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The Well at the World's End, by William Morris, [1896], at


They Come to the Gate of the Mountains

That day they herded their horses thereabout, and from time to time the Sage tried those two if they were perfect in the lore of the road; and he found that they had missed nothing.

They lay down in the self-same place again that night, and arose betimes on the morrow and went their ways over the plain as the Sage led, till it was as if the mountains and their terror hung over their very heads, and the hugeness and blackness of them were worse than a wall of fire had been. It was still a long way to them, so that it was not till noon of the third day from the rock-sea that they came to the very feet of that fire-scorched ness, and wonderful indeed it seemed to them that anything save the eagles could have aught to tell of what lay beyond it.

There were no foothills or downs betwixt the plain and the mountains, naught save a tumble of rocks that had fallen from the cliffs, piled up strangely, and making a maze through which the Sage led them surely; and at last they were clear even of this, and were underneath the flank of that ness, which was so huge that there seemed that there could scarce be any more mountain than that. Little of its huge height could they see, now they were close to it, for it went up sheer at first and then beetled over them till they could see no more of its side; as they wound about its flank, and they were long about it, the Sage cried out to those two and stretched out his hand, and behold! the side of the black cliff plain and smooth and shining as if it had been done by the hand of men or giants, and on this smooth space was carven in the living rock the image of a warrior in mail and helm of ancient fashion, and holding a sword in his right hand.  From head to heel he seemed some sixty feet high, and the rock was so hard, that he was all clean and clear to see; and they deemed of him that his face was keen and stern of aspect.

So there they stood in an awful bight of the mountain, made by that ness, and the main wall from which it thrust out. But after they had gazed awhile and their hearts were in their mouths, the Sage turned on those twain and said: "Here then is the end of my journey with you; and ye wot all that I can tell you, and I can say no word more save to bid you cast all fear aside and thrive.  Ye have yet for this day's journey certain hours of such daylight as the mountain pass will give you, which at the best is little better than twilight; therefore redeem ye the time."

But Ralph got off his horse, and Ursula did in likewise, and they both kissed and embraced the old man, for their hearts were full and fain. But he drew himself away from them, and turned about with no word more, and went his ways, and presently was hidden from their eyes by the rocky maze which lay about the mountain's foot. Then the twain mounted their horses again and set forth silently on the road, as they had been bidden.

In a little while the rocks of the pass closed about them, leaving but a way so narrow that they could see a glimmer of the stars above them as they rode the twilight; no sight they had of the measureless stony desert, yet in their hearts they saw it. They seemed to be wending a straight-walled prison without an end, so that they were glad when the dark night came on them.

Ralph found some shelter in the cleft of a rock above a mound where was little grass for the horses.  He drew Ursula into it, and they sat down there on the stones together. So long they sat silent that a great gloom settled upon Ralph, and he scarce knew whether he were asleep or waking, alive or dead. But amidst of it fell a sweet voice on his ears, and familiar words asking him of what like were the fields of Upmeads, and the flowers; and of the fish of its water, and of the fashion of the building of his father's house; and of his brethren, and the mother that bore him. Then was it to him at first as if a sweet dream had come across the void of his gloom, and then at last the gloom and the dread and the deadness left him, and he knew that his friend and fellow was talking to him, and that he sat by her knee to knee, and the sweetness of her savoured in his nostrils as she leaned her face toward him, and he knew himself for what he was; and yet for memory of that past horror, and the sweetness of his friend and what not else, he fell a-weeping. But Ursula bestirred herself and brought out food from her wallet, and sat down beside him again, and he wiped the tears from his eyes and laughed, and chid himself for being as a child in the dark, and then they ate and drank together in that dusk nook of the wilderness. And now was he happy and his tongue was loosed, and he fell to telling her many things of Upmeads, and of the tale of his forefathers, and of his old loves and his friends, till life and death seemed to him as they had seemed of time past in the merry land of his birth. So there anon they fell asleep for weariness, and no dreams of terror beset their slumbers.

Next: Chapter 11: They Come to the Vale of Sweet Chestnuts