he was
slain in a quarrel, wherein to fail was to fail, and to win the day
was to win shame and misery."
She looked on him sweetly and said: "Thou art nowise such as he;
and if thou drink of the Well, thou wilt go back to Upmeads,
and thy father and mother, and thine own folk and thine home.
But now here is the letter which thou shalt give to the Lord
of Utterbol if thou meet him; and mayhappen he is naught so evil
a man as the tale of him runs."
She gave him the letter into his hands, and spake again:
"And now I have this to say to thee, if anything go amiss with thee,
and thou be nigh enough to seek to me, come hither, and then,
in whatso plight thou mayst be, or whatsoever deed thou mayst
have done, here will be the open door for thee and the welcome
of a friend."
Her voice shook a little as she spake, and she was silent again,
mastering her trouble. Then she said: "At last I must
say this to thee, that there may no lie be between us.
That damsel of whom thou spakest that she was but thy friend,
and not thy love--O that I might be thy friend in
such-wise! But over clearly I see that it may not be so.
For thy mind looketh on thy deeds to come, that they shall
be shared by some other than me. Friend, it seemeth strange
and strange to me that I have come on thee so suddenly,
and loved thee so sorely, and that I must needs say farewell
to thee in so short a while. Farewell, farewell!"
Therewith she arose, and once more she took his hand in hers,
and led him to the door. And he was sorry and all amazed:
for he had not thought so much of her before, that he might see
that she loved him; and he thought but that she, being happy
and great, was kind to him who was hapless and homeless.
And he was bewildered by her words and sore ashamed that for all
his grief for her he had no speech, and scarce a look for her;
he knew not what to do or say.
So he left the Queen's House and the court thereof, as though
the pavement were growing red hot beneath his feet.
Ralph Hath Hope of Tidings Concerning the Well at the World's End
Now he goes to Clement, and tells him that he deems he has no need
to abide their departure from Goldburg to say farewell and follow
his quest further afield; since it is clear that in Goldburg
he should have no more tidings. Clement laughed and said:
"Not so fast, Lord Ralph; thou mayst yet hear a word or two."
"What!" said Ralph, "hast thou heard of something new?"
Said Clement: "There has been a man here seeking thee,
who said that he wotted of a wise man who could tell thee much
concerning the Well at the World's End. And when I asked him
of the Damsel and the Lord of Utterbol, if he knew anything of her,
he said yea, but that he would keep it for thy privy ear.
So I bade him go and come again when thou shouldst be here.
And I deem that he will not tarry long."
Now they were sitting on a bench outside the hall of the hostel,
with the court between them and the gate; and Ralph said:
"Tell me, didst thou deem the man good or bad?" Said Clement:
"He was hard to look into: but at least he looked not
a fierce or cruel man; nor indeed did he seem false or sly,
though I take him for one who hath lost his manhood--
but lo you! here he comes across the court."
So Ralph looked, and saw in sooth a man drawing nigh, who came
straight up to them and lowted to them, and then stood before
them waiting for their word: he was fat and somewhat short,
white-faced and pink-cheeked, with yellow hair long
and curling, and with a little thin red beard and blue eyes:
altogether much unlike the fashion of men of those parts.
He was clad gaily in an orange-tawny coat laced with silver,
and broidered with colours.
Clement spake to him and said: "This is the young knight
who is minded to seek further east to wot if it be mere lies
which he hath heard of the Well at the World's End."
The new-comer lowted before them again, and said in a small voice,
and as one who was shy and somewhat afeared: "Lords, I can tell many
a tale concerning that Well, and them who have gone on the quest thereof.
And the first thing I have to tell is that the way thereto is
through Utterness, and that I can be a shower of the way and a leader
to any worthy knight who listeth to seek thither; and moreover,
I know of a sage who dwelleth not far from the town of Utterness,
and who, if he will, can put a seeker of the Well on the right road."
He looked askance on Ralph, whose face flushed and whose eyes glittered
at that word. But Clement said: "Yea, that seemeth fair to look to:
but hark ye! Is it not so that the way to Utterness is perilous?"
Said the man: "Thou mayst rather call it deadly, to any who is
not furnished with a let-pass from the Lord of Utterbol, as I am.
But with such a scroll a child or a woman may wend the road unharmed."
"Where hast thou the said let-pass?" said Clement. "Here," quoth
the new-comer; and therewith he drew a scroll from out of his pouch,
and opened it before them, and they read it together, and sure enough it
was a writing charging all men so let pass and aid Morfinn the Minstrel
(of whose aspect it told closely), under pain of falling into
the displeasure of Gandolf, Lord of Utterbol; and the date thereon
was but three months old.
Said Clement: "This is good, this let-pass: see thou,
Ralph, the seal of Utterbol, the Bear upon the Castle Wall.
None would dare to counterfeit this seal, save one who was weary
of life, and longed for torments."
Said Ralph, smiling: "Thou seest, Master Clement, that there must
be a parting betwixt us, and that this man's coming furthers it:
but were he or were he not, yet the parting had come. And wert thou
not liefer that it should come in a way to pleasure and aid me, than that
thou shouldst but leave me behind at Goldburg when thou departest:
and I with naught done toward the achieving my quest, but merely
dragging my deedless body about these streets; and at last, it may be,
going on a perilous journey without guiding or safe-conduct?"
"Yea, lad," said Clement, "I wotted well that thou wouldst take
thine own way, but fain had I been that it had been mine also."
Then he pondered a while and said afterwards: "I suppose that thou
wilt take thy servant Bull Shockhead with thee, for he is a stout
man-at-arms, and I deem him trusty, though he be a wild man.
But one man is of little avail to a traveller on a perilous road,
so if thou wilt I will give leave and license to a half score
of our sergeants to follow thee on the road; for, as thou wottest,
I may easily wage others in their place. Or else wouldst thou
ask the Queen of Goldburg to give thee a score of men-at-arms;
she looked to me the other day as one who would deny thee few
of thine askings."
Ralph blushed red, and said: "Nay, I will not ask her this."
Then he was silent; the new-comer looked from one to the other,
and said nothing. At last Ralph spake: "Look you, Clement,
my friend, I wot well how thou wouldst make my goings safe,
even if it were to thy loss, and I thank thee for it: but I deem
I shall do no better than putting myself into this man's hands,
since he has a let-pass for the lands of him of Utterbol:
and meseemeth from all that I have heard, that a half score
or a score, or for the matter of that an hundred men-at-arms would
not be enough to fight a way to Utterbol, and their gathering
together would draw folk upon them, who would not meddle
with two men journeying together, even if they had no let-pass
of this mighty man." Clement sighed and grunted, and then said:
"Well, lord, maybe thou art right."
"Yea," said the guide, "he is as right as may be:
I have not spoken before lest ye might have deemed me untrusty:
but now I tell thee this, that never should a small band
of men unknown win through the lands of the Lord of Utterbol,
or the land debatable that lieth betwixt them and Goldburg."
Ralph nodded friendly at him as he spake; but Clement looked on him sternly;
and the man beheld his scowling face innocently, and took no heed of it.
Then said Ralph: "As to Bull Shockhead, I will speak to him anon;
but I will not take him with me; for indeed I fear lest his mountain-pride
grow up over greenly at whiles and entangle me in some thicket of peril
hard to win out of."
"Well," said Clement, "and when wilt thou depart?"
"To-morrow," said Ralph, "if my faring-fellow be ready for me by then."
"I am all ready," said the man: "if thou wilt ride out by the east
gate about two hours before noon to-morrow, I will abide thee
on a good horse with all that we may need for the journey:
and now I ask leave." "Thou hast it," said Clement.
So the man departed, and those two being left alone, Master Clement said:
"Well, I deemed that nothing else would come of it: and I fear
that thy gossip will be ill-content with me; for great is the peril."
"Yea," said Ralph, "and great the reward." Clement smiled and sighed,
and said: "Well, lad, even so hath a many thought before thee, wise men
as well as fools." Ralph looked at him and reddened, and departed
from him a little, and went walking in the cloister there to and fro,
and pondered these matters; and whatever he might do, still would
that trim figure be before his eyes which he had looked on so gladly
erewhile in the hostel of Bourton Abbas; and he said aloud to himself:
"Surely she needeth me, and draweth me to her whether I will or no."
So wore the day.
The Beginning of the Road To Utterbol
Early next morning Ralph arose and called Bull Shockhead to him
and said: "So it is, Bull, that thou art my war-taken thrall."
Bull nodded his head, but frowned therewithal. Said Ralph:
"If I bid thee aught that is not beyond reason thou wilt do it,
wilt thou not?" "Yea," said Bull, surlily. "Well," quoth Ralph,
"I am going a journey east-away, and I may not have thee with me,
therefore I bid thee take this gold and go free with my goodwill."
Bull's face lighted up, and the eyes glittered in his face; but he said:
"Yea, king's son, but why wilt thou not take me with thee?"
Said Ralph: "It is a perilous journey, and thy being with me will
cast thee into peril and make mine more. Moreover, I have an errand,
as thou wottest, which is all mine own."
Bull pondered a little and then said: "King's son, I was thinking at first
that our errands lay together, and it is so; but belike thou sayest true
that there will be less peril to each of us if we sunder at this time.
But now I will say this to thee, that henceforth thou shalt be as a brother
to me, if thou wilt have it so, and if ever thou comest amongst our people,
thou wilt be in no danger of them: nay, they shall do all the good they
may to thee."
Then he took him by the hand and kissed him, and he set his hand
to his gear and drew forth a little purse of some small beast's
skin that was broidered in front with a pair of bull's horns:
then he stooped down and plucked a long and tough bent from
the grass at his feet (for they were talking in the garden
of the hostel) and twisted it swiftly into a strange knot
of many plies, and opening the purse laid it therein and said:
"King's son, this is the token whereby it shall be known amongst
our folk that I have made thee my brother: were the flames
roaring about thee, or the swords clashing over thine head,
if thou cry out, I am the brother of Bull Shockhead, all those
of my kindred who are near will be thy friends and thy helpers.
And now I say to thee farewell: but it is not altogether
unlike that thou mayst hear of me again in the furthest East."
So Ralph departed from him, and Clement went with Ralph to the Gate
of Goldburg, and bade him farewell there; and or they parted he said:
"Meseems I have with me now some deal of the foreseeing of Katherine
my wife, and in my mind it is that we shall yet see thee at
Wulstead and Upmeads, and thou no less famous than now thou art.
This is my last word to thee." Therewith they parted, and Ralph
rode his ways.
He came on his way-leader about a bowshot from the gate and they greeted
each other: the said guide was clad no otherwise than yesterday:
he had saddle-bags on his horse, which was a strong black roadster:
but he was nowise armed, and bore but a satchel with a case of
knives done on to it, and on the other side a fiddle in its case.
So Ralph smiled on him and said: "Thou hast no weapon, then?"
"What need for weapon?" said he; "since we are not of might for battle.
This is my weapon," said he, touching his fiddle, "and withal it
is my field and mine acre that raiseth flesh-meat and bread for me:
yea, and whiles a little drink."
So they rode on together and the man was blithe and merry:
and Ralph said to him: "Since we are fellows for a good while,
as I suppose, what shall I call thee?" Said he,
"Morfinn the Minstrel I hight, to serve thee, fair lord.
Or some call me Morfinn the Unmanned. Wilt thou not now ask
me concerning that privy word that I had for thy ears?"
"Yea," said Ralph reddening, "hath it to do with a woman?"
"Naught less," said Morfinn. "For I heard of thee asking
many questions thereof in Goldburg, and I said to myself,
now may I, who am bound for Utterness, do a good turn to this
fair young lord, whose face bewrayeth his heart, and telleth
all men that he is kind and bounteous; so that there is no doubt
but he will reward me well at once for any help I may give him;
and also it may be that he will do me a good turn hereafter
in memory of this that I have done him."
"Speak, wilt thou not," said Ralph, "and tell me at once if thou hast seen
this woman? Be sure that I shall reward thee." "Nay, nay, fair sir,"
said Morfinn; "a woman I have seen brought captive to the House of Utterbol.
See thou to it if it be she whom thou seekest."
He smiled therewith, but now Ralph deemed him not so debonnaire
as he had at first, for there was mocking in the smile;
therefore he was wroth, but he refrained him and said:
"Sir Minstrel, I wot not why thou hast come with a tale in thy
mouth and it will not out of it: lo you, will this open
the doors of speech to thee" (and he reached his hand out
to him with two pieces of gold lying therein) "or shall this?"
and therewith he half drew his sword from his sheath.
Said Morfinn, grinning again: "Nay, I fear not the bare steel in
thine hands, Knight; for thou hast not fool written plain in thy face;
therefore thou wilt not slay thy way-leader, or even anger him over much.
And as to thy gold, the wages shall be paid at the journey's end.
I was but seeking about in my mind how best to tell thee my tale
so that thou mightest believe my word, which is true. Thus it goes:
As I left Utterbol a month ago, I saw a damsel brought in captive there,
and she seemed to me so exceeding fair that I looked hard on her,
and asked one of the men-at-arms who is my friend concerning the market
whereat she was cheapened; and he told me that she had not been bought,
but taken out of the hands of the wild men from the further mountains.
Is that aught like to your story, lord?" "Yea," said Ralph, knitting his
brows in eagerness. "Well," said Morfinn, "but there are more fair
women than one in the world, and belike this is not thy friend:
so now, as well as I may, I will tell thee what-like she was,
and if thou knowest her not, thou mayst give me those two gold
pieces and go back again. She was tall rather than short,
and slim rather than bigly made. But many women are fashioned so:
and doubtless she was worn by travel, since she has at least come
from over the mountains: but that is little to tell her by:
her hands, and her feet also (for she was a horseback and barefoot)
wrought well beyond most women: yet so might it have been with some:
yet few, methinks, of women who have worked afield, as I deem her
to have done, would have hands and feet so shapely: her face tanned
with the sun, but with fair colour shining through it; her hair brown,
yet with a fair bright colour shining therein, and very abundant:
her cheeks smooth, round and well wrought as any imager could do them:
her chin round and cloven: her lips full and red, but firm-set
as if she might be both valiant and wroth. Her eyes set wide apart,
grey and deep: her whole face sweet of aspect, as though she
might be exceeding kind to one that pleased her; yet high and proud
of demeanour also, meseemed, as though she were come of great kindred.
Is this aught like to thy friend?"
He spake all this slowly and smoothly and that mocking smile came
into his face now and again. Ralph grew pale as he spoke and knitted
his brows as one in great wrath and grief; and he was slow to answer;
but at last he said "Yea," shortly and sharply.
Then said Morfinn: "And yet after all it might not be she:
for there might be another or two even in these parts of whom
all this might be said. But now I will tell thee of her raiment,
though there may be but little help to thee therein, as she may
have shifted it many times since thou hast seen her. Thus it was:
she was clad outwardly in a green gown, short of skirt as of one
wont to go afoot; somewhat straight in the sleeves as of one who
hath household work to do, and there was broidery many coloured
on the seams thereof, and a border of flower-work round the hem:
and this I noted, that a cantle of the skirt had been rent away
by some hap of the journey. Now what sayest thou, fair lord?
Have I done well to bring thee this tale?"
"O yea, yea," said Ralph, and he might not contain himself; but set
spurs to his horse and galloped on ahead for some furlong or so:
and then drew rein and gat off his horse, and made as if he would see
to his saddle-girths, for he might not refrain from weeping the sweet
and bitter tears of desire and fear, so stirred the soul within him.
Morfinn rode on quietly, and by then he came up, Ralph was
mounting again, and when he was in the saddle he turned
away his head from his fellow and said in a husky voice:
"Morfinn, I command thee, or if thou wilt I beseech thee,
that thou speak not to me again of this woman whom I am seeking;
for it moveth me over much." "That is well, lord," said Morfinn,
"I will do after thy command; and there be many other matters
to speak of besides one fair woman."
Then they rode on soberly a while, and Ralph kept silence,
as he rode pondering much; but the minstrel hummed snatches
of rhyme as he rode the way.
But at last Ralph turned to him suddenly and said: "Tell me,
way-leader, in what wise did they seem to be using that woman?"
The minstrel chuckled: "Fair lord," said he, "if I had a mind
for mocking I might say of thee that thou blowest both hot
and cold, since it was but half an hour ago that thou badest me
speak naught of her: but I deem that I know thy mind herein:
so I will tell thee that they seemed to be using her courteously;
as is no marvel; for who would wish to mar so fair an image?
O, it will be well with her: I noted that the Lord seemed
to think it good to ride beside her, and eye her all over.
Yea, she shall have a merry life of it if she but do somewhat
after the Lord's will."
Ralph looked askance at him fiercely, but the other heeded it naught:
then said Ralph, "And how if she do not his will?" Said Morfinn, grinning:
"Then hath my Lord a many servants to do his will." Ralph held his peace
for a long while; at last he turned a cleared brow to Morfinn and said;
"Dost thou tell of the Lord of Utterbol that he is a good lord and merciful
to his folk and servants?"
"Fair sir," said the minstrel; "thou hast bidden me not speak
of one woman, now will I pray thee not to speak of one man,
and that is my Lord of Utterbol."
Ralph's heart fell at this word, and he asked no question as to wherefore.
So now they rode on both, rather more than soberly for a while:
but the day was fair; the sun shone, the wind blew, and the sweet
scents floated about them, and Ralph's heart cast off its burden
somewhat and he fell to speech again; and the minstrel answered
him gaily by seeming, noting many things as they rode along,
as one that took delight in the fashion of the earth.
It was a fresh and bright morning of early autumn,
the sheaves were on the acres, and the grapes were blackening
to the vintage, and the beasts and birds at least were merry.
But little merry were the husbandmen whom they met,
either carles or queans, and they were scantily and foully clad,
and sullen-faced, if not hunger-pinched.
If they came across any somewhat joyous, it was here and there certain
gangrel folk resting on the wayside grass, or coming out of woods and
other passes by twos and threes, whiles with a child or two with them.
These were of aspect like to the gipsies of our time and nation,
and were armed all of them, and mostly well clad after their fashion.
Sometimes when there were as many as four or five carles of them together,
they would draw up amidst of the highway, but presently would turn aside
at the sight either of Ralph's war-gear or of the minstrel's raiment.
Forsooth, some of them seemed to know him, and nodded friendly to him
as they passed by, but he gave them back no good day.
They had now ridden out of the lands of Goldburg,
which were narrow on that side, and the day was wearing fast.
This way the land was fair and rich, with no hills of any size.
They crossed a big river twice by bridges, and small streams often,
mostly by fords.
Some two hours before sunset they came upon a place where a byway
joined the high road, and on the ingle stood a chapel of stone
(whether of the heathen or Christian men Ralph wotted not,
for it was uncouth of fashion), and by the door of the said chapel,
on a tussock of grass, sat a knight all-armed save the head,
and beside him a squire held his war-horse, and five other men-at-arms
stood anigh bearing halberds and axes of strange fashion.
The knight rose to his feet when he saw the wayfarers coming up
the rising ground, and Ralph had his hand on his sword-hilt;
but ere they met, the minstrel said,--
"Nay, nay, draw thy let-pass, not thy sword. This knight
shalt bid thee to a courteous joust; but do thou nay-say it,
for he is a mere felon, and shalt set his men-at-arms on thee,
and then will rob thee and slay thee after, or cast thee
into his prison."
So Ralph drew out his parchment which Morfinn had given into
his keeping, and held it open in his hand, and when the knight
called out on him in a rough voice as they drew anigh, he said:
"Nay, sir, I may not stay me now, need driveth me on."
Quoth the knight, smoothing out a knitted brow: "Fair sir,
since thou art a friend of our lord, wilt thou not come home
to my house, which is hard by, and rest awhile, and eat a morsel,
and drink a cup, and sleep in a fair chamber thereafter?"
"Nay, sir," said Ralph, "for time presses;" and he passed on withal,
and the knight made no step to stay him, but laughed a short laugh,
like a swine snorting, and sat him down on the grass again.
Ralph heeded him naught, but was glad that his let-pass was shown
to be good for something; but he could see that the minstrel
was nigh sick for fear and was shaking like an aspen leaf,
and it was long ere he found his tongue again.
Forth then they rode till dusk, when the minstrel stayed Ralph at a place
where a sort of hovels lay together about a house somewhat better builded,
which Ralph took for a hostelry, though it had no sign nor bush.
They entered the said house, wherein was an old woman to whom the minstrel
spake a word or two in a tongue that Ralph knew not, and straightway she
got them victual and drink nowise ill, and showed them to beds thereafter.
In spite of both victuals and drink the minstrel fell silent and moody;
it might be from weariness, Ralph deemed; and he himself had no great lust
for talk, so he went bedward, and made the bed pay for all.
Ralph Happens on Evil Days
Early on the morrow they departed, and now in the morning light
and the sun the minstrel seemed glad again, and talked abundantly,
even though at whiles Ralph answered him little.
As they rode, the land began to get less fertile and less,
till at last there was but tillage here and there in patches:
of houses there were but few, and the rest was but dark heathland
and bog, with scraggy woods scattered about the country-side.
Naught happened to tell of, save that once in the afternoon,
as they were riding up to the skirts of one of the woods aforesaid,
weaponed men came forth from it and drew up across the way;
they were a dozen in all, and four were horsed. Ralph set his hand
to his sword, but the minstrel cried out, "Nay, no weapons, no weapons!
Pull out thy let-pass again and show it in thine hand, and then
let us on."
So saying he drew a white kerchief from his hand, and tied it to
the end of his riding staff, and so rode trembling by Ralph's side:
therewith they rode on together towards those men, whom as they drew
nearer they heard laughing and jeering at them, though in a tongue
that Ralph knew not.
They came so close at last that the waylayers could see the parchment clearly,
with the seal thereon, and then they made obeisance to it, as though it
were the relic of a saint, and drew off quietly into the wood one by one.
These were big men, and savage-looking, and their armour was utterly uncouth.
The minstrel was loud in his mirth when they were well past these men;
but Ralph rode on silently, and was somewhat soberly.
"Fair sir," quoth the minstrel, "I would wager that I know
thy thought." "Yea," said Ralph, "what is it them?"
Said the minstrel: "Thou art thinking what thou shalt do
when thou meetest suchlike folk on thy way back; but fear not,
for with that same seal thou shalt pass through the land again."
Said Ralph: "Yea, something like that, forsooth, was my thought.
But also I was pondering who should be my guide when I
leave Utterbol." The minstrel looked at him askance; quoth he:
"Thou mayst leave thinking of that awhile." Ralph looked
hard at him, but could make naught of the look of his face;
so he said: "Why dost thou say that?" Said Morfinn:
"Because I know whither thou art bound, and have been wondering
this long while that thou hast asked me not about the way
to the WELL at the WORLD'S END: since I told thy friend
the merchant that I could tell thee somewhat concerning it.
But I suppose thou hast been thinking of something else?"
"Well," said Ralph, "tell me what thou hast to say of the Well."
Said Morfinn: "This will I tell thee first: that if thou hast
any doubt that such a place there is, thou mayst set that aside;
for we of Utterness and Utterbol are sure thereof; and of all
nations and peoples whereof we know, we deem that we are the
nighest thereto. How sayest thou, is that not already something?"
"Yea, verily," said Ralph.
"Now," said Morfinn, "the next thing to be said is that we are on
the road thereto: but the third thing again is this, lord, that though
few who seek it find it, yet we know that some have failed not of it,
besides that lord of Goldburg, of whom I know that thou hast heard.
Furthermore, there dwelleth a sage in the woods not right far from Utterbol,
a hermit living by himself; and folk seek to him for divers lore,
to be holpen by him in one way or other, and of him men say that he hath
so much lore concerning the road to the Well (whether he hath been
there himself they know not certainly), that if he will, he can put
anyone on the road so surely that he will not fail to come there,
but he be slain on the way, as I said to thee in Goldburg.
True it is that the said sage is chary of his lore, and if he think
any harm of the seeker, he will show him naught; but, fair sir,
thou art so valiant and so goodly, and as meseemeth so good a knight
per amours, that I deem it a certain thing that he will tell thee
the uttermost of his knowledge."
Now again waxed Ralph eager concerning his quest; for true it is
that since he had had that story of the damsel from the minstrel,
she had stood in the way before the Well at the World's End.
But now he said: "And canst thou bring me to the said sage, good minstrel?"
"Without doubt," quoth Morfinn, "when we are once safe at Utterbol.
From Utterbol ye may wend any road."
"Yea," said Ralph, "and there are perils yet a few on the way, is it not so?"
"So it is," said the minstrel; "but to-morrow shall try all." Said Ralph:
"And is there some special peril ahead to-morrow? And if it be so,
what is it?" Said his fellow: "It would avail thee naught to know it.
What then, doth that daunt thee?" "No," said Ralph, "by then it is nigh
enough to hurt us, we shall be nigh enough to see it." "Well said!"
quoth the minstrel; "but now we must mend our pace, or dark night shall
overtake us amid these rough ways."
Wild as the land was, they came at even to a place where were
a few houses of woodmen or hunters; and they got off their horses
and knocked at the door of one of these, and a great black-haired
carle opened to them, who, when he saw the knight's armour,
would have clapped the door to again, had not Ralph by the minstrel's
rede held out the parchment to him, who when he saw it became
humble indeed, and gave them such guesting as he might, which was
scant indeed of victual or drink, save wild-fowl from the heath.
But they had wine with them from the last guest-house, whereof
they bade the carle to drink; but he would not, and in all wise
seemed to be in dread of them.
When it was morning early they rode their ways, and the carle
seemed glad to be rid of them. After they had ridden a few
miles the land bettered somewhat; there were islands of deep
green pasture amidst the blackness of the heath, with cattle
grazing on them, and here and there was a little tillage:
the land was little better than level, only it swelled a little this
way and that. It was a bright sunny day and the air very clear,
and as they rode Ralph said: "Quite clear is the sky, and yet
one cloud there is in the offing; but this is strange about it,
though I have been watching it this half hour, and looking to see
the rack come up from that quarter, yet it changes not at all.
I never saw the like of this cloud."
Said the minstrel: "Yea, fair sir, and of this cloud I must tell thee that it
will change no more till the bones of the earth are tumbled together.
Forsooth this is no cloud, but the topmost head of the mountain ridge
which men call the Wall of the World: and if ever thou come close up
to the said Wall, that shall fear thee, I deem, however fearless thou be."
"Is it nigh to Utterness?" said Ralph. "Nay," said the minstrel,
"not so nigh; for as huge as it seemeth thence."
Said Ralph: "Do folk tell that the Well at the World's End lieth beyond it?"
"Surely," said the minstrel.
Said Ralph, his face flushing: "Forsooth, that ancient lord
of Goldburg came through those mountains, and why not I?"
"Yea," said the minstrel, "why not?" And therewith he looked
uneasily on Ralph, who heeded his looks naught, for his mind
was set on high matters.
On then they rode, and when trees or some dip in the land hid
that mountain top from them, the way seemed long to Ralph.
Naught befell to tell of for some while; but at last,
when it was drawing towards evening again, they had been riding
through a thick pine-wood for a long while, and coming out of it
they beheld before them a plain country fairly well grassed,
but lo! on the field not far from the roadside a pavilion
pitched and a banner on the top thereof, but the banner hung
down about the staff, so that the bearing was not seen:
and about this pavilion, which was great and rich of fashion,
were many tents great and small, and there were horses tethered
in the field, and men moving about the gleam of armour.
At this sight the minstrel drew rein and stared about him wildly;
but Ralph said: "What is this, is it the peril aforesaid?"
"Yea," quoth the minstrel, shivering with fear. "What aileth thee?"
said Ralph; "have we not the let-pass, what then can befall us?
If this be other than the Lord of Utterbol, he will see
our let-pass and let us alone; or if it be he indeed,
what harm shall he do to the bearers of his own pass?
Come on then, or else (and therewith he half drew his sword)
is this Lord of Utterbol but another name for the Devil in Hell?"
But the minstrel still stared wild and trembled; then he stammered out:
"I thought I should bring thee to Utterness first, and that some other should
lead thee thence, I did not look to see him. I dare not, I dare not!
O look, look!"
As he spake the wind arose and ran along the wood-side, and beat back
from it and stirred the canvas of the tents and raised the folds
of the banner, and blew it out, so that the bearing was clear to see;
yet Ralph deemed it naught dreadful, but an armoury fit for a baron,
to wit, a black bear on a castle-wall on a field of gold.
But as Ralph sat on his horse gazing, himseemed that men
were looking towards him, and a great horn was sounded hard
by the pavilion; then Ralph looked toward the minstrel fiercely,
and laughed and said: "I see now that thou art another traitor:
so get thee gone; I have more to do than the slaying of thee."
And therewith he turned his horse's head, and smote the spurs
into the sides of him, and went a great gallop over the field
on the right side of the road, away from the gay pavilion;
but even therewith came a half-score of horsemen from the camp,
as if they were awaiting him, and they spurred after him straightway.
The race was no long one, for Ralph's beast was wearied,
and the other horses were fresh, and Ralph knew naught of
the country before him, whereas those riders knew it well.
Therefore it was but a few minutes till they came up with him,
and he made no show of defence, but suffered them to lead
him away, and he crossed the highway, where he saw no token
of the minstrel.
So they brought him to the pavilion, and made him dismount and led him in.
The dusk had fallen by now, but within it was all bright with candles.
The pavilion was hung with rich silken cloth, and at the further end,
on a carpet of the hunting, was an ivory chair, whereon sat a man,
who was the only one sitting. He was clad in a gown of blue silk,
broidered with roundels beaten with the Bear upon the Castle-wall.
Ralph deemed that this must be no other than the Lord of Utterbol,
yet after all the tales he had heard of that lord, he seemed no such
terrible man: he was short of stature, but broad across the shoulders,
his hair long, strait, and dark brown of hue, and his beard scanty:
he was straight-featured and smooth-faced, and had been no ill-looking man,
save that his skin was sallow and for his eyes, which were brown, small,
and somewhat bloodshot.
Beside him stood Morfinn bowed down with fear and not daring
to look either at the Lord or at Ralph. Wherefore he knew
for certain that when he had called him traitor even now,
that it was no more than the very sooth, and that he had fallen
into the trap; though how or why he wotted not clearly.
Well then might his heart have fallen, but so it was, that when
he looked into the face of this Lord, the terror of the lands,
hatred of him so beset his heart that it swallowed up fear in him.
Albeit he held himself well in hand, for his soul was waxing,
and he deemed that he should yet do great deeds, therefore he
desired to live, whatsoever pains or shame of the passing day
he might suffer.
Now this mighty lord spake, and his voice was harsh and squeaking,
so that the sound of it was worse than the sight of his face;
and he said: "Bring the man forth, that I may see him."
So they brought up Ralph, till he was eye to eye with the Lord,
who turned to Morfinn and said: "Is this thy catch, lucky man?"
"Yea," quavered Morfinn, not lifting his eyes; "Will he do, lord?"
"Do?" said the lord, "How can I see him when he is all muffled up in steel?
Ye fools! doff his wargear."
Speedily then had they stripped Ralph of hauberk, and helm, and arm
and leg plates, so that he stood up in his jerkin and breeches,
and the lord leaned forward to look on him as if he were cheapening
a horse; and then turned to a man somewhat stricken in years,
clad in scarlet, who stood on his other hand, and said to him:
"Well, David the Sage, is this the sort of man? Is he goodly enough?"
Then the elder put on a pair of spectacles and eyed Ralph curiously
a while, and then said: "There are no two words to be said about it;
he is a goodly and well-fashioned a young man as was ever sold."
"Well," said the lord, turning towards Morfinn, "the catch is good,
lucky man: David will give thee gold for it, and thou mayst go back west
when thou wilt. And thou must be lucky again, moreover; because there
are women needed for my house; and they must be goodly and meek,
and not grievously marked with stripes, or branded, so that thou
hadst best take them, luckily if thou mayst, and not buy them.
Now go, for there are more than enough men under this woven roof,
and we need no half-men to boot."
Said David, the old man, grinning: "He will hold him well paid if he go
unscathed from before thee, lord: for he looked not to meet thee here,
but thought to bring the young man to Utterness, that he might be kept
there till thou camest."
The lord said, grimly: "He is not far wrong to fear me, maybe:
but he shall go for this time. But if he bring me not those women
within three months' wearing, and if there be but two uncomely
ones amongst them, let him look to it. Give him his gold, David.
Now take ye the new man, and let him rest, and give him meat and drink.
And look you, David, if he be not in condition when he cometh
home to Utterbol, thou shalt pay for it in one way or other,
if not in thine own person, since thou art old, and deft of service,
then through those that be dear to thee. Go now!"
David smiled on Ralph and led him out unto a tent not far off, and there
he made much of him, and bade bring meat and drink and all he needed.
Withal he bade him not to try fleeing, lest he be slain; and he showed
him how nigh the guards were and how many.
Glad was the old man when he saw the captive put a good face
on matters, and that he was not down-hearted. In sooth that hatred
of the tyrant mingled with hope sustained Ralph's heart.
He had been minded when he was brought before the lord to
have shown the letter of the Queen of Goldburg, and to defy
him if he still held him captive. But when he had beheld
him and his fellowship a while he thought better of it.
For though they had abundance of rich plenishing, and gay raiment,
and good weapons and armour, howbeit of strange and uncouth fashion,
yet he deemed when he looked on them that they would scarce
have the souls of men in their bodies, but that they were utterly
vile through and through, like the shapes of an evil dream.
Therefore he thought shame of it to show the Queen's letter
to them, even as if he had shown them the very naked body of her,
who had been so piteous kind to him. Also he had no mind
to wear his heart on his sleeve, but would keep his own counsel,
and let his foemen speak and show what was in their minds.
For this cause he now made himself sweet, and was of good
cheer with old David, deeming him to be a great men there;
as indeed he was, being the chief counsellor of the Lord
of Utterbol; though forsooth not so much his counsellor
as that he durst counsel otherwise than as the Lord desired
to go; unless he thought that it would bring his said Lord,
and therefore himself, to very present peril and damage.
In short, though this man had not been bought for money, he was
little better than a thrall of the higher sort, as forsooth were
all the Lord's men, saving the best and trustiest of his warriors:
and these were men whom the Lord somewhat feared himself:
though, on the other hand, he could not but know that they
understood how the dread of the Lord of Utterbol was a shield
to them, and that if it were to die out amongst men, their own
skins were not worth many days' purchase.
So then David spake pleasantly with Ralph, and ate and drank
with him, and saw that he was well bedded for the night,
and left him in the first watch. But Ralph lay down in little
more trouble than the night before, when, though he were being
led friendly to Utterness, yet he had not been able to think
what he should do when he came there: whereas now he thought:
Who knoweth what shall betide? and for me there is nought to do
save to lay hold of the occasion that another may give me.
And at the worst I scarce deem that I am being led to the slaughter.
Ralph is Brought on the Road Towards Utterbol
But now when it was morning they struck the tents and laded
them on wains, and went their ways the selfsame road that Ralph
had been minded for yesterday; to wit the road to Utterness;
but now must he ride it unarmed and guarded: other shame had he none.
Indeed David, who stuck close to his side all day, was so sugary
sweet with him, and praised and encouraged him so diligently,
that Ralph began to have misgivings that all this kindness was
but as the flower-garlands wherewith the heathen times men were
wont to deck the slaughter-beasts for the blood-offering. Yea,
and into his mind came certain tales of how there were
heathen men yet in the world, who beguiled men and women,
and offered them up to their devils, whom they called gods:
but all this ran off him soon, when he bethought him how little
wisdom there was in running to meet the evil, which might
be on the way, and that way a rough and perilous one.
So he plucked up heart, and spake freely and gaily with David
and one or two others who rode anigh.
They were amidst of the company: the Lord went first after
his fore-runners in a litter done about with precious cloths;
and two score horsemen came next, fully armed after their manner.
Then rode Ralph with David and a half dozen of the magnates:
then came a sort of cooks and other serving men, but none without
a weapon, and last another score of men-at-arms: so that he saw
that fleeing was not to be thought of though he was not bound,
and save for lack of weapons rode like a free man.
The day was clear as yesterday had been, wherefore again
Ralph saw the distant mountain-top like a cloud; and he gazed
at it long till David said: "I see that thou art gazing hard
at the mountains, and perchance art longing to be beyond them,
were it but to see what like the land is on the further side.
If all tales be true thou art best this side thereof,
whatever thy lot may be."
"Lieth death on the other side then?" quoth Ralph. "Yea," said David,
"but that is not all, since he is not asleep elsewhere in the world:
but men say that over there are things to be seen which might slay
a strong man for pure fear, without stroke of sword or dint of axe."
"Yea," said Ralph, "but how was it then with him that builded Goldburg?"
"O," said David, "hast thou heard that tale? Well, they say
of him, who certes went over those mountains, and drank
of the Well at the World's End, that he was one of the lucky:
yet for all his luck never had he drunk the draught had he not
been helped by one who had learned many things, a woman to wit.
For he was one of them with whom all women are in love;
and thence indeed was his luck....Moreover, when all is said,
'tis but a tale."
"Yea," quoth Ralph laughing, "even as the tales of the ghosts
and bugs that abide the wayfarer on the other side of yonder
white moveless cloud."
David laughed in his turn and said: "Thou hast me there;
and whether or no, these tales are nothing to us, who shall never
leave Utterbol again while we live, save in such a company as this."
Then he held his peace, but presently spake again: "Hast thou
heard anything, then, of those tales of the Well at the World's End?
I mean others beside that concerning the lord of Goldburg?"
"Yea, surely I have," said Ralph, nowise changing countenance. Said David:
"Deemest thou aught of them? deemest thou that it may be true that a man
may drink of the Well and recover his youth thereby?"
Ralph laughed and said: "Master, it is rather for me to ask
thee hereof, than thou me, since thou dwellest so much nigher
thereto than I have done heretofore."
David drew up close to him, and said softly: "Nigher? Yea, but belike
not so much nigher."
"How meanest thou?" said Ralph.
Said David: "Is it so nigh that a man may leave home and come
thereto in his life-time?"
"Yea," said Ralph, "in my tales it is."
Said the old man still softlier: "Had I deemed that true I had
tried the adventure, whatever might lie beyond the mountains, but
(and he sighed withal) I deem it untrue."
Therewith dropped the talk of that matter: and in sooth Ralph was
loath to make many words thereof, lest his eagerness shine through,
and all the story of him be known.
Anon it was noon, and the lord bade all men stay for meat:
so his serving men busied them about his dinner, and David went with them.
Then the men-at-arms bade Ralph sit among them and share their meat.
So they sat down all by the wayside, and they spake kindly and friendly
to Ralph, and especially their captain, a man somewhat low of stature,
but long-armed like the Lord, a man of middle age, beardless and spare
of body, but wiry and tough-looking, with hair of the hue of the dust
of the sandstone quarry. This man fell a-talking with Ralph, and asked
him of the manner of tilting and courteous jousting between knights
in the countries of knighthood, till that talk dropped between them.
Then Ralph looked round upon the land, which had now worsened again,
and was little better than rough moorland, little fed, and not at all tilled,
and he said: "This is but a sorry land for earth's increase."
"Well," said the captain, "I wot not; it beareth plover and
whimbrel and conies and hares; yea, and men withal, some few.
And whereas it beareth naught else, that cometh of my lord's will:
for deemest thou that he should suffer a rich land betwixt
him and Goldburg, that it might sustain an host big enough
to deal with him?"
"But is not this his land?" said Ralph.
Said the captain: "Nay, and also yea. None shall dwell in it save
as he willeth, and they shall pay him tribute, be it never so little.
Yet some there are of them, who are to him as the hounds be to the hunter,
and these same he even wageth, so that if aught rare and goodly cometh
their way they shall bring it to his hands; as thou thyself knowest
to thy cost."
"Yea," said Ralph smiling, "and is Morfinn the Unmanned one of these curs?"
"Yea," said the captain, with a grin, "and one of the richest of them,
in despite of his fiddle and minstrel's gear, and his lack of manhood:
for he is one of the cunningest of men. But my Lord unmanned him for
some good reason."
Ralph kept silence and while and then said: "Why doth the Goldburg folk
suffer all this felony, robbery and confusion, so near their borders,
and the land debateable?"
Said the captain, and again he grinned: "Passing for thy hard words,
sir knight, why dost thou suffer me to lead thee along whither
thou wouldest not?"
"Because I cannot help myself," said Ralph.
Said the captain: "Even so it is with the Goldburg folk:
if they raise hand against some of these strong-thieves or man-stealers,
he has but to send the war-arrow round about these deserts,
as ye deem them, and he will presently have as rough a company
of carles for his fellows as need be, say ten hundred of them.
And the Goldburg folk are not very handy at a fray without their walls.
Forsooth within them it is another matter, and beside not even our
Lord of Utterbol would see Goldburg broken down, no, not for all
that he might win there."
"Is it deemed a holy place in the land, then?" said Ralph.
"I wot not the meaning of holy," said the other: "but all we
deem that when Goldburg shall fall, the world shall change,
so that living therein shall be hard to them that have not drunk
of the water of the Well at the World's End."
Ralph was silent a while and eyed the captain curiously:
then he said: "Have the Goldburgers so drunk?" Said the captain:
"Nay, nay; but the word goes that under each tower of Goldburg
lieth a youth and a maiden that have drunk of the water,
and might not die save by point and edge."
Then was Ralph silent again, for once more he fell
pondering the matter if he had been led away to be offered
as a blood offering to some of evil gods of the land.
But as he pondered a flourish of trumpets was blown,
and all men sprang up, and the captain said to Ralph:
"Now hath our Lord done his dinner and we must to horse."
Anon they were on the way again, and they rode long and saw little
change in the aspect of the land, neither did that cloudlike
token of the distant mountains grow any greater or clearer
to Ralph's deeming.
The Lord of Utterbol Will Wot of Ralph's Might and Minstrelsy
A little before sunset they made halt for the night, and Ralph was shown
to a tent as erst, and had meat and drink good enough brought to him.
But somewhat after he had done eating comes David to him and says:
"Up, young man! and come to my lord, he asketh for thee."
"What will he want with me?" said Ralph.
"Yea, that is a proper question to ask!" quoth David; "as though
the knife should ask the cutler, what wilt thou cut with me?
Dost thou deem that I durst ask him of his will with thee?"
"I am ready to go with thee," said Ralph.
So they went forth; but Ralph's heart fell and he sickened at the thought
of seeing that man again. Nevertheless he set his face as brass,
and thrust back both his fear and his hatred for a fitter occasion.
Soon they came into the pavilion of the Lord, who was sitting there
as yester eve, save that his gown was red, and done about with gold
and turquoise and emerald. David brought Ralph nigh to his seat,
but spake not. The mighty lord was sitting with his head drooping,
and his arm hanging over his knee, with a heavy countenance
as though he were brooding matters which pleased him naught.
But in a while he sat up with a start, and turned about and saw David
standing there with Ralph, and spake at once like a man waking up:
"He that sold thee to me said that thou wert of avail for many things.
Now tell me, what canst thou do?"
Ralph so hated him, that he was of half a mind to answer naught
save by smiting him to slay him; but there was no weapon anigh,
and life was sweet to him with all the tale that was lying ahead.
So he answered coldly: "It is sooth, lord, that I can do more
than one deed."
"Canst thou back a horse?" said the Lord. Said Ralph: "As well as many."
Said the Lord: "Canst thou break a wild horse, and shoe him, and physic him?"
"Not worse than some," said Ralph.
"Can'st thou play with sword and spear?" said the Lord.
"Better than some few," said Ralph. "How shall I know that?" said the Lord.
Said Ralph: "Try me, lord!" Indeed, he half hoped that if it came to that,
he might escape in the hurley.
The Lord looked on him and said: "Well, it may be tried.
But here is a cold and proud answerer, David. I misdoubt me
whether it be worth while bringing him home."
David looked timidly on Ralph and said: "Thou hast paid the price
for him, lord."
"Yea, that is true," said the Lord. "Thou! can'st thou play at the chess?"
"Yea," said Ralph. "Can'st thou music?" said the other. "Yea," said Ralph,
"when I am merry, or whiles indeed when I am sad."
The lord said: "Make thyself merry or sad, which thou wilt;
but sing, or thou shalt be beaten. Ho! Bring ye the harp."
Then they brought it as he bade.
But Ralph looked to right and left and saw no deliverance,
and knew this for the first hour of his thralldom.
Yet, as he thought of it all, he remembered that if he would do,
he must needs bear and forbear; and his face cleared,
and he looked round about again and let his eyes rest calmly
on all eyes that he met till they came on the Lord's face again.
Then he let his hand fall into the strings and they fell
a-tinkling sweetly, like unto the song of the winter robin,
and at last he lifted his voice and sang:
Still now is the stithy this morning unclouded, Nought stirs in the thorp
save the yellow-haired maid A-peeling the withy last Candlemas shrouded
From the mere where the moorhen now swims unafraid.
For over the Ford now the grass and the clover Fly off from the tines as
the wind driveth on; And soon round the Sword-howe the swathe shall lie over,
And to-morrow at even the mead shall be won.
But the Hall of the Garden amidst the hot morning, It drew my feet thither;
I stood at the door, And felt my heart harden 'gainst wisdom and warning As
the sun and my footsteps came on to the floor.
When the sun lay behind me, there scarce in the dimness I say what I
sought for, yet trembled to find; But it came forth to find me,
until the sleek slimness Of the summer-clad woman made summer o'er kind.
There we the once-sundered together were blended, We strangers, unknown once,
were hidden by naught. I kissed and I wondered how doubt was all ended,
How friendly her excellent fairness was wrought.
Round the hall of the Garden the hot sun is burning, But no master
nor minstrel goes there in the shade, It hath never a warden till
comes the returning, When the moon shall hang high and all winds
shall be laid.
Waned the day and I hied me afield, and thereafter I sat with the mighty when
daylight was done, But with great men beside me, midst high-hearted laughter,
I deemed me of all men the gainfullest one.
To wisdom I hearkened; for there the wise father Cast the seed
of his learning abroad o'er the hall,
Till men's faces darkened, but mine gladdened rather With the thought
of the knowledge I knew over all.
Sang minstrels the story, and with the song's welling Men looked
on each other and glad were they grown, But mine was the glory
of the tale and its telling How the loved and the lover were naught
but mine own.
When he was done all kept silence till they should know whether
the lord should praise the song or blame; and he said naught
for a good while, but sat as if pondering: but at last he spake:
"Thou art young, and would that we were young also!
Thy song is sweet, and it pleaseth me, who am a man of war,
and have seen enough and to spare of rough work, and would
any day rather see a fair woman than a band of spears.
But it shall please my lady wife less: for of love, and fair women,
and their lovers she hath seen enough; but of war nothing save
its shows and pomps; wherefore she desireth to hear thereof.
Now sing of battle!"
Ralph thought awhile and began to smite the harp while he conned over a song
which he had learned one yule-tide from a chieftain who had come to Upmeads
from the far-away Northland, and had abided there till spring was waning
into summer, and meanwhile he taught Ralph this song and many things else,
and his name was Sir Karr Wood-neb. This song now Ralph sang loud and sweet,
though he were now a thrall in an alien land:
Leave we the cup! For the moon is up, And bright is the gleam
Of the rippling stream, That runneth his road To the old abode,
Where the walls are white In the moon and the night;
The house of the neighbour that drave us away When strife
ended labour amidst of the hay, And no road for our riding
was left us but one Where the hill's brow is hiding that
earth's ways are done, And the sound of the billows comes up
at the last Like the wind in the willows ere autumn is past.
But oft and again Comes the ship from the main, And we came
once more And no lading we bore But the point and the edge,
And the ironed ledge, And the bolt and the bow, And the bane
of the foe. To the House 'neath the mountain we came
in the morn, Where welleth the fountain up over the corn,
And the stream is a-running fast on to the House Of the neighbours
uncunning who quake at the mouse, As their slumber is broken;
they know not for why; Since yestreen was not token on earth
or in sky.
Come, up, then up! Leave board and cup, And follow the gleam Of
the glittering stream That leadeth the road To the old abode,
High-walled and white In the moon and the night; Where low lies
the neighbour that drave us away Sleep-sunk from his labour
amidst of the hay. No road for our riding is left us save one,
Where the hills' brow is hiding the city undone, And the wind
in the willows is with us at last, And the house of the billows
is done and o'er-past.
Haste! mount and haste Ere the short night waste, For night
and day, Late turned away, Draw nigh again All kissing-fain;
And the morn and the moon Shall be married full soon.
So ride we together with wealth-winning wand, The steel o'er
the leather, the ash in the hand. Lo! white walls before us,
and high are they built; But the luck that outwore us now lies
on their guilt; Lo! the open gate biding the first of the sun,
And to peace are we riding when slaughter is done.
When Ralph had done singing, all folk fell to praising his song,
whereas the Lord had praised the other one; but the Lord said,
looking at Ralph askance meanwhile: "Yea, if that pleaseth
me not, and I take but little keep of it, it shall please
my wife to her heart's root; and that is the first thing.
Hast thou others good store, new-comer?" "Yea, lord,"
said Ralph. "And canst thou tell tales of yore agone,
and of the fays and such-like? All that she must have."
"Some deal I can of that lore," said Ralph.
Then the Lord sat silent, and seemed to be pondering:
at last he said, as if to himself: "Yet there is one thing:
many a blencher can sing of battle; and it hath been seen, that a fair
body of a man is whiles soft amidst the hard hand-play. Thou!
Morfinn's luck! art thou of any use in the tilt-yard?"
"Wilt thou try me, lord?" said Ralph, looking somewhat brisker.
Said the Lord: "I deem that I may find a man or two for thee,
though it is not much our manner here; but now go thou!
David, take the lad away to his tent, and get him a flask
of wine of the best to help out thy maundering with him."
Therewith they left the tent, and Ralph walked by David sadly
and with hanging head at first; but in a while he called
to mind that, whatever betid, his life was safe as yet;
that every day he was drawing nigher to the Well at the World's End;
and that it was most like that he shall fall in with that
Dorothea of his dream somewhere on the way thereto.
So he lifted up his head again, and was singing to himself
as he stooped down to enter into his tent.
Next day naught happed to tell of save that they journeyed on;
the day was cloudy, so that Ralph saw no sign of the distant mountains;
ever the land was the same, but belike somewhat more beset with pinewoods;
they saw no folk at all on the road. So at even Ralph slept in his tent,
and none meddled with him, save that David came to talk with him or he slept,
and was merry and blithe with him, and he brought with him Otter,
the captain of the guard, who was good company.
Thus wore three days that were hazy and cloudy, and the Lord sent
no more for Ralph, who on the road spake for the more part with Otter,
and liked him not ill; howbeit it seemed of him that he would make
no more of a man's life than of a rabbit's according as his lord
might bid slay or let live.
The three hazy days past, it fell to rain for four days,
so that Ralph could see little of the face of the land;
but he noted that they went up at whiles, and never so much
down as up, so that they were wending up hill on the whole.
On the ninth day of his captivity the rain ceased and it
was sunny and warm but somewhat hazy, so that naught could be
seen afar, but the land near-hand rose in long, low downs now,
and was quite treeless, save where was a hollow here and there
and a stream running through it, where grew a few willows,
but alders more abundantly.
This day he rode by Otter, who said presently:
"Well, youngling of the North, to-morrow we shall see
a new game, thou and I, if the weather be fair."
"Yea," said Ralph, "and what like shall it be?" Said Otter,
"At mid-morn we shall come into a fair dale amidst the downs,
where be some houses and a tower of the Lord's, so that that
place is called the Dale of the Tower: there shall we abide
a while to gather victual, a day or two, or three maybe:
so my Lord will hold a tourney there: that is to say that I
myself and some few others shall try thy manhood somewhat."
"What?" said Ralph, "are the new colt's paces to be proven?
And how if he fail?"
Quoth Otter, laughing: "Fail not, I rede thee, or my lord's
love for thee shall be something less than nothing."
"And then will he slay me?" said Ralph. Said Otter:
"Nay I deem not, at least not at first: he will have thee home
to Utterbol, to make the most of his bad bargain, and there shalt
thou be a mere serving-thrall, either in the house or the field:
where thou shalt be well-fed (save in times of scarcity),
and belike well beaten withal." Said Ralph, somewhat downcast:
"Yea, I am a thrall, who was once a knight. But how if thou
fail before me?" Otter laughed again: "That is another matter;
whatever I do my Lord will not lose me if he can help it;
but as for the others who shall stand before thy valiancy,
there will be some who will curse the day whereon my lord bought thee,
if thou turnest out a good spear, as ye call it in your lands.
Howsoever, that is not thy business; and I bid thee fear naught;
for thou seemest to be a mettle lad."
So they talked, and that day wore like the others,
but the haze did not clear off, and the sun went down red.
In the evening David talked with Ralph in his tent, and said:
"If to-morrow be clear, knight, thou shalt see a new sight
when thou comest out from the canvas." Said Ralph: "I suppose
thy meaning is that we shall see the mountains from hence?"
"Yea," said David; "so hold up thine heart when that sight
first cometh before thine eyes. As for us, we are used to
the sight, and that from a place much nigher to the mountains:
yet they who are soft-hearted amongst us are overcome at whiles,
when there is storm and tempest, and evil tides at hand."
Said Ralph: "And how far then are we from Utterbol?" Said David:
"After we have left Bull-mead in the Dale of the Tower, where to-morrow thou
art to run with the spear, it is four days' ride to Utterness; and from
Utterness ye may come (if my lord will) unto Utterbol in twelve hours.
But tell me, knight, how deemest thou of thy tilting to-morrow?"
Said Ralph: "Little should I think of it, if little lay upon it."
"Yea," said David, "but art thou a good tilter?" Ralph laughed:
quoth he, "That hangs on the goodness of him that tilteth against me:
I have both overthrown, and been overthrown oft enough. Yet again,
who shall judge me? for I must tell thee, that were I fairly judged,
I should be deemed no ill spear, even when I came not uppermost:
for in all these games are haps which no man may foresee."
"Well, then," said David, "all will go well with thee for his time:
for my lord will judge thee, and if it be seen that thou hast
spoken truly, and art more than a little deft at the play, he will
be like to make the best of thee, since thou art already paid for."
Ralph laughed: yet as though the jest pleased him but little;
and they fell to talk of other matters. And so David departed,
and Ralph slept.
Ralph Cometh To the Vale of the Tower
But when it was morning Ralph awoke, and saw that the sun was
shining brightly; so he cast his shirt on him, and went out at once,
and turned his face eastward, and, scarce awake, said to himself that
the clouds lay heavy in the eastward heavens after last night's haze:
but presently his eyes deared, and he saw that what he had taken
for clouds was a huge wall of mountains, black and terrible,
that rose up sharp and clear into the morning air; for there was
neither cloud nor mist in all the heavens.
Now Ralph, though he were but little used to the sight of great mountains,
yet felt his heart rather rise than fall at the sight of them; for he said:
"Surely beyond them lieth some new thing for me, life or death:
fair fame or the forgetting of all men." And it was long that he could
not take his eyes off them.
As he looked, came up the Captain Otter, and said: "Well, Knight,
thou hast seen them this morn, even if ye die ere nightfall."
Said Ralph: "What deemest thou to lie beyond them?"
"Of us none knoweth surely," said Otter; "whiles I deem that if
one were to get to the other side there would be a great plain
like to this: whiles that there is naught save mountains beyond,
and yet again mountains, like the waves of a huge stone sea.
Or whiles I think that one would come to an end of the world,
to a place where is naught but a ledge, and then below it a gulf filled
with nothing but the howling of winds, and the depth of darkness.
Moreover this is my thought, that all we of these parts should be milder
men and of better conditions, if yonder terrible wall were away.
It is as if we were thralls of the great mountains."
Said Ralph, "Is this then the Wall of the World?"
"It may well be so," said Otter; "but this word is at whiles said
of something else, which no man alive amongst us has yet seen.
It is a part of the tale of the seekers for the Well at
the World's End, whereof we said a word that other day."
"And the Dry Tree," said Ralph, "knowest thou thereof?" said Ralph.
"Such a tree, much beworshipped," said Otter, "we have,
not very far from Utterbol, on the hither side of the mountains.
Yet I have heard old men say that it is but a toy, and an image
of that which is verily anigh the Well at the World's End.
But now haste thee to do on thy raiment, for we must needs
get to horse in a little while." "Yet one more word,"
said Ralph; "thou sayest that none alive amongst you have
seen the Wall of the World?" "None alive," quoth Otter;
"forsooth what the dead may see, that is another question."
Said Ralph: "But have ye not known of any who have sought
to the Well from this land, which is so nigh thereunto?"
"Such there have been," said Otter; "but if they found it,
they found something beyond it, or came west again by some way
else than by Utterbol; for they never came back again to us."
Therewith he turned on his heel, and went his ways, and up came David
and one with him bringing victual; and David said: "Now, thou lucky one,
here is come thy breakfast! for we shall presently be on our way.
Cast on thy raiment, and eat and strengthen thyself for the day's work.
Hast thou looked well on the mountains?" "Yea," said Ralph,
"and the sight of them has made me as little downhearted as thou art.
For thou art joyous of mood this morning." David nodded and smiled,
and looked so merry that Ralph wondered what was toward.
Then he went into his tent and clad himself, and ate his breakfast,
and then gat to horse and rode betwixt two of the men-at-arms,
he and Otter; for David was ridden forward to speak with the Lord.
Otter talked ever gaily enough; but Ralph heeded him little a while,
but had his eyes ever on the mountains, and could see that for all
they were so dark, and filled up so much of the eastward heaven,
they were so far away that he could see but little of them save
that they were dark blue and huge, and one rising up behind the other.
Thus they rode the down country, till at last, two hours before noon,
coming over the brow of a long down, they had before them
a shallow dale, pleasanter than aught they had yet seen.
It was well-grassed, and a little river ran through it,
from which went narrow leats held up by hatches, so that the more
part of the valley bottom was a water-meadow, wherein as now were
grazing many kine and sheep. There were willows about the banks
of the river, and in an ingle of it stood a grange or homestead,
with many roofs half hidden by clumps of tall old elm trees.
Other houses there were in the vale; two or three cots,
to wit, on the slope of the hither down, and some half-dozen
about the homestead; and above and beyond all these,
on a mound somewhat away from the river and the grange,
a great square tower, with barriers and bailey all dight
ready for war, and with a banner of the Lord's hanging out.
But between the tower and the river stood as now a great
pavilion of snow-white cloth striped with gold and purple;
and round about it were other tents, as though a little army
were come into the vale.
So when they looked into that fair place, Otter the Captain
rose in the stirrups and cast up his hand for joy, and cried
out aloud: "Now, young knight, now we are come home:
how likest thou my Lord's land?"
"It is a fair land," said Ralph; "but is there not come some one to bid
thy Lord battle for it? or what mean the tents down yonder?"
Said Otter, laughing: "Nay, nay, it hath not come to that yet.
Yonder is my Lord's lady-wife, who hath come to meet him,
but in love, so to say, not in battle--not yet. Though I
say not that the cup of love betwixt them be brim-full. But
this it behoveth me not to speak of, though thou art to be my
brother-in-arms, since we are to tilt together presently:
for lo! yonder the tilt-yard, my lad."
Therewith he pointed to the broad green meadow: but Ralph said:
"How canst thou, a free man, be brother-in-arms to a thrall?"
"Nay, lad," quoth Otter, "let not that wasp sting thee:
for even such was I, time was. Nay, such am I now,
but that a certain habit of keeping my wits in a fray maketh
me of avail to my Lord, so that I am well looked to.
Forsooth in my Lord's land the free men are of little account,
since they must oftenest do as my Lord and my Lord's thralls
bid them. Truly, brother, it is we who have the wits and the luck
to rise above the whipping-post and the shackles that are
the great men hereabouts. I say we, for I deem that thou wilt
do no less, whereas thou hast the lucky look in thine eyes.
So let to-day try it."
As he spake came many glittering figures from out of those tents,
and therewithal arose the sound of horns and clashing of cymbals,
and their own horns gave back the sound of welcome.
Then Ralph saw a man in golden armour of strange, outlandish fashion,
sitting on a great black horse beside the Lord's litter;
and Otter said: "Lo! my Lord, armed and a-horseback to meet my lady:
she looketh kinder on him thus; though in thine ear be it said,
he is no great man of war; nor need he be, since he hath us
for his shield and his hauberk."
Herewith were they come on to the causeway above the green meadows,
and presently drew rein before the pavilion, and stood about
in a half-ring facing a two score of gaily clad men-at-arms,
who had come with the Lady and a rout of folk of the household.
Then the Lord gat off his horse, and stood in his golden armour,
and all the horns and other music struck up, and forth from
the pavilion came the Lady with a half-score of her women clad
gaily in silken gowns of green, and blue, and yellow, broidered all
about with gold and silver, but with naked feet, and having iron
rings on their arms, so that Ralph saw that they were thralls.
Something told him that his damsel should be amongst these,
so he gazed hard on them, but though they were goodly enough
there was none of them like to her.
As to the Queen, she was clad all in fine linen and gold, with gold
shoes on her feet: her arms came bare from out of the linen:
great they were, and the hands not small; but the arms round
and fair, and the hands shapely, and all very white and rosy:
her hair was as yellow as any that can be seen, and it was plenteous,
and shed all down about her. Her eyes were blue and set wide apart,
her nose a little snubbed, her mouth wide, full-lipped and smiling.
She was very tall, a full half-head taller than any of her women:
yea, as tall as a man who is above the middle height of men.
Now she came forward hastily with long strides, and knelt adown before
the Lord, but even as she kneeled looked round with a laughing face.
The Lord stooped down to her and took her by both hands, and raised
her up, and kissed her on the cheek (and he looked but little and
of no presence beside her:) and he said: "Hail to thee, my Lady;
thou art come far from thine home to meet me, and I thank thee therefor.
Is it well with our House?"
She spake seeming carelessly and loud; but her voice was somewhat husky:
"Yea, my Lord, all is well; few have done amiss, and the harvest
is plenteous." As she spake the Lord looked with knit brows at the damsels
behind her, as if he were seeking something; and the Lady followed his eyes,
smiling a little and flushing as if with merriment.
But the Lord was silent a while, and then let his brow clear and said:
"Yea, Lady, thou art thanked for coming to meet us; and timely
is thy coming, since there is game and glee for thee at hand;
I have cheapened a likely thrall of Morfinn the Unmanned,
and he is a gift to thee; and he hath given out that he is no ill
player with the spear after the fashion of them of the west;
and we are going to prove his word here in this meadow presently."
The Lady's face grew glad, and she said, looking toward
the ring of new comers: "Yea, Lord, and which of these is he,
if he be here?"
The Lord turned a little to point out Ralph, but even therewith the Lady's
eyes met Ralph's, who reddened for shame of being so shown to a great lady;
but as for her she flushed bright red all over her face and even to her bosom,
and trouble came into her eyes, and she looked adown. But the Lord said:
"Yonder is the youngling, the swordless one in the green coat; a likely lad,
if he hath not lied about his prowess; and he can sing thee a song withal,
and tell a piteous tale of old, and do all that those who be reared in
the lineages of the westlands deem meet and due for men of knightly blood.
Dost thou like the looks of him, lady! wilt thou have him?"
The Lady still held her head down, and tormented the grass with her foot,
and murmured somewhat; for she could not come to herself again as yet.
So the Lord looked sharply on her and said: "Well, when this tilting is over,
thou shalt tell me thy mind of him; for if he turn out a dastard I would
not ask thee to take him."
Now the lady lifted up her face, and she was grown somewhat pale;
but she forced her speech to come, and said: "It is well, Lord,
but now come thou into my pavilion, for thy meat is ready,
and it lacketh but a minute or so of noon." So he took her hand
and led her in to the pavilion, and all men got off their horses,
and fell to pitching the tents and getting their meat ready;
but Otter drew Ralph apart into a nook of the homestead,
and there they ate their meat together.
The Talk of Two Women Concerning Ralph
But when dinner was done, came David and a man with him bringing Ralph's
war gear, and bade him do it on, while the folk were fencing the lists,
which they were doing with such stuff as they had at the Tower; and the Lord
had been calling for Otter that he might command him what he should
tell to the marshals of the lists and how all should be duly ordered,
wherefore he went up unto the Tower whither the Lord had now gone.
So Ralph did on his armour, which was not right meet for tilting,
being over light for such work; and his shield in especial was but a target
for a sergent, which he had brought at Cheaping Knowe; but he deemed
that his deftness and much use should bear him well through.
Now, the Lady had abided in her pavilion when her Lord went abroad;
anon after she sent all her women away, save one whom she loved,
and to whom she was wont to tell the innermost of her mind; though forsooth
she mishandled her at whiles; for she was hot of temper, and over-ready
with her hands when she was angry; though she was nowise cruel.
But the woman aforesaid, who was sly and sleek, and somewhat past
her first youth, took both her caresses and her buffets with patience,
for the sake of the gifts and largesse wherewith they were bought.
So now she stood by the board in the pavilion with her head drooping
humbly, yet smiling to herself and heedful of whatso might betide.
But the Lady walked up and down the pavilion hastily, as one much moved.
At last she spake as she walked and said: "Agatha, didst thou
see him when my Lord pointed him out?" "Yea," said the woman
lifting her face a little.
"And what seemed he to thee?" said the Lady. "O my Lady,"
quoth Agatha, "what seemed he to thee?" The lady stood and
turned and looked at her; she was slender and dark and sleek;
and though her lips moved not, and her eyes did not change,
a smile seemed to steal over her face whether she would or not.
The Lady stamped her foot and lifted her hand and cried out.
"What! dost thou deem thyself meet for him?"
And she caught her by the folds over her bosom. But Agatha
looked up into her face with a simple smile as of a child:
"Dost thou deem him meet for thee, my Lady--he a thrall,
and thou so great?" The Lady took her hand from her, but her
face flamed with anger and she stamped on the ground again:
"What dost thou mean?" she said; "am I not great enough
to have what I want when it lieth close to my hand?"
Agatha looked on her sweetly, and said in a soft voice:
"Stretch out thine hand for it then." The Lady looked at her grimly,
and said: "I understand thy jeer; thou meanest that he will not
be moved by me, he being so fair, and I being but somewhat fair.
Wilt thou have me beat thee? Nay, I will send thee to the White
Pillar when we come home to Utterbol."
The woman smiled again, and said: "My Lady, when thou hast sent
me to the White Pillar, or the Red, or the Black, my stripes
will not mend the matter for thee, or quench the fear of thine
heart that by this time, since he is a grown man, he loveth
some other. Yet belike he will obey thee if thou command,
even to the lying in the same bed with thee; for he is a thrall."
The Lady hung her head, but Agatha went on in her sweet clear voice:
"The Lord will think little of it, and say nothing of it unless
thou anger him otherwise; or unless, indeed, he be minded to pick
a quarrel with thee, and hath baited a trap with this stripling.
But that is all unlike: thou knowest why, and how that he loveth
the little finger of that new-come thrall of his (whom ye left
at home at Utterbol in his despite), better than all thy body,
for all thy white skin and lovely limbs. Nay, now I think of it,
I deem that he meaneth this gift to make an occasion for the staying
of any quarrel with thee, that he may stop thy mouth from crying
out at him--well, what wilt thou do? he is a mighty Lord."
The Lady looked up (for she had hung her head at first), her face
all red with shame, yet smiling, though ruefully, and she said:
"Well, thou art determined that if thou art punished it
shall not be for naught. But thou knowest not my mind."
"Yea, Lady," said Agatha, smiling in despite of herself,
"that may well be."
Now the Lady turned from her, and went and sat upon a stool
that was thereby, and said nothing a while; only covering
her face with her hands and rocking herself to and fro,
while Agatha stood looking at her. At last she said:
"Hearken, Agatha, I must tell thee what lieth in mine heart,
though thou hast been unkind to me and hast tried to hurt my soul.
Now, thou art self-willed, and hot-blooded, and not unlovely,
so that thou mayst have loved and been loved ere now.
But thou art so wily and subtle that mayhappen thou wilt not understand
what I mean, when I say that love of this young man hath suddenly
entered into my heart, so that I long for him more this minute
than I did the last, and the next minute shall long still more.
And I long for him to love me, and not alone to pleasure me."
"Mayhappen it will so betide without any pushing the matter," said Agatha.
"Nay," said the Lady, "Nay; my heart tells me that it will not be so;
for I have seen him, that he is of higher kind than we be; as if he were
a god come down to us, who if he might not cast his love upon a goddess,
would disdain to love an earthly woman, little-minded and in whom
perfection is not." Therewith the tears began to run from her eyes;
but Agatha looked on her with a subtle smile and said: "O my Lady!
and thou hast scarce seen him! And yet I will not say but that I
understand this. But as to the matter of a goddess, I know not.
Many would say that thou sitting on thine ivory chair in thy golden raiment,
with thy fair bosom and white arms and yellow hair, wert not ill done
for the image of a goddess; and this young man may well think so of thee.
However that may be, there is something else I will say to thee;
(and thou knowest that I speak the truth to thee--most often--
though I be wily). This is the word, that although thou hast time
and again treated me like the thrall I am, I deem thee no ill woman,
but rather something overgood for Utterbol and the dark lord thereof."
Now sat the Lady shaken with sobs, and weeping without stint; but she
looked up at that word and said: "Nay, nay, Agatha, it is not so.
To-day hath this man's eyes been a candle to me, that I may see
myself truly; and I know that though I am a queen and not uncomely,
I am but coarse and little-minded. I rage in my household when
the whim takes me, and I am hot-headed, and masterful, and slothful,
and should belike be untrue if there were any force to drive me thereto.
And I suffer my husband to go after other women, and this new thrall
is especial, so that I may take my pleasure unstayed with other men whom
I love not greatly. Yes, I am foolish, and empty-headed, and unclean.
And all this he will see through my queenly state, and my golden gown,
and my white skin withal."
Agatha looked on her curiously, but smiling no more. At last she said:
"What is to do, then? or must I think of something for thee?"
"I know not, I know not," said the Lady between her sobs;
"yet if I might be in such case that he might pity me; belike it
might blind his eyes to the ill part of me. Yea," she said,
rising up and falling walking to and fro swiftly, "if he might
hurt me and wound me himself, and I so loving him."
Said Agatha coldly: "Yes, Lady, I am not wily for naught; and I both deem
that I know what is in thine heart, and that it is good for something;
and moreover that I may help thee somewhat therein. So in a few days thou
shalt see whether I am worth something more than hard words and beating.
Only thou must promise in all wise to obey me, though I be the thrall,
and thou the Lady, and to leave all the whole matter in my hands."
Quoth the Lady: "That is easy to promise; for what may I do by myself?"
Then Agatha fell pondering a while, and said thereafter:
"First, thou shalt get me speech with my Lord, and cause him
to swear immunity to me, whatsoever I shall say or do herein."
Said the Lady: "Easy is this. What more hast thou?"
Said Agatha: "It were better for thee not to go forth to see the jousting;
because thou art not to be trusted that thou show not thy love
openly when the youngling is in peril; and if thou put thy lord
to shame openly before the people, he must needs thwart thy will,
and be fierce and cruel, and then it will go hard with thy darling.
So thou shalt not go from the pavilion till the night is dark,
and thou mayst feign thyself sick meantime."
"Sick enough shall I be if I may not go forth to see how my love
is faring in his peril: this at least is hard to me; but so be it!
At least thou wilt come and tell me how he speedeth."
"Oh yes," said Agatha, "if thou must have it so; but fear thou not,
he shall do well enough."
Said the Lady: "Ah, but thou wottest how oft it goes with a chance stroke,
that the point pierceth where it should not; nay, where by likelihead
it could not."
"Nay," said Agatha, "what chance is there in this, when the youngling
knoweth the whole manner of the play, and his foemen know naught thereof?
It is as the chance betwixt Geoffrey the Minstrel and Black Anselm,
when they play at chess together, that Anselm must needs be mated ere
he hath time to think of his fourth move. I wot of these matters,
my Lady. Now, further, I would have thy leave to marshal thy maids
about the seat where thou shouldest be, and moreover there should be
someone in thy seat, even if I sat in it myself." Said the Lady:
"Yea, sit there if thou wilt."
"Woe's me!" said Agatha laughing, "why should I sit there?
I am like to thee, am I not?" "Yea," said the Lady,
"as the swan is like to the loon." "Yea, my Lady," said Agatha,
"which is the swan and which the loon? Well, well, fear not;
I shall set Joyce in thy seat by my Lord's leave;
she is tall and fair, and forsooth somewhat like to thee."
"Why wilt thou do this?" quoth the Lady; "Why should thralls
sit in my seat?" Said Agatha: "O, the tale is long to tell;
but I would confuse that young man's memory of thee somewhat,
if his eyes fell on thee at all when ye met e'en now,
which is to be doubted."
The Lady started up in sudden wrath, and cried out:
"She had best not be too like to me then, and strive to draw his
eyes to her, or I will have her marked for diversity betwixt us.
Take heed, take heed!"
Agatha looked softly on her and said: "My Lady. Ye fair-skinned,
open-faced women should look to it not to show yourselves angry
before men-folk. For open wrath marreth your beauty sorely.
Leave scowls and fury to the dark-browed, who can use them without
wrying their faces like a three months' baby with the colic.
Now that is my last rede as now. For methinks I can hear
the trumpets blowing for the arraying of the tourney.
Wherefore I must go to see to matters, while thou hast but to be quiet.
And to-night make much of my Lord, and bid him see me to-morrow,
and give heed to what I shall say to him. But if I meet
him without, now, as is most like, I shall bid him in to thee,
that thou mayst tell him of Joyce, and her sitting in thy seat.
Otherwise I will tell him as soon as he is set down in his place.
Sooth to say, he is little like to quarrel with either thee or me
for setting a fair woman other than thee by his side."
Therewith she lifted the tent lap and went out, stepping daintily,
and her slender body swaying like a willow branch, and came at once face
to face with the Lord of Utterbol, and bowed low and humbly before him,
though her face, unseen of him, smiled mockingly. The Lord looked
on her greedily, and let his hand and arm go over her shoulder,
and about her side, and he drew her to him, and kissed her, and said:
"What, Agatha! and why art thou not bringing forth thy mistress to us?"
She raised her face to him, and murmured softly, as one afraid,
but with a wheedling smile on her face and in her eyes:
"Nay, my Lord, she will abide within to-day, for she is ill at ease;
if your grace goeth in, she will tell thee what she will have."
"Agatha," quoth he, "I will hear her, and I will do her pleasure if thou
ask me so to do." Then Agatha cast down her eyes, and her speech was
so low and sweet that it was as the cooing of a dove, as she said:
"O my Lord, what is this word of thine?"
He kissed her again, and said: "Well, well, but dost thou ask it?"
"O yea, yea, my Lord," said she.
"It is done then," said the Lord; and he let her go;
for he had been stroking her arm and shoulder, and she
hurried away, laughing inwardly, to the Lady's women.
But he went into the pavilion after he had cast one look at her.
How Ralph Justed With the Aliens
Meanwhile Captain Otter had brought Ralph into the staked-out lists,
which, being hastily pitched, were but slenderly done, and now
the Upmeads stripling stood there beside a good horse which they
had brought to him, and Otter had been speaking to him friendly.
But Ralph saw the Lord come forth from the pavilion and take
his seat on an ivory chair set on a turf ridge close to
the stakes of the lists: for that place was used of custom
for such games as they exercised in the lands of Utterbol.
Then presently the Lady's women came out of their tents, and,
being marshalled by Agatha, went into the Queen's pavilion,
whence they came forth again presently like a bed of garden
flowers moving, having in the midst of them a woman so fair,
and clad so gloriously, that Ralph must needs look on her,
though he were some way off, and take note of her beauty.
She went and sat her down beside the Lord, and Ralph
doubted not that it was the Queen, whom he had but glanced
at when they first made stay before the pavilion.
Sooth to say, Joyce being well nigh as tall as the Queen,
and as white of skin, was otherwise a far fairer woman.
Now spake Otter to Ralph: "I must leave thee here, lad, and go
to the other side, as I am to run against thee." Said Ralph:
"Art thou to run first?" "Nay, but rather last," said Otter;
"they will try thee first with one of the sergeants, and if he
overcome thee, then all is done, and thou art in an evil plight.
Otherwise will they find another and another, and at last it
will be my turn. So keep thee well, lad."
Therewith he rode away, and there came to Ralph one of
the sergeants, who brought him a spear, and bade him to horse.
So Ralph mounted and took the spear in hand; and the sergeant said:
"Thou art to run at whatsoever meeteth thee when thou hast heard
the third blast of the horn. Art thou ready?" "Yea, yea,"
said Ralph; "but I see that the spear-head is not rebated,
so that we are to play at sharps."
"Art thou afraid, youngling?" said the sergeant, who was
old and crabbed, "if that be so, go and tell the Lord:
but thou wilt find that he will not have his sport wholly spoiled,
but will somehow make a bolt or a shaft out of thee."
Said Ralph: "I did but jest; I deem myself not so near my
death to-day as I have been twice this summer or oftener."
Said the sergeant, "It is ill jesting in matters wherein
my Lord hath to do. Now thou hast heard my word:
do after it."
Therewith he departed, and Ralph laughed and shook the spear aloft,
and deemed it not over strong; but he said to himself that the spears
of the others would be much the same.
Now the horn blew up thrice, and at the latest blast Ralph pricked forth,
as one well used to the tilt, but held his horse well in hand;
and he saw a man come driving against him with his spear in the rest,
and deemed him right big; but this withal he saw, that the man
was ill arrayed, and was pulling on his horse as one not willing
to trust him to the rush; and indeed he came on so ill that it
was clear that he would never strike Ralph's shield fairly.
So he swerved as they met, so that his spear-point was never near
to Ralph, who turned his horse toward him a little, and caught his
foeman by the gear about his neck, and spurred on, so that he dragged
him clean out of his saddle, and let him drop, and rode back
quietly to his place, and got off his horse to see to his girths;
and he heard great laughter rising up from the ring of men,
and from the women also. But the Lord of Utterbol cried out:
"Bring forth some one who doth not eat my meat for nothing:
and set that wretch and dastard aside till the tilting be over,
and then he shall pay a little for his wasted meat and drink."
Ralph got into his saddle again, and saw a very big man
come forth at the other end of the lists, and wondered
if he should be overthrown of him; but noted that his horse
seemed not over good. Then the horn blew up and he spurred on,
and his foeman met him fairly in the midmost of the lists:
yet he laid his spear but ill, and as one who would thrust
and foin with it rather than letting it drive all it might,
so that Ralph turned the point with his shield that it
glanced off, but he himself smote the other full on
the shoulder, and the shaft brake, but the point had pierced
the man's armour, and the truncheon stuck in the wound:
yet since the spear was broken he kept his saddle.
The Lord cried out, "Well, Black Anselm, this is better done;
yet art thou a big man and a well-skilled to be beaten
by a stripling."
So the man was helped away and Ralph went back to his place again.
Then another man was gotten to run against Ralph, and it went
the same-like way: for Ralph smote him amidst of the shield,
and the spear held, so that he fell floundering off his horse.
Six of the stoutest men of Utterbol did Ralph overthrow or hurt
in this wise; and then he ran three courses with Otter,
and in the first two each brake his spear fairly on the other;
but in the third Otter smote not Ralph squarely, but Ralph smote
full amidst of his shield, and so dight him that he well-nigh fell,
and could not master his horse, but yet just barely kept his saddle.
Then the Lord cried out: "Now make we an end of it!
We have no might against this youngling, man to man:
or else would Otter have done it. This comes of learning
a craft diligently."
So Ralph got off his horse, and did off his helm and awaited tidings;
and anon comes to him the surly sergeant, and brought him a cup of wine,
and said: "Youngling, thou art to drink this, and then go to my Lord;
and I deem that thou art in favour with him. So if thou art not
too great a man, thou mightest put in a word for poor Redhead,
that first man that did so ill. For my Lord would have him set up,
and head down and buttocks aloft, as a target for our bowmen.
And it will be his luck if he be sped with the third shot, and last
not out to the twentieth."
"Yea, certes," said Ralph, "I will do no less, even if it
anger the Lord." "O thou wilt not anger him," said the man,
"for I tell thee, thou art in favour. Yea, and for me also thou
mightest say a word also, when thou becomest right great;
for have I not brought thee a good bowl of wine?"
"Doubt it not, man," said Ralph, "if I once get safe to Utterbol:
weary on it and all its ways!" Said the sergeant:
"That is an evil wish for one who shall do well at Utterbol.
But come, tarry not."
So he brought Ralph to the Lord, who still sat in his chair
beside that fair woman, and Ralph did obeysance to him;
yet he had a sidelong glance also for that fair seeming-queen,
and deemed her both proud-looking, and so white-skinned,
that she was a wonder, like the queen of the fays:
and it was just this that he had noted of the Queen as he stood
before her earlier in the day when they first came into the vale;
therefore he had no doubt of this damsel's queenship.
Now the Lord spake to him and said: "Well, youngling, thou hast done well,
and better than thy behest: and since ye have been playing at sharps,
I deem thou would'st not do ill in battle, if it came to that.
So now I am like to make something other of thee than I was minded
to at first: for I deem that thou art good enough to be a man.
And if thou wilt now ask a boon of me, if it be not over great,
I will grant it thee."
Ralph put one knee to the ground, and said: "Great Lord,
I thank thee: but whereas I am in an alien land and seeking
great things, I know of no gift which I may take for myself
save leave to depart, which I deem thou wilt not grant me.
Yet one thing thou mayst do for my asking if thou wilt.
If thou be still angry with the carle whom I first unhorsed,
I pray thee pardon him his ill-luck."
"Ill-luck!" said the Lord, "Why, I saw him that he was downright afraid
of thee. And if my men are to grow blenchers and soft-hearts what is
to do then? But tell me, Otter, what is the name of this carle?"
Said Otter, "Redhead he hight, Lord." Said the Lord: "And what
like a man is he in a fray?" "Naught so ill, Lord," said Otter.
"This time, like the rest of us, he knew not this gear.
It were scarce good to miss him at the next pinch.
It were enough if he had the thongs over his back a few dozen times;
it will not be the first day of such cheer to him."
"Ha!" said the Lord, "and what for, Otter, what for?"
"Because he was somewhat rough-handed, Lord," said Otter.
"Then shall we need him and use him some day. Let him go scot
free and do better another bout. There is thy boon granted
for thee, knight; and another day thou mayst ask something more.
And now shall David have a care of thee. And when we come
to Utterbol we shall see what is to be done with thee."
Then Ralph rose up and thanked him, and David came forward,
and led him to his tent. And he was wheedling in his ways to him,
as if Ralph were now become one who might do him great good
if so his will were.
But the Lord went back again into the Tower.
As to the Lady, she abode in her pavilion amidst many fears and desires,
till Agatha entered and said: "My Lady, so far all has gone happily."
Said the Lady: "I deemed from the noise and the cry that he was doing well.
But tell me, how did he?" "'My Lady," quoth Agatha, "he knocked our folk
about well-favouredly, and seemed to think little of it."
"And Joyce," said the Lady, "how did she?" "She looked a queen,
every inch of her, and she is tall," said Agatha: "soothly some
folk stared on her, but not many knew of her, since she is but new
into our house. Though it is a matter of course that all save
our new-come knight knew that it was not thou that sat there.
And my Lord was well-pleased, and now he hath taken her by the hand
and led her into the Tower."
The Lady reddened and scowled, and said: "And he... did he come anigh her?"
"O yea," said Agatha, "whereas he stood before my Lord a good while,
and then kneeled to him to pray pardon for one of our men who had
done ill in the tilting: yea, he was nigh enough to her to touch
her had he dared, and to smell the fragrance of her raiment.
And he seemed to think it good to look out of the corners of
his eyes at her; though I do not say that she smiled on him."
The Lady sprang up, her cheeks burning, and walked about angrily a while,
striving for words, till at last she said: "When we come home to Utterbol,
my lord will see his new thrall again, and will care for Joyce no whit:
then will I have my will of her; and she shall learn, she, whether I
am verily the least of women at Utterbol! Ha! what sayest thou?
Now why wilt thou stand and smile on me?--Yea, I know what is in thy thought;
and in very sooth it is good that the dear youngling hath not seen
this new thrall, this Ursula. Forsooth, I tell thee that if I durst
have her in my hands I would have a true tale out of her as to why
she weareth ever that pair of beads about her neck."
"Now, our Lady," said Agatha, "thou art marring the fairness
of thy face again. I bid thee be at peace, for all shall be well,
and other than thou deemest. Tell me, then, didst thou
get our Lord to swear immunity for me?" Said the Lady:
"Yea, he swore on the edge of the sword that thou mightest say
what thou wouldst, and neither he nor any other should lay
hand on thee."
"Good," said Agatha; "then will I go to him to-morrow morning,
when Joyce has gone from him. But now hold up thine heart, and keep
close for these two days that we shall yet abide in Tower Dale:
and trust me this very evening I shall begin to set tidings going
that shall work and grow, and shall one day rejoice thine heart."
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