The Well at the World's End
Part 9 out of 11
But sooth it is that the foreboding of the Giant's Candle was not for naught.
For there hath verily been a change of masters at Utterbol."
"Yea," said Ralph, "for better or worse?"
Said the Sage: "It could scarce have been for worse;
but if rumour runneth right it is much for the better.
Hearken how I learned thereof. One fair even of late March,
a little before I set off hither, as I was sitting before
the door of my house, I saw the glint of steel through the wood,
and presently rode up a sort of knights and men-at-arms, about
a score; and at the head of them a man on a big red-roan horse,
with his surcoat blazoned with a white bull on a green field:
he was a man black-haired, but blue-eyed; not very big,
but well knit and strong, and looked both doughty
and knightly; and he wore a gold coronet about his basnet:
so not knowing his blazonry, I wondered who it was that durst
be so bold as to ride in the lands of the Lord of Utterbol.
Now he rode up to me and craved a drink of milk,
for he had seen my goats; so I milked two goats for him,
and brought whey for the others, whereas I had no more goats
in milk at that season. So the bull-knight spake to me about
the woodland, and wherefore I dwelt there apart from others;
somewhat rough in his speech he was, yet rather jolly than fierce;
and he thanked me for the bever kindly enough, and said:
"I deem that it will not avail to give thee money;
but I shall give thee what may be of avail to thee.
Ho, Gervaise! give me one of those scrolls!" So a squire hands
him a parchment and he gave it me, and it was a safe-conduct
to the bearer from the Lord of Utterbol; but whereas I saw
that the seal bore not the Bear on the Castle-wall, but the Bull,
and that the superscription was unknown to me, I held the said
scroll in my hand and wondered; and the knight said to me:
"Yea, look long at it; but so it is, though thou trow it not, that I
am verily Lord of Utterbol, and that by conquest; so that belike I
am mightier than he was, for that mighty runagate have I slain.
And many there be who deem that no mishap, heathen though I be.
Come thou to Utterbol and see for thyself if the days be not
changed there; and thou shalt have a belly-full of meat and drink,
and honour after thy deserving." So they rested a while,
and then went their ways. To Utterbol I went not, but ere I
departed to come hither two or three carles strayed my way,
as whiles they will, who told me that this which the knight
had said was naught but the sooth, and that great was the change
of days at Utterbol, whereas all men there, both bond and free,
were as merry as they deserved to be, or belike merrier."
Ralph pondered this tale, and was not so sure but that this new lord
was not Bull Shockhead, his wartaken thrall; natheless he held his peace;
but Ursula said: "I marvel not much at the tale, for sure I am,
that had Gandolf of the Bear been slain when I was at Utterbol,
neither man nor woman had stirred a finger to avenge him.
But all feared him, I scarce know why; and, moreover, there was none
to be master if he were gone."
Thereafter she told more tales of the miseries of Utterbol than Ralph
had yet heard, as though this tale of the end of that evil rule had set
her free to utter them; and they fell to talking of others matters.
They Winter With the Sage; and Thereafter Come Again to Vale Turris
Thus with no peril and little pain they came to the Sage's hermitage;
and whereas the autumn was now wearing, and it was not to be looked
for that they should cross even the mountains west of Goldburg,
let alone those to the west of Cheaping Knowe, when winter had once
set in, Ralph and Ursula took the Sage's bidding to abide the winter
through with him, and set forth on their journey again when spring
should be fairly come and the mountain ways be clear of snow.
So they dwelt there happily enough; for they helped the Sage in his husbandry,
and he enforced him to make them cheer, and read in the ancient book to them,
and learned them as much as it behoved them to hearken; and told them tales
of past time.
Thereafter when May was at hand they set out on their road, and whereas
the Sage knew the wood well, he made a long story short by bringing them
to Vale Turris in four days' time. But when they rode down into the dale,
they saw the plain meads below the Tower all bright with tents and booths,
and much folk moving about amidst them; here and there amidst the roofs
of cloth withal was showing the half finished frame of a timber house
a-building. But now as they looked and wondered what might be toward,
a half score of weaponed men rode up to them and bade them, but courteously,
to come with them to see their Lord. The Sage drew forth his
let-pass thereat; but the leader of the riders said, as he shook his head:
"That is good for thee, father; but these two knights must needs give
an account of themselves: for my lord is minded to put down all lifting
throughout his lands; therefore hath he made the meshes of his net small.
But if these be thy friends it will be well. Therefore thou art free
to come with them and bear witness to their good life."
Here it must be said that since they were on the road again Ursula
had donned her wargear once more, and as she rode was to all men's
eyes naught but a young and slender knight.
So without more ado they followed those men-at-arms, and saw
how the banner of the Bull was now hung out from the Tower;
and the sergeants brought them into the midst of the vale,
where, about those tents and those half-finished frame-houses
(whereof they saw six) was a market toward and much concourse of folk.
But the sergeants led through them and the lanes of the booths
down to the side of the river, where on a green knoll,
with some dozen of men-at-arms and captains about him,
sat the new Lord of Utterbol.
Now as the others drew away from him to right and left, the Lord sat before
Ralph with naught to hide him, and when their eyes met Ralph gave a cry
as one astonished; and the Lord of Utterbol rose up to his feet and shouted,
and then fell a laughing joyously, and then cried out: "Welcome, King's Son,
and look on me! for though the feathers be fine 'tis the same bird.
I am Lord of Utterbol and therewithal Bull Shockhead, whose might was less
than thine on the bent of the mountain valley."
Therewith he caught hold of Ralph's hand, and sat himself down and drew
Ralph down, and made him sit beside him.
"Thou seest I am become great?" said he. "Yea," said Ralph,
"I give thee joy thereof!" Said the new Lord:
"Perchance thou wilt be deeming that since I was once
thy war-taken thrall I should give myself up to thee:
but I tell thee I will not: for I have much to do here.
Moreover I did not run away from thee, but thou rannest
from me, lad."
Thereat in his turn Ralph fell a laughing, and when he might speak he said:
"What needeth the lord of all these spears to beg off his service
to the poor wandering knight?"
Then Bull put his arms about him, and said:
"I am fain at the sight of thee, time was thou wert a kind
lad and a good master; yet naught so merry as thou shouldest
have been; but now I see that gladness plays all about
thy face, and sparkles in thine eyes; and that is good.
But these thy fellows? I have seen the old carle before:
he was dwelling in the wildwood because he was overwise
to live with other folk. But this young man, who may he be?
Or else--yea, verily, it is a young woman. Yea, and now
I deem that it is the thrall of my brother Bull Nosy.
Therefore by heritage she is now mine."
Ralph heard the words but saw not the smiling face, so wroth he was;
therefore the bare sword was in his fist in a twinkling.
But ere he could smite Bull caught hold of his wrist, and said:
"Master, master, thou art but a sorry lawyer, or thou wouldst have said:
'Thou art my thrall, and how shall a thrall have heritage?'
Dost thou not see that I cannot own her till I be free, and that thou
wilt not give me my freedom save for hers? There, now is all
the matter of the service duly settled, and I am free and a Lord.
And this damsel is free also, and--yea, is she not thy
well-beloved, King's Son?"
Ralph was somewhat abashed, and said: "I crave thy pardon, Lord,
for misdoubting thee: but think how feeble are we two lovers
amongst the hosts of the aliens."
"It is well, it is well," said Bull, "and in very sooth I deem
thee my friend; and this damsel was my brother's friend.
Sit down, dear maiden, I bid thee; and thou also, O man overwise;
and let us drink a cup, and then we will talk about what we
may do for each other."
So they sat down all on the grass, and the Lord of Utterbol called
for wine, and they drank together in the merry season of May;
and the new Lord said: "Here be we friends come together,
and it were pity of our lives if we must needs sunder speedily:
howbeit, it is thou must rule herein, King's Son;
for in my eyes thou art still greater than I, O my master.
For I can see in thine eyes and thy gait, and in thine also,
maiden, that ye have drunk of the Well at the World's End.
Therefore I pray you gently and heartily that ye come home
with me to Utterbol."
Ralph shook his head, and answered: "Lord of Utterbol,
I bid thee all thanks for thy friendliness, but it may not be."
"But take note," said Bull, "that all is changed there, and it hath
become a merry dwelling of men. We have cast down the Red Pillar,
and the White and the Black also; and it is no longer a place of torment
and fear, and cozening and murder; but the very thralls are happy
and free-spoken. Now come ye, if it were but for a moon's wearing:
I shall be there in eight days' time. Yea, Lord Ralph, thou would'st
see old acquaintance there withal: for when I slew the tyrant,
who forsooth owed me no less than his life for the murder
of my brother, I made atonement to his widow, and wedded her:
a fair woman as thou wottest, lord, and of good kindred, and of no
ill conditions, as is well seen now that she lives happy days.
Though I have heard say that while she was under the tyrant she
was somewhat rough with her women when she was sad. Eh, fair sir!
but is it not so that she cast sheep's eyes on thee, time was,
in this same dale?"
Ralph reddened and answered naught; and Bull spake again, laughing:
"Yea, so it is: she told me that much herself, and afterwards I heard more
from her damsel Agatha, who told me the merry tale of that device they made
to catch thee, and how thou brakest through the net. Forsooth, though this
she told me not, I deem that she would have had the same gift of thee as her
mistress would. Well, lad, lucky are they with whom all women are in love.
So now I prithee trust so much in thy luck as to come with me to Utterbol."
Quoth Ralph: "Once again, Lord of Utterbol, we thank thee;
but whereas thou hast said that thou hast much to do in
this land; even so I have a land where deeds await me.
For I stole myself away from my father and mother, and who knows
what help they need of me against foemen, and evil days;
and now I might give help to them were I once at home,
and to the people of the land also, who are a stout-hearted
and valiant and kindly folk."
The new Lord's face clouded somewhat, as he said: "If thine
heart draweth thee to thy kindred, there is no more to say.
As for me, what I did was for kindred's sake, and then
what followed after was the work of need. Well, let it be!
But since we must needs part hastily, this at least I bid you,
that ye abide with me for to-night, and the banquet in
the great pavilion. Howsoever ye may be busied, gainsay me
not this; and to-morrow I shall further you on your way,
and give you a score of spears to follow thee to Goldburg.
Then as for Goldburg and Cheaping Knowe, see ye to it yourselves:
but beyond Cheaping Knowe and the plain country, thy name is known,
and the likeness of thee told in words; and no man in those
mountains shall hurt or hinder thee, but all thou meetest shall aid
and further thee. Moreover, at the feast to-night thou shalt see
thy friend Otter, and he and I betwixt us shall tell thee how I
came to Utterbol, and of the change of days, and how it betid.
For he is now my right-hand man, as he was of the dead man.
Forsooth, after the slaying I would have had him take the lordship
of Utterbol, but he would not, so I must take it perforce or be slain,
and let a new master reign there little better than the old.
Well then, how sayest thou? Or wilt thou run from me without
leave-taking, as thou didst ere-while at Goldburg?"
Ralph laughed at his word, and said that he would not be so
churlish this time, but would take his bidding with a good heart;
and thereafter they fell to talking of many things.
But Ralph took note of Bull, that now his hair and beard
were trim and his raiment goodly, for all his rough speech
and his laughter and heart-whole gibes and mocking, his aspect
and bearing was noble and knightly.
A Feast in the Red Pavilion
So in a while they went with him to the Tower, and there was
woman's raiment of the best gotten for Ursula, and afterwards at
nightfall they went to the feast in the Red Pavillion of Utterbol,
which awhile ago the now-slain Lord of Utterbol had let make;
and it was exceeding rich with broidery of pearl and gems:
since forsooth gems and fair women were what the late lord
had lusted for the most, and have them he would at the price
of howsoever many tears and groans. But that pavilion was yet
in all wise as it was wont to be, saving that the Bull had
supplanted the Bear upon the Castle-wall.
Now the wayfarers were treated with all honour and were set
upon the high-seat, Ralph upon the right-hand of the Lord,
and Ursula upon his left, and the Sage of Swevenham out from her.
But on Ralph's right hand was at first a void place,
whereto after a while came Otter, the old Captain of the Guard.
He came in hastily, and as though he had but just taken his armour off:
for his raiment was but such as the men-at-arm of that country were
wont to wear under their war-gear, and was somewhat stained and worn;
whereas the other knights and lords were arrayed grandly in silks
and fine cloth embroidered and begemmed.
Otter was fain when he saw Ralph, and kissed and embraced him, and said:
"Forsooth, I saw by thy face, lad, that the world would be soft before thee;
and now that I behold thee I know already that thou hast won thy quest;
and the Gods only know to what honour thou shalt attain."
Ralph laughed for joy of him, and yet said soberly: "As to honour, meseems I
covet little world's goods, save that it may be well with my folk at home."
Nevertheless as the words were out of his mouth his thought went back
to the tall man whom he had first met at the churchyard gate of Netherton,
and it seemed to him that he wished his thriving, yea, and in a lesser way,
he wished the same to Roger of the Rope-walk, whereas he deemed that both
of these, each in his own way, had been true to the lady whom he had lost.
Then Otter fell a-talking to him of the change of days at Utterbol, and how
that it was the Lord's intent that a cheaping town should grow up in the Dale
of the Tower, and that the wilderness beyond it should be tilled and builded.
"And," said he, "if this be done, and the new lord live to see it, as he may,
being but young of years, he may become exceedingly mighty, and if he hold
on in the way whereas he now is, he shall be well-beloved also."
So they spake of many things, and there was minstrelsy and diverse joyance,
till at last the Lord of Utterbol stood up and said: "Now bring in the Bull,
that we may speak some words over him; for this is a great feast."
Ralph wondered what bull this might be whereof he spake; but the harps
and fiddlers, and all instruments of music struck up a gay and gallant tune,
and presently there came into the hall four men richly attired, who held
up on spears a canopy of bawdekin, under which went a man-at-arms helmed,
and clad in bright armour, who held in his hands a great golden cup
fashioned like to a bull, and he bore it forth unto the dais, and gave
it into the hands of the Lord. Then straightway all the noise ceased,
and the glee and clatter of the hall, and there was dead silence.
Then the Lord held the cup aloft and said in a loud voice:
"Hail, all ye folk! I swear by the Bull, and they that made him,
that in three years' time or less I will have purged all the lands
of Utterbol of all strong-thieves and cruel tyrants, be they big
or little, till all be peace betwixt the mountains and the mark
of Goldburg; and the wilderness shall blossom like the rose.
Or else shall I die in the pain."
Therewith he drank of the cup, and all men shouted. Then he sat him
down and bade hand the cup to Otter; and Otter took the cup and looked
into the bowl and saw the wave of wine, and laughed and cried out:
"As for me, what shall I swear but that I will follow the Bull through
thick and thin, through peace and unpeace, through grief and joy.
This is my oath-swearing."
And he drank mightily and sat down.
Then turned the Lord to Ralph and said: "And thou who art my master,
wilt thou not tell thy friends and the Gods what thou wilt do?"
"No great matter, belike," said Ralph; "but if ye will it,
I will speak out my mind thereon."
"We will it," said the Lord.
Then Ralph arose and took the cup and lifted it and spake:
"This I swear, that I will go home to my kindred, yet on
the road will I not gainsay help to any that craveth it.
So may all Hallows help me!"
Therewith he drank: and Bull said: "This is well said, O happy man!
But now that men have drunk well, do ye three and Otter come with me
into the Tower, whereas the chambers are dight for you, that I may make
the most of this good day wherein I have met thee again."
So they went with him, and when they had sat down in the goodliest
chamber of the Tower, and they had been served with wine and spices,
the new Lord said to Ralph: "And now, my master, wilt thou
not ask somewhat concerning me?" "Yea," said Ralph, "I will ask
thee to tell the tale of how thou camest into thy Lordship."
Said the Lord, "This shall ye hear of me with Otter to help
me out. Hearken!"
Bull Telleth of His Winning of the Lordship of Utterbol
"When thou rannest away from me, and left me alone at Goldburg,
I was grieved; then Clement Chapman offered to take me back with him
to his own country, which, he did me to wit, lieth hard by thine:
but I would not go with him, since I had an inkling that I
should find the slayer of my brother and be avenged on him.
So the Chapmen departed from Goldberg after that Clement had
dealt generously by me for thy sake; and when they were gone
I bethought me what to do, and thou knowest I can some skill
with the fiddle and song, so I betook myself to that craft,
both to earn somewhat and that I might gather tidings and be
little heeded, till within awhile folk got to know me well,
and would often send for me to their merry-makings, where they
gave me fiddler's wages, to wit, meat, drink, and money.
So what with one thing what with another I was rich enough
to leave Goldburg and fall to my journey unto Utterbol;
since I misdoubted me from the first that the caytiff who had
slain my brother was the Lord thereof.
"But one day when I went into the market-place I found a great
stir and clutter there; some folk, both men and women screeching
and fleeing, and some running to bows and other weapons.
So I caught hold of one of the fleers, and asked him what was toward;
and he cried out, 'Loose me! let me go! he is loose, he is loose!'
"'Who is loose, fool?' quoth I. 'The lion,' said he, and therewith
in the extremity of his terror tore himself away from me and fled.
By this time the others also had got some distance away from me,
and I was left pretty much alone. So I went forth on a little,
looking about me, and sure enough under one of the pillars
of the cloister beneath the market-house (the great green pillar,
if thou mindest it), lay crouched a huge yellow lion, on the carcase
of a goat, which he had knocked down, but would not fall to eating
of amidst all that cry and hubbub.
"Now belike one thing of me thou wottest not, to wit, that I
have a gift that wild things love and will do my bidding.
The house-mice will run over me as I lie awake looking on them;
the small birds will perch on my shoulders without fear;
the squirrels and hares will gambol about quite close to me
as if I were but a tree; and, withal, the fiercest hound
or mastiff is tame before me. Therefore I feared not
this lion, and, moreover, I looked to it that if I might tame
him thoroughly, he would both help me to live as a jongleur,
and would be a sure ward to me.
"So I walked up towards him quietly, till he saw me and half rose
up growling; but I went on still, and said to him in a peaceable voice:
'How now, yellow mane! what aileth thee? down with thee, and eat thy meat.'
So he sat down to his quarry again, but growled still, and I went up close
to him, and said to him: 'Eat in peace and safety, am I not here?'
And therewith I held out my bare hand unclenched to him, and he smelt to it,
and straightway began to be peaceable, and fell to tearing the goat,
and devouring it, while I stood by speaking to him friendly.
"But presently I saw weapons glitter on the other side of the square place,
and men with bended bows. The yellow king saw them also, and rose
up again and stood growling; then I strove to quiet him, and said,
'These shall not harm thee.'
"Therewith the men cried out to me to come away, for they would shoot:
But I called out; 'Shoot not yet! but tell me, does any man own this beast?'
'Yea,' said one, 'I own him, and happy am I that he doth not own me.'
Said I, 'Wilt thou sell him?' 'Yea' said he, 'if thou livest another
hour to tell down the money.' Said I, 'I am a tamer of wild beasts,
and if thou wilt sell this one at such a price, I will rid thee of him.'
The man yeasaid this, but kept well aloof with his fellows, who looked on,
handling their weapons.
"Then I turned to my new-bought thrall and bade him come with me,
and he followed me like a dog to his cage, which was hard by;
and I shut him in there, and laid down the money to his owner;
and folk came round about, and wondered, and praised me.
But I said: 'My masters, have ye naught of gifts for the tamer
of beasts, and the deliverer of men?' Thereat they laughed:
but they brought me money and other goods, till I had gotten
far more than I had given for the lion.
"Howbeit the next day the officers of the Porte came and bade
me avoid the town of Goldburg, but gave me more money withal.
I was not loth thereto, but departed, riding a little horse
that I had, and leading my lion by a chain, though when I
was by he needed little chaining.
"So that without more ado I took the road to Utterbol,
and wheresoever I came, I had what was to be had that I would;
neither did any man fall on me, or on my lion. For though they
might have shot him or slain him with many spear-thrusts, yet
besides that they feared him sorely, they feared me still more;
deeming me some mighty sending from their Gods.
"Thus came I to Utterness, and found it poor and wretched,
(as forsooth, it yet is, but shall not be so for long). But
the House of Utterbol is exceeding fair and stately (as thou
mightest have learned from others, my master,) and its gardens,
and orchards, and acres, and meadows as goodly as may be.
Yea, a very paradise; yet the dwellers therein as if it were hell,
as I saw openly with mine own eyes.
"To be short, the fame of me and my beast had somehow gone before me, and when
I came to the House, I was dealt with fairly, and had good entertainment:
and this all the more, as the Lord was away for a while, and the life
of folk not so hard by a great way as it had been if he had been there:
but the Lady was there in the house, and on the morrow of my coming by
her command, I brought my lion before her window and made him come and go,
and fetch and carry at my bidding, and when I had done my play she bade me up
into her bower, and bade me sit and had me served with wine, while she asked
me many questions as to my country and friends, and whence and whither I was;
and I answered her with the very sooth, so far as the sooth was handy;
and there was with her but one of her women, even thy friend Agatha, fair sir.
"Methought both that this Queen was a fair woman, and that she looked
kindly upon me, and at last she said, sighing, that she were well at
ease if her baron were even such a man as I, whereas the said Lord
was fierce and cruel, and yet a dastard withal. But the said Agatha
turned on her, and chided her, as one might with a child, and said:
'Hold thy peace of thy loves and thy hates before a very stranger!
Or must I leave yet more of my blood on the pavement of the White Pillar,
for the pleasure of thy loose tongue? Come out now, mountain-carle!'
"And she took me by the hand and led me out, and when we had
passed the door and it was shut, she turned to me and said:
'Thou, if I hear any word abroad of what my Lady has just spoken,
I shall know that thou hast told it, and though I be but a thrall,
yea, and of late a mishandled one, yet am I of might enough
in Utterbol to compass thy destruction.'
"I laughed in her face and went my ways: and thereafter I saw many folk
and showed them my beast, and soon learned two things clearly.
"And first that the Lord and the Lady were now utterly at variance.
For a little before he had come home, and found a lack in his household--
to wit, how a certain fair woman whom he had but just got hold of,
and whom he lusted after sorely, was fled away. And he laid
the wyte thereof on his Lady, and threatened her with death:
and when he considered that he durst not slay her, or torment her
(for he was verily but a dastard), he made thy friend Agatha pay
for her under pretence of wringing a true tale out of her.
"Now when I heard this story I said to myself that I should hear
that other one of the slaying of my brother, and even so it befell.
For I came across a man who told me when and how the Lord came
by the said damsel (whom I knew at once could be none other
than thou, Lady,) and how he had slain my brother to get her,
even as doubtless thou knowest, Lord Ralph.
"But the second thing which I learned was that all folk at Utterbol,
men and women, dreaded the home-coming of this tyrant;
and that there was no man but would have deemed it a good deed
to slay him. But, dastard as he was, use and wont, and the fear
that withholdeth rebels, and the doubt that draweth back slaves,
saved him; and they dreaded him moreover as a devil rather than a man.
Forsooth one of the men there, who looked upon me friendly, who had
had tidings of this evil beast drawing near, spake to me a word
of warning, and said: 'Friend lion-master, take heed to thyself!
For I fear for thee when the Lord cometh home and findeth thee here;
lest he let poison thy lion and slay thee miserably afterward.'
"Well, in three days from that word home cometh the Lord with a rout
of his spearmen, and some dozen of captives, whom he had taken.
And the morrow of his coming, he, having heard of me, sent and bade me
showing the wonder of the Man and the Lion; therefore in the bright morning
I played with the lion under his window as I had done by the Queen.
And after I had played some while, and he looking out of the window,
he called to me and said: 'Canst thou lull thy lion to sleep,
so that thou mayst leave him for a little? For I would fain have
thee up here.'
"I yeasaid that, and chid the beast, and then sang to him
till he lay down and slept like a hound weary with hunting.
And then I went up into the Lord's chamber; and as it happed,
all the while of my playing I had had my short-sword naked in
my hand, and thus, I deem without noting it, yet as weird would,
I came before the tyrant, where he sat with none anigh him
save this Otter and another man-at-arms. But when I saw him,
all the blood within me that was come of one mother with my
brother's blood stirred within me, and I set my foot on the
foot-pace of this murderer's chair, and hove up my short-sword,
and clave his skull, in front and with mine own hand:
not as he wrought, not as he wrought with my brother.
"Then I turned about to Otter (who had his sword in his fist
when it was too late) till he should speak. Hah Otter,
what didst thou say?"
Otter laughed: Quoth he, "I said: thus endeth the worst man in the world.
Well done, lion-tamer! thou art no ill guest, and hast paid on
the nail for meat, drink and lodging. But what shall we do now?
Then thou saidst; 'Well, I suppose thou wilt be for slaying me.'
'Nay,' said I, 'We will not slay thee; at least not for this, nor now,
nor without terms.' Thou saidst: 'Perchance then thou wilt let me
go free, since this man was ill-beloved: yea, and he owed me a life.'
'Nay, nay,' said I, 'not so fast, good beast-lord.' 'Why not?'
saidst thou, 'I can see of thee that thou art a valiant man, and whereas
thou hast been captain of the host, and the men-at-arms will lightly
do thy bidding, why shouldest thou not sit in the place of this man,
and be Lord of Utterbol?'
"'Nay nay,' said I, 'it will not do, hearken thou rather:
For here I give thee the choice of two things, either that thou
be Lord of Utterbol, or that we slay thee here and now.
For we be two men all-armed.'
"Thou didst seem to ponder it a while, and then saidst at last:
'Well, I set not out on this journey with any such-like intent;
yet will I not wrestle with weird. Only I forewarn thee that I
shall change the days of Utterbol.'
"'It will not be for the worst then,' quoth I. 'So now go
wake up thy lion, and lead him away to his den: and we will
presently send him this carrion for a reward of his jonglery.'
'Gramercy, butcher,' saidst thou, 'I am not for thy flesh-meat
to-day. I was forewarned that the poor beast should be poisoned
at this man's home-coming, and so will he be if he eat
of this dastard; he will not outlive such a dinner.'
Thereat we all laughed heartily."
"Yea," said Bull, "So I went to lead away the lion when thou hadst bidden
me return in an hours' wearing, when all should be ready for my Lordship.
And thou wert not worse than thy word, for when I came into that court again,
there were all the men-at-arms assembled, and the free carles,
and the thralls; and the men-at-arms raised me on a shield, set a crowned
helm on my head, and thrust a great sword into my hand, and hailed me
by the name of the Bull of Utterbol, Lord of the Waste and the Wildwood,
and the Mountain-side: and then thou, Otter, wert so simple as to kneel before
me and name thyself my man, and take the girding on of sword at my hand.
Then even as I was I went in to my Lady and told her the end of my tale,
and in three minutes she lay in my arms, and in three days in my bed as my
wedded wife. As to Agatha, when I had a little jeered her, I gave her rich
gifts and good lands, and freedom, to boot her for her many stripes.
And lo there, King's Son and Sweet Lady, the end of all my tale."
"Yea," quoth Otter, "saving this, that even already thou has
raised up Utterbol from Hell to Earth, and yet meseemeth thou
hast good-will to raise it higher."
Bull reddened at his word, and said: "Tush, man! praise the day
when the sun has set." Then he turned to Ralph, and said:
"Yet couldst thou at whiles put in a good word for me here and there
amongst the folks that thou shalt pass through on thy ways home,
I were fain to know that I had a well-speaking friend abroad."
"We shall do no less," said Ralph; and Ursula spake in like wise.
So they talked together merrily a while longer, till night began to grow old,
and then went to their chambers in all content and good-liking.
They Ride From Vale Turris. Redhead Tells of Agatha
On the morrow when they arose, Ralph heard the sound of horses
and the clashing of arms: he went to the window, and looked out,
and saw how the spears stood up thick together at the Tower's foot,
and knew that these were the men who were to be his fellows by the way.
Their captain he saw, a big man all-armed in steel, but himseemed that
he knew his face under his sallet, and presently saw that it was Redhead.
He was glad thereof, and clad himself hastily, and went out a-doors,
and went up to him and hailed him, and Redhead leapt off his horse,
and cast his arms about Ralph, and made much of him, and said:
"It is good for sore eyes to see thee, lord; and I am glad at heart
that all went well with thee that time. Although, forsooth, there was
guile behind it. Yet whereas I wotted nothing thereof, which I
will pray thee to believe, and whereas thou hast the gain of all,
I deem thou mayst pardon me."
Said Ralph: "Thou hast what pardon of me thou needest; so be content.
For the rest, little need is there to ask if thou thrivest, for I behold
thee glad and well honoured."
As they spoke came the Lord forth from the Tower, and said:
"Come thou, Lord Ralph, and eat with us ere thou takest to the road;
I mean with Otter and me. As for thee, Redhead, if aught of ill
befall this King's Son under thy way-leading, look to it that thou
shalt lose my good word with Agatha; yea, or gain my naysay herein;
whereby thou shalt miss both fee and fair dame."
Redhead looked sheepishly on Ralph at that word, yet winked at
him also, as if it pleased him to be jeered concerning his wooing;
so that Ralph saw how the land lay, and that the guileful handmaid
was not ill content with that big man. So he smiled kindly
on him and nodded, and went back with Bull into the Tower.
There they sat down all to meat together; and when they
were done with their victual, Bull spake, and said to Ralph:
"Fair King's Son, is this then the last sight of thee? wilt thou
never come over the mountains again?" Said Ralph: "Who knoweth?
I am young yet, and have drunk of the Water of the Well."
Bull grew somewhat pensive and said: "Yea, thou meanest
that thou mayest come back and find me no longer here.
Yet if thou findest but my grave-mound, yet mayhappen thou shalt
come on something said or sung of me, which shall please thee.
For I will tell thee, that thou hast changed my conditions;
how, I wot not."
"Thy word is good," said Ralph, "yet I meant not that; never should
I come to Utterbol if I looked not to find thee living there."
Bull smiled on him as though he loved him, and said:
"This is well spoken; I shall look to see thee before I die."
Then said Ursula: "Lord of Utterbol, this also thou mayst think on, that it
is no further from Utterbol to Upmeads than from Upmeads to Utterbol."
The Lord laughed and said: "Sooth is that; and were but my Bull here,
as I behold you I should be of mind to swear by him to come and see you
at Upmeads ere ten years have worn."
Then she put forth her hand and said: "Swear by this!"
So he took it and swore the oath; but the Sage of Swevenham said:
"This oath thou shalt keep to the gain and not the loss both
of thee and of thy friends of Upmeads."
Thus were they fain of each other, and Ralph saw how Bull's heart
was grown big, and he rejoiced thereat. But anon he arose and said:
"Now, Lord, we ask leave to depart for the way is long, and mayhappen
my kindred now lack a man's helping. Then Bull stood up and called
for his horse, and Otter also, and they all went forth and gat
a-horseback and rode away from Vale Turris, and Redhead rode
behind them humbly, till it was noon and they made stay for meat.
Then after they had broken bread together and drunk a cup Bull
and Otter kissed the wayfarers, and bade them farewell and so rode
back to Vale Turris, and Ralph and Ursula and the Sage tarried
not but rode on their ways.
But anon Ralph called to Redhead, and bade him ride beside
them that they might talk together, and he came up with them,
and Ursula greeted him kindly, and they were merry one with another.
And Ralph said to Redhead: "Friend captain, thou art exceeding
in humility not to ride with the Lord or Captain Otter;
save for chance-hap, I see not that thou art worser than they."
Redhead grinned, and said: "Well, as to Otter, that is all true;
but as for Lord Bull it is another matter; I wot not but his
kindred may be as good or better than any in these east parts.
In any case, he hath his kin and long descent full often
in his mouth, while I am but a gangrel body. Howbeit it
is all one, whereas whatso he or Otter bid any man to do,
he doeth it, but my bidding may be questioned at whiles.
And look you, lord, times are not ill, so wherefore should I
risk a change of days? Sooth to say, both these great lords
have done well by me."
Ralph laughed: "And better will they do, as thou deemest;
give thee Agatha, to wit?" "Yea, fair sir," quoth Redhead.
"No great gift, that seemeth to me, for thy valiancy,"
said Ralph; "she is guileful enough and loose enough for a worse
man than thee."
"Lord," said Redhead, "even of her thou shalt say what pleaseth thee;
but no other man shall say of her what pleaseth me not.
For all that is come and gone she is true and valiant, and none may
say that she is not fair and sweet enough for a better man than me;
and my great good luck it is that, as I hope, she looketh no further
for a better."
Ursula said: "Is it so, perchance, that now she is free
and hath naught to fear, she hath no need for guile?"
"Hail to thee for thy word, lady," quoth Redhead; and then
he was silent, glooming somewhat on Ralph.
But Ralph said: "Nay, my friend, I meant no harm, but I was wondering
what had befallen to bring you two so close together."
"It was fear and pain, and the helping of each other that wrought it,"
said Redhead. Said Ursula: "Good Captain, how was it that she escaped
the uttermost of evil at the tyrant's hands? since from all that I have heard,
it must needs be that he laid the blame on her (working for her mistress)
of my flight from Utterbol."
"Even so it was, lady," said Redhead; "but, as thou wottest belike, she had
got it spread abroad that she was cunning in sorcery, and that her spell
would not end when her life ended; nay, that he to whom her ghost should
bear ill-will, and more especially such an one as might compass her death,
should have but an ill time of it while he lived, which should not be long.
This tale, which, sooth to say, I myself helped to spread, the Lord
of Utterbol trowed in wholly, so cunningly was it told; so that, to make
a long story short, he feared her, and feared her more dead than living.
So that when he came home, and found thee gone, lady, he did indeed
deem that thy flight was of Agatha's contrivance. And this the more
because his nephew (he whom thou didst beguile; I partly guess how)
told him a made-up tale how all was done by the spells of Agatha.
For this youth was of all men, not even saving his uncle, most full of malice;
and he hated Agatha, and would have had her suffer the uttermost of torments
and he to be standing by the while; howbeit his malice overshot itself,
since his tale made her even more of a witch than the lord deemed before.
"Yea," said Ursula, "and what hath befallen that evil
young man, Captain?" Said Redhead: "It is not known
to many, lady; but two days before the slaying of his uncle,
I met him in a wood a little way from Utterbol, and, the mood
being on me I tied him neck and heels and cast him, with a stone
round his neck, into a deep woodland pool hight the Ram's Bane,
which is in that same wood. Well, as to my tale of Agatha.
When the lord came home first, he sent for her, and his rage had
so mastered his fear for a while that his best word was scourge
and rack and faggot; but she was, outwardly, so calm and cold,
smiling on him balefully, that he presently came to himself, a found
that fear was in his belly, and that he might not do what he would
with her; wherefore he looked to it that however she were used
(which was ill enough, God wot!) she should keep the soul in her body.
And at last the fear so mounted into his head that he made
peace with her, and even craved forgiveness of her and gave
her gifts. She answered him sweetly indeed, yet so as he
(and all others who were bystanding, of whom I was one,)
might well see that she deemed she owed him a day in harvest.
As for me, he heeded me naught, and I lay low all I might.
And in any wise we wore the time till the great day of deliverance."
Therewith dropped the talk about Agatha, when they had bidden him all luck
in his life. Forsooth, they were fain of his words, and of his ways withal.
For he was a valiant man, and brisk, and one who forgat no benefit, and was
trusty as steel; merry-hearted withal, and kind and ready of speech despite
his uplandish manners, which a life not a little rude had thrust on him.
Of Their Riding the Waste, and of a Battle Thereon
They slept in no house that night nor for many nights after;
for they were now fairly on the waste. They bore with them
a light tent for Ursula's lodging benights, and the rest
of them slept on the field as they might; or should they come
to a thicket or shaw, they would lodge them there softly.
Victual and drink failed them not, for they bore what they needed
on sumpter-horses, and shot some venison on the way withal.
They saw but few folk; for the most part naught save a fowler
of the waste, or a peat-cutter, who stood to look on the men-at-arms
going by, and made obeisance to the token of Utterbol .
But on a time, the fifth day of their journey, they saw, in the morning,
spears not a few standing up against a thicket-side in the offing.
Redhead looked under the sharp of his hand, and laughed as though
he were glad, and said: "I know not clearly what these may be,
but it looketh like war. Now, knight, this is best to do:
hold with thee three of our best men, so that ye may safe guard the Lady,
and I with the others will prick on and look into this."
"Nay," said Ralph, "thou mayst yet be apaid of a man's aid;
and if there be strokes on sale in the cheaping-stead yonder,
I will deal along with thee. Leave thy three men with the Lady,
and let us on; we shall soon be back."
"Nay once more, dear lord," quoth Ursula, "I fear to be left alone
of thee, and it is meet that thou free me from fear. I will ride
with you, but three horse-lengths behind, so as not to hinder you.
I have been worse bestead than this shall be."
"It is good," quoth Redhead, "let her ride with us:
for why should she suffer the pain of fear in the lonely waste?
But let her do on a hauberk over her coats, and steel coif
over her head, for shaft and bolt will ofttimes go astray."
Even so they did, and rode forward, and presently they saw the spearmen
that they were somewhat more than their company, and that they
were well mounted on black horses and clad in black armour.
Then they drew rein for awhile and Redhead scanned them again and said:
"Yea, these are the men of the brother of thy hot wooer,
Lady Ursula, whom I cooled in the Ram's Bane, but a man well nigh
as old as his uncle, though he hath not made men tremble so sore,
albeit he be far the better man, a good warrior, a wise leader,
a reiver and lifter well wrought at all points. Well, 'tis not unlike
that we shall have to speak to his men again, either out-going
or home-coming: so we had best kill as many of these as we may now.
Do on thy sallet, my lord; and thou, Michael-a-green shake out the Bull;
and thou, our Noise, blow a point of war that they may be warned.
God to aid! but they be ready and speedy!"
In sooth even as the pennon of the Bull ran down the wind and the
Utterbol horn was winded, the Black men-at-arms came on at a trot,
and presently with a great screeching yell cast their spears
into the rest, and spurred on all they might, while a half score
of bowmen who had come out of the thicket bent their bows and fell
a-shooting. But now the men of Utterbol spurred to meet the foe,
and as Redhead cast his spear into the rest, he said to Ralph:
"Glad am I that thy Lady is anear to see me, for now I worship her."
Therewith the two bands met, and whereas on neither side was the armour
very stout, some men of either band were hurt or slain at once
with spearthrust; though, save for Ralph, they did not run straight
on each other; but fenced and foined with their spears deftly enough.
As for Ralph, he smote a tall man full on the breast and pierced him
through and through, and then pulled out the Upmeads blade and smote
on the right hand and the left, so that none came anigh him willingly.
Shortly to say it, in five minutes' time the Black Riders
were fleeing all over the field with them of Utterbol at
their heels, and the bowmen ran back again into the wood.
But one of the foemen as he fled cast a javelin at a venture,
and who should be before it save Ursula, so that she reeled
in her saddle, and would have fallen downright but for one of the
Utterbol fellows who stayed her, and got her gently off her horse.
This Ralph saw not, for he followed far in the chase, and was
coming back somewhat slowly along with Redhead, who was hurt,
but not sorely. So when he came up, and saw Ursula sitting on
the grass with four or five men about her, he sickened for fear;
but she rose up and came slowly and pale-faced to meet him,
and said: "Fear not, beloved, for steel kept out steel:
I have no scratch or point or edge on me." So therewith
he kissed her, and embraced her, and was glad.
The Utterbol Riders had slain sixteen of their foemen;
for they took none to mercy, and four of their band
were slain outright, and six hurt, but not grievously.
So they tarried awhile on the field of deed to rest them
and tend their wounded men, and so rode on again heedfully.
But Redhead spake: "It is good to see thee tilting, King's Son.
I doubt me I shall never learn thy downright thrust.
Dost thou remember how sorry a job I made of it, when we met
in the lists at Vale Turris that other day?"
"Yea, yea," said Ralph. "Thou were best let that flea stick on the wall.
For to-day, at least, I have seen thee play at sharps deftly enough."
Quoth Redhead: "Lord, it is naught, a five minutes' scramble.
That which trieth a man, is to fight and overcome, and straight
have to fight with fresh foemen, and yet again, till ye long
for dark night to cover you--yea, or even death."
"Warrior-like and wisely thou speakest," said Ralph;
"and whoever thou servest thou shalt serve well.
And now once more I would it were me."
Redhead shook his head at that word, and said: "I would it might be so;
but it will not be so as now."
Forth on they rode, and slept in a wood that night, keeping good watch;
but saw no more of the Black Riders for that time.
On a day thereafter when it was nigh evening, Ralph looked about, and saw
a certain wood on the edge of a plain, and he stayed Ursula, and said:
"Look round about, beloved; for this is the very field whereas I was betrayed
into the hands of the men of Utterbol." She smiled on him and said:
"Let me light down then, that I may kiss the earth of that kind field,
where thou wert not stayed over long, but even long enough that we might
meet in the dark wood thereafter."
"Sweetling," said Ralph, "this mayst thou do and grieve no man,
not even for a little. For lo you! the captain is staying
the sumpter-beasts, and it is his mind, belike, that we shall sleep
in yonder wood to-night." Therewith he lighted down and she in likewise:
then he took her by the hand and led her on a few yards, and said:
"Lo, beloved, this quicken-tree; hereby it was that the tent was
pitched wherein I lay the night when I was taken."
She looked on him shyly and said: "Wilt thou not sleep here
once more to-night?"
"Yea, well-beloved," said he, "I will bid them pitch thy tent
on this same place, that I may smell the wild thyme again,
as I did that other while."
So there on the field of his ancient grief they rested that night
in all love and content.
Of Goldburg Again, and the Queen Thereof
Next day they went forth through the country wherethrough
Morfinn had led Ralph into captivity; and Redhead rode warily;
for there were many passes which looked doubtful: but whether
the ill men feared to meddle with them, or however it were,
none waylaid them, and they all came safely to the gate of Goldburg,
the towers whereof were full of folk looking forth on them.
So they displayed their pennon, and rode into the street,
where folk pressed about them in friendly wise; for the new
Lord of Utterbol had made firm and fast peace with Goldburg.
So they rode to the hostel, and gat them victual, and rested
in peace that night. But Ralph wondered whether the Queen
would send for him when she heard of his coming back again,
and he hoped that she would let him be; for he was ashamed
when he thought of her love for him, and how that he had clean
forgotten her till he was close to Goldburg again.
But when morning was come Ralph spake to Redhead and asked him
how he should do to wage men for the homeward journey on thence;
and Redhead said: "I have already seen the Clerk of the Porte,
and he will be here in an hour with the license for thee to wage
men to go with thee to Cheaping Knowe. As for me, I must needs
go see the King, and give him a letter sealed by my lord's hand;
and when I come back from him, I will go round to the alehouses which be
haunted of the men-at-arms to see after strong carles for thine avail.
But to the King hast thou no need to go, save he send for thee,
whereas thou art not come hither to chaffer, and he needeth not
men of war."
Ralph stared at him and said: "The King, sayst thou? is there
no Queen of Goldburg?" Said Redhead: "There is the King's
wedded wife, but her they call not Queen, but Lady."
"But the Queen that was," said Ralph, "where is she then?"
"Yea truly," said Redhead, "a Queen sat alone as ruler here a while ago;
but whether she died, or what befell her, I know nothing.
I had little to do with Goldburg till our lord conquered Utterbol.
Lo here the host! he may tell thee the tale thereof."
Therewith he departed, and left Ralph with the host, whom Ralph
questioned of the story, for his heart was wrung lest such a fair
woman and so friendly should have come to harm.
So the host sat down by Ralph and said: "My master, this is a tale
which is grievous to us: for though the saints forbid I should say a word
against my lord that is now, nor is there any need to, yet we deemed
us happy to be under so dear a lady and so good and fair as she was.
Well, she is gone so that we wot not whether she be living or dead.
For so it is that in the early spring, somewhat more than a year ago
that is, one morning when folk arose, the Queen's place was empty.
Riding and running there was about and about, but none the more was
she found. Forsooth as time wore, tales were told of what wise she
left us, and why: but she was gone. Well, fair sir, many deemed
that though her lineage was known by seeming, yet she was of the fairy,
and needed neither steed nor chariot to go where she would.
But her women and those that knew her best, deemed that whatso she were,
she had slain herself, as they thought, for some unhappiness of love.
For indeed she had long gone about sad and distraught, though she
neither wept, nor would say one word of her sorrow, whatsoever it might be.
"But, fair sir, since thou art a stranger, and art presently
departing from our city, I will tell thee a thing.
To wit; one month or so after she had vanished away,
I held talk with a certain old fisherman of our water,
and he told me that on that same night of her vanishing,
as he stood on the water-side handing the hawser of his barque,
and the sail was all ready to be sheeted home, there came along
the shore a woman going very swiftly, who, glancing about her,
as if to see that there was none looking on or prying, came up to him,
and prayed him in a sweet voice for instant passage down the water.
Wrapped she was in a dark cloak and a cowl over her head,
but as she put forth her hand to give him gold, he saw
even by the light of his lantern that it was exceeding fair,
and that great gems flashed from the finger-rings, and that there
was a great gold ring most precious on her arm.
"He yeasaid her asking, partly because of her gold, partly
(as he told me) that he feared her, deeming her to be of the fairy.
Then she stepped over his gangway of one board on to his boat,
and as he held the lantern low down to light her, lest she should
make a false step and fall into the water, he noted (quoth he)
that a golden shoe all begemmed came out from under gown-hem
and that the said hem was broidered thickly with pearl and jewels.
"Small was his barque, and he alone with the woman, and there
was a wind in the March night, and the stream is swift betwixt
the quays of our city; so that by night and cloud they made
much way down the water, and at sunrise were sailing through
the great wood which lieth hence a twenty leagues seaward.
So when the sun was risen she stood up in the fore part
of the boat, and bade him turn the barque toward the shore,
and even as the bows ran upon the sand, she leapt out and let
the thicket cover her; nor have any of Goldburg seen her since,
or the Queen. But for my part I deem the woman to have been
none other than the Queen. Seest thou then! she is gone:
but the King Rainald her cousin reigns in her stead, a wise man,
and a mighty, and no tyrant or skinner of the people."
Ralph heard and pondered, and was exceeding sorry, and more had
he been but for the joyousness which came of the Water of the Well.
Howbeit he might not amend it: for even were he to seek for the Queen
and find her, it might well be worse than letting it be. For he knew
(when he thought of her) that she loved him, and how would it be if she
might not outwear her love, or endure the days of Goldburg, and he far away?
This he said to himself, which he might not have said to any other soul.
They Come to Cheaping Knowe Once More. Of the King Thereof
Toward evening comes Redhead, and tells Ralph how he hired him
a dozen men-at-arms to follow him well-weaponed to Cheaping Knowe:
withal he counselled him to take a good gift with him to that same
town to buy the good will of the King there; who was a close-fist
and a cruel lord.
Afterwards they sat together in the court of that fair house before
good wine, Ralph and Ursula, and Redhead and the Sage of Swevenham,
and spake of many things, and were merry and kind together.
But on the morrow Redhead departed from Goldburg with his men,
and he loth to depart, and they gave him farewell lovingly.
Thereafter Ralph's new men came to him in the hostelry, and he
feasted them and did well to them, so that they praised him much.
Then he gat him victuals and sumpter-horses for the journey,
and bought good store of bows and arrows withal. Furthermore he took
heed to Redhead's word and bought a goodly gift of silver vessel
and fine cloth for the King of Cheaping Knowe.
The day after he and his company departed from Goldburg toward
the mountains, which they passed unfought and unwaylaid:
partly because they were a band of stout men, and partly because
a little before there had been a great overthrow of the wild
men of those mountains at the hands of the men of Goldburg
and the Chapmen; so that now the mountain-men lay close,
and troubled none that rode with any force.
On the way they failed not to pass by the place where they had
erst found Bull Nosy slain: there they saw his howe, heaped up
exceeding high, covered in with earth, whereon the grass was now
beginning to grow, and with a great standing stone on the top thereof,
whereon was graven the image of a bull, with a sword thereunder;
whereby the wayfarers wotted that this had been done in his memory
by his brother, the new Lord of Utterbol.
So they came down out of the mountains to Whiteness,
where they had good entertainment, but tarried not save
for one night, riding their ways betimes to Cheaping Knowe:
and they came before the gate thereof safe and sound on
the third day; and slept in the hostelry of the chapmen.
On the morrow Ralph went up to the King's Castle with but three
men unweaponed bearing the gift which he had got for the King.
Albeit he sent not away his men-at-arms till he should know
how the King was minded towards him.
As he went he saw in the streets sad tokens of the lord's cruel justice,
as handless men, fettered, dragging themselves about, and folk hung up
before chapmen's booths, and whipping-cheer, and the pillar, and such like.
But whereas he might not help he would not heed, but came right
to the Castle-gate, and entered easily when he had told his errand,
for gift-bearing men are not oftenest withstood.
He was brought straightway into the great hall, where sat the King on his
throne amidst the chiefs of the Porte, and his captains and sergeants,
who were, so to say, his barons, though they were not barons of lineage,
but masterful men who were wise to do his bidding.
As he went up the hall he saw a sort of poor caytiffs, women as well as men,
led away from the high-place in chains by bailiffs and tipstaves;
and he doubted not that these were for torments or maiming and death;
and thought it were well might he do them some good.
Being come to the King, he made his obeisance to him,
and craved his good will and leave to wage men-at-arms to bring
him through the mountains.
The King was a tall man, a proper man of war; long-legged, black
bearded, and fierce-eyed. Some word he had heard of Ralph's gift,
therefore he was gracious to him; he spake and said: "Thou hast come
across the mountains a long way, fair Sir; prithee on what errand?"
Answered Ralph: "For no errand, lord, save to fare home to mine own land."
"Where is thine own land?" said the King, stretching out his legs and
lying back in his chair. "West-away, lord, many a mile," said Ralph.
"Yea," quoth the King, "and how far didst thou go beyond the mountains?
As far as Utterbol?" Said Ralph: "Yet further, but not to Utterbol."
"Hah!" said the King, "who goeth beyond Utterbol must have a great errand;
what was thine?"
Ralph thought for a moment, and deemed it best to say as little as he might
concerning Ursula; so he answered, and his voice grew loud and bold:
"I was minded to drink a draught of the WELL at the WORLD'S END, and even
so I did." As he spake, he drew himself up, and his brows were knit a little,
but his eyes sparkled from under them, and his cheleks were bright and rosy.
He half drew the sword from the scabbard, and sent it back rattling,
so that the sound of it went about the hall; he upreared his head and
looked around him on this and that one of the warriors of the aliens,
and he sniffed the air into his nostrils as he stood alone amongst them,
and set his foot down hard on the floor of the King's hall, and his armour
rattled upon him.
But the King sat bolt upright in his chair and stared Ralph's face;
and the warriors and lords and merchants fell back from Ralph and stood
in an ordered rank on either side of him and bent their heads before him.
None spoke till the King said in a hoarse voice, but lowly and wheedling:
"Tell us, fair Sir, what is it that we can do to pleasure thee?"
"King," said Ralph, "I am not here to take gifts but to give them rather:
yet since thou biddest me I will crave somewhat of thee, that thou mayst
be the more content: and moreover the giving shall cost thee nothing:
I crave of thee to give me life and limb and freedom for the poor
folk whom I saw led down the hall by thy tipstaves, even now.
Give me that or nothing." The King scowled, but he spake:
"This is indeed a little gift of thee to take; yet to none else save
thee had I given it."
Therewith he spake to a man beside him and said: "Go thou,
set them free, and if any hurt hath befallen them thy life shall
answer for it. Is it enough, fair Sir, and have we thy goodwill?"
Ralph laughed for joy of his life and his might, and he answered:
"King, this is the token of my goodwill; fear naught of me."
And he turned to his men, and bade them bright forth the gift
of Goldburg and open it before the King; and they did so.
But when the King cast eyes on the wares his face was gladdened,
for he was a greedy wolf, and whoso had been close to his mouth
would have heard him mutter: "So mighty! yet so wealthy!"
But he thanked Ralph aloud and in smooth words. And Ralph made
obeisance to him again, and then turned and went his ways down
the hall, and was glad at heart that he had become so mighty a man,
for all fell back before him and looked on him with worship.
Howbeit he had looked on the King closely and wisely, and deemed
that he was both cruel and guileful, so that he rejoiced
that he had spoken naught of Ursula, and he was minded to keep
her within gates all the while they abode at Cheaping-Knowe.
When he came to the hostel he called his men-at-arms together and asked them
how far they would follow him, and with one voice they said all that they
would go with him whereso he would, so that it were not beyond reason.
So they arrayed them for departure on the morrow, and were to ride
out of gates about mid-morning. So wore the day to evening;
but ere the night was old came a man asking for Ralph, as one who would
have a special alms of him, a poor man by seeming, and evilly clad.
But when Ralph was alone with him, the poor man did him to wit
that for all his seeming wretchedness he was but disguised,
and was in sooth a man of worship, and one of the Porte. Quoth he:
"I am of the King's Council, and I must needs tell thee a thing of the King:
that though he was at the first overawed and cowed by the majesty of thee,
a Friend of the Well, he presently came to himself, which was but ill;
so that what for greed, what for fear even, he is minded to send men to
waylay thee, some three leagues from the town, on your way to the mountains,
but ye shall easily escape his gin now I have had speech of thee;
for ye may take a by-road and fetch a compass of some twelve miles,
and get aback of the waylayers. Yet if ye escape this first ambush,
unless ye are timely in riding early tomorrow it is not unlike that he shall
send swift riders to catch up with you ere ye come to the mountains.
Now I am come to warn thee hereof, partly because I would not have
so fair a life spilt, which should yet do so well for the sons of Adam,
and partly also because I would have a reward of thee for my warning
and my wayleading, for I shall show thee the way and the road."
Said Ralph: "Ask and fear not; for if I may trust thee I already
owe thee a reward." "My name is Michael-a-dale," said the man,
"and from Swevenham I came hither, and fain would I go thither,
and little hope I have thereof save I go privily in some such band
as thine, whereas the tyrant holdeth me on pain, as well I know,
of an evil death."
"I grant thine asking, friend," said Ralph; "and now thou wert best go
to thine house and truss what stuff thou mayst have with thee and come
back hither in the grey of the morning."
The man shook his head and said: "Nay; here must I bide night-long,
and go out of gates amongst thy men-at-arms, and clad like one
of them with iron enough about me to hide the fashion of me;
it were nowise safe for me to go back into the town; for this
tyrant wages many a spy: yea, forsooth, I fear me by certain
tokens that it is not all so certain that I have not been spied
upon already, and that it is known that I have come to thee.
And I will tell thee that by hook or by crook the King already
knoweth somewhat of thee and of the woman who is in thy company."
Ralph flushed red at that word, and felt his heart bound:
but even therewith came into them the Sage; and straightway Ralph
took him apart and told him on what errand the man was come,
and ask him if he deemed him trusty. Then the Sage went up
to Michael and looked him hard in the face awhile, and then said:
"Yea, honest he is unless the kindred of Michael of the Hatch
of Swevenham have turned thieves in the third generation."
"Yea," said Michael, "and dost thou know the Hatch?"
"As I know mine own fingers," said the Sage; "and even so I knew it
years and years before thou wert born." Therewith he told the new-comer
what he was, and the two men of Swevenham made joy of each other.
And Ralph was fain of them, and went into the chamber wherein sat Ursula,
and told her how all things were going, and she said that she would
be naught but glad to leave that town, which seemed to her like to
Utterbol over again.
An Adventure on the Way to the Mountains
On the morrow Ralph got his men together betimes and rode out
a-gates, and was little afraid that any should meddle with him
within the town or anigh it, and even so it turned out.
But Michael rode in the company new clad, and with his head
and face all hidden in a wide sallet. As for Ralph and Ursula,
they were exceeding glad, and now that their heads were turned
to the last great mountains, it seemed to them that they
were verily going home, and they longed for the night,
that they might be alone together, and talk of all these matters
in each others' arms.
When they were out a-gates, they rode for two miles along the highway,
heedlessly enough by seeming, and then, as Michael bade, turned suddenly
into a deep and narrow lane, and forth on, as it led betwixt hazelled
banks and coppices of small wood, skirting the side of the hills,
so that it was late in the afternoon before they came into the Highway again,
which was the only road leading into the passes of the mountains.
Then said Michael that now by all likelihood they had beguiled the waylayers
for that time; so they went on merrily till half the night was worn,
when they shifted for lodging in a little oak-wood by the wayside.
There they lay not long, but were afoot betimes in the morning, and rode
swiftly daylong, and lay down at night on the wayside with the less
dread because they were come so far without hurt.
But on the third day, somewhat after noon, when they were come up
above the tilled upland and the land was rough and the ways steep,
there lay before them a dark wood swallowing up the road.
Thereabout Ralph deemed that he saw weapons glittering ahead,
but was not sure, for as clear-sighted as he was.
So he stayed his band, and had Ursula into the rearward,
and bade all men look to their weapons, and then they went forward
heedfully and in good order, and presently not only Ralph,
but all of them could see men standing in the jaws of the pass
with the wood on either side of them, and though at first they
doubted if these were aught but mere strong-thieves, such as any
wayfarers might come on, they had gone but a little further
when Michael knew them for the riders of Cheaping Knowe.
"Yea," said the Sage of Swevenham, "it is clear how it has been:
when they found that we came not that first morning,
they had an inkling of what had befallen, and went forward
toward the mountains, and not back to Cheaping Knowe, and thus
outwent us while we were fetching that compass to give them
the go-by: wherefore I deem that some great man is with them,
else had they gone back to town for new orders."
"Well," said Ralph, "then will they be too many for us;
so now will I ride ahead and see if we may have peace."
Said the Sage, "Yea, but be wary, for thou hast to do
with the guileful."
Then Ralph rode on alone till he was come within hail of those waylayers.
Then he thrust his sword into the sheath, and cried out:
"Will any of the warriors in the wood speak with me; for I am
the captain of the wayfarers?"
Then rode out from those men a very tall man, and two with him,
one on either side, and he threw back the sallet from his face, and said:
"Wayfarer, all we have weapons in our hands, and we so many that
thou and thine will be in regard of us as the pips to the apple.
Wherefore, yield ye!" Quoth Ralph: "Unto whom then shall I yield me?"
Said the other: "To the men of the King of Cheaping Knowe."
Then spake Ralph: "What will ye do with us when we are yolden?
Shall we not pay ransom and go our ways?" "Yea," said the tall man,
"and this is the ransom: that ye give up into my hands my dastard
who hath bewrayed me, and the woman who wendeth in your company."
Ralph laughed; for by this time he knew the voice
of the King, yea, and the face of him under his sallet.
So he cried back in answer, and in such wise as if the words
came rather from his luck than from his youth: "Ho, Sir King!
beware beware! lest thou tremble when thou seest the bare blade
of the Friend of the Well more than thou trembledst erst,
when the blade was hidden in the sheath before the throne
of thine hall."
But the King cried out in a loud harsh voice.
"Thou, young man, beware thou! and try not thy luck overmuch.
We are as many as these trees, and thou canst not prevail over us.
Go thy ways free, and leave me what thou canst not help leaving."
"Yea, fool," cried Ralph, "and what wilt thou do with these two?"
Said the King: "The traitor I will flay, and the woman I will bed."
Scarce were the words out of his mouth ere Ralph gave forth a great cry
and drew his sword, set spurs to his horse, and gallopped on up the road
with all his band at his back for they had drawn anigh amidst this talk.
But or ever they came on the foemen, they heard a great confused cry
of onset mingled with affright, and lo! the King threw up his arms,
and fell forward on his horse's neck with a great arrow through his throat.
Ralph drave on sword in hand, crying out, "Home, home to Upmeads!"
and anon was amidst of the foe smiting on either hand.
His men followed, shouting: "Ho, for the Friend of the Well!"
And amongst the foemen, who were indeed very many, was huge dismay,
so that they made but a sorry defence before the band of
the wayfarers, who knew not what to make of it, till they noted
that arrows and casting-spears were coming out of the wood on
either side, which smote none of them, but many of the foemen.
Short was the tale, for in a few minutes there were no men
of the foe together save those that were fleeing down the road
to Cheaping Knowe.
Ralph would not suffer his men to follow the chase, for he wotted
not with whom he might have to deal besides the King's men.
He drew his men together and looked round for Ursula,
and saw that the Sage had brought her up anigh him, and there
she sat a-horseback, pale and panting with the fear of death
and joy of deliverance.
Now Ralph cried out from his saddle in a loud voice, and said:
"Ho ye of the arrows of the wood! ye have saved me from my foemen;
where be ye, and what be ye?" Came a loud voice from out of the wood
on the right hand: "Children, tell the warrior whose sons ye be!"
Straightway brake out a huge bellowing on either side of the road,
as though the wood were all full of great neat.
Then cried out Ralph: "If ye be of the kindred of the Bull, ye will belike be
my friends rather than my foes. Or have ye heard tell of Ralph of Upmeads?
Now let your captain come forth and speak with me."
Scarce were the words out of his mouth ere a man came leaping forth
from out the wood, and stood before Ralph in the twilight of the boughs,
and Ralph noted of him that he was clad pretty much like to Bull
Shockhead of past time, save that he had a great bull's head for a helm
(which afterwards Ralph found out was of iron and leather)
and a great gold ring on his arm.
Then Ralph thrust his sword back into the sheath, and his folk
handled their weapons peaceably, while Ralph hailed the new-comer
as Lord or Duke of the Bulls.
"Belike," quoth the said chieftain, "thou wouldst wish to show me some token,
whereby we may wot that thou art that Friend of the Well and of our kinsman
concerning whom he sent us a message."
Then Ralph bethought him of the pouch with the knot of grass
therein which Bull Shockhead had given him at Goldburg;
so he drew it out, and gave it into the hand of the chieftain,
who no sooner caught a glimpse thereof than he said:
"Verily our brother's hand hath met thine when he gave thee this.
Yet forsooth, now that I look on thee, I may say that scarce
did I need token to tell me that thou wert the very man.
For I can see thee, that thou art of great honour
and worship, and thou didst ride boldly against the foemen
when thou knewest not that we had waylaid thy waylayers.
Now I wot that there is no need to ask thee whether thou
wouldst get thee out of our mountains by the shortest road,
yet wilt thou make it little longer, and somewhat safer,
if ye will suffer us to lead thee by way of our dwelling."
So Ralph yeasaid his bidding without more words.
As they spake thus together the road both above and below was
become black with weaponed men, and some of Ralph's band looked
on one another, as though they doubted their new friends somewhat.
But the Sage of Swevenham spoke to them and bade them fear nought.
"For," said he, "so far as we go, who are now their friends,
there is no guile in these men." The Bull captain heard him and said:
"Thou sayest sooth, old man; and I shall tell thee that scarce had
a band like thine come safe through the mountains, save by great
good luck, without the leave of us; for the fool with the crown
that lieth there dead had of late days so stirred up the Folks
of the Fells through his grimness and cruelty that we have been
minded to stop everything bigger than a cur-dog that might seek
to pass by us, for at least so long as yonder rascal should live.
But ye be welcome; so now let us to the road, for the day weareth."
So the tribesmen gat them into order, and their Duke went on the left
side of Ralph, while Ursula rode on his right hand. The Duke and all
his men were afoot, but they went easily and swiftly, as wolves trot.
As for the slain of the waylayers, of whom there were some threescore,
the Bull captain would do nought but let them lie on the road.
"For," said he, "there be wolves and lynxes enough in the wood,
and the ravens of the uplands, and the kites shall soon scent the carrion.
They shall have burial soon enough. Neither will we meddle with it;
nay, not so much as to hang the felon King's head at thy saddle-bow, lord."
By sunset they were out of the wood and on the side of a rough fell,
so they went no further, but lighted fires at the edge of the thicket,
and made merry round about them, singing their songs concerning the deeds
of their folk, and jesting withal, but not foully; and they roasted
venison of hart and hind at the fires, and they had with them wine,
the more part whereof they had found in the slain King's carriages,
and they made great feast to the wayfarers, and were exceeding fain
of them; after their fashion, whereas if a man were their friend
he could scarce be enough their friend, and if he were their foe,
they could never be fierce enough with him.
They Come Through the Mountains Into the Plain
On the morrow early they all fared on together, and thereafter
they went for two days more till they came into a valley
amidst of the mountains which was fair and lovely, and therein
was the dwelling or town of this Folk of the Fells.
It was indeed no stronghold, save that it was not easy to find,
and that the way thither was well defensible were foemen
to try it. The houses thereof were artless, the chiefest
of them like to the great barn of an abbey in our land,
the others low and small; but the people, both men and women,
haunted mostly the big house. As for the folk, they were
for the more part like those whom they had met afore:
strong men, but not high of stature, black-haired, with blue
or grey eyes, cheerful of countenance, and of many words.
Their women were mostly somewhat more than comely, smiling,
kind of speech, but not suffering the caresses of aliens.
They saw no thralls amongst them; and when Ralph asked hereof,
how that might be, since they were men-catchers, they told him
that when they took men and women, as oft they did, they always
sold them for what they would bring to the plain-dwellers;
or else slew them, or held them to ransom, but never brought
them home to their stead. Howbeit, when they took children,
as whiles befell, they sometimes brought them home, and made
them very children of their Folk with many uncouth prayers
and worship of their Gods, who were indeed, as they deemed,
but forefathers of the Folk.
Now Ralph, he and his, being known for friends, these wild men could
not make enough of them, and as it were, compelled them to abide there
three days, feasting them, and making them all the cheer they might.
And they showed the wayfarers their manner of hunting, both of the hart
and the boar, and of wild bulls also. At first Ralph somewhat loathed
all this (though he kept a pleasant countenance toward his host),
for sorely he desired the fields of Upmeads and his father's house.
But at last when the hunt was up in the mountains, and especially of
the wild bulls, the heart and the might in him so arose that he enforced
himself to do well, and the wild men wondered at his prowess, whereas he was
untried in this manner of sports, and they deemed him one of the Gods,
and said that their kinsman had done well to get him so good a friend.
Both Ursula and the Sage withheld them from this hunting, and Ursula
abode with the women, who told her much of their ways of life,
and stories of old time; frank and free they were, and loved her much,
and she was fain of such manly-minded women after the sleight and lies
of the poor thralls of Utterbol.
On the fourth day the wayfarers made them ready and departed;
and the chief of the Folk went with them with a chosen
band of weaponed men, partly for the love of his guests,
and partly that he might see the Goldburg men-at-arms safe back
to the road unto the plain and the Midhouse of the Mountains,
for they went now by other ways, which missed the said House.
On this journey naught befell to tell of, and they all came
down safe into the plain.
There the Goldburg men took their wage, and bidding farewell, turned back
with the wild men, praising Ralph much for his frankness and open hand.
As for the wild men, they exceeded in their sorrow for the parting, and many
of them wept and howled as though they had seen him die before their faces.
But all that came to an end, and presently their cheer was amended, and their
merry speech and laughter came down from the pass unto the wayfarers'
ears as each band rode its way.
The Roads Sunder Again
Ralph and Ursula, with the Sage and Michael-a-dale went their ways, and all
was smooth with them, and they saw but few folk, and those mild and lowly.
At last, of an afternoon, they saw before them afar off the towers
and pinnacles of Whitwall, and Ralph's heart rose within him, so that
he scarce knew how to contain himself; but Ursula was shy and silent,
and her colour came and went, as though some fear had hold of her.
Now they two were riding on somewhat ahead of the others, so Ralph turned
to Ursula, and asked what ailed her. She smiled on him and said:
"A simple sickness. I am drawing nigh to thy home, and I am ashamed.
Beyond the mountains, who knew what and whence I was? I was fair,
and for a woman not unvaliant, and that was enough. But now when I am
coming amongst the baronages and the lineages, what shall I do to hold
up my head before the fools and the dastards of these high kindreds?
And that all the more, my knight, because thou art changed since yester-year,
and since we met on the want-way of the Wood Perilous, when I bade
thee remember that thou wert a King's son and I a yeoman's daughter;
for then thou wert but a lad, high-born and beautiful, but simple maybe,
and untried; whereas now thou art meet to sit in the Kaiser's throne
and rule the world from the Holy City."
He laughed gaily and said: "What! is it all so soon forgotten,
our deeds beyond the Mountains? Belike because we had no minstrel
to rhyme it for us. Or is it all but a dream? and has the last
pass of the mountains changed all that for us? What then! hast
thou never become my beloved, nor lain in one bed with me?
Thou whom I looked to deliver from the shame and the torment
of Utterbol, never didst thou free thyself without my helping,
and meet me in the dark wood, and lead me to the Sage who rideth
yonder behind us! No, nor didst thou ride fearless with me,
leaving the world behind; nor didst thou comfort me when my
heart went nigh to breaking in the wilderness! Nor thee did I
deliver as I saw thee running naked from the jaws of death.
Nor were we wedded in the wilderness far from our own folk.
Nor didst thou deliver me from the venom of the Dry Tree.
Yea verily, nor did we drink together of the Water of the Well!
It is all but tales of Swevenham, a blue vapour hanging on
the mountains yonder! So be it then! And here we ride together,
deedless, a man and a maid of whom no tale may be told.
What next then, and who shall sunder us?"
Therewith he drew his sword from the sheath, and tossed it into the air,
and caught it by the hilts as it came down, and he cried out:
"Hearken, Ursula! By my sword I swear it, that when I come home to
the little land, if my father and my mother and all my kindred fall not
down before thee and worship thee, then will I be a man without kindred,
and I will turn my back on the land I love, and the House wherein I was born,
and will win for thee and me a new kindred that all the world shall tell of.
So help me Saint Nicholas, and all Hallows, and the Mother of God!"
She looked on him with exceeding love, and said: "Ah, beloved,
how fair thou art! Is it not as I said, yea, and more, that now
lieth the world at thy feet, if thou wilt stoop to pick it up?
Believe me, sweet, all folk shall see this as I see it, and shall
judge betwixt thee and me, and deem me naught."
"Beloved," he said, "thou dost not wholly know thyself;
and I deem that the mirrors of steel serve thee but ill;
and now must thou have somewhat else for a mirror, to wit,
the uprising and increase of trouble concerning thee and
thy fairness, and the strife of them that love thee overmuch,
who shall strive to take thee from me; and then the blade that hath
seen the Well at the World's End shall come out of his sheath
and take me and thee from the hubbub, and into the quiet fields
of my father's home, and then shalt thou be learned of thyself,
when thou seest that thou art the desire of all hearts."
"Ah, the wisdom of thee," she said, "and thy valiancy,
and I am become feeble and foolish before thee!
What shall I do then?"
He said: "Many a time shall it be shown what thou shalt do; but here
and now is the highway dry and long, and the plain meads and acres
on either hand, and a glimmer of Whitwall afar off, and the little
cloud of dust about us two in the late spring weather; and the Sage
and Michael riding behind us, and smiting dust from the hard road.
And now if this also be a dream, let it speedily begone, and let us
wake up in the ancient House at Upmeads, which thou hast never seen--
and thou and I in each other's arms."
They Come to Whitwall Again
Herewith they were come to a little thorp where the way sundered,
for the highway went on to Whitwall, and a byway turned off
to Swevenham. Thereby was a poor hostel, where they stayed
and rested for the night, because evening was at hand.
So when those four had eaten and drunk there together, Ralph spoke
and said: "Michael-a-dale, thou art for Swevenham to-morrow?"
"Yea, lord," said Michael, "belike I shall yet find kindred there;
and I call to thy mind that I craved of thee to lead me to Swevenham
as payment for all if I had done aught for thy service."
"Sooth is that," said Ralph, "thou shalt go with my good-will;
and, as I deem, thou shalt not lack company betwixt here and Swevenham,
whereas our dear friend here, the friend of thy father's father,
is going the same road."
Then the Sage of Swevenham leaned across the board, and said:
"What word hath come out of thy mouth, my son?" Said Ralph,
smiling on him: "It is the last word which we have heard from
thee of this matter, though verily it was spoken a while ago.
What wilt thou add to it as now?" "This," quoth the Sage,
"that I will leave thee no more till thou biddest me go from thee.
Was this word needful?"
Ralph reached his hand to him and said: "It is well and more;
but the road hence to Upmeads may yet be a rough one."
"Yea," said the Sage, "yet shall we come thither all living,
unless my sight now faileth."
Then Ursula rose up and came to the old man, and cast her arms about him
and said: "Yea, father, come with us, and let thy wisdom bless our roof-tree.
Wilt thou not teach our children wisdom; yea, maybe our children's children,
since thou art a friend of the Well?"
"I know not of the teaching of wisdom," said the Sage;
"but as to my going with thee, it shall be as I said e'en-now;
and forsooth I looked for this bidding of thee to make naught
of the word which I spoke ere yet I had learned wisdom of thee."
Therewith were they merry, and fain of each other, and the evening
wore amidst great content.
But when morning was come they gat to horse, and Ralph spake
to Michael and said: "Well, friend, now must thou ride alone
to thy kindred, and may fair days befall thee in Swevenham.
But if thou deem at any time that matters go not so well
with thee as thou wouldst, then turn thine head to Upmeads,
and try it there, and we shall further thee all we may."
Then came the Sage to Michael as he sat upon his horse, a stalwarth man
of some forty winters, and said: "Michael-a-dale, reach me thine hand."
So did he, and the Sage looked into the palm thereof, and said:
"This man shall make old bones, and it is more like than not,
King's son, that he shall seek to thee at Upmeads ere he die."
Said Ralph: "His coming shall be a joy to us, how pleasant soever
our life may be otherwise. Farewell, Michael! all good go with thee
for thine wholesome redes."
So then Michael gave them farewell, and rode his ways to Swevenham,
going hastily, as one who should hurry away from a grief.
But the three held on their way to Whitwall, and it was barely
noon when they came to the gate thereof on a Saturday of
latter May, It was a market-day, and the streets were thronged,
and they looked on the folk and were fain of them,
since they seemed to them to be something more than aliens.
The folk also looked on them curiously, and deemed them goodly,
both the old man and the two knights, for they thought no
otherwise of Ursula than that she was a carle.
But now as they rode, slowly because of the crowd, up Petergate,
they heard a cry of one beside them, as of a man astonished but joyful;
so Ralph drew rein, and turned thither whence the cry came,
and Ursula saw a man wide-shouldered, grey-haired, blue-eyed,
and ruddy of countenance--a man warrior-like to look on,
and girt with a long sword. Ralph lighted down from his horse,
and met the man, who was coming toward him, cast his arms
about his neck, and kissed him, and lo, it was Richard the Red.
The people round about, when they saw it, clapped their hands,
and crowded about the two crying out: "Hail to the friends
long parted, and now united!" But Richard, whom most knew,
cried out: "Make way, my masters! will ye sunder us again?"
Then he said to Ralph: "Get into thy saddle, lad; for surely
thou hast a tale to tell overlong for the open street."
Ralph did as he was bidden, and without more ado they went on all
toward that hostelry where Ralph had erst borne the burden of grief.
Richard walked by Ralph's side, and as he went he said:
"Moreover, lad, I can see that thy tale is no ill one; therefore my
heart is not wrung for thee or me, though I wait for it a while."
Then again he said: "Thou doest well to hide her loveliness
in war-weed even in this town of peace."
Ursula reddened, and Richard laughed and said:
"Well, it is a fair rose which thou hast brought from east-away.
There will be never another couple in these parts like you.
Now I see the words on thy lips; so I tell thee that Blaise
thy brother is alive and well and happy; which last word means
that his coffer is both deep and full. Forsooth, he would
make a poor bargain in buying any kingship that I wot of,
so rich he is, yea, and mighty withal."
Said Ralph: "And how went the war with Walter the Black?"
Even as he spake his face changed, for he bethought him over closely of the
past days, and his dream of the Lady of Abundance and of Dorothea, who rode
by him now as Ursula. But Richard spake: "Short is the tale to tell.
I slew him in shock of battle, and his men craved peace of the good town.
Many were glad of his death, and few sorrowed for it; for, fair as his young
body was, he was a cruel tyrant."
Therewith were they come to the hostel of the Lamb which was the very
same house wherein Ralph had abided aforetime; and as he entered it,
it is not to be said but that inwardly his heart bled for the old sorrow.
Ursula looked on him lovingly and blithely; and when they were within
doors Richard turned to the Sage and said: "Hail to thee, reverend man!
wert thou forty years older to behold, outworn and forgotten of death,
I should have said that thou wert like to the Sage that dwelt alone
amidst the mountains nigh to Swevenham when I was a little lad,
and fearsome was the sight of thee unto me."
The Sage laughed and said: "Yea, somewhat like am I yet to myself
of forty years ago. Good is thy memory, greybeard."
Then Richard shook his head, and spake under his breath:
"Yea, then it was no dream or coloured cloud, and he hath
drank of the waters, and so then hath my dear lord."
Then he looked up bright-faced, and called on the serving-men,
and bade one lead them into a fair chamber, and another go
forth and provide a banquet to be brought in thither.
So they went up into a goodly chamber high aloft; and Ursula went
forth from it awhile, and came back presently clad in very fair
woman's raiment, which Ralph had bought for her at Goldburg.
Richard looked on her and nothing else for a while;
then he walked about the chamber uneasily, now speaking
with the Sage, now with Ursula, but never with Ralph.
At last he spake to Ursula, and said: "Grant me a grace, lady,
and be not wroth if I take thy man into the window yonder that I
may talk with him privily while ye hold converse together,
thou and the Sage of Swevenham."
She laughed merrily and said: "Sir nurse, take thy bantling
and cosset him in whatso corner thou wilt, and I will turn
away mine eyes from thy caresses."
So Richard took Ralph into a window, and sat down beside him and said:
"Mayhappen I shall sadden thee by my question, but I mind me what our last
talking together was about, and therefore I must needs ask thee this,
was that other one fairer than this one is?"
Ralph knit his brows: "I wot not," quoth he, "since she is gone,
that other one."
"Yea," said Richard, "but this I say, that she is without a blemish.
Did ye drink of the Well together?"
"Yea, surely," said Ralph. Said Richard: "And is this
woman of a good heart? Is she valiant?" "Yea, yea,"
said Ralph, flushing red.
"As valiant as was that other?" said Richard. Said Ralph:
"How may I tell, unless they were tried in one way?"
Yet Richard spake: "Are ye wedded?" "Even so," said Ralph.
"Dost thou deem her true?" said Richard. "Truer than myself,"
said Ralph, in a voice which was somewhat angry.
Quoth Richard: "Then is it better than well, and better than well;
for now hast thou wedded into the World of living men, and not to a dream
of the Land of Fairy."
Ralph sat silent a little, and as if he were swallowing somewhat;
at last he said: "Old friend, I were well content if thou wert
to speak such words no more; for it irks me, and woundeth my heart."
Said Richard: "Well, I will say no more thereof; be content therefore,
for now I have said it, and thou needest not fear me, what I have to say
thereon any more, and thou mayst well wot that I must needs have said
somewhat of this."
Ralph nodded to him friendly, and even therewith came in the banquet,
which was richly served, as for a King's son, and wine was poured forth
of the best, and they feasted and were merry. And then Ralph told all
the tale of his wanderings how it had betid, bringing in all that Ursula
had told him of Utterbol; while as for her she put in no word of it.
So that at last Ralph, being wishful to hear her tell somewhat, made more
of some things than was really in them, so that she might set him right;
but no word more she said for all that, but only smiled on him now and again,
and sat blushing like a rose over her golden-flowered gown, while Richard
looked on her and praised her in his heart exceedingly.
But when Ralph had done the story (which was long, so that by then
it was over it had been dark night some while), Richard said:
"Well, fosterling, thou hast seen much, and done much, and many
would say that thou art a lucky man, and that more and much
more lieth ready to thine hand. Whither now wilt thou wend,
or what wilt thou do?"
Ralph's face reddened, as its wont had been when it was two
years younger, at contention drawing nigh, and he answered:
"Where then should I go save to the House of my Fathers, and the fields
that fed them? What should I do but live amongst my people,
warding them from evil, and loving them and giving them good counsel?
For wherefore should I love them less than heretofore?
Have they become dastards, and the fools of mankind?"
Quoth Richard: "They are no more fools than they were belike,
nor less valiant. But thou art grown wiser and mightier by far;
so that thou art another manner man than thou wert, and the Master
of Masters maybe. To Upmeads wilt thou go; but wilt thou abide there?
Upmeads is a fair land, but a narrow; one day is like another there,
save when sorrow and harm is blent with it. The world is wide,
and now I deem that thou holdest the glory thereof in the hollow
of thine hand."
Then spake the Sage, and said: "Yea, Richard of Swevenham, and how knowest
thou but that this sorrow and trouble have not now fallen upon Upmeads?
And if that be so, upon whom should they call to their helping rather
than him who can help them most, and is their very lord?" Said Richard:
"It may be so, wise man, though as yet we have heard no tidings thereof.
But if my lord goeth to their help, yet, when the trouble shall be over,
will he not betake him thither where fresh deeds await him?"
"Nay, Richard," said the Sage, "art thou so little a friend
of thy fosterling as not to know that when he hath brought
back peace to the land, it will be so that both he shall need
the people, and they him, so that if he go away for awhile,
yet shall he soon come back? Yea, and so shall the little land,
it may be, grow great."
Now had Ralph sat quiet while this talk was going on, and as if he heeded not,
and his eyes were set as if he were beholding something far away.
Then Richard spoke again after there had been silence awhile:
"Wise man, thou sayest sooth; yea, and so it is, that though we
here have heard no tale concerning war in Upmeads, yet, as it were,
we have been feeling some stirring of the air about us; even as though
matters were changing, great might undone, and weakness grown to strength.
Who can say but our lord may find deeds to hand or ever he come to Upmeads?"
Ralph turned his head as one awaking from a dream, and he said:
"When shall to-morrow be, that we may get us gone from Whitwall,
we three, and turn our faces toward Upmeads?"
Said Richard: "Wilt thou not tarry a day or two, and talk
with thine own mother's son and tell him of thine haps?"
"Yea," said Ralph, "and so would I, were it not that my father's
trouble and my mother's grief draw me away."
"O tarry not," said Ursula; "nay, not for the passing of the night;
but make this hour the sunrise, and begone by the clear of the moon.
For lo! how he shineth through the window!"
Then she turned to Richard, and said: "O fosterer of my love,
knowest thou not that as now he speaketh as a Friend of the Well,
and wotteth more of far-off tidings than even this wise man
of many years?"
Said Ralph: "She sayeth sooth, O Richard. Or how were it
if the torch were even now drawing nigh to the High House
of Upmeads: yea, or if the very House were shining as a dreary
candle of the meadows, and reddening the waters of the ford!
What do we here?"
Therewith he thrust the board from him, and arose and went
to his harness, and fell to arming him, and he spake to Richard:
"Now shall thine authority open to us the gates of the good town,
though the night be growing old; we shall go our ways, dear friend,
and mayhappen we shall meet again, and mayhappen not: and thou
shalt tell my brother Blaise who wotteth not of my coming hither,
how things have gone with me, and how need hath drawn me hence.
And bid him come see me at Upmeads, and to ride with a good band
of proper men, for eschewing the dangers of the road."
Then spake Richard: "I shall tell Lord Blaise neither more nor less
than thou mayst tell him thyself: for think it not that thou shalt
go without me. As for Blaise, he may well spare me; for he is become
a chief and Lord of the Porte; and the Porte hath now right good
men-at-arms, and captains withal younger and defter than I be.
But now suffer me to send a swain for my horse and arms, and another to
the captain of the watch at West-gate Bar that he be ready to open to me
and three of my friends, and to send me a let-pass for the occasion.
So shall we go forth ere it be known that the brother of the Lord of the Porte
is abiding at the Lamb. For verily I see that the Lady hath spoken truth;
and it is like that she is forseeing, even as thou hast grown to be.
And now I bethink me I might lightly get me a score of men to ride with us,
whereas we may meet men worse than ourselves on the way."
Said Ralph: "All good go with thy words, Richard; yet gather not force:
there may stout men be culled on the road; and if thou runnest or
ridest about the town, we may yet be stayed by Blaise and his men.
Wherefore now send for thine horse and arms, and bid the host
here open his gates with little noise when we be ready;
and we will presently ride out by the clear of the moon.
But thou, beloved, shalt don thine armour no more, but shalt ride
henceforth in thy woman's raiment, for the wild and the waste
is well nigh over, and the way is but short after all these months
of wandering; and I say that now shall all friends drift toward us,
and they that shall rejoice to strike a stroke for my father's son,
and the peaceful years of the Friend of the Well."
To those others, and chiefly to Ursula, it seemed that now he spoke
strongly and joyously, like to a king and a captain of men.
Richard did his bidding, and was swift in dealing with the messengers.
But the Sage said: "Ralph, my son, since ye have lost one man-at-arms,
and have gotten but this golden angel in his stead, I may better that.
I prithee bid thy man Richard find me armour and weapons that I may
amend the shard in thy company. Thou shalt find me no feeble man
when we come to push of staves."
Ralph laughed, and bade Richard see to it; so he dealt with the host,
and bought good war-gear of him, and a trenchant sword, and an axe withal;
and when the Sage was armed he looked as doughty a warrior as need be.
By this time was Richard's horse and war-gear come, and he armed him
speedily and gave money to the host, and they rode therewith all four out of
the hostel, and found the street empty and still, for the night was wearing.
So rode they without tarrying into Westgate and came to the Bar,
and speedily was the gate opened to them; and anon were they on the moonlit
road outside of Whitwall.
They Ride Away From Whitwall
But when they were well on the way, and riding a good pace
by the clear of the moon, Richard spake to Ralph, and said:
"Wither ride we now?" said Ralph: "Wither, save to Upmeads?"
"Yea, yea," said Richard, "but by what road? shall we ride
down to the ford of the Swelling Flood, and ride the beaten way,
or take to the downland and the forest, and so again by the forest
and downland and the forest once more, till we come to the Burg
of the Four Friths?"
"Which way is the shorter?" said Ralph. "Forsooth," said Richard,
"by the wildwood ye may ride shorter, if ye know it as I do."
Quoth the Sage: "Yea, or as I do. Hear a wonder! that two
men of Swevenham know the wilds more than twenty miles from
their own thorp."
Said Ralph: "Well, wend we the shorter road; why make more words over it?
Or what lion lieth on the path? Is it that we may find it hard to give
the go-by to the Burg of the Four Friths?"
Said Richard: "Though the Burg be not very far from Whitwall,
we hear but little tidings thence; our chapmen but seldom go there,
and none cometh to us thence save such of our men as have strayed thither.
Yet, as I said e'en now in the hostel, there is an air of tidings abroad,
and one rumour sayeth, and none denieth it, that the old fierceness
and stout headstrong mood of the Burg is broken down, and that men
dwell there in peace and quiet."
Said the Sage: "In any case we have amongst us lore enough
to hoodwink them if they be foes; so that we shall pass easily.
Naught of this need we fear."
But Richard put his mouth close to Ralph's ear, and spake to him softly:
"Shall we indeed go by that shorter road, whatever in days gone by may
have befallen in places thereon, to which we must go a-nigh tomorrow?"
Ralph answered softly in turn: "Yea, forsooth: for I were fain to try
my heart, how strong it may be."
So they rode on, and turned off from the road that led
down to the ford of the Swelling Flood, anigh which Ralph
had fallen in with Blaise and Richard on the day after the
woeful slaying, which had made an end of his joy for that time.
But when they were amidst of the bushes and riding a deep ghyll
of the waste, Richard said: "It is well that we are here:
for now if Blaise send riders to bring us back courteously,
they shall not follow us at once, but shall ride straight
down to the ford, and even cross it in search of us."
"Yea," said Ralph, "it is well in all wise."
So then they rode thence awhile till the moon grew low, and great,
and red, and sank down away from them; and by then were they come
to a shepherd's cot, empty of men, with naught therein save an old dog,
and some victual, as bread and white cheese, and a well for drinking.
So there they abode and rested that night.
A Strange Meeting in the Wilderness
On the morrow betimes they got to the road again; the country
at first, though it was scanty of tillage, was not unfurnished
of sheep, being for the most part of swelling hills and downs
well grassed, with here and there a deep cleft in them.
They saw but few houses, and those small and poor.
A few shepherds they fell in with, who were short of speech,
after the manner of such men, but deemed a greeting not wholly
thrown away on such goodly folk as those wayfarers.
So they rode till it was noon, and Richard talked more than his
wont was, though his daily use it was to be of many words:
nor did the Sage spare speech; but Ursula spoke little,
nor heeded much what the others said, and Ralph deemed that she
was paler than of wont, and her brows were knitted as if she
were somewhat anxious. As for him, he was grave and calm,
but of few words; and whiles when Richard was wordiest he looked
on him steadily for a moment whereat Richard changed countenance,
and for a while stinted his speech, but not for long;
while Ralph looked about him, inwardly striving to gather
together the ends of unhappy thoughts that floated about him,
and to note the land he was passing through, if indeed he had
verily seen it aforetime, elsewhere than in some evil dream.
At last when they stopped to bait by some scrubby bushes at
the foot of a wide hill-side, he took Richard apart, and said
to him: "Old friend, and whither go we?" Said Richard:
"As thou wottest, to the Burg of the Four Friths."
"Yea," said Ralph, "but by what road?" Said Richard:
"Youngling is not thine heart, then, as strong as thou deemedst
last night?" Ralph was silent a while, and then he said:
"I know what thou wouldst say; we are going by the shortest
road to the Castle of Abundance."
He spake this out loud, but Richard nodded his head to him, as if
he would say: "Yea, so it is; but hold thy peace." But Ralph knew
that Ursula had come up behind him, and, still looking at Richard,
he put his open hand aback toward her, and her hand fell into it.
Then he turned about to her, and saw that her face was verily pale;
so he put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her kindly;
and she let her head fall on to his bosom and fell a-weeping,
and the two elders turned away to the horses, and feigned to be
busy with them.
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