Part 1 out of 3
THE WOOD BEYOND THE WORLD
CHAPTER I: OF GOLDEN WALTER AND HIS FATHER
Awhile ago there was a young man dwelling in a great and goodly city
by the sea which had to name Langton on Holm. He was but of five
and twenty winters, a fair-faced man, yellow-haired, tall and
strong; rather wiser than foolisher than young men are mostly wont;
a valiant youth, and a kind; not of many words but courteous of
speech; no roisterer, nought masterful, but peaceable and knowing
how to forbear: in a fray a perilous foe, and a trusty war-fellow.
His father, with whom he was dwelling when this tale begins, was a
great merchant, richer than a baron of the land, a head-man of the
greatest of the Lineages of Langton, and a captain of the Porte; he
was of the Lineage of the Goldings, therefore was he called
Bartholomew Golden, and his son Golden Walter.
Now ye may well deem that such a youngling as this was looked upon
by all as a lucky man without a lack; but there was this flaw in his
lot, whereas he had fallen into the toils of love of a woman
exceeding fair, and had taken her to wife, she nought unwilling as
it seemed. But when they had been wedded some six months he found
by manifest tokens, that his fairness was not so much to her but
that she must seek to the foulness of one worser than he in all
ways; wherefore his rest departed from him, whereas he hated her for
her untruth and her hatred of him; yet would the sound of her voice,
as she came and went in the house, make his heart beat; and the
sight of her stirred desire within him, so that he longed for her to
be sweet and kind with him, and deemed that, might it be so, he
should forget all the evil gone by. But it was not so; for ever
when she saw him, her face changed, and her hatred of him became
manifest, and howsoever she were sweet with others, with him she was
hard and sour.
So this went on a while till the chambers of his father's house, yea
the very streets of the city, became loathsome to him; and yet he
called to mind that the world was wide and he but a young man. So
on a day as he sat with his father alone, he spake to him and said:
"Father, I was on the quays even now, and I looked on the ships that
were nigh boun, and thy sign I saw on a tall ship that seemed to me
nighest boun. Will it be long ere she sail?"
"Nay," said his father, "that ship, which hight the Katherine, will
they warp out of the haven in two days' time. But why askest thou
"The shortest word is best, father," said Walter, "and this it is,
that I would depart in the said ship and see other lands."
"Yea and whither, son?" said the merchant.
"Whither she goeth," said Walter, "for I am ill at ease at home, as
thou wottest, father."
The merchant held his peace awhile, and looked hard on his son, for
there was strong love between them; but at last he said: "Well,
son, maybe it were best for thee; but maybe also we shall not meet
"Yet if we do meet, father, then shalt thou see a new man in me."
"Well," said Bartholomew, "at least I know on whom to lay the loss
of thee, and when thou art gone, for thou shalt have thine own way
herein, she shall no longer abide in my house. Nay, but it were
for the strife that should arise thenceforth betwixt her kindred and
ours, it should go somewhat worse with her than that."
Said Walter: "I pray thee shame her not more than needs must be,
lest, so doing, thou shame both me and thyself also."
Bartholomew held his peace again for a while; then he said: "Goeth
she with child, my son?"
Walter reddened, and said: "I wot not; nor of whom the child may
be." Then they both sat silent, till Bartholomew spake, saying:
"The end of it is, son, that this is Monday, and that thou shalt go
aboard in the small hours of Wednesday; and meanwhile I shall look
to it that thou go not away empty-handed; the skipper of the
Katherine is a good man and true, and knows the seas well; and my
servant Robert the Low, who is clerk of the lading, is trustworthy
and wise, and as myself in all matters that look towards chaffer.
The Katherine is new and stout-builded, and should be lucky, whereas
she is under the ward of her who is the saint called upon in the
church where thou wert christened, and myself before thee; and thy
mother, and my father and mother all lie under the chancel thereof,
as thou wottest."
Therewith the elder rose up and went his ways about his business,
and there was no more said betwixt him and his son on this matter.
CHAPTER II: GOLDEN WALTER TAKES SHIP TO SAIL THE SEAS
When Walter went down to the Katherine next morning, there was the
skipper Geoffrey, who did him reverence, and made him all cheer, and
showed him his room aboard ship, and the plenteous goods which his
father had sent down to the quays already, such haste as he had
made. Walter thanked his father's love in his heart, but otherwise
took little heed to his affairs, but wore away the time about the
haven, gazing listlessly on the ships that were making them ready
outward, or unlading, and the mariners and aliens coming and going:
and all these were to him as the curious images woven on a tapestry.
At last when he had wellnigh come back again to the Katherine, he
saw there a tall ship, which he had scarce noted before, a ship all-
boun, which had her boats out, and men sitting to the oars thereof
ready to tow her outwards when the hawser should be cast off, and by
seeming her mariners were but abiding for some one or other to come
So Walter stood idly watching the said ship, and as he looked, lo!
folk passing him toward the gangway. These were three; first came a
dwarf, dark-brown of hue and hideous, with long arms and ears
exceeding great and dog-teeth that stuck out like the fangs of a
wild beast. He was clad in a rich coat of yellow silk, and bare in
his hand a crooked bow, and was girt with a broad sax.
After him came a maiden, young by seeming, of scarce twenty summers;
fair of face as a flower; grey-eyed, brown-haired, with lips full
and red, slim and gentle of body. Simple was her array, of a short
and strait green gown, so that on her right ankle was clear to see
an iron ring.
Last of the three was a lady, tall and stately, so radiant of visage
and glorious of raiment, that it were hard to say what like she was;
for scarce might the eye gaze steady upon her exceeding beauty; yet
must every son of Adam who found himself anigh her, lift up his eyes
again after he had dropped them, and look again on her, and yet
again and yet again. Even so did Walter, and as the three passed by
him, it seemed to him as if all the other folk there about had
vanished and were nought; nor had he any vision before his eyes of
any looking on them, save himself alone. They went over the gangway
into the ship, and he saw them go along the deck till they came to
the house on the poop, and entered it and were gone from his sight.
There he stood staring, till little by little the thronging people
of the quays came into his eye-shot again; then he saw how the
hawser was cast off and the boats fell to tugging the big ship
toward the harbour-mouth with hale and how of men. Then the sail
fell down from the yard and was sheeted home and filled with the
fair wind as the ship's bows ran up on the first green wave outside
the haven. Even therewith the shipmen cast abroad a banner, whereon
was done in a green field a grim wolf ramping up against a maiden,
and so went the ship upon her way.
Walter stood awhile staring at her empty place where the waves ran
into the haven-mouth, and then turned aside and toward the
Katherine; and at first he was minded to go ask shipmaster Geoffrey
of what he knew concerning the said ship and her alien wayfarers;
but then it came into his mind, that all this was but an imagination
or dream of the day, and that he were best to leave it untold to
any. So therewith he went his way from the water-side, and through
the streets unto his father's house; but when he was but a little
way thence, and the door was before him, him-seemed for a moment of
time that he beheld those three coming out down the steps of stone
and into the street; to wit the dwarf, the maiden, and the stately
lady: but when he stood still to abide their coming, and looked
toward them, lo! there was nothing before him save the goodly house
of Bartholomew Golden, and three children and a cur dog playing
about the steps thereof, and about him were four or five passers-by
going about their business. Then was he all confused in his mind,
and knew not what to make of it, whether those whom he had seemed to
see pass aboard ship were but images of a dream, or children of Adam
in very flesh.
Howsoever, he entered the house, and found his father in the
chamber, and fell to speech with him about their matters; but for
all that he loved his father, and worshipped him as a wise and
valiant man, yet at that hour he might not hearken the words of his
mouth, so much was his mind entangled in the thought of those three,
and they were ever before his eyes, as if they had been painted on a
table by the best of limners. And of the two women he thought
exceeding much, and cast no wyte upon himself for running after the
desire of strange women. For he said to himself that he desired not
either of the twain; nay, he might not tell which of the twain, the
maiden or the stately queen, were clearest to his eyes; but sore he
desired to see both of them again, and to know what they were.
So wore the hours till the Wednesday morning, and it was time that
he should bid farewell to his father and get aboard ship; but his
father led him down to the quays and on to the Katherine, and there
Walter embraced him, not without tears and forebodings; for his
heart was full. Then presently the old man went aland; the gangway
was unshipped, the hawsers cast off; the oars of the towing-boats
splashed in the dark water, the sail fell down from the yard, and
was sheeted home, and out plunged the Katherine into the misty sea
and rolled up the grey slopes, casting abroad her ancient withal,
whereon was beaten the token of Bartholomew Golden, to wit a B and a
G to the right and the left, and thereabove a cross and a triangle
rising from the midst.
Walter stood on the stern and beheld, yet more with the mind of him
than with his eyes; for it all seemed but the double of what the
other ship had done; and the thought of it as if the twain were as
beads strung on one string and led away by it into the same place,
and thence to go in the like order, and so on again and again, and
never to draw nigher to each other.
CHAPTER III: WALTER HEARETH TIDINGS OF THE DEATH OF HIS FATHER
Fast sailed the Katherine over the seas, and nought befell to tell
of, either to herself or her crew. She came to one cheaping-town
and then to another, and so on to a third and a fourth; and at each
was buying and selling after the manner of chapmen; and Walter not
only looked on the doings of his father's folk, but lent a hand,
what he might, to help them in all matters, whether it were in
seaman's craft, or in chaffer. And the further he went and the
longer the time wore, the more he was eased of his old trouble
wherein his wife and her treason had to do.
But as for the other trouble, to wit his desire and longing to come
up with those three, it yet flickered before him; and though he had
not seen them again as one sees people in the streets, and as if he
might touch them if he would, yet were their images often before his
mind's eye; and yet, as time wore, not so often, nor so troublously;
and forsooth both to those about him and to himself, he seemed as a
man well healed of his melancholy mood.
Now they left that fourth stead, and sailed over the seas and came
to a fifth, a very great and fair city, which they had made more
than seven months from Langton on Holm; and by this time was Walter
taking heed and joyance in such things as were toward in that fair
city, so far from his kindred, and especially he looked on the fair
women there, and desired them, and loved them; but lightly, as
befalleth young men.
Now this was the last country whereto the Katherine was boun; so
there they abode some ten months in daily chaffer, and in pleasuring
them in beholding all that there was of rare and goodly, and making
merry with the merchants and the towns-folk, and the country-folk
beyond the gates, and Walter was grown as busy and gay as a strong
young man is like to be, and was as one who would fain be of some
account amongst his own folk.
But at the end of this while, it befell on a day, as he was leaving
his hostel for his booth in the market, and had the door in his
hand, there stood before him three mariners in the guise of his own
country, and with them was one of clerkly aspect, whom he knew at
once for his father's scrivener, Arnold Penstrong by name; and when
Walter saw him his heart failed him and he cried out: "Arnold, what
tidings? Is all well with the folk at Langton?"
Said Arnold: "Evil tidings are come with me; matters are ill with
thy folk; for I may not hide that thy father, Bartholomew Golden, is
dead, God rest his soul."
At that word it was to Walter as if all that trouble which but now
had sat so light upon him, was once again fresh and heavy, and that
his past life of the last few months had never been; and it was to
him as if he saw his father lying dead on his bed, and heard the
folk lamenting about the house. He held his peace awhile, and then
he said in a voice as of an angry man:
"What, Arnold! and did he die in his bed, or how? for he was neither
old nor ailing when we parted."
Said Arnold: "Yea, in his bed he died: but first he was somewhat
"Yea, and how?" quoth Walter.
Said Arnold: "When thou wert gone, in a few days' wearing, thy
father sent thy wife out of his house back to her kindred of the
Reddings with no honour, and yet with no such shame as might have
been, without blame to us of those who knew the tale of thee and
her; which, God-a-mercy, will be pretty much the whole of the city."
"Nevertheless, the Reddings took it amiss, and would have a mote
with us Goldings to talk of booting. By ill-luck we yea-said that
for the saving of the city's peace. But what betid? We met in our
Gild-hall, and there befell the talk between us; and in that talk
certain words could not be hidden, though they were none too seemly
nor too meek. And the said words once spoken drew forth the whetted
steel; and there then was the hewing and thrusting! Two of ours
were slain outright on the floor, and four of theirs, and many were
hurt on either side. Of these was thy father, for as thou mayst
well deem, he was nought backward in the fray; but despite his
hurts, two in the side and one on the arm, he went home on his own
feet, and we deemed that we had come to our above. But well-a-way!
it was an evil victory, whereas in ten days he died of his hurts.
God have his soul! But now, my master, thou mayst well wot that I
am not come to tell thee this only, but moreover to bear the word of
the kindred, to wit that thou come back with me straightway in the
swift cutter which hath borne me and the tidings; and thou mayst
look to it, that though she be swift and light, she is a keel full
Then said Walter: "This is a bidding of war. Come back will I, and
the Reddings shall wot of my coming. Are ye all-boun?"
"Yea," said Arnold, "we may up anchor this very day, or to-morrow
morn at latest. But what aileth thee, master, that thou starest so
wild over my shoulder? I pray thee take it not so much to heart!
Ever it is the wont of fathers to depart this world before their
But Walter's visage from wrathful red had become pale, and he
pointed up street, and cried out: "Look! dost thou see?"
"See what, master?" quoth Arnold: "what! here cometh an ape in gay
raiment; belike the beast of some jongleur. Nay, by God's wounds!
'tis a man, though he be exceeding mis-shapen like a very devil.
Yea and now there cometh a pretty maid going as if she were of his
meney; and lo! here, a most goodly and noble lady! Yea, I see; and
doubtless she owneth both the two, and is of the greatest of the
folk of this fair city; for on the maiden's ankle I saw an iron
ring, which betokeneth thralldom amongst these aliens. But this is
strange! for notest thou not how the folk in the street heed not
this quaint show; nay not even the stately lady, though she be as
lovely as a goddess of the gentiles, and beareth on her gems that
would buy Langton twice over; surely they must be over-wont to
strange and gallant sights. But now, master, but now!"
"Yea, what is it?" said Walter.
"Why, master, they should not yet be gone out of eye-shot, yet gone
they are. What is become of them, are they sunk into the earth?"
"Tush, man!" said Walter, looking not on Arnold, but still staring
down the street; "they have gone into some house while thine eyes
were turned from them a moment."
"Nay, master, nay," said Arnold, "mine eyes were not off them one
instant of time."
"Well," said Walter, somewhat snappishly, "they are gone now, and
what have we to do to heed such toys, we with all this grief and
strife on our hands? Now would I be alone to turn the matter of
thine errand over in my mind. Meantime do thou tell the shipmaster
Geoffrey and our other folk of these tidings, and thereafter get
thee all ready; and come hither to me before sunrise to-morrow, and
I shall be ready for my part; and so sail we back to Langton."
Therewith he turned him back into the house, and the others went
their ways; but Walter sat alone in his chamber a long while, and
pondered these things in his mind. And whiles he made up his mind
that he would think no more of the vision of those three, but would
fare back to Langton, and enter into the strife with the Reddings
and quell them, or die else. But lo, when he was quite steady in
this doom, and his heart was lightened thereby, he found that he
thought no more of the Reddings and their strife, but as matters
that were passed and done with, and that now he was thinking and
devising if by any means he might find out in what land dwelt those
three. And then again he strove to put that from him, saying that
what he had seen was but meet for one brainsick, and a dreamer of
dreams. But furthermore he thought, Yea, and was Arnold, who this
last time had seen the images of those three, a dreamer of waking
dreams? for he was nought wonted in such wise; then thought he: At
least I am well content that he spake to me of their likeness, not I
to him; for so I may tell that there was at least something before
my eyes which grew not out of mine own brain. And yet again, why
should I follow them; and what should I get by it; and indeed how
shall I set about it?
Thus he turned the matter over and over; and at last, seeing that if
he grew no foolisher over it, he grew no wiser, he became weary
thereof, and bestirred him, and saw to the trussing up of his goods,
and made all ready for his departure, and so wore the day and slept
at nightfall; and at daybreak comes Arnold to lead him to their
keel, which hight the Bartholomew. He tarried nought, and with few
farewells went aboard ship, and an hour after they were in the open
sea with the ship's head turned toward Langton on Holm.
CHAPTER IV: STORM BEFALLS THE BARTHOLOMEW, AND SHE IS DRIVEN OFF
Now swift sailed the Bartholomew for four weeks toward the north-
west with a fair wind, and all was well with ship and crew. Then
the wind died out on even of a day, so that the ship scarce made way
at all, though she rolled in a great swell of the sea, so great,
that it seemed to ridge all the main athwart. Moreover down in the
west was a great bank of cloud huddled up in haze, whereas for
twenty days past the sky had been clear, save for a few bright white
clouds flying before the wind. Now the shipmaster, a man right
cunning in his craft, looked long on sea and sky, and then turned
and bade the mariners take in sail and be right heedful. And when
Walter asked him what he looked for, and wherefore he spake not to
him thereof, he said surlily: "Why should I tell thee what any fool
can see without telling, to wit that there is weather to hand?"
So they abode what should befall, and Walter went to his room to
sleep away the uneasy while, for the night was now fallen; and he
knew no more till he was waked up by great hubbub and clamour of the
shipmen, and the whipping of ropes, and thunder of flapping sails,
and the tossing and weltering of the ship withal. But, being a very
stout-hearted young man, he lay still in his room, partly because he
was a landsman, and had no mind to tumble about amongst the shipmen
and hinder them; and withal he said to himself: What matter whether
I go down to the bottom of the sea, or come back to Langton, since
either way my life or my death will take away from me the fulfilment
of desire? Yet soothly if there hath been a shift of wind, that is
not so ill; for then shall we be driven to other lands, and so at
the least our home-coming shall be delayed, and other tidings may
hap amidst of our tarrying. So let all be as it will.
So in a little while, in spite of the ship's wallowing and the
tumult of the wind and waves, he fell asleep again, and woke no more
till it was full daylight, and there was the shipmaster standing in
the door of his room, the sea-water all streaming from his wet-
weather raiment. He said to Walter: "Young master, the sele of the
day to thee! For by good hap we have gotten into another day. Now
I shall tell thee that we have striven to beat, so as not to be
driven off our course, but all would not avail, wherefore for these
three hours we have been running before the wind; but, fair sir, so
big hath been the sea that but for our ship being of the stoutest,
and our men all yare, we had all grown exceeding wise concerning the
ground of the mid-main. Praise be to St. Nicholas and all Hallows!
for though ye shall presently look upon a new sea, and maybe a new
land to boot, yet is that better than looking on the ugly things
"Is all well with ship and crew then?" said Walter.
"Yea forsooth," said the shipmaster; "verily the Bartholomew is the
darling of Oak Woods; come up and look at it, how she is dealing
with wind and waves all free from fear."
So Walter did on his foul-weather raiment, and went up on to the
quarter-deck, and there indeed was a change of days; for the sea was
dark and tumbling mountain-high, and the white-horses were running
down the valleys thereof, and the clouds drave low over all, and
bore a scud of rain along with them; and though there was but a rag
of sail on her, the ship flew before the wind, rolling a great wash
of water from bulwark to bulwark.
Walter stood looking on it all awhile, holding on by a stay-rope,
and saying to himself that it was well that they were driving so
fast toward new things.
Then the shipmaster came up to him and clapped him on the shoulder
and said: "Well, shipmate, cheer up! and now come below again and
eat some meat, and drink a cup with me."
So Walter went down and ate and drank, and his heart was lighter
than it had been since he had heard of his father's death, and the
feud awaiting him at home, which forsooth he had deemed would stay
his wanderings a weary while, and therewithal his hopes. But now it
seemed as if he needs must wander, would he, would he not; and so it
was that even this fed his hope; so sore his heart clung to that
desire of his to seek home to those three that seemed to call him
CHAPTER V: NOW THEY COME TO A NEW LAND
Three days they drave before the wind, and on the fourth the clouds
lifted, the sun shone out and the offing was clear; the wind had
much abated, though it still blew a breeze, and was a head wind for
sailing toward the country of Langton. So then the master said
that, since they were bewildered, and the wind so ill to deal with,
it were best to go still before the wind that they might make some
land and get knowledge of their whereabouts from the folk thereof.
Withal he said that he deemed the land not to be very far distant.
So did they, and sailed on pleasantly enough, for the weather kept
on mending, and the wind fell till it was but a light breeze, yet
still foul for Langton.
So wore three days, and on the eve of the third, the man from the
topmast cried out that he saw land ahead; and so did they all before
the sun was quite set, though it were but a cloud no bigger than a
When night fell they struck not sail, but went forth toward the land
fair and softly; for it was early summer, so that the nights were
neither long nor dark.
But when it was broad daylight, they opened a land, a long shore of
rocks and mountains, and nought else that they could see at first.
Nevertheless as day wore and they drew nigher, first they saw how
the mountains fell away from the sea, and were behind a long wall of
sheer cliff; and coming nigher yet, they beheld a green plain going
up after a little in green bents and slopes to the feet of the said
No city nor haven did they see there, not even when they were far
nigher to the land; nevertheless, whereas they hankered for the
peace of the green earth after all the tossing and unrest of the
sea, and whereas also they doubted not to find at the least good and
fresh water, and belike other bait in the plain under the mountains,
they still sailed on not unmerrily; so that by nightfall they cast
anchor in five-fathom water hard by the shore.
Next morning they found that they were lying a little way off the
mouth of a river not right great; so they put out their boats and
towed the ship up into the said river, and when they had gone up it
for a mile or thereabouts they found the sea water failed, for
little was the ebb and flow of the tide on that coast. Then was the
river deep and clear, running between smooth grassy land like to
meadows. Also on their left board they saw presently three head of
neat cattle going, as if in a meadow of a homestead in their own
land, and a few sheep; and thereafter, about a bow-draught from the
river, they saw a little house of wood and straw-thatch under a
wooded mound, and with orchard trees about it. They wondered little
thereat, for they knew no cause why that land should not be builded,
though it were in the far outlands. However, they drew their ship
up to the bank, thinking that they would at least abide awhile and
ask tidings and have some refreshing of the green plain, which was
so lovely and pleasant.
But while they were busied herein they saw a man come out of the
house, and down to the river to meet them; and they soon saw that he
was tall and old, long-hoary of hair and beard, and clad mostly in
the skins of beasts.
He drew nigh without any fear or mistrust, and coming close to them
gave them the sele of the day in a kindly and pleasant voice. The
shipmaster greeted him in his turn, and said withal: "Old man, art
thou the king of this country?"
The elder laughed; "It hath had none other a long while," said he;
"and at least there is no other son of Adam here to gainsay."
"Thou art alone here then?" said the master.
"Yea," said the old man; "save for the beasts of the field and the
wood, and the creeping things, and fowl. Wherefore it is sweet to
me to hear your voices."
Said the master: "Where be the other houses of the town?"
The old man laughed. Said he: "When I said that I was alone, I
meant that I was alone in the land and not only alone in this stead.
There is no house save this betwixt the sea and the dwellings of the
Bears, over the cliff-wall yonder, yea and a long way over it."
"Yea," quoth the shipmaster grinning, "and be the bears of thy
country so manlike, that they dwell in builded houses?"
The old man shook his head. "Sir," said he, "as to their bodily
fashion, it is altogether manlike, save that they be one and all
higher and bigger than most. For they be bears only in name; they
be a nation of half wild men; for I have been told by them that
there be many more than that tribe whose folk I have seen, and that
they spread wide about behind these mountains from east to west.
Now, sir, as to their souls and understandings I warrant them not;
for miscreants they be, trowing neither in God nor his hallows."
Said the master: "Trow they in Mahound then?"
"Nay," said the elder, "I wot not for sure that they have so much as
a false God; though I have it from them that they worship a certain
woman with mickle worship."
Then spake Walter: "Yea, good sir, and how knowest thou that? dost
thou deal with them at all?"
Said the old man: "Whiles some of that folk come hither and have of
me what I can spare; a calf or two, or a half-dozen of lambs or
hoggets; or a skin of wine or cyder of mine own making: and they
give me in return such things as I can use, as skins of hart and
bear and other peltries; for now I am old, I can but little of the
hunting hereabout. Whiles, also, they bring little lumps of pure
copper, and would give me gold also, but it is of little use in this
lonely land. Sooth to say, to me they are not masterful or rough-
handed; but glad am I that they have been here but of late, and are
not like to come again this while; for terrible they are of aspect,
and whereas ye be aliens, belike they would not hold their hands
from off you; and moreover ye have weapons and other matters which
they would covet sorely."
Quoth the master: "Since thou dealest with these wild men, will ye
not deal with us in chaffer? For whereas we are come from long
travel, we hanker after fresh victual, and here aboard are many
things which were for thine avail."
Said the old man: "All that I have is yours, so that ye do but
leave me enough till my next ingathering: of wine and cyder, such
as it is, I have plenty for your service; ye may drink it till it is
all gone, if ye will: a little corn and meal I have, but not much;
yet are ye welcome thereto, since the standing corn in my garth is
done blossoming, and I have other meat. Cheeses have I and dried
fish; take what ye will thereof. But as to my neat and sheep, if ye
have sore need of any, and will have them, I may not say you nay:
but I pray you if ye may do without them, not to take my milch-
beasts or their engenderers; for, as ye have heard me say, the Bear-
folk have been here but of late, and they have had of me all I might
spare: but now let me tell you, if ye long after flesh-meat, that
there is venison of hart and hind, yea, and of buck and doe, to be
had on this plain, and about the little woods at the feet of the
rock-wall yonder: neither are they exceeding wild; for since I may
not take them, I scare them not, and no other man do they see to
hurt them; for the Bear-folk come straight to my house, and fare
straight home thence. But I will lead you the nighest way to where
the venison is easiest to be gotten. As to the wares in your ship,
if ye will give me aught I will take it with a good will; and
chiefly if ye have a fair knife or two and a roll of linen cloth,
that were a good refreshment to me. But in any case what I have to
give is free to you and welcome."
The shipmaster laughed: "Friend," said he, "we can thee mickle
thanks for all that thou biddest us. And wot well that we be no
lifters or sea-thieves to take thy livelihood from thee. So to-
morrow, if thou wilt, we will go with thee and upraise the hunt, and
meanwhile we will come aland, and walk on the green grass, and water
our ship with thy good fresh water."
So the old carle went back to his house to make them ready what
cheer he might, and the shipmen, who were twenty and one, all told,
what with the mariners and Arnold and Walter's servants, went
ashore, all but two who watched the ship and abode their turn. They
went well-weaponed, for both the master and Walter deemed wariness
wisdom, lest all might not be so good as it seemed. They took of
their sail-cloths ashore and tilted them in on the meadow betwixt
the house and the ship, and the carle brought them what he had for
their avail, of fresh fruits, and cheeses, and milk, and wine, and
cyder, and honey, and there they feasted nowise ill, and were right
CHAPTER VI: THE OLD MAN TELLS WALTER OF HIMSELF. WALTER SEES A
SHARD IN THE CLIFF-WALL
But when they had done their meat and drink the master and the
shipmen went about the watering of the ship, and the others strayed
off along the meadow, so that presently Walter was left alone with
the carle, and fell to speech with him and said: "Father, meseemeth
thou shouldest have some strange tale to tell, and as yet we have
asked thee of nought save meat for our bellies: now if I ask thee
concerning thy life, and how thou camest hither, and abided here,
wilt thou tell me aught?"
The old man smiled on him and said: "Son, my tale were long to
tell; and mayhappen concerning much thereof my memory should fail
me; and withal there is grief therein, which I were loth to awaken:
nevertheless if thou ask, I will answer as I may, and in any case
will tell thee nought save the truth."
Said Walter: "Well then, hast thou been long here?"
"Yea," said the carle, "since I was a young man, and a stalwarth
Said Walter: "This house, didst thou build it, and raise these
garths, and plant orchard and vineyard, and gather together the neat
and the sheep, or did some other do all this for thee?"
Said the carle: "I did none of all this; there was one here before
me, and I entered into his inheritance, as though this were a lordly
manor, with a fair castle thereon, and all well stocked and
Said Walter: "Didst thou find thy foregoer alive here?"
"Yea," said the elder, "yet he lived but for a little while after I
came to him."
He was silent a while, and then he said: "I slew him: even so
would he have it, though I bade him a better lot."
Said Walter: "Didst thou come hither of thine own will?"
"Mayhappen," said the carle; "who knoweth? Now have I no will to do
either this or that. It is wont that maketh me do, or refrain."
Said Walter: "Tell me this; why didst thou slay the man? did he any
scathe to thee?"
Said the elder: "When I slew him, I deemed that he was doing me all
scathe: but now I know that it was not so. Thus it was: I would
needs go where he had been before, and he stood in the path against
me; and I overthrew him, and went on the way I would."
"What came thereof?" said Walter.
"Evil came of it," said the carle.
Then was Walter silent a while, and the old man spake nothing; but
there came a smile in his face that was both sly and somewhat sad.
Walter looked on him and said: "Was it from hence that thou wouldst
go that road?"
"Yea," said the carle.
Said Walter: "And now wilt thou tell me what that road was; whither
it went and whereto it led, that thou must needs wend it, though thy
first stride were over a dead man?"
"I will not tell thee," said the carle.
Then they held their peace, both of them, and thereafter got on to
other talk of no import.
So wore the day till night came; and they slept safely, and on the
morrow after they had broken their fast, the more part of them set
off with the carle to the hunting, and they went, all of them, a
three hours' faring towards the foot of the cliffs, which was all
grown over with coppice, hazel and thorn, with here and there a big
oak or ash-tree; there it was, said the old man, where the venison
was most and best.
Of their hunting need nought be said, saving that when the carle had
put them on the track of the deer and shown them what to do, he came
back again with Walter, who had no great lust for the hunting, and
sorely longed to have some more talk with the said carle. He for
his part seemed nought loth thereto, and so led Walter to a mound or
hillock amidst the clear of the plain, whence all was to be seen
save where the wood covered it; but just before where they now lay
down there was no wood, save low bushes, betwixt them and the rock-
wall; and Walter noted that whereas otherwhere, save in one place
whereto their eyes were turned, the cliffs seemed wellnigh or quite
sheer, or indeed in some places beetling over, in that said place
they fell away from each other on either side; and before this
sinking was a slope or scree, that went gently up toward the sinking
of the wall. Walter looked long and earnestly at this place, and
spake nought, till the carle said: "What! thou hast found something
before thee to look on. What is it then?"
Quoth Walter: "Some would say that where yonder slopes run together
up towards that sinking in the cliff-wall there will be a pass into
the country beyond."
The carle smiled and said: "Yea, son; nor, so saying, would they
err; for that is the pass into the Bear-country, whereby those huge
men come down to chaffer with me."
"Yea," said Walter; and therewith he turned him a little, and
scanned the rock-wall, and saw how a few miles from that pass it
turned somewhat sharply toward the sea, narrowing the plain much
there, till it made a bight, the face whereof looked wellnigh north,
instead of west, as did the more part of the wall. And in the midst
of that northern-looking bight was a dark place which seemed to
Walter like a downright shard in the cliff. For the face of the
wall was of a bleak grey, and it was but little furrowed.
So then Walter spake: "Lo, old friend, there yonder is again a
place that meseemeth is a pass; whereunto doth that one lead?" And
he pointed to it: but the old man did not follow the pointing of
his finger, but, looking down on the ground, answered confusedly,
"Maybe: I wot not. I deem that it also leadeth into the Bear-
country by a roundabout road. It leadeth into the far land."
Walter answered nought: for a strange thought had come uppermost in
his mind, that the carle knew far more than he would say of that
pass, and that he himself might be led thereby to find the wondrous
three. He caught his breath hardly, and his heart knocked against
his ribs; but he refrained from speaking for a long while; but at
last he spake in a sharp hard voice, which he scarce knew for his
own: "Father, tell me, I adjure thee by God and All-hallows, was it
through yonder shard that the road lay, when thou must needs make
thy first stride over a dead man?"
The old man spake not a while, then he raised his head, and looked
Walter full in the eyes, and said in a steady voice: "NO, IT WAS
NOT." Thereafter they sat looking at each other a while; but at
last Walter turned his eyes away, but knew not what they beheld nor
where he was, but he was as one in a swoon. For he knew full well
that the carle had lied to him, and that he might as well have said
aye as no, and told him, that it verily was by that same shard that
he had stridden over a dead man. Nevertheless he made as little
semblance thereof as he might, and presently came to himself, and
fell to talking of other matters, that had nought to do with the
adventures of the land. But after a while he spake suddenly, and
said: "My master, I was thinking of a thing."
"Yea, of what?" said the carle.
"Of this," said Walter; "that here in this land be strange
adventures toward, and that if we, and I in especial, were to turn
our backs on them, and go home with nothing done, it were pity of
our lives: for all will be dull and deedless there. I was deeming
it were good if we tried the adventure."
"What adventure?" said the old man, rising up on his elbow and
staring sternly on him.
Said Walter: "The wending yonder pass to the eastward, whereby the
huge men come to thee from out of the Bear-country; that we might
see what should come thereof."
The carle leaned back again, and smiled and shook his head, and
spake: "That adventure were speedily proven: death would come of
it, my son."
"Yea, and how?" said Walter.
The carle said: "The big men would take thee, and offer thee up as
a blood-offering to that woman, who is their Mawmet. And if ye go
all, then shall they do the like with all of you."
Said Walter: "Is that sure?"
"Dead sure," said the carle.
"How knowest thou this?" said Walter.
"I have been there myself," said the carle.
"Yea," said Walter, "but thou camest away whole."
"Art thou sure thereof?" said the carle.
"Thou art alive yet, old man," said Walter, "for I have seen thee
eat thy meat, which ghosts use not to do." And he laughed.
But the old man answered soberly: "If I escaped, it was by this,
that another woman saved me, and not often shall that befall. Nor
wholly was I saved; my body escaped forsooth. But where is my soul?
Where is my heart, and my life? Young man, I rede thee, try no such
adventure; but go home to thy kindred if thou canst. Moreover,
wouldst thou fare alone? The others shall hinder thee."
Said Walter: "I am the master; they shall do as I bid them:
besides, they will be well pleased to share my goods amongst them if
I give them a writing to clear them of all charges which might be
brought against them."
"My son! my son!" said the carle, "I pray thee go not to thy death!"
Walter heard him silently, but as if he were persuaded to refrain;
and then the old man fell to, and told him much concerning this
Bear-folk and their customs, speaking very freely of them; but
Walter's ears were scarce open to this talk: whereas he deemed that
he should have nought to do with those wild men; and he durst not
ask again concerning the country whereto led the pass on the
CHAPTER VII: WALTER COMES TO THE SHARD IN THE ROCK-WALL
As they were in converse thus, they heard the hunters blowing on
their horns all together; whereon the old man arose, and said: "I
deem by the blowing that the hunt will be over and done, and that
they be blowing on their fellows who have gone scatter-meal about
the wood. It is now some five hours after noon, and thy men will be
getting back with their venison, and will be fainest of the victuals
they have caught; therefore will I hasten on before, and get ready
fire and water and other matters for the cooking. Wilt thou come
with me, young master, or abide thy men here?"
Walter said lightly: "I will rest and abide them here; since I
cannot fail to see them hence as they go on their ways to thine
house. And it may be well that I be at hand to command them and
forbid, and put some order amongst them, for rough playmates they
be, some of them, and now all heated with the hunting and the joy of
the green earth." Thus he spoke, as if nought were toward save
supper and bed; but inwardly hope and fear were contending in him,
and again his heart beat so hard, that he deemed that the carle must
surely hear it. But the old man took him but according to his
outward seeming, and nodded his head, and went away quietly toward
When he had been gone a little, Walter rose up heedfully; he had
with him a scrip wherein was some cheese and hard-fish, and a little
flasket of wine; a short bow he had with him, and a quiver of
arrows; and he was girt with a strong and good sword, and a wood-
knife withal. He looked to all this gear that it was nought amiss,
and then speedily went down off the mound, and when he was come
down, he found that it covered him from men coming out of the wood,
if he went straight thence to that shard of the rock-wall where was
the pass that led southward.
Now it is no nay that thitherward he turned, and went wisely, lest
the carle should make a backward cast, and see him, or lest any
straggler of his own folk might happen upon him.
For to say sooth, he deemed that did they wind him, they would be
like to let him of his journey. He had noted the bearings of the
cliffs nigh the shard, and whereas he could see their heads
everywhere except from the depths of the thicket, he was not like to
He had made no great way ere he heard the horns blowing all together
again in one place, and looking thitherward through the leafy boughs
(for he was now amidst of a thicket) he saw his men thronging the
mound, and had no doubt therefore that they were blowing on him; but
being well under cover he heeded it nought, and lying still a
little, saw them go down off the mound and go all of them toward the
carle's house, still blowing as they went, but not faring scatter-
meal. Wherefore it was clear that they were nought troubled about
So he went on his way to the shard; and there is nothing to say of
his journey till he got before it with the last of the clear day,
and entered it straightway. It was in sooth a downright breach or
cleft in the rock-wall, and there was no hill or bent leading up to
it, nothing but a tumble of stones before it, which was somewhat
uneasy going, yet needed nought but labour to overcome it, and when
he had got over this, and was in the very pass itself, he found it
no ill going: forsooth at first it was little worse than a rough
road betwixt two great stony slopes, though a little trickle of
water ran down amidst of it. So, though it was so nigh nightfall,
yet Walter pressed on, yea, and long after the very night was come.
For the moon rose wide and bright a little after nightfall. But at
last he had gone so long, and was so wearied, that he deemed it
nought but wisdom to rest him, and so lay down on a piece of
greensward betwixt the stones, when he had eaten a morsel out of his
satchel, and drunk of the water out of the stream. There as he lay,
if he had any doubt of peril, his weariness soon made it all one to
him, for presently he was sleeping as soundly as any man in Langton
CHAPTER VIII: WALTER WENDS THE WASTE
Day was yet young when he awoke: he leapt to his feet, and went
down to the stream and drank of its waters, and washed the night off
him in a pool thereof, and then set forth on his way again. When he
had gone some three hours, the road, which had been going up all the
way, but somewhat gently, grew steeper, and the bent on either side
lowered, and lowered, till it sank at last altogether, and then was
he on a rough mountain-neck with little grass, and no water; save
that now and again was a soft place with a flow amidst of it, and
such places he must needs fetch a compass about, lest he be mired.
He gave himself but little rest, eating what he needs must as he
went. The day was bright and calm, so that the sun was never
hidden, and he steered by it due south. All that day he went, and
found no more change in that huge neck, save that whiles it was more
and whiles less steep. A little before nightfall he happened on a
shallow pool some twenty yards over; and he deemed it good to rest
there, since there was water for his avail, though he might have
made somewhat more out of the tail end of the day.
When dawn came again he awoke and arose, nor spent much time over
his breakfast; but pressed on all he might; and now he said to
himself, that whatsoever other peril were athwart his way, he was
out of the danger of the chase of his own folk.
All this while he had seen no four-footed beast, save now and again
a hill-fox, and once some outlandish kind of hare; and of fowl but
very few: a crow or two, a long-winged hawk, and twice an eagle
high up aloft.
Again, the third night, he slept in the stony wilderness, which
still led him up and up. Only toward the end of the day, himseemed
that it had been less steep for a long while: otherwise nought was
changed, on all sides it was nought but the endless neck, wherefrom
nought could be seen, but some other part of itself. This fourth
night withal he found no water whereby he might rest, so that he
awoke parched, and longing to drink just when the dawn was at its
But on the fifth morrow the ground rose but little, and at last,
when he had been going wearily a long while, and now, hard on
noontide, his thirst grieved him sorely, he came on a spring welling
out from under a high rock, the water wherefrom trickled feebly
away. So eager was he to drink, that at first he heeded nought
else; but when his thirst was fully quenched his eyes caught sight
of the stream which flowed from the well, and he gave a shout, for
lo! it was running south. Wherefore it was with a merry heart that
he went on, and as he went, came on more streams, all running south
or thereabouts. He hastened on all he might, but in despite of all
the speed he made, and that he felt the land now going down
southward, night overtook him in that same wilderness. Yet when he
stayed at last for sheer weariness, he lay down in what he deemed by
the moonlight to be a shallow valley, with a ridge at the southern
He slept long, and when he awoke the sun was high in the heavens,
and never was brighter or clearer morning on the earth than was
that. He arose and ate of what little was yet left him, and drank
of the water of a stream which he had followed the evening before,
and beside which he had laid him down; and then set forth again with
no great hope to come on new tidings that day. But yet when he was
fairly afoot, himseemed that there was something new in the air
which he breathed, that was soft and bore sweet scents home to him;
whereas heretofore, and that especially for the last three or four
days, it had been harsh and void, like the face of the desert
So on he went, and presently was mounting the ridge aforesaid, and,
as oft happens when one climbs a steep place, he kept his eyes on
the ground, till he felt he was on the top of the ridge. Then he
stopped to take breath, and raised his head and looked, and lo! he
was verily on the brow of the great mountain-neck, and down below
him was the hanging of the great hill-slopes, which fell down, not
slowly, as those he had been those days a-mounting, but speedily
enough, though with little of broken places or sheer cliffs. But
beyond this last of the desert there was before him a lovely land of
wooded hills, green plains, and little valleys, stretching out far
and wide, till it ended at last in great blue mountains and white
snowy peaks beyond them.
Then for very surprise of joy his spirit wavered, and he felt faint
and dizzy, so that he was fain to sit down a while and cover his
face with his hands. Presently he came to his sober mind again, and
stood up and looked forth keenly, and saw no sign of any dwelling of
man. But he said to himself that that might well be because the
good and well-grassed land was still so far off, and that he might
yet look to find men and their dwellings when he had left the
mountain wilderness quite behind him: So therewith he fell to going
his ways down the mountain, and lost little time therein, whereas he
now had his livelihood to look to.
CHAPTER IX: WALTER HAPPENETH ON THE FIRST OF THOSE THREE CREATURES
What with one thing, what with another, as his having to turn out of
his way for sheer rocks, or for slopes so steep that he might not
try the peril of them, and again for bogs impassable, he was fully
three days more before he had quite come out of the stony waste, and
by that time, though he had never lacked water, his scanty victual
was quite done, for all his careful husbandry thereof. But this
troubled him little, whereas he looked to find wild fruits here and
there and to shoot some small deer, as hare or coney, and make a
shift to cook the same, since he had with him flint and fire-steel.
Moreover the further he went, the surer he was that he should soon
come across a dwelling, so smooth and fair as everything looked
before him. And he had scant fear, save that he might happen on men
who should enthrall him.
But when he was come down past the first green slopes, he was so
worn, that he said to himself that rest was better than meat, so
little as he had slept for the last three days; so he laid him down
under an ash-tree by a stream-side, nor asked what was o'clock, but
had his fill of sleep, and even when he awoke in the fresh morning
was little fain of rising, but lay betwixt sleeping and waking for
some three hours more; then he arose, and went further down the next
green bent, yet somewhat slowly because of his hunger-weakness. And
the scent of that fair land came up to him like the odour of one
So he came to where the land was level, and there were many trees,
as oak and ash, and sweet-chestnut and wych-elm, and hornbeam and
quicken-tree, not growing in a close wood or tangled thicket, but
set as though in order on the flowery greensward, even as it might
be in a great king's park.
So came he to a big bird-cherry, whereof many boughs hung low down
laden with fruit: his belly rejoiced at the sight, and he caught
hold of a bough, and fell to plucking and eating. But whiles he was
amidst of this, he heard suddenly, close anigh him, a strange noise
of roaring and braying, not very great, but exceeding fierce and
terrible, and not like to the voice of any beast that he knew. As
has been aforesaid, Walter was no faint-heart; but what with the
weakness of his travail and hunger, what with the strangeness of his
adventure and his loneliness, his spirit failed him; he turned round
towards the noise, his knees shook and he trembled: this way and
that he looked, and then gave a great cry and tumbled down in a
swoon; for close before him, at his very feet, was the dwarf whose
image he had seen before, clad in his yellow coat, and grinning up
at him from his hideous hairy countenance.
How long he lay there as one dead, he knew not, but when he woke
again there was the dwarf sitting on his hams close by him. And
when he lifted up his head, the dwarf sent out that fearful harsh
voice again; but this time Walter could make out words therein, and
knew that the creature spoke and said:
"How now! What art thou? Whence comest? What wantest?"
Walter sat up and said: "I am a man; I hight Golden Walter; I come
from Langton; I want victual."
Said the dwarf, writhing his face grievously, and laughing forsooth:
"I know it all: I asked thee to see what wise thou wouldst lie. I
was sent forth to look for thee; and I have brought thee loathsome
bread with me, such as ye aliens must needs eat: take it!"
Therewith he drew a loaf from a satchel which he bore, and thrust it
towards Walter, who took it somewhat doubtfully for all his hunger.
The dwarf yelled at him: "Art thou dainty, alien? Wouldst thou
have flesh? Well, give me thy bow and an arrow or two, since thou
art lazy-sick, and I will get thee a coney or a hare, or a quail
maybe. Ah, I forgot; thou art dainty, and wilt not eat flesh as I
do, blood and all together, but must needs half burn it in the fire,
or mar it with hot water; as they say my Lady does: or as the
Wretch, the Thing does; I know that, for I have seen It eating."
"Nay," said Walter, "this sufficeth;" and he fell to eating the
bread, which was sweet between his teeth. Then when he had eaten a
while, for hunger compelled him, he said to the dwarf: "But what
meanest thou by the Wretch and the Thing? And what Lady is thy
The creature let out another wordless roar as of furious anger; and
then the words came: "It hath a face white and red, like to thine;
and hands white as thine, yea, but whiter; and the like it is
underneath its raiment, only whiter still: for I have seen It--yes,
I have seen It; ah yes and yes and yes."
And therewith his words ran into gibber and yelling, and he rolled
about and smote at the grass: but in a while he grew quiet again
and sat still, and then fell to laughing horribly again, and then
said: "But thou, fool, wilt think It fair if thou fallest into Its
hands, and wilt repent it thereafter, as I did. Oh, the mocking and
gibes of It, and the tears and shrieks of It; and the knife! What!
sayest thou of my Lady?--What Lady? O alien, what other Lady is
there? And what shall I tell thee of her? it is like that she made
me, as she made the Bear men. But she made not the Wretch, the
Thing; and she hateth It sorely, as I do. And some day to come--"
Thereat he brake off and fell to wordless yelling a long while, and
thereafter spake all panting: "Now I have told thee overmuch, and O
if my Lady come to hear thereof. Now I will go."
And therewith he took out two more loaves from his wallet, and
tossed them to Walter, and so turned and went his ways; whiles
walking upright, as Walter had seen his image on the quay of
Langton; whiles bounding and rolling like a ball thrown by a lad;
whiles scuttling along on all-fours like an evil beast, and ever and
anon giving forth that harsh and evil cry.
Walter sat a while after he was out of sight, so stricken with
horror and loathing and a fear of he knew not what, that he might
not move. Then he plucked up a heart, and looked to his weapons and
put the other loaves into his scrip.
Then he arose and went his ways wondering, yea and dreading, what
kind of creature he should next fall in with. For soothly it seemed
to him that it would be worse than death if they were all such as
this one; and that if it were so, he must needs slay and be slain.
CHAPTER X: WALTER HAPPENETH ON ANOTHER CREATURE IN THE STRANGE LAND
But as he went on through the fair and sweet land so bright and sun-
litten, and he now rested and fed, the horror and fear ran off from
him, and he wandered on merrily, neither did aught befall him save
the coming of night, when he laid him down under a great spreading
oak with his drawn sword ready to hand, and fell asleep at once, and
woke not till the sun was high.
Then he arose and went on his way again; and the land was no worser
than yesterday; but even better, it might be; the greensward more
flowery, the oaks and chestnuts greater. Deer of diverse kinds he
saw, and might easily have got his meat thereof; but he meddled not
with them since he had his bread, and was timorous of lighting a
fire. Withal he doubted little of having some entertainment; and
that, might be, nought evil; since even that fearful dwarf had been
courteous to him after his kind, and had done him good and not harm.
But of the happening on the Wretch and the Thing, whereof the dwarf
spake, he was yet somewhat afeard.
After he had gone a while and whenas the summer morn was at its
brightest, he saw a little way ahead a grey rock rising up from
amidst of a ring of oak-trees; so he turned thither straightway; for
in this plain-land he had seen no rocks heretofore; and as he went
he saw that there was a fountain gushing out from under the rock,
which ran thence in a fair little stream. And when he had the rock
and the fountain and the stream clear before him, lo! a child of
Adam sitting beside the fountain under the shadow of the rock. He
drew a little nigher, and then he saw that it was a woman, clad in
green like the sward whereon she lay. She was playing with the
welling out of the water, and she had trussed up her sleeves to the
shoulder that she might thrust her bare arms therein. Her shoes of
black leather lay on the grass beside her, and her feet and legs yet
shone with the brook.
Belike amidst the splashing and clatter of the water she did not
hear him drawing nigh, so that he was close to her before she lifted
up her face and saw him, and he beheld her, that it was the maiden
of the thrice-seen pageant. She reddened when she saw him, and
hastily covered up her legs with her gown-skirt, and drew down the
sleeves over her arms, but otherwise stirred not. As for him, he
stood still, striving to speak to her; but no word might he bring
out, and his heart beat sorely.
But the maiden spake to him in a clear sweet voice, wherein was now
no trouble: "Thou art an alien, art thou not? For I have not seen
"Yea," he said, "I am an alien; wilt thou be good to me?"
She said: "And why not? I was afraid at first, for I thought it
had been the King's Son. I looked to see none other; for of goodly
men he has been the only one here in the land this long while, till
He said: "Didst thou look for my coming at about this time?"
"O nay," she said; "how might I?"
Said Walter: "I wot not; but the other man seemed to be looking for
me, and knew of me, and he brought me bread to eat."
She looked on him anxiously, and grew somewhat pale, as she said:
"What other one?"
Now Walter did not know what the dwarf might be to her, fellow-
servant or what not, so he would not show his loathing of him; but
answered wisely: "The little man in the yellow raiment."
But when she heard that word, she went suddenly very pale, and
leaned her head aback, and beat the air with her hands; but said
presently in a faint voice: "I pray thee talk not of that one while
I am by, nor even think of him, if thou mayest forbear."
He spake not, and she was a little while before she came to herself
again; then she opened her eyes, and looked upon Walter and smiled
kindly on him, as though to ask his pardon for having scared him.
Then she rose up in her place, and stood before him; and they were
nigh together, for the stream betwixt them was little.
But he still looked anxiously upon her and said: "Have I hurt thee?
I pray thy pardon."
She looked on him more sweetly still, and said: "O nay; thou
wouldst not hurt me, thou!"
Then she blushed very red, and he in like wise; but afterwards she
turned pale, and laid a hand on her breast, and Walter cried out
hastily: "O me! I have hurt thee again. Wherein have I done
"In nought, in nought," she said; "but I am troubled, I wot not
wherefore; some thought hath taken hold of me, and I know it not.
Mayhappen in a little while I shall know what troubles me. Now I
bid thee depart from me a little, and I will abide here; and when
thou comest back, it will either be that I have found it out or not;
and in either case I will tell thee."
She spoke earnestly to him; but he said: "How long shall I abide
Her face was troubled as she answered him: "For no long while."
He smiled on her and turned away, and went a space to the other side
of the oak-trees, whence she was still within eyeshot. There he
abode until the time seemed long to him; but he schooled himself and
forbore; for he said: Lest she send me away again. So he abided
until again the time seemed long to him, and she called not to him:
but once again he forbore to go; then at last he arose, and his
heart beat and he trembled, and he walked back again speedily, and
came to the maiden, who was still standing by the rock of the
spring, her arms hanging down, her eyes downcast. She looked up at
him as he drew nigh, and her face changed with eagerness as she
said: "I am glad thou art come back, though it be no long while
since thy departure" (sooth to say it was scarce half an hour in
all). "Nevertheless I have been thinking many things, and thereof
will I now tell thee."
He said: "Maiden, there is a river betwixt us, though it be no big
one. Shall I not stride over, and come to thee, that we may sit
down together side by side on the green grass?"
"Nay," she said, "not yet; tarry a while till I have told thee of
matters. I must now tell thee of my thoughts in order."
Her colour went and came now, and she plaited the folds of her gown
with restless fingers. At last she said: "Now the first thing is
this; that though thou hast seen me first only within this hour,
thou hast set thine heart upon me to have me for thy speech-friend
and thy darling. And if this be not so, then is all my speech, yea
and all my hope, come to an end at once."
"O yea!" said Walter, "even so it is: but how thou hast found this
out I wot not; since now for the first time I say it, that thou art
indeed my love, and my dear and my darling."
"Hush," she said, "hush! lest the wood have ears, and thy speech is
loud: abide, and I shall tell thee how I know it. Whether this thy
love shall outlast the first time that thou holdest my body in thine
arms, I wot not, nor dost thou. But sore is my hope that it may be
so; for I also, though it be but scarce an hour since I set eyes on
thee, have cast mine eyes on thee to have thee for my love and my
darling, and my speech-friend. And this is how I wot that thou
lovest me, my friend. Now is all this dear and joyful, and
overflows my heart with sweetness. But now must I tell thee of the
fear and the evil which lieth behind it."
Then Walter stretched out his hands to her, and cried out: "Yea,
yea! But whatever evil entangle us, now we both know these two
things, to wit, that thou lovest me, and I thee, wilt thou not come
hither, that I may cast mine arms about thee, and kiss thee, if not
thy kind lips or thy friendly face at all, yet at least thy dear
hand: yea, that I may touch thy body in some wise?"
She looked on him steadily, and said softly: "Nay, this above all
things must not be; and that it may not be is a part of the evil
which entangles us. But hearken, friend, once again I tell thee
that thy voice is over loud in this wilderness fruitful of evil.
Now I have told thee, indeed, of two things whereof we both wot; but
next I must needs tell thee of things whereof I wot, and thou
wottest not. Yet this were better, that thou pledge thy word not to
touch so much as one of my hands, and that we go together a little
way hence away from these tumbled stones, and sit down upon the open
greensward; whereas here is cover if there be spying abroad."
Again, as she spoke, she turned very pale; but Walter said: "Since
it must be so, I pledge thee my word to thee as I love thee."
And therewith she knelt down, and did on her foot-gear, and then
sprang lightly over the rivulet; and then the twain of them went
side by side some half a furlong thence, and sat down, shadowed by
the boughs of a slim quicken-tree growing up out of the greensward,
whereon for a good space around was neither bush nor brake.
There began the maiden to talk soberly, and said: "This is what I
must needs say to thee now, that thou art come into a land perilous
for any one that loveth aught of good; from which, forsooth, I were
fain that thou wert gotten away safely, even though I should die of
longing for thee. As for myself, my peril is, in a measure, less
than thine; I mean the peril of death. But lo, thou, this iron on
my foot is token that I am a thrall, and thou knowest in what wise
thralls must pay for transgressions. Furthermore, of what I am, and
how I came hither, time would fail me to tell; but somewhile, maybe,
I shall tell thee. I serve an evil mistress, of whom I may say that
scarce I wot if she be a woman or not; but by some creatures is she
accounted for a god, and as a god is heried; and surely never god
was crueller nor colder than she. Me she hateth sorely; yet if she
hated me little or nought, small were the gain to me if it were her
pleasure to deal hardly by me. But as things now are, and are like
to be, it would not be for her pleasure, but for her pain and loss,
to make an end of me, therefore, as I said e'en now, my mere life is
not in peril with her; unless, perchance, some sudden passion get
the better of her, and she slay me, and repent of it thereafter.
For so it is, that if it be the least evil of her conditions that
she is wanton, at least wanton she is to the letter. Many a time
hath she cast the net for the catching of some goodly young man; and
her latest prey (save it be thou) is the young man whom I named,
when first I saw thee, by the name of the King's Son. He is with us
yet, and I fear him; for of late hath he wearied of her, though it
is but plain truth to say of her, that she is the wonder of all
Beauties of the World. He hath wearied of her, I say, and hath cast
his eyes upon me, and if I were heedless, he would betray me to the
uttermost of the wrath of my mistress. For needs must I say of him,
though he be a goodly man, and now fallen into thralldom, that he
hath no bowels of compassion; but is a dastard, who for an hour's
pleasure would undo me, and thereafter would stand by smiling and
taking my mistress's pardon with good cheer, while for me would be
no pardon. Seest thou, therefore, how it is with me between these
two cruel fools? And moreover there are others of whom I will not
even speak to thee."
And therewith she put her hands before her face, and wept, and
murmured: "Who shall deliver me from this death in life?"
But Walter cried out: "For what else am I come hither, I, I?"
And it was a near thing that he did not take her in his arms, but he
remembered his pledged word, and drew aback from her in terror,
whereas he had an inkling of why she would not suffer it; and he
wept with her.
But suddenly the Maid left weeping, and said in a changed voice:
"Friend, whereas thou speakest of delivering me, it is more like
that I shall deliver thee. And now I pray thy pardon for thus
grieving thee with my grief, and that more especially because thou
mayst not solace thy grief with kisses and caresses; but so it was,
that for once I was smitten by the thought of the anguish of this
land, and the joy of all the world besides."
Therewith she caught her breath in a half-sob, but refrained her and
went on: "Now dear friend and darling, take good heed to all that I
shall say to thee, whereas thou must do after the teaching of my
words. And first, I deem by the monster having met thee at the
gates of the land, and refreshed thee, that the Mistress hath looked
for thy coming; nay, by thy coming hither at all, that she hath cast
her net and caught thee. Hast thou noted aught that might seem to
make this more like?"
Said Walter: "Three times in full daylight have I seen go past me
the images of the monster and thee and a glorious lady, even as if
ye were alive."
And therewith he told her in few words how it had gone with him
since that day on the quay at Langton.
She said: "Then it is no longer perhaps, but certain, that thou art
her latest catch; and even so I deemed from the first: and, dear
friend, this is why I have not suffered thee to kiss or caress me,
so sore as I longed for thee. For the Mistress will have thee for
her only, and hath lured thee hither for nought else; and she is
wise in wizardry (even as some deal am I), and wert thou to touch me
with hand or mouth on my naked flesh, yea, or were it even my
raiment, then would she scent the savour of thy love upon me, and
then, though it may be she would spare thee, she would not spare
Then was she silent a little, and seemed very downcast, and Walter
held his peace from grief and confusion and helplessness; for of
wizardry he knew nought.
At last the Maid spake again, and said: "Nevertheless we will not
die redeless. Now thou must look to this, that from henceforward it
is thee, and not the King's Son, whom she desireth, and that so much
the more that she hath not set eyes on thee. Remember this,
whatsoever her seeming may be to thee. Now, therefore, shall the
King's Son be free, though he know it not, to cast his love on
whomso he will; and, in a way, I also shall be free to yeasay him.
Though, forsooth, so fulfilled is she with malice and spite, that
even then she may turn round on me to punish me for doing that which
she would have me do. Now let me think of it."
Then was she silent a good while, and spoke at last: "Yea, all
things are perilous, and a perilous rede I have thought of, whereof
I will not tell thee as yet; so waste not the short while by asking
me. At least the worst will be no worse than what shall come if we
strive not against it. And now, my friend, amongst perils it is
growing more and more perilous that we twain should be longer
together. But I would say one thing yet; and maybe another
thereafter. Thou hast cast thy love upon one who will be true to
thee, whatsoever may befall; yet is she a guileful creature, and
might not help it her life long, and now for thy very sake must
needs be more guileful now than ever before. And as for me, the
guileful, my love have I cast upon a lovely man, and one true and
simple, and a stout-heart; but at such a pinch is he, that if he
withstand all temptation, his withstanding may belike undo both him
and me. Therefore swear we both of us, that by both of us shall all
guile and all falling away be forgiven on the day when we shall be
free to love each the other as our hearts will."
Walter cried out: "O love, I swear it indeed! thou art my Hallow,
and I will swear it as on the relics of a Hallow; on thy hands and
thy feet I swear it."
The words seemed to her a dear caress; and she laughed, and blushed,
and looked full kindly on him; and then her face grew solemn, and
she said: "On thy life I swear it!"
Then she said: "Now is there nought for thee to do but to go hence
straight to the Golden House, which is my Mistress's house, and the
only house in this land (save one which I may not see), and lieth
southward no long way. How she will deal with thee, I wot not; but
all I have said of her and thee and the King's Son is true.
Therefore I say to thee, be wary and cold at heart, whatsoever
outward semblance thou mayst make. If thou have to yield thee to
her, then yield rather late than early, so as to gain time. Yet not
so late as to seem shamed in yielding for fear's sake. Hold fast to
thy life, my friend, for in warding that, thou wardest me from grief
without remedy. Thou wilt see me ere long; it may be to-morrow, it
may be some days hence. But forget not, that what I may do, that I
am doing. Take heed also that thou pay no more heed to me, or
rather less, than if thou wert meeting a maiden of no account in the
streets of thine own town. O my love! barren is this first
farewell, as was our first meeting; but surely shall there be
another meeting better than the first, and the last farewell may be
long and long yet."
Therewith she stood up, and he knelt before her a little while
without any word, and then arose and went his ways; but when he had
gone a space he turned about, and saw her still standing in the same
place; she stayed a moment when she saw him turn, and then herself
So he departed through the fair land, and his heart was full with
hope and fear as he went.
CHAPTER XI: WALTER HAPPENETH ON THE MISTRESS
It was but a little after noon when Walter left the Maid behind: he
steered south by the sun, as the Maid had bidden him, and went
swiftly; for, as a good knight wending to battle, the time seemed
long to him till he should meet the foe.
So an hour before sunset he saw something white and gay gleaming
through the boles of the oak-trees, and presently there was clear
before him a most goodly house builded of white marble, carved all
about with knots and imagery, and the carven folk were all painted
of their lively colours, whether it were their raiment or their
flesh, and the housings wherein they stood all done with gold and
fair hues. Gay were the windows of the house; and there was a
pillared porch before the great door, with images betwixt the
pillars both of men and beasts: and when Walter looked up to the
roof of the house, he saw that it gleamed and shone; for all the
tiles were of yellow metal, which he deemed to be of very gold.
All this he saw as he went, and tarried not to gaze upon it; for he
said, Belike there will be time for me to look on all this before I
die. But he said also, that, though the house was not of the
greatest, it was beyond compare of all houses of the world.
Now he entered it by the porch, and came into a hall many-pillared,
and vaulted over, the walls painted with gold and ultramarine, the
floor dark, and spangled with many colours, and the windows glazed
with knots and pictures. Midmost thereof was a fountain of gold,
whence the water ran two ways in gold-lined runnels, spanned twice
with little bridges of silver. Long was that hall, and now not very
light, so that Walter was come past the fountain before he saw any
folk therein: then he looked up toward the high-seat, and himseemed
that a great light shone thence, and dazzled his eyes; and he went
on a little way, and then fell on his knees; for there before him on
the high-seat sat that wondrous Lady, whose lively image had been
shown to him thrice before; and she was clad in gold and jewels, as
he had erst seen her. But now she was not alone; for by her side
sat a young man, goodly enough, so far as Walter might see him, and
most richly clad, with a jewelled sword by his side, and a chaplet
of gems on his head. They held each other by the hand, and seemed
to be in dear converse together; but they spake softly, so that
Walter might not hear what they said, till at last the man spake
aloud to the Lady: "Seest thou not that there is a man in the
"Yea," she said, "I see him yonder, kneeling on his knees; let him
come nigher and give some account of himself."
So Walter stood up and drew nigh, and stood there, all shamefaced
and confused, looking on those twain, and wondering at the beauty of
the Lady. As for the man, who was slim, and black-haired, and
straight-featured, for all his goodliness Walter accounted him
little, and nowise deemed him to look chieftain-like.
Now the Lady spake not to Walter any more than erst; but at last the
man said: "Why doest thou not kneel as thou didst erewhile?"
Walter was on the point of giving him back a fierce answer; but the
Lady spake and said: "Nay, friend, it matters not whether he kneel
or stand; but he may say, if he will, what he would have of me, and
wherefore he is come hither."
Then spake Walter, for as wroth and ashamed as he was: "Lady, I
have strayed into this land, and have come to thine house as I
suppose, and if I be not welcome, I may well depart straightway, and
seek a way out of thy land, if thou wouldst drive me thence, as well
as out of thine house."
Thereat the Lady turned and looked on him, and when her eyes met
his, he felt a pang of fear and desire mingled shoot through his
heart. This time she spoke to him; but coldly, without either wrath
or any thought of him: "Newcomer," she said, "I have not bidden
thee hither; but here mayst thou abide a while if thou wilt;
nevertheless, take heed that here is no King's Court. There is,
forsooth, a folk that serveth me (or, it may be, more than one), of
whom thou wert best to know nought. Of others I have but two
servants, whom thou wilt see; and the one is a strange creature, who
should scare thee or scathe thee with a good will, but of a good
will shall serve nought save me; the other is a woman, a thrall, of
little avail, save that, being compelled, she will work woman's
service for me, but whom none else shall compel . . . Yea, but what
is all this to thee; or to me that I should tell it to thee? I will
not drive thee away; but if thine entertainment please thee not,
make no plaint thereof to me, but depart at thy will. Now is this
talk betwixt us overlong, since, as thou seest, I and this King's
Son are in converse together. Art thou a King's Son?"
"Nay, Lady," said Walter, "I am but of the sons of the merchants."
"It matters not," she said; "go thy ways into one of the chambers."
And straightway she fell a-talking to the man who sat beside her
concerning the singing of the birds beneath her window in the
morning; and of how she had bathed her that day in a pool of the
woodlands, when she had been heated with hunting, and so forth; and
all as if there had been none there save her and the King's Son.
But Walter departed all ashamed, as though he had been a poor man
thrust away from a rich kinsman's door; and he said to himself that
this woman was hateful, and nought love-worthy, and that she was
little like to tempt him, despite all the fairness of her body.
No one else he saw in the house that even; he found meat and drink
duly served on a fair table, and thereafter he came on a goodly bed,
and all things needful, but no child of Adam to do him service, or
bid him welcome or warning. Nevertheless he ate, and drank, and
slept, and put off thought of all these things till the morrow, all
the more as he hoped to see the kind maiden some time betwixt
sunrise and sunset on that new day.
CHAPTER XII: THE WEARING OF FOUR DAYS IN THE WOOD BEYOND THE WORLD
He arose betimes, but found no one to greet him, neither was there
any sound of folk moving within the fair house; so he but broke his
fast, and then went forth and wandered amongst the trees, till he
found him a stream to bathe in, and after he had washed the night
off him he lay down under a tree thereby for a while, but soon
turned back toward the house, lest perchance the Maid should come
thither and he should miss her.
It should be said that half a bow-shot from the house on that side
(i.e. due north thereof) was a little hazel-brake, and round about
it the trees were smaller of kind than the oaks and chestnuts he had
passed through before, being mostly of birch and quicken-beam and
young ash, with small wood betwixt them; so now he passed through
the thicket, and, coming to the edge thereof, beheld the Lady and
the King's Son walking together hand in hand, full lovingly by
He deemed it unmeet to draw back and hide him, so he went forth past
them toward the house. The King's Son scowled on him as he passed,
but the Lady, over whose beauteous face flickered the joyous morning
smiles, took no more heed of him than if he had been one of the
trees of the wood. But she had been so high and disdainful with him
the evening before, that he thought little of that. The twain went
on, skirting the hazel-copse, and he could not choose but turn his
eyes on them, so sorely did the Lady's beauty draw them. Then
befell another thing; for behind them the boughs of the hazels
parted, and there stood that little evil thing, he or another of his
kind; for he was quite unclad, save by his fell of yellowy-brown
hair, and that he was girt with a leathern girdle, wherein was stuck
an ugly two-edged knife: he stood upright a moment, and cast his
eyes at Walter and grinned, but not as if he knew him; and scarce
could Walter say whether it were the one he had seen, or another:
then he cast himself down on his belly, and fell to creeping through
the long grass like a serpent, following the footsteps of the Lady
and her lover; and now, as he crept, Walter deemed, in his loathing,
that the creature was liker to a ferret than aught else. He crept
on marvellous swiftly, and was soon clean out of sight. But Walter
stood staring after him for a while, and then lay down by the copse-
side, that he might watch the house and the entry thereof; for he
thought, now perchance presently will the kind maiden come hither to
comfort me with a word or two. But hour passed by hour, and still
she came not; and still he lay there, and thought of the Maid, and
longed for her kindness and wisdom, till he could not refrain his
tears, and wept for the lack of her. Then he arose, and went and
sat in the porch, and was very downcast of mood.
But as he sat there, back comes the Lady again, the King's Son
leading her by the hand; they entered the porch, and she passed by
him so close that the odour of her raiment filled all the air about
him, and the sleekness of her side nigh touched him, so that he
could not fail to note that her garments were somewhat disarrayed,
and that she kept her right hand (for her left the King's Son held)
to her bosom to hold the cloth together there, whereas the rich
raiment had been torn off from her right shoulder. As they passed
by him, the King's Son once more scowled on him, wordless, but even
more fiercely than before; and again the Lady heeded him nought.
After they had gone on a while, he entered the hall, and found it
empty from end to end, and no sound in it save the tinkling of the
fountain; but there was victual set on the board. He ate and drank
thereof to keep life lusty within him, and then went out again to
the wood-side to watch and to long; and the time hung heavy on his
hands because of the lack of the fair Maiden.
He was of mind not to go into the house to his rest that night, but
to sleep under the boughs of the forest. But a little after sunset
he saw a bright-clad image moving amidst the carven images of the
porch, and the King's Son came forth and went straight to him, and
said: "Thou art to enter the house, and go into thy chamber
forthwith, and by no means to go forth of it betwixt sunset and
sunrise. My Lady will not away with thy prowling round the house in
Therewith he turned away, and went into the house again; and Walter
followed him soberly, remembering how the Maid had bidden him
forbear. So he went to his chamber, and slept.
But amidst of the night he awoke and deemed that he heard a voice
not far off, so he crept out of his bed and peered around, lest,
perchance, the Maid had come to speak with him; but his chamber was
dusk and empty: then he went to the window and looked out, and saw
the moon shining bright and white upon the greensward. And lo! the
Lady walking with the King's Son, and he clad in thin and wanton
raiment, but she in nought else save what God had given her of long,
crispy yellow hair. Then was Walter ashamed to look on her, seeing
that there was a man with her, and gat him back to his bed; but yet
a long while ere he slept again he had the image before his eyes of
the fair woman on the dewy moonlit grass.
The next day matters went much the same way, and the next also, save
that his sorrow was increased, and he sickened sorely of hope
deferred. On the fourth day also the forenoon wore as erst; but in
the heat of the afternoon Walter sought to the hazel-copse, and laid
him down there hard by a little clearing thereof, and slept from
very weariness of grief. There, after a while, he woke with words
still hanging in his ears, and he knew at once that it was they
twain talking together.
The King's Son had just done his say, and now it was the Lady
beginning in her honey-sweet voice, low but strong, wherein even was
a little of huskiness; she said: "Otto, belike it were well to have
a little patience, till we find out what the man is, and whence he
cometh; it will always be easy to rid us of him; it is but a word to
our Dwarf-king, and it will be done in a few minutes."
"Patience!" said the King's Son, angrily; "I wot not how to have
patience with him; for I can see of him that he is rude and violent
and headstrong, and a low-born wily one. Forsooth, he had patience
enough with me the other even, when I rated him in, like the dog
that he is, and he had no manhood to say one word to me. Soothly,
as he followed after me, I had a mind to turn about and deal him a
buffet on the face, to see if I could but draw one angry word from
The Lady laughed, and said: "Well, Otto, I know not; that which
thou deemest dastardy in him may be but prudence and wisdom, and he
an alien, far from his friends and nigh to his foes. Perchance we
shall yet try him what he is. Meanwhile, I rede thee try him not
with buffets, save he be weaponless and with bounden hands; or else
I deem that but a little while shalt thou be fain of thy blow."
Now when Walter heard her words and the voice wherein they were
said, he might not forbear being stirred by them, and to him, all
lonely there, they seemed friendly.
But he lay still, and the King's Son answered the Lady and said: "I
know not what is in thine heart concerning this runagate, that thou
shouldst bemock me with his valiancy, whereof thou knowest nought.
If thou deem me unworthy of thee, send me back safe to my father's
country; I may look to have worship there; yea, and the love of fair
Therewith it seemed as if he had put forth his hand to the Lady to
caress her, for she said: "Nay, lay not thine hand on my shoulder,
for to-day and now it is not the hand of love, but of pride and
folly, and would-be mastery. Nay, neither shalt thou rise up and
leave me until thy mood is softer and kinder to me."
Then was there silence betwixt them a while, and thereafter the
King's Son spake in a wheedling voice: "My goddess, I pray thee
pardon me! But canst thou wonder that I fear thy wearying of me,
and am therefore peevish and jealous? thou so far above the Queens
of the World, and I a poor youth that without thee were nothing!"
She answered nought, and he went on again: "Was it not so, O
goddess, that this man of the sons of the merchants was little
heedful of thee, and thy loveliness and thy majesty?"
She laughed and said: "Maybe he deemed not that he had much to gain
of us, seeing thee sitting by our side, and whereas we spake to him
coldly and sternly and disdainfully. Withal, the poor youth was
dazzled and shamefaced before us; that we could see in the eyes and
the mien of him."
Now this she spoke so kindly and sweetly, that again was Walter all
stirred thereat; and it came into his mind that it might be she knew
he was anigh and hearing her, and that she spake as much for him as
for the King's Son: but that one answered: "Lady, didst thou not
see somewhat else in his eyes, to wit, that they had but of late
looked on some fair woman other than thee? As for me, I deem it not
so unlike that on the way to thine hall he may have fallen in with
He spoke in a faltering voice, as if shrinking from some storm that
might come. And forsooth the Lady's voice was changed as she
answered, though there was no outward heat in it; rather it was
sharp and eager and cold at once. She said: "Yea, that is not ill
thought of; but we may not always keep our thrall in mind. If it be
so as thou deemest, we shall come to know it most like when we next
fall in with her; or if she hath been shy this time, then shall she
pay the heavier for it; for we will question her by the Fountain in
the Hall as to what betid by the Fountain of the Rock."
Spake the King's Son, faltering yet more: "Lady, were it not better
to question the man himself? the Maid is stout-hearted, and will not
be speedily quelled into a true tale; whereas the man I deem of no
"No, no," said the Lady sharply, "it shall not be."
Then was she silent a while; and then she said: "How if the man
should prove to be our master?"
"Nay, our Lady," said the King's Son, "thou art jesting with me;
thou and thy might and thy wisdom, and all that thy wisdom may
command, to be over-mastered by a gangrel churl!"
"But how if I will not have it command, King's Son?" said the Lady.
"I tell thee I know thine heart, but thou knowest not mine. But be
at peace! For since thou hast prayed for this woman--nay, not with
thy words, I wot, but with thy trembling hands, and thine anxious
eyes, and knitted brow--I say, since thou hast prayed for her so
earnestly, she shall escape this time. But whether it will be to
her gain in the long run, I misdoubt me. See thou to that, Otto!
thou who hast held me in thine arms so oft. And now thou mayest
depart if thou wilt."
It seemed to Walter as if the King's Son were dumbfoundered at her
words: he answered nought, and presently he rose from the ground,
and went his ways slowly toward the house. The Lady lay there a
little while, and then went her ways also; but turned away from the
house toward the wood at the other end thereof, whereby Walter had
first come thither.
As for Walter, he was confused in mind and shaken in spirit; and
withal he seemed to see guile and cruel deeds under the talk of
those two, and waxed wrathful thereat. Yet he said to himself, that
nought might he do, but was as one bound hand and foot, till he had
seen the Maid again.
CHAPTER XIII: NOW IS THE HUNT UP
Next morning was he up betimes, but he was cast down and heavy of
heart, not looking for aught else to betide than had betid those
last four days. But otherwise it fell out; for when he came down
into the hall, there was the lady sitting on the high-seat all
alone, clad but in a coat of white linen; and she turned her head
when she heard his footsteps, and looked on him, and greeted him,
and said: "Come hither, guest."
So he went and stood before her, and she said: "Though as yet thou
hast had no welcome here, and no honour, it hath not entered into
thine heart to flee from us; and to say sooth, that is well for
thee, for flee away from our hand thou mightest not, nor mightest
thou depart without our furtherance. But for this we can thee
thank, that thou hast abided here our bidding and eaten thine heart
through the heavy wearing of four days, and made no plaint. Yet I
cannot deem thee a dastard; thou so well knit and shapely of body,
so clear-eyed and bold of visage. Wherefore now I ask thee, art
thou willing to do me service, thereby to earn thy guesting?"
Walter answered her, somewhat faltering at first, for he was
astonished at the change which had come over her; for now she spoke
to him in friendly wise, though indeed as a great lady would speak
to a young man ready to serve her in all honour. Said he: "Lady, I
can thank thee humbly and heartily in that thou biddest me do thee
service; for these days past I have loathed the emptiness of the
hours, and nought better could I ask for than to serve so glorious a
Mistress in all honour."
She frowned somewhat, and said: "Thou shalt not call me Mistress;
there is but one who so calleth me, that is my thrall; and thou art
none such. Thou shalt call me Lady, and I shall be well pleased
that thou be my squire, and for this present thou shalt serve me in
the hunting. So get thy gear; take thy bow and arrows, and gird
thee to thy sword. For in this fair land may one find beasts more
perilous than be buck or hart. I go now to array me; we will depart
while the day is yet young; for so make we the summer day the
He made obeisance to her, and she arose and went to her chamber, and
Walter dight himself, and then abode her in the porch; and in less
than an hour she came out of the hall, and Walter's heart beat when
he saw that the Maid followed her hard at heel, and scarce might he
school his eyes not to gaze over-eagerly at his dear friend. She
was clad even as she was before, and was changed in no wise, save
that love troubled her face when she first beheld him, and she had
much ado to master it: howbeit the Mistress heeded not the trouble
of her, or made no semblance of heeding it, till the Maiden's face
was all according to its wont.
But this Walter found strange, that after all that disdain of the
Maid's thralldom which he had heard of the Mistress, and after all
the threats against her, now was the Mistress become mild and
debonaire to her, as a good lady to her good maiden. When Walter
bowed the knee to her, she turned unto the Maid, and said: "Look
thou, my Maid, at this fair new Squire that I have gotten! Will not
he be valiant in the greenwood? And see whether he be well shapen
or not. Doth he not touch thine heart, when thou thinkest of all
the woe, and fear, and trouble of the World beyond the Wood, which
he hath escaped, to dwell in this little land peaceably, and well-
beloved both by the Mistress and the Maid? And thou, my Squire,
look a little at this fair slim Maiden, and say if she pleaseth thee
not: didst thou deem that we had any thing so fair in this lonely
Frank and kind was the smile on her radiant visage, nor did she seem
to note any whit the trouble on Walter's face, nor how he strove to
keep his eyes from the Maid. As for her, she had so wholly mastered
her countenance, that belike she used her face guilefully, for she
stood as one humble but happy, with a smile on her face, blushing,
and with her head hung down as if shamefaced before a goodly young
man, a stranger.
But the Lady looked upon her kindly and said: "Come hither, child,
and fear not this frank and free young man, who belike feareth thee
a little, and full certainly feareth me; and yet only after the
manner of men."
And therewith she took the Maid by the hand and drew her to her, and
pressed her to her bosom, and kissed her cheeks and her lips, and
undid the lacing of her gown and bared a shoulder of her, and swept
away her skirt from her feet; and then turned to Walter and said:
"Lo thou, Squire! is not this a lovely thing to have grown up
amongst our rough oak-boles? What! art thou looking at the iron
ring there? It is nought, save a token that she is mine, and that I
may not be without her."
Then she took the Maid by the shoulders and turned her about as in
sport, and said: "Go thou now, and bring hither the good grey ones;
for needs must we bring home some venison to-day, whereas this stout
warrior may not feed on nought save manchets and honey."
So the Maid went her way, taking care, as Walter deemed, to give no
side glance to him. But he stood there shamefaced, so confused with
all this openhearted kindness of the great Lady and with the fresh
sight of the darling beauty of the Maid, that he went nigh to
thinking that all he had heard since he had come to the porch of the
house that first time was but a dream of evil.
But while he stood pondering these matters, and staring before him
as one mazed, the Lady laughed out in his face, and touched him on
the arm and said: "Ah, our Squire, is it so that now thou hast seen
my Maid thou wouldst with a good will abide behind to talk with her?
But call to mind thy word pledged to me e'en now! And moreover I
tell thee this for thy behoof now she is out of ear-shot, that I
will above all things take thee away to-day: for there be other
eyes, and they nought uncomely, that look at whiles on my fair-
ankled thrall; and who knows but the swords might be out if I take
not the better heed, and give thee not every whit of thy will."
As she spoke and moved forward, he turned a little, so that now the
edge of that hazel-coppice was within his eye-shot, and he deemed
that once more he saw the yellow-brown evil thing crawling forth
from the thicket; then, turning suddenly on the Lady, he met her
eyes, and seemed in one moment of time to find a far other look in
them than that of frankness and kindness; though in a flash they
changed back again, and she said merrily and sweetly: "So, so, Sir
Squire, now art thou awake again, and mayest for a little while look
Now it came into his head, with that look of hers, all that might
befall him and the Maid if he mastered not his passion, nor did what
he might to dissemble; so he bent the knee to her, and spoke boldly
to her in her own vein, and said: "Nay, most gracious of ladies,
never would I abide behind to-day since thou farest afield. But if
my speech be hampered, or mine eyes stray, is it not because my mind
is confused by thy beauty, and the honey of kind words which floweth
from thy mouth?"
She laughed outright at his word, but not disdainfully, and said:
"This is well spoken, Squire, and even what a squire should say to
his liege lady, when the sun is up on a fair morning, and she and he
and all the world are glad."
She stood quite near him as she spoke, her hand was on his shoulder,
and her eyes shone and sparkled. Sooth to say, that excusing of his
confusion was like enough in seeming to the truth; for sure never
creature was fashioned fairer than she: clad she was for the
greenwood as the hunting-goddess of the Gentiles, with her green
gown gathered unto her girdle, and sandals on her feet; a bow in her
hand and a quiver at her back: she was taller and bigger of fashion
than the dear Maiden, whiter of flesh, and more glorious, and
brighter of hair; as a flower of flowers for fairness and fragrance.
She said: "Thou art verily a fair squire before the hunt is up, and
if thou be as good in the hunting, all will be better than well, and
the guest will be welcome. But lo! here cometh our Maid with the
good grey ones. Go meet her, and we will tarry no longer than for
thy taking the leash in hand."
So Walter looked, and saw the Maid coming with two couple of great
hounds in the leash straining against her as she came along. He ran
lightly to meet her, wondering if he should have a look, or a half-
whisper from her; but she let him take the white thongs from her
hand, with the same half-smile of shamefacedness still set on her
face, and, going past him, came softly up to the Lady, swaying like
a willow-branch in the wind, and stood before her, with her arms
hanging down by her sides. Then the Lady turned to her, and said:
"Look to thyself, our Maid, while we are away. This fair young man
thou needest not to fear indeed, for he is good and leal; but what
thou shalt do with the King's Son I wot not. He is a hot lover
forsooth, but a hard man; and whiles evil is his mood, and perilous
both to thee and me. And if thou do his will, it shall be ill for
thee; and if thou do it not, take heed of him, and let me, and me
only, come between his wrath and thee. I may do somewhat for thee.
Even yesterday he was instant with me to have thee chastised after
the manner of thralls; but I bade him keep silence of such words,
and jeered him and mocked him, till he went away from me peevish and
in anger. So look to it that thou fall not into any trap of his
Then the Maid cast herself at the Mistress's feet, and kissed and
embraced them; and as she rose up, the Lady laid her hand lightly on
her head, and then, turning to Walter, cried out: "Now, Squire, let
us leave all these troubles and wiles and desires behind us, and
flit through the merry greenwood like the Gentiles of old days."
And therewith she drew up the laps of her gown till the whiteness of
her knees was seen, and set off swiftly toward the wood that lay
south of the house, and Walter followed, marvelling at her
goodliness; nor durst he cast a look backward to the Maiden, for he
knew that she desired him, and it was her only that he looked to for
his deliverance from this house of guile and lies.
CHAPTER XIV: THE HUNTING OF THE HART
As they went, they found a change in the land, which grew emptier of
big and wide-spreading trees, and more beset with thickets. From
one of these they roused a hart, and Walter let slip his hounds
thereafter and he and the Lady followed running. Exceeding swift
was she, and well-breathed withal, so that Walter wondered at her;