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


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.

Next: Chapter 4: A Feast in the Red Pavilion