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The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris

Part 2 out of 3

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and eager she was in the chase as the very hounds, heeding nothing
the scratching of briars or the whipping of stiff twigs as she sped
on. But for all their eager hunting, the quarry outran both dogs
and folk, and gat him into a great thicket, amidmost whereof was a
wide plash of water. Into the thicket they followed him, but he
took to the water under their eyes and made land on the other side;
and because of the tangle of underwood, he swam across much faster
than they might have any hope to come round on him; and so were the
hunters left undone for that time.

So the Lady cast herself down on the green grass anigh the water,
while Walter blew the hounds in and coupled them up; then he turned
round to her, and lo! she was weeping for despite that they had lost
the quarry; and again did Walter wonder that so little a matter
should raise a passion of tears in her. He durst not ask what ailed
her, or proffer her solace, but was not ill apaid by beholding her
loveliness as she lay.

Presently she raised up her head and turned to Walter, and spake to
him angrily and said: "Squire, why dost thou stand staring at me
like a fool?"

"Yea, Lady," he said; "but the sight of thee maketh me foolish to do
aught else but to look on thee."

She said, in a peevish voice: "Tush, Squire, the day is too far
spent for soft and courtly speeches; what was good there is nought
so good here. Withal, I know more of thine heart than thou
deemest."

Walter hung down his head and reddened, and she looked on him, and
her face changed, and she smiled and said, kindly this time: "Look
ye, Squire, I am hot and weary, and ill-content; but presently it
will be better with me; for my knees have been telling my shoulders
that the cold water of this little lake will be sweet and pleasant
this summer noonday, and that I shall forget my foil when I have
taken my pleasure therein. Wherefore, go thou with thine hounds
without the thicket and there abide my coming. And I bid thee look
not aback as thou goest, for therein were peril to thee: I shall
not keep thee tarrying long alone."

He bowed his head to her, and turned and went his ways. And now,
when he was a little space away from her, he deemed her indeed a
marvel of women, and wellnigh forgat all his doubts and fears
concerning her, whether she were a fair image fashioned out of lies
and guile, or it might be but an evil thing in the shape of a goodly
woman. Forsooth, when he saw her caressing the dear and friendly
Maid, his heart all turned against her, despite what his eyes and
his ears told his mind, and she seemed like as it were a serpent
enfolding the simplicity of the body which he loved.

But now it was all changed, and he lay on the grass and longed for
her coming; which was delayed for somewhat more than an hour. Then
she came back to him, smiling and fresh and cheerful, her green gown
let down to her heels.

He sprang up to meet her, and she came close to him, and spake from
a laughing face: "Squire, hast thou no meat in thy wallet? For,
meseemeth, I fed thee when thou wert hungry the other day; do thou
now the same by me."

He smiled, and louted to her, and took his wallet and brought out
thence bread and flesh and wine, and spread them all out before her
on the green grass, and then stood by humbly before her. But she
said: "Nay, my Squire, sit down by me and eat with me, for to-day
are we both hunters together."

So he sat down by her trembling, but neither for awe of her
greatness, nor for fear and horror of her guile and sorcery.

A while they sat there together after they had done their meat, and
the Lady fell a-talking with Walter concerning the parts of the
earth, and the manners of men, and of his journeyings to and fro.

At last she said: "Thou hast told me much and answered all my
questions wisely, and as my good Squire should, and that pleaseth
me. But now tell me of the city wherein thou wert born and bred; a
city whereof thou hast hitherto told me nought."

"Lady," he said, "it is a fair and a great city, and to many it
seemeth lovely. But I have left it, and now it is nothing to me."

"Hast thou not kindred there?" said she.

"Yea," said he, "and foemen withal; and a false woman waylayeth my
life there."

"And what was she?" said the Lady.

Said Walter: "She was but my wife."

"Was she fair?" said the Lady.

Walter looked on her a while, and then said: "I was going to say
that she was wellnigh as fair as thou; but that may scarce be. Yet
was she very fair. But now, kind and gracious Lady, I will say this
word to thee: I marvel that thou askest so many things concerning
the city of Langton on Holm, where I was born, and where are my
kindred yet; for meseemeth that thou knowest it thyself."

"I know it, I?" said the Lady.

"What, then! thou knowest it not?" said Walter.

Spake the Lady, and some of her old disdain was in her words: "Dost
thou deem that I wander about the world and its cheaping-steads like
one of the chap-men? Nay, I dwell in the Wood beyond the World, and
nowhere else. What hath put this word into thy mouth?"

He said: "Pardon me, Lady, if I have misdone; but thus it was:
Mine own eyes beheld thee going down the quays of our city, and
thence a ship-board, and the ship sailed out of the haven. And
first of all went a strange dwarf, whom I have seen here, and then
thy Maid; and then went thy gracious and lovely body."

The Lady's face changed as he spoke, and she turned red and then
pale, and set her teeth; but she refrained her, and said: "Squire,
I see of thee that thou art no liar, nor light of wit, therefore I
suppose that thou hast verily seen some appearance of me; but never
have I been in Langton, nor thought thereof, nor known that such a
stead there was until thou namedst it e'en now. Wherefore, I deem
that an enemy hath cast the shadow of me on the air of that land."

"Yea, my Lady," said Walter; "and what enemy mightest thou have to
have done this?"

She was slow of answer, but spake at last from a quivering mouth of
anger: "Knowest thou not the saw, that a man's foes are they of his
own house? If I find out for a truth who hath done this, the said
enemy shall have an evil hour with me."

Again she was silent, and she clenched her hands and strained her
limbs in the heat of her anger; so that Walter was afraid of her,
and all his misgivings came back to his heart again, and he repented
that he had told her so much. But in a little while all that
trouble and wrath seemed to flow off her, and again was she of good
cheer, and kind and sweet to him and she said: "But in sooth,
however it may be, I thank thee, my Squire and friend, for telling
me hereof. And surely no wyte do I lay on thee. And, moreover, is
it not this vision which hath brought thee hither?"

"So it is, Lady," said he.

"Then have we to thank it," said the Lady, "and thou art welcome to
our land."

And therewith she held out her hand to him, and he took it on his
knees and kissed it: and then it was as if a red-hot iron had run
through his heart, and he felt faint, and bowed down his head. But
he held her hand yet, and kissed it many times, and the wrist and
the arm, and knew not where he was.

But she drew a little away from him, and arose and said: "Now is
the day wearing, and if we are to bear back any venison we must
buckle to the work. So arise, Squire, and take the hounds and come
with me; for not far off is a little thicket which mostly harbours
foison of deer, great and small. Let us come our ways."

CHAPTER XV: THE SLAYING OF THE QUARRY

So they walked on quietly thence some half a mile, and ever the Lady
would have Walter to walk by her side, and not follow a little
behind her, as was meet for a servant to do; and she touched his
hand at whiles as she showed him beast and fowl and tree, and the
sweetness of her body overcame him, so that for a while he thought
of nothing save her.

Now when they were come to the thicket-side, she turned to him and
said: "Squire, I am no ill woodman, so that thou mayst trust me
that we shall not be brought to shame the second time; and I shall
do sagely; so nock an arrow to thy bow, and abide me here, and stir
not hence; for I shall enter this thicket without the hounds, and
arouse the quarry for thee; and see that thou be brisk and clean-
shooting, and then shalt thou have a reward of me."

Therewith she drew up her skirts through her girdle again, took her
bent bow in her hand, and drew an arrow out of the quiver, and
stepped lightly into the thicket, leaving him longing for the sight
of her, as he hearkened to the tread of her feet on the dry leaves,
and the rustling of the brake as she thrust through it.

Thus he stood for a few minutes, and then he heard a kind of
gibbering cry without words, yet as of a woman, coming from the
thicket, and while his heart was yet gathering the thought that
something had gone amiss, he glided swiftly, but with little stir,
into the brake.

He had gone but a little way ere he saw the Lady standing there in a
narrow clearing, her face pale as death, her knees cleaving
together, her body swaying and tottering, her hands hanging down,
and the bow and arrow fallen to the ground; and ten yards before her
a great-headed yellow creature crouching flat to the earth and
slowly drawing nigher.

He stopped short; one arrow was already notched to the string, and
another hung loose to the lesser fingers of his string-hand. He
raised his right hand, and drew and loosed in a twinkling; the shaft
flew close to the Lady's side, and straightway all the wood rung
with a huge roar, as the yellow lion turned about to bite at the
shaft which had sunk deep into him behind the shoulder, as if a bolt
out of the heavens had smitten him. But straightway had Walter
loosed again, and then, throwing down his bow, he ran forward with
his drawn sword gleaming in his hand, while the lion weltered and
rolled, but had no might to move forward. Then Walter went up to
him warily and thrust him through to the heart, and leapt aback,
lest the beast might yet have life in him to smite; but he left his
struggling, his huge voice died out, and he lay there moveless
before the hunter.

Walter abode a little, facing him, and then turned about to the
Lady, and she had fallen down in a heap whereas she stood, and lay
there all huddled up and voiceless. So he knelt down by her, and
lifted up her head, and bade her arise, for the foe was slain. And
after a little she stretched out her limbs, and turned about on the
grass, and seemed to sleep, and the colour came into her face again,
and it grew soft and a little smiling. Thus she lay awhile, and
Walter sat by her watching her, till at last she opened her eyes and
sat up, and knew him, and smiling on him said: "What hath befallen,
Squire, that I have slept and dreamed?"

He answered nothing, till her memory came back to her, and then she
arose, trembling and pale, and said: "Let us leave this wood, for
the Enemy is therein."

And she hastened away before him till they came out at the thicket-
side whereas the hounds had been left, and they were standing there
uneasy and whining; so Walter coupled them, while the Lady stayed
not, but went away swiftly homeward, and Walter followed.

At last she stayed her swift feet, and turned round on Walter, and
said: "Squire, come hither."

So did he, and she said: "I am weary again; let us sit under this
quicken-tree, and rest us."

So they sat down, and she sat looking between her knees a while; and
at last she said: "Why didst thou not bring the lion's hide?"

He said: "Lady, I will go back and flay the beast, and bring on the
hide."

And he arose therewith, but she caught him by the skirts and drew
him down, and said: "Nay, thou shalt not go; abide with me. Sit
down again."

He did so, and she said: "Thou shalt not go from me; for I am
afraid: I am not used to looking on the face of death."

She grew pale as she spoke, and set a hand to her breast, and sat so
a while without speaking. At last she turned to him smiling, and
said: "How was it with the aspect of me when I stood before the
peril of the Enemy?" And she laid a hand upon his.

"O gracious one," quoth he, "thou wert, as ever, full lovely, but I
feared for thee."

She moved not her hand from his, and she said: "Good and true
Squire, I said ere I entered the thicket e'en now that I would
reward thee if thou slewest the quarry. He is dead, though thou
hast left the skin behind upon the carcase. Ask now thy reward, but
take time to think what it shall be."

He felt her hand warm upon his, and drew in the sweet odour of her
mingled with the woodland scents under the hot sun of the afternoon,
and his heart was clouded with manlike desire of her. And it was a
near thing but he had spoken, and craved of her the reward of the
freedom of her Maid, and that he might depart with her into other
lands; but as his mind wavered betwixt this and that, the Lady, who
had been eyeing him keenly, drew her hand away from him; and
therewith doubt and fear flowed into his mind, and he refrained him
of speech.

Then she laughed merrily and said: "The good Squire is shamefaced;
he feareth a lady more than a lion. Will it be a reward to thee if
I bid thee to kiss my cheek?"

Therewith she leaned her face toward him, and he kissed her well-
favouredly, and then sat gazing on her, wondering what should betide
to him on the morrow.

Then she arose and said: "Come, Squire, and let us home; be not
abashed, there shall be other rewards hereafter."

So they went their ways quietly; and it was nigh sunset against they
entered the house again. Walter looked round for the Maid, but
beheld her not; and the Lady said to him: "I go to my chamber, and
now is thy service over for this day."

Then she nodded to him friendly and went her ways.

CHAPTER XVI: OF THE KING'S SON AND THE MAID

But as for Walter, he went out of the house again, and fared slowly
over the woodlawns till he came to another close thicket or brake;
he entered from mere wantonness, or that he might be the more apart
and hidden, so as to think over his case. There he lay down under
the thick boughs, but could not so herd his thoughts that they would
dwell steady in looking into what might come to him within the next
days; rather visions of those two women and the monster did but
float before him, and fear and desire and the hope of life ran to
and fro in his mind.

As he lay thus he heard footsteps drawing near, and he looked
between the boughs, and though the sun had just set, he could see
close by him a man and a woman going slowly, and they hand in hand;
at first he deemed it would be the King's Son and the Lady, but
presently he saw that it was the King's Son indeed, but that it was
the Maid whom he was holding by the hand. And now he saw of him
that his eyes were bright with desire, and of her that she was very
pale. Yet when he heard her begin to speak, it was in a steady
voice that she said: "King's Son, thou hast threatened me oft and
unkindly, and now thou threatenest me again, and no less unkindly.
But whatever were thy need herein before, now is there no more need;
for my Mistress, of whom thou wert weary, is now grown weary of
thee, and belike will not now reward me for drawing thy love to me,
as once she would have done; to wit, before the coming of this
stranger. Therefore I say, since I am but a thrall, poor and
helpless, betwixt you two mighty ones, I have no choice but to do
thy will."

As she spoke she looked all round about her, as one distraught by
the anguish of fear. Walter, amidst of his wrath and grief, had
wellnigh drawn his sword and rushed out of his lair upon the King's
Son. But he deemed it sure that, so doing, he should undo the Maid
altogether, and himself also belike, so he refrained him, though it
were a hard matter.

The Maid had stayed her feet now close to where Walter lay, some
five yards from him only, and he doubted whether she saw him not
from where she stood. As to the King's Son, he was so intent upon
the Maid, and so greedy of her beauty, that it was not like that he
saw anything.

Now moreover Walter looked, and deemed that he beheld something
through the grass and bracken on the other side of those two, an
ugly brown and yellow body, which, if it were not some beast of the
foumart kind, must needs be the monstrous dwarf, or one of his kin;
and the flesh crept upon Walter's bones with the horror of him. But
the King's Son spoke unto the Maid: "Sweetling, I shall take the
gift thou givest me, neither shall I threaten thee any more, howbeit
thou givest it not very gladly or graciously."

She smiled on him with her lips alone, for her eyes were wandering
and haggard. "My lord," she said, "is not this the manner of
women?"

"Well," he said, "I say that I will take thy love even so given.
Yet let me hear again that thou lovest not that vile newcomer, and
that thou hast not seen him, save this morning along with my Lady.
Nay now, thou shalt swear it."

"What shall I swear by?" she said.

Quoth he, "Thou shalt swear by my body;" and therewith he thrust
himself close up against her; but she drew her hand from his, and
laid it on his breast, and said: "I swear it by thy body."

He smiled on her licorously, and took her by the shoulders, and
kissed her face many times, and then stood aloof from her, and said:
"Now have I had hansel: but tell me, when shall I come to thee?"

She spoke out clearly: "Within three days at furthest; I will do
thee to wit of the day and the hour to-morrow, or the day after."

He kissed her once more, and said: "Forget it not, or the threat
holds good."

And therewith he turned about and went his ways toward the house;
and Walter saw the yellow-brown thing creeping after him in the
gathering dusk.

As for the Maid, she stood for a while without moving, and looking
after the King's Son and the creature that followed him. Then she
turned about to where Walter lay and lightly put aside the boughs,
and Walter leapt up, and they stood face to face. She said softly
but eagerly: "Friend, touch me not yet!"

He spake not, but looked on her sternly. She said: "Thou art angry
with me?"

Still he spake not; but she said: "Friend, this at least I will
pray thee; not to play with life and death; with happiness and
misery. Dost thou not remember the oath which we swore each to each
but a little while ago? And dost thou deem that I have changed in
these few days? Is thy mind concerning thee and me the same as it
was? If it be not so, now tell me. For now have I the mind to do
as if neither thou nor I are changed to each other, whoever may have
kissed mine unwilling lips, or whomsoever thy lips may have kissed.
But if thou hast changed, and wilt no longer give me thy love, nor
crave mine, then shall this steel" (and she drew a sharp knife from
her girdle) "be for the fool and the dastard who hath made thee
wroth with me, my friend, and my friend that I deemed I had won.
And then let come what will come! But if thou be nought changed,
and the oath yet holds, then, when a little while hath passed, may
we thrust all evil and guile and grief behind us, and long joy shall
lie before us, and long life, and all honour in death: if only thou
wilt do as I bid thee, O my dear, and my friend, and my first
friend!"

He looked on her, and his breast heaved up as all the sweetness of
her kind love took hold on him, and his face changed, and the tears
filled his eyes and ran over, and rained down before her, and he
stretched out his hand toward her.

Then she said exceeding sweetly: "Now indeed I see that it is well
with me, yea, and with thee also. A sore pain it is to me, that not
even now may I take thine hand, and cast mine arms about thee, and
kiss the lips that love me. But so it has to be. My dear, even so
I were fain to stand here long before thee, even if we spake no more
word to each other; but abiding here is perilous; for there is ever
an evil spy upon my doings, who has now as I deem followed the
King's Son to the house, but who will return when he has tracked him
home thither: so we must sunder. But belike there is yet time for
a word or two: first, the rede which I had thought on for our
deliverance is now afoot, though I durst not tell thee thereof, nor
have time thereto. But this much shall I tell thee, that whereas
great is the craft of my Mistress in wizardry, yet I also have some
little craft therein, and this, which she hath not, to change the
aspect of folk so utterly that they seem other than they verily are;
yea, so that one may have the aspect of another. Now the next thing
is this: whatsoever my Mistress may bid thee, do her will therein
with no more nay-saying than thou deemest may please her. And the
next thing: wheresoever thou mayst meet me, speak not to me, make
no sign to me, even when I seem to be all alone, till I stoop down
and touch the ring on my ankle with my right hand; but if I do so,
then stay thee, without fail, till I speak. The last thing I will
say to thee, dear friend, ere we both go our ways, this it is. When
we are free, and thou knowest all that I have done, I pray thee deem
me not evil and wicked, and be not wroth with me for my deed;
whereas thou wottest well that I am not in like plight with other
women. I have heard tell that when the knight goeth to the war, and
hath overcome his foes by the shearing of swords and guileful
tricks, and hath come back home to his own folk, they praise him and
bless him, and crown him with flowers, and boast of him before God
in the minster for his deliverance of friend and folk and city. Why
shouldst thou be worse to me than this? Now is all said, my dear
and my friend; farewell, farewell!"

Therewith she turned and went her ways toward the house in all
speed, but making somewhat of a compass. And when she was gone,
Walter knelt down and kissed the place where her feet had been, and
arose thereafter, and made his way toward the house, he also, but
slowly, and staying oft on his way.

CHAPTER XVII: OF THE HOUSE AND THE PLEASANCE IN THE WOOD

On the morrow morning Walter loitered a while about the house till
the morn was grown old, and then about noon he took his bow and
arrows and went into the woods to the northward, to get him some
venison. He went somewhat far ere he shot him a fawn, and then he
sat him down to rest under the shade of a great chestnut-tree, for
it was not far past the hottest of the day. He looked around thence
and saw below him a little dale with a pleasant stream running
through it, and he bethought him of bathing therein, so he went down
and had his pleasure of the water and the willowy banks; for he lay
naked a while on the grass by the lip of the water, for joy of the
flickering shade, and the little breeze that ran over the down-long
ripples of the stream.

Then he did on his raiment, and began to come his ways up the bent,
but had scarce gone three steps ere he saw a woman coming towards
him from downstream. His heart came into his mouth when he saw her,
for she stooped and reached down her arm, as if she would lay her
hand on her ankle, so that at first he deemed it had been the Maid,
but at the second eye-shot he saw that it was the Mistress. She
stood still and looked on him, so that he deemed she would have him
come to her. So he went to meet her, and grew somewhat shamefaced
as he drew nigher, and wondered at her, for now was she clad but in
one garment of some dark grey silky stuff, embroidered with, as it
were, a garland of flowers about the middle, but which was so thin
that, as the wind drifted it from side and limb, it hid her no more,
but for the said garland, than if water were running over her: her
face was full of smiling joy and content as she spake to him in a
kind, caressing voice, and said: "I give thee good day, good
Squire, and well art thou met." And she held out her hand to him.
He knelt down before her and kissed it, and abode still upon his
knees, and hanging down his head.

But she laughed outright, and stooped down to him, and put her hand
to his arms, and raised him up, and said to him: "What is this, my
Squire, that thou kneelest to me as to an idol?"

He said faltering: "I wot not; but perchance thou art an idol; and
I fear thee."

"What!" she said, "more than yesterday, whenas thou sawest me
afraid?"

Said he: "Yea, for that now I see thee unhidden, and meseemeth
there hath been none such since the old days of the Gentiles."

She said: "Hast thou not yet bethought thee of a gift to crave of
me, a reward for the slaying of mine enemy, and the saving of me
from death?"

"O my Lady," he said, "even so much would I have done for any other
lady, or, forsooth, for any poor man; for so my manhood would have
bidden me. Speak not of gifts to me then. Moreover" (and he
reddened therewith, and his voice faltered), "didst thou not give me
my sweet reward yesterday? What more durst I ask?"

She held her peace awhile, and looked on him keenly; and he reddened
under her gaze. Then wrath came into her face, and she reddened and
knit her brows, and spake to him in a voice of anger, and said:
"Nay, what is this? It is growing in my mind that thou deemest the
gift of me unworthy! Thou, an alien, an outcast; one endowed with
the little wisdom of the World without the Wood! And here I stand
before thee, all glorious in my nakedness, and so fulfilled of
wisdom, that I can make this wilderness to any whom I love more full
of joy than the kingdoms and cities of the world--and thou!--Ah, but
it is the Enemy that hath done this, and made the guileless
guileful! Yet will I have the upper hand at least, though thou
suffer for it, and I suffer for thee."

Walter stood before her with hanging head, and he put forth his
hands as if praying off her anger, and pondered what answer he
should make; for now he feared for himself and the Maid; so at last
he looked up to her, and said boldly: "Nay, Lady, I know what thy
words mean, whereas I remember thy first welcome of me. I wot,
forsooth, that thou wouldst call me base-born, and of no account,
and unworthy to touch the hem of thy raiment; and that I have been
over-bold, and guilty towards thee; and doubtless this is sooth, and
I have deserved thine anger: but I will not ask thee to pardon me,
for I have done but what I must needs."

She looked on him calmly now, and without any wrath, but rather as
if she would read what was written in his inmost heart. Then her
face changed into joyousness again, and she smote her palms
together, and cried out: "This is but foolish talk; for yesterday
did I see thy valiancy, and to-day I have seen thy goodliness; and I
say, that though thou mightest not be good enough for a fool woman
of the earthly baronage, yet art thou good enough for me, the wise
and the mighty, and the lovely. And whereas thou sayest that I gave
thee but disdain when first thou camest to us, grudge not against me
therefor, because it was done but to prove thee; and now thou art
proven."

Then again he knelt down before her, and embraced her knees, and
again she raised him up, and let her arm hang down over his
shoulder, and her cheek brush his cheek; and she kissed his mouth
and said: "Hereby is all forgiven, both thine offence and mine; and
now cometh joy and merry days."

Therewith her smiling face grew grave, and she stood before him
looking stately and gracious and kind at once, and she took his hand
and said: "Thou mightest deem my chamber in the Golden House of the
Wood over-queenly, since thou art no masterful man. So now hast
thou chosen well the place wherein to meet me to-day, for hard by on
the other side of the stream is a bower of pleasance, which,
forsooth, not every one who cometh to this land may find; there
shall I be to thee as one of the up-country damsels of thine own
land, and thou shalt not be abashed."

She sidled up to him as she spoke, and would he, would he not, her
sweet voice tickled his very soul with pleasure, and she looked
aside on him happy and well-content.

So they crossed the stream by the shallow below the pool wherein
Walter had bathed, and within a little they came upon a tall fence
of flake-hurdles, and a simple gate therein. The Lady opened the
same, and they entered thereby into a close all planted as a most
fair garden, with hedges of rose and woodbine, and with linden-trees
a-blossom, and long ways of green grass betwixt borders of lilies
and clove-gilliflowers, and other sweet garland-flowers. And a
branch of the stream which they had crossed erewhile wandered
through that garden; and in the midst was a little house built of
post and pan, and thatched with yellow straw, as if it were new
done.

Then Walter looked this way and that, and wondered at first, and
tried to think in his mind what should come next, and how matters
would go with him; but his thought would not dwell steady on any
other matter than the beauty of the Lady amidst the beauty of the
garden; and withal she was now grown so sweet and kind, and even
somewhat timid and shy with him, that scarce did he know whose hand
he held, or whose fragrant bosom and sleek side went so close to
him.

So they wandered here and there through the waning of the day, and
when they entered at last into the cool dusk house, then they loved
and played together, as if they were a pair of lovers guileless,
with no fear for the morrow, and no seeds of enmity and death sown
betwixt them.

CHAPTER XVIII: THE MAID GIVES WALTER TRYST

Now, on the morrow, when Walter was awake, he found there was no one
lying beside him, and the day was no longer very young; so he arose,
and went through the garden from end to end, and all about, and
there was none there; and albeit that he dreaded to meet the Lady
there, yet was he sad at heart and fearful of what might betide.
Howsoever, he found the gate whereby they had entered yesterday, and
he went out into the little dale; but when he had gone a step or two
he turned about, and could see neither garden nor fence, nor any
sign of what he had seen thereof but lately. He knit his brow and
stood still to think of it, and his heart grew the heavier thereby;
but presently he went his ways and crossed the stream, but had
scarce come up on to the grass on the further side, ere he saw a
woman coming to meet him, and at first, full as he was of the tide
of yesterday and the wondrous garden, deemed that it would be the
Lady; but the woman stayed her feet, and, stooping, laid a hand on
her right ankle, and he saw that it was the Maid. He drew anigh to
her, and saw that she was nought so sad of countenance as the last
time she had met him, but flushed of cheek and bright-eyed.

As he came up to her she made a step or two to meet him, holding out
her two hands, and then refrained her, and said smiling: "Ah,
friend, belike this shall be the last time that I shall say to thee,
touch me not, nay, not so much as my hand, or if it were but the hem
of my raiment."

The joy grew up in his heart, and he gazed on her fondly, and said:
"Why, what hath befallen of late?"

"O friend," she began, "this hath befallen."

But as he looked on her, the smile died from her face, and she
became deadly pale to the very lips; she looked askance to her left
side, whereas ran the stream; and Walter followed her eyes, and
deemed for one instant that he saw the misshapen yellow visage of
the dwarf peering round from a grey rock, but the next there was
nothing. Then the Maid, though she were as pale as death, went on
in a clear, steady, hard voice, wherein was no joy or kindness,
keeping her face to Walter and her back to the stream: "This hath
befallen, friend, that there is no longer any need to refrain thy
love nor mine; therefore I say to thee, come to my chamber (and it
is the red chamber over against thine, though thou knewest it not)
an hour before this next midnight, and then thy sorrow and mine
shall be at an end: and now I must needs depart. Follow me not,
but remember!"

And therewith she turned about and fled like the wind down the
stream.

But Walter stood wondering, and knew not what to make of it, whether
it were for good or ill: for he knew now that she had paled and
been seized with terror because of the upheaving of the ugly head;
and yet she had seemed to speak out the very thing she had to say.
Howsoever it were, he spake aloud to himself: Whatever comes, I
will keep tryst with her.

Then he drew his sword, and turned this way and that, looking all
about if he might see any sign of the Evil Thing; but nought might
his eyes behold, save the grass, and the stream, and the bushes of
the dale. So then, still holding his naked sword in his hand, he
clomb the bent out of the dale; for that was the only way he knew to
the Golden House; and when he came to the top, and the summer breeze
blew in his face, and he looked down a fair green slope beset with
goodly oaks and chestnuts, he was refreshed with the life of the
earth, and he felt the good sword in his fist, and knew that there
was might and longing in him, and the world seemed open unto him.

So he smiled, if it were somewhat grimly, and sheathed his sword and
went on toward the house.

CHAPTER XIX: WALTER GOES TO FETCH HOME THE LION'S HIDE

He entered the cool dusk through the porch, and, looking down the
pillared hall, saw beyond the fountain a gleam of gold, and when he
came past the said fountain he looked up to the high-seat, and lo!
the Lady sitting there clad in her queenly raiment. She called to
him, and he came; and she hailed him, and spake graciously and
calmly, yet as if she knew nought of him save as the leal servant of
her, a high Lady. "Squire," she said, "we have deemed it meet to
have the hide of the servant of the Enemy, the lion to wit, whom
thou slewest yesterday, for a carpet to our feet; wherefore go now,
take thy wood-knife, and flay the beast, and bring me home his skin.
This shall be all thy service for this day, so mayst thou do it at
thine own leisure, and not weary thyself. May good go with thee."

He bent the knee before her, and she smiled on him graciously, but
reached out no hand for him to kiss, and heeded him but little.
Wherefore, in spite of himself, and though he knew somewhat of her
guile, he could not help marvelling that this should be she who had
lain in his arms night-long but of late.

Howso that might be, he took his way toward the thicket where he had
slain the lion, and came thither by then it was afternoon, at the
hottest of the day. So he entered therein, and came to the very
place whereas the Lady had lain, when she fell down before the
terror of the lion; and there was the mark of her body on the grass
where she had lain that while, like as it were the form of a hare.
But when Walter went on to where he had slain that great beast, lo!
he was gone, and there was no sign of him; but there were Walter's
own footprints, and the two shafts which he had shot, one feathered
red, and one blue. He said at first: Belike someone hath been
here, and hath had the carcase away. Then he laughed in very
despite, and said: How may that be, since there are no signs of
dragging away of so huge a body, and no blood or fur on the grass if
they had cut him up, and moreover no trampling of feet, as if there
had been many men at the deed. Then was he all abashed, and again
laughed in scorn of himself, and said: Forsooth I deemed I had done
manly; but now forsooth I shot nought, and nought there was before
the sword of my father's son. And what may I deem now, but that
this is a land of mere lies, and that there is nought real and alive
therein save me. Yea, belike even these trees and the green grass
will presently depart from me, and leave me falling down through the
clouds.

Therewith he turned away, and gat him to the road that led to the
Golden House, wondering what next should befall him, and going
slowly as he pondered his case. So came he to that first thicket
where they had lost their quarry by water; so he entered the same,
musing, and bathed him in the pool that was therein, after he had
wandered about it awhile, and found nothing new.

So again he set him to the homeward road, when the day was now
waning, and it was near sunset that he was come nigh unto the house,
though it was hidden from him as then by a low bent that rose before
him; and there he abode and looked about him.

Now as he looked, over the said bent came the figure of a woman, who
stayed on the brow thereof and looked all about her, and then ran
swiftly down to meet Walter, who saw at once that it was the Maid.

She made no stay then till she was but three paces from him, and
then she stooped down and made the sign to him, and then spake to
him breathlessly, and said: "Hearken! but speak not till I have
done: I bade thee to-night's meeting because I saw that there was
one anigh whom I must needs beguile. But by thine oath, and thy
love, and all that thou art, I adjure thee come not unto me this
night as I bade thee! but be hidden in the hazel-copse outside the
house, as it draws toward midnight, and abide me there. Dost thou
hearken, and wilt thou? Say yes or no in haste, for I may not tarry
a moment of time. Who knoweth what is behind me?"

"Yes," said Walter hastily; "but friend and love--"

"No more," she said; "hope the best;" and turning from him she ran
away swiftly, not by the way she had come, but sideways, as though
to reach the house by fetching a compass.

But Walter went slowly on his way, thinking within himself that now
at that present moment there was nought for it but to refrain him
from doing, and to let others do; yet deemed he that it was little
manly to be as the pawn upon the board, pushed about by the will of
others.

Then, as he went, he bethought him of the Maiden's face and aspect,
as she came running to him, and stood before him for that minute;
and all eagerness he saw in her, and sore love of him, and distress
of soul, all blent together.

So came he to the brow of the bent whence he could see lying before
him, scarce more than a bow-shot away, the Golden House now gilded
again and reddened by the setting sun. And even therewith came a
gay image toward him, flashing back the level rays from gold and
steel and silver; and lo! there was come the King's Son. They met
presently, and the King's Son turned to go beside him, and said
merrily: "I give thee good even, my Lady's Squire! I owe thee
something of courtesy, whereas it is by thy means that I shall be
made happy, both to-night, and to-morrow, and many to-morrows; and
sooth it is, that but little courtesy have I done thee hitherto."

His face was full of joy, and the eyes of him shone with gladness.
He was a goodly man, but to Walter he seemed an ill one; and he
hated him so much, that he found it no easy matter to answer him;
but he refrained himself, and said: "I can thee thank, King's Son;
and good it is that someone is happy in this strange land."

"Art thou not happy then, Squire of my Lady?" said the other.

Walter had no mind to show this man his heart, nay, nor even a
corner thereof; for he deemed him an enemy. So he smiled sweetly
and somewhat foolishly, as a man luckily in love, and said: "O yea,
yea, why should I not be so? How might I be otherwise?"

"Yea then," said the King's Son, "why didst thou say that thou wert
glad someone is happy? Who is unhappy, deemest thou?" and he looked
on him keenly.

Walter answered slowly: "Said I so? I suppose then that I was
thinking of thee; for when first I saw thee, yea, and afterwards,
thou didst seem heavy-hearted and ill-content."

The face of the King's Son cleared at this word, and he said: "Yea,
so it was; for look you, both ways it was: I was unfree, and I had
sown the true desire of my heart whereas it waxed not. But now I am
on the brink and verge of freedom, and presently shall my desire be
blossomed. Nay now, Squire, I deem thee a good fellow, though it
may be somewhat of a fool; so I will no more speak riddles to thee.
Thus it is: the Maid hath promised me all mine asking, and is mine;
and in two or three days, by her helping also, I shall see the world
again."

Quoth Walter, smiling askance on him: "And the Lady? what shall she
say to this matter?"

The King's Son reddened, but smiled falsely enough, and said: "Sir
Squire, thou knowest enough not to need to ask this. Why should I
tell thee that she accounteth more of thy little finger than of my
whole body? Now I tell thee hereof freely; first, because this my
fruition of love, and my freeing from thralldom, is, in a way, of
thy doing. For thou art become my supplanter, and hast taken thy
place with yonder lovely tyrant. Fear not for me! she will let me
go. As for thyself, see thou to it! But again I tell thee hereof
because my heart is light and full of joy, and telling thee will
pleasure me, and cannot do me any harm. For if thou say: How if I
carry the tale to my Lady? I answer, thou wilt not. For I know
that thine heart hath been somewhat set on the jewel that my hand
holdeth; and thou knowest well on whose head the Lady's wrath would
fall, and that would be neither thine nor mine."

"Thou sayest sooth," said Walter; "neither is treason my wont."

So they walked on silently a while, and then Walter said: "But how
if the Maiden had nay-said thee; what hadst thou done then?"

"By the heavens!" said the King's Son fiercely, "she should have
paid for her nay-say; then would I--" But he broke off, and said
quietly, yet somewhat doggedly: "Why talk of what might have been?
She gave me her yea-say pleasantly and sweetly."

Now Walter knew that the man lied, so he held his peace thereon; but
presently he said: "When thou art free wilt thou go to thine own
land again?"

"Yea," said the King's Son; "she will lead me thither."

"And wilt thou make her thy lady and queen when thou comest to thy
father's land?" said Walter.

The King's Son knit his brow, and said: "When I am in mine own land
I may do with her what I will; but I look for it that I shall do no
otherwise with her than that she shall be well-content."

Then the talk between them dropped, and the King's Son turned off
toward the wood, singing and joyous; but Walter went soberly toward
the house. Forsooth he was not greatly cast down, for besides that
he knew that the King's Son was false, he deemed that under this
double tryst lay something which was a-doing in his own behalf. Yet
was he eager and troubled, if not down-hearted, and his soul was
cast about betwixt hope and fear.

CHAPTER XX: WALTER IS BIDDEN TO ANOTHER TRYST

So came he into the pillared hall, and there he found the Lady
walking to and fro by the high-seat; and when he drew nigh she
turned on him, and said in a voice rather eager than angry: "What
hast thou done, Squire? Why art thou come before me?"

He was abashed, and bowed before her and said: "O gracious Lady,
thou badest me service, and I have been about it."

She said: "Tell me then, tell me, what hath betided?"

"Lady," said he, "when I entered the thicket of thy swooning I found
there no carcase of the lion, nor any sign of the dragging away of
him."

She looked full in his face for a little, and then went to her
chair, and sat down therein; and in a little while spake to him in a
softer voice, and said: "Did I not tell thee that some enemy had
done that unto me? and lo! now thou seest that so it is."

Then was she silent again, and knit her brows and set her teeth; and
thereafter she spake harshly and fiercely: "But I will overcome
her, and make her days evil, but keep death away from her, that she
may die many times over; and know all the sickness of the heart,
when foes be nigh, and friends afar, and there is none to deliver!"

Her eyes flashed, and her face was dark with anger; but she turned
and caught Walter's eyes, and the sternness of his face, and she
softened at once, and said: "But thou! this hath little to do with
thee; and now to thee I speak: Now cometh even and night. Go thou
to thy chamber, and there shalt thou find raiment worthy of thee,
what thou now art, and what thou shalt be; do on the same, and make
thyself most goodly, and then come thou hither and eat and drink
with me, and afterwards depart whither thou wilt, till the night has
worn to its midmost; and then come thou to my chamber, to wit,
through the ivory door in the gallery above; and then and there
shall I tell thee a thing, and it shall be for the weal both of thee
and of me, but for the grief and woe of the Enemy."

Therewith she reached her hand to him, and he kissed it, and
departed and came to his chamber, and found raiment therebefore rich
beyond measure; and he wondered if any new snare lay therein: yet
if there were, he saw no way whereby he might escape it, so he did
it on, and became as the most glorious of kings, and yet lovelier
than any king of the world.

Sithence he went his way into the pillared hall, when it was now
night, and without the moon was up, and the trees of the wood as
still as images. But within the hall shone bright with many
candles, and the fountain glittered in the light of them, as it ran
tinkling sweetly into the little stream; and the silvern bridges
gleamed, and the pillars shone all round about.

And there on the dais was a table dight most royally, and the Lady
sitting thereat, clad in her most glorious array, and behind her the
Maid standing humbly, yet clad in precious web of shimmering gold,
but with feet unshod, and the iron ring upon her ankle.

So Walter came his ways to the high-seat, and the Lady rose and
greeted him, and took him by the hands, and kissed him on either
cheek, and sat him down beside her. So they fell to their meat, and
the Maid served them; but the Lady took no more heed of her than if
she were one of the pillars of the hall; but Walter she caressed oft
with sweet words, and the touch of her hand, making him drink out of
her cup and eat out of her dish. As to him, he was bashful by
seeming, but verily fearful; he took the Lady's caresses with what
grace he might, and durst not so much as glance at her Maid. Long
indeed seemed that banquet to him, and longer yet endured the
weariness of his abiding there, kind to his foe and unkind to his
friend; for after the banquet they still sat a while, and the Lady
talked much to Walter about many things of the ways of the world,
and he answered what he might, distraught as he was with the thought
of those two trysts which he had to deal with.

At last spake the Lady and said: "Now must I leave thee for a
little, and thou wottest where and how we shall meet next; and
meanwhile disport thee as thou wilt, so that thou weary not thyself,
for I love to see thee joyous."

Then she arose stately and grand; but she kissed Walter on the mouth
ere she turned to go out of the hall. The Maid followed her; but or
ever she was quite gone, she stooped and made that sign, and looked
over her shoulder at Walter, as if in entreaty to him, and there was
fear and anguish in her face; but he nodded his head to her in yea-
say of the tryst in the hazel-copse, and in a trice she was gone.

Walter went down the hall, and forth into the early night; but in
the jaws of the porch he came up against the King's Son, who, gazing
at his attire glittering with all its gems in the moonlight, laughed
out, and said: "Now may it be seen how thou art risen in degree
above me, whereas I am but a king's son, and that a king of a far
country; whereas thou art a king of kings, or shalt be this night,
yea, and of this very country wherein we both are."

Now Walter saw the mock which lay under his words; but he kept back
his wrath, and answered: "Fair sir, art thou as well contented with
thy lot as when the sun went down? Hast thou no doubt or fear?
Will the Maid verily keep tryst with thee, or hath she given thee
yea-say but to escape thee this time? Or, again, may she not turn
to the Lady and appeal to her against thee?"

Now when he had spoken these words, he repented thereof, and feared
for himself and the Maid, lest he had stirred some misgiving in that
young man's foolish heart. But the King's Son did but laugh, and
answered nought but to Walter's last words, and said: "Yea, yea!
this word of thine showeth how little thou wottest of that which
lieth betwixt my darling and thine. Doth the lamb appeal from the
shepherd to the wolf? Even so shall the Maid appeal from me to thy
Lady. What! ask thy Lady at thy leisure what her wont hath been
with her thrall; she shall think it a fair tale to tell thee
thereof. But thereof is my Maid all whole now by reason of her
wisdom in leechcraft, or somewhat more. And now I tell thee again,
that the beforesaid Maid must needs do my will; for if I be the deep
sea, and I deem not so ill of myself, that other one is the devil;
as belike thou shalt find out for thyself later on. Yea, all is
well with me, and more than well."

And therewith he swung merrily into the litten hall. But Walter
went out into the moonlit night, and wandered about for an hour or
more, and stole warily into the hall and thence into his own
chamber. There he did off that royal array, and did his own raiment
upon him; he girt him with sword and knife, took his bow and quiver,
and stole down and out again, even as he had come in. Then he
fetched a compass, and came down into the hazel-coppice from the
north, and lay hidden there while the night wore, till he deemed it
would lack but little of midnight.

CHAPTER XXI: WALTER AND THE MAID FLEE FROM THE GOLDEN HOUSE

There he abode amidst the hazels, hearkening every littlest sound;
and the sounds were nought but the night voices of the wood, till
suddenly there burst forth from the house a great wailing cry.
Walter's heart came up into his mouth, but he had no time to do
aught, for following hard on the cry came the sound of light feet
close to him, the boughs were thrust aside, and there was come the
Maid, and she but in her white coat, and barefoot. And then first
he felt the sweetness of her flesh on his, for she caught him by the
hand and said breathlessly: "Now, now! there may yet be time, or
even too much, it may be. For the saving of breath ask me no
questions, but come!"

He dallied not, but went as she led, and they were lightfoot, both
of them.

They went the same way, due south to wit, whereby he had gone a-
hunting with the Lady; and whiles they ran and whiles they walked;
but so fast they went, that by grey of the dawn they were come as
far as that coppice or thicket of the Lion; and still they hastened
onward, and but little had the Maid spoken, save here and there a
word to hearten up Walter, and here and there a shy word of
endearment. At last the dawn grew into early day, and as they came
over the brow of a bent, they looked down over a plain land whereas
the trees grew scatter-meal, and beyond the plain rose up the land
into long green hills, and over those again were blue mountains
great and far away.

Then spake the Maid: "Over yonder lie the outlying mountains of the
Bears, and through them we needs must pass, to our great peril.
Nay, friend," she said, as he handled his sword-hilt, "it must be
patience and wisdom to bring us through, and not the fallow blade of
one man, though he be a good one. But look! below there runs a
stream through the first of the plain, and I see nought for it but
we must now rest our bodies. Moreover I have a tale to tell thee
which is burning my heart; for maybe there will be a pardon to ask
of thee moreover; wherefore I fear thee."

Quoth Walter: "How may that be?"

She answered him not, but took his hand and led him down the bent.
But he said: "Thou sayest, rest; but are we now out of all peril of
the chase?"

She said: "I cannot tell till I know what hath befallen her. If
she be not to hand to set on her trackers, they will scarce happen
on us now; if it be not for that one."

And she shuddered, and he felt her hand change as he held it.

Then she said: "But peril or no peril, needs must we rest; for I
tell thee again, what I have to say to thee burneth my bosom for
fear of thee, so that I can go no further until I have told thee."

Then he said: "I wot not of this Queen and her mightiness and her
servants. I will ask thereof later. But besides the others, is
there not the King's Son, he who loves thee so unworthily?"

She paled somewhat, and said: "As for him, there had been nought
for thee to fear in him, save his treason: but now shall he neither
love nor hate any more; he died last midnight."

"Yea, and how?" said Walter.

"Nay," she said, "let me tell my tale all together once for all,
lest thou blame me overmuch. But first we will wash us and comfort
us as best we may, and then amidst our resting shall the word be
said."

By then were they come down to the stream-side, which ran fair in
pools and stickles amidst rocks and sandy banks. She said: "There
behind the great grey rock is my bath, friend; and here is thine;
and lo! the uprising of the sun!"

So she went her ways to the said rock, and he bathed him, and washed
the night off him, and by then he was clad again she came back fresh
and sweet from the water, and with her lap full of cherries from a
wilding which overhung her bath. So they sat down together on the
green grass above the sand, and ate the breakfast of the wilderness:
and Walter was full of content as he watched her, and beheld her
sweetness and her loveliness; yet were they, either of them,
somewhat shy and shamefaced each with the other; so that he did but
kiss her hands once and again, and though she shrank not from him,
yet had she no boldness to cast herself into his arms.

CHAPTER XXII: OF THE DWARF AND THE PARDON

Now she began to say: "My friend, now shall I tell thee what I have
done for thee and me; and if thou have a mind to blame me, and
punish me, yet remember first, that what I have done has been for
thee and our hope of happy life. Well, I shall tell thee--"

But therewithal her speech failed her; and, springing up, she faced
the bent and pointed with her finger, and she all deadly pale, and
shaking so that she might scarce stand, and might speak no word,
though a feeble gibbering came from her mouth.

Walter leapt up and put his arm about her, and looked whitherward
she pointed, and at first saw nought; and then nought but a brown
and yellow rock rolling down the bent: and then at last he saw that
it was the Evil Thing which had met him when first he came into that
land; and now it stood upright, and he could see that it was clad in
a coat of yellow samite.

Then Walter stooped down and gat his bow into his hand, and stood
before the Maid, while he nocked an arrow. But the monster made
ready his tackle while Walter was stooping down, and or ever he
could loose, his bow-string twanged, and an arrow flew forth and
grazed the Maid's arm above the elbow, so that the blood ran, and
the Dwarf gave forth a harsh and horrible cry. Then flew Walter's
shaft, and true was it aimed, so that it smote the monster full on
the breast, but fell down from him as if he were made of stone.
Then the creature set up his horrible cry again, and loosed withal,
and Walter deemed that he had smitten the Maid, for she fell down in
a heap behind him. Then waxed Walter wood-wroth, and cast down his
bow and drew his sword, and strode forward towards the bent against
the Dwarf. But he roared out again, and there were words in his
roar, and he said "Fool! thou shalt go free if thou wilt give up the
Enemy."

"And who," said Walter, "is the Enemy?"

Yelled the Dwarf: "She, the pink and white thing lying there; she
is not dead yet; she is but dying for fear of me. Yea, she hath
reason! I could have set the shaft in her heart as easily as
scratching her arm; but I need her body alive, that I may wreak me
on her."

"What wilt thou do with her?" said Walter; for now he had heard that
the Maid was not slain he had waxed wary again, and stood watching
his chance.

The Dwarf yelled so at his last word, that no word came from the
noise a while, and then he said: "What will I with her? Let me at
her, and stand by and look on, and then shalt thou have a strange
tale to carry off with thee. For I will let thee go this while."

Said Walter: "But what need to wreak thee? What hath she done to
thee?"

"What need! what need!" roared the Dwarf; "have I not told thee that
she is the Enemy? And thou askest of what she hath done! of what!
Fool, she is the murderer! she hath slain the Lady that was our
Lady, and that made us; she whom all we worshipped and adored. O
impudent fool!"

Therewith he nocked and loosed another arrow, which would have
smitten Walter in the face, but that he lowered his head in the very
nick of time; then with a great shout he rushed up the bent, and was
on the Dwarf before he could get his sword out, and leaping aloft
dealt the creature a stroke amidmost of the crown; and so mightily
be smote, that he drave the heavy sword right through to the teeth,
so that he fell dead straightway.

Walter stood over him a minute, and when be saw that he moved not,
he went slowly down to the stream, whereby the Maid yet lay cowering
down and quivering all over, and covering her face with her hands.
Then he took her by the wrist and said: "Up, Maiden, up! and tell
me this tale of the slaying."

But she shrunk away from him, and looked at him with wild eyes, and
said: "What hast thou done with him? Is he gone?"

"He is dead," said Walter; "I have slain him; there lies he with
cloven skull on the bent-side: unless, forsooth, he vanish away
like the lion I slew! or else, perchance, he will come to life
again! And art thou a lie like to the rest of them? let me hear of
this slaying."

She rose up, and stood before him trembling, and said: "O, thou art
angry with me, and thine anger I cannot bear. Ah, what have I done?
Thou hast slain one, and I, maybe, the other; and never had we
escaped till both these twain were dead. Ah! thou dost not know!
thou dost not know! O me! what shall I do to appease thy wrath!"

He looked on her, and his heart rose to his mouth at the thought of
sundering from her. Still he looked on her, and her piteous
friendly face melted all his heart; he threw down his sword, and
took her by the shoulders, and kissed her face over and over, and
strained her to him, so that he felt the sweetness of her bosom.
Then he lifted her up like a child, and set her down on the green
grass, and went down to the water, and filled his hat therefrom, and
came back to her; then he gave her to drink, and bathed her face and
her hands, so that the colour came aback to the cheeks and lips of
her: and she smiled on him and kissed his hands, and said: "O now
thou art kind to me."

"Yea," said he, "and true it is that if thou hast slain, I have done
no less, and if thou hast lied, even so have I; and if thou hast
played the wanton, as I deem not that thou hast, I full surely have
so done. So now thou shalt pardon me, and when thy spirit has come
back to thee, thou shalt tell me thy tale in all friendship, and in
all loving-kindness will I hearken the same."

Therewith he knelt before her and kissed her feet. But she said:
"Yea, yea; what thou willest, that will I do. But first tell me one
thing. Hast thou buried this horror and hidden him in the earth?"

He deemed that fear had bewildered her, and that she scarcely yet
knew how things had gone. But he said: "Fair sweet friend, I have
not done it as yet; but now will I go and do it, if it seem good to
thee."

"Yea," she said, "but first must thou smite off his head, and lie it
by his buttocks when he is in the earth; or evil things will happen
else. This of the burying is no idle matter, I bid thee believe."

"I doubt it not," said he; "surely such malice as was in this one
will be hard to slay." And he picked up his sword, and turned to go
to the field of deed.

She said: "I must needs go with thee; terror hath so filled my
soul, that I durst not abide here without thee."

So they went both together to where the creature lay. The Maid
durst not look on the dead monster, but Walter noted that he was
girt with a big ungainly sax; so he drew it from the sheath, and
there smote off the hideous head of the fiend with his own weapon.
Then they twain together laboured the earth, she with Walter's
sword, he with the ugly sax, till they had made a grave deep and
wide enough; and therein they thrust the creature, and covered him
up, weapons and all together.

CHAPTER XXIII: OF THE PEACEFUL ENDING OF THAT WILD DAY

Thereafter Walter led the Maid down again, and said to her: "Now,
sweetling, shall the story be told."

"Nay, friend," she said, "not here. This place hath been polluted
by my craven fear, and the horror of the vile wretch, of whom no
words may tell his vileness. Let us hence and onward. Thou seest I
have once more come to life again."

"But," said he, "thou hast been hurt by the Dwarf's arrow."

She laughed, and said: "Had I never had greater hurt from them than
that, little had been the tale thereof: yet whereas thou lookest
dolorous about it, we will speedily heal it."

Therewith she sought about, and found nigh the stream-side certain
herbs; and she spake words over them, and bade Walter lay them on
the wound, which, forsooth, was of the least, and he did so, and
bound a strip of his shirt about her arm; and then would she set
forth. But he said: "Thou art all unshod; and but if that be seen
to, our journey shall be stayed by thy foot-soreness: I may make a
shift to fashion thee brogues."

She said: "I may well go barefoot. And in any case, I entreat thee
that we tarry here no longer, but go away hence, if it be but for a
mile."

And she looked piteously on him, so that he might not gainsay her.

So then they crossed the stream, and set forward, when amidst all
these haps the day was worn to midmorning. But after they had gone
a mile, they sat them down on a knoll under the shadow of a big
thorn-tree, within sight of the mountains. Then said Walter: "Now
will I cut thee the brogues from the skirt of my buff-coat, which
shall be well meet for such work; and meanwhile shalt thou tell me
thy tale."

"Thou art kind," she said; "but be kinder yet, and abide my tale
till we have done our day's work. For we were best to make no long
delay here; because, though thou hast slain the King-dwarf, yet
there be others of his kindred, who swarm in some parts of the wood
as the rabbits in a warren. Now true it is that they have but
little understanding, less, it may be, than the very brute beasts;
and that, as I said afore, unless they be set on our slot like to
hounds, they shall have no inkling of where to seek us, yet might
they happen upon us by mere misadventure. And moreover, friend,"
quoth she, blushing, "I would beg of thee some little respite; for
though I scarce fear thy wrath any more, since thou hast been so
kind to me, yet is there shame in that which I have to tell thee.
Wherefore, since the fairest of the day is before us, let us use it
all we may, and, when thou hast done me my new foot-gear, get us
gone forward again."

He kissed her kindly and yea-said her asking: he had already fallen
to work on the leather, and in a while had fashioned her the
brogues; so she tied them to her feet, and arose with a smile and
said: "Now am I hale and strong again, what with the rest, and what
with thy loving-kindness, and thou shalt see how nimble I shall be
to leave this land, for as fair as it is. Since forsooth a land of
lies it is, and of grief to the children of Adam."

So they went their ways thence, and fared nimbly indeed, and made no
stay till some three hours after noon, when they rested by a
thicket-side, where the strawberries grew plenty; they ate thereof
what they would: and from a great oak hard by Walter shot him first
one culver, and then another, and hung them to his girdle to be for
their evening's meal; sithence they went forward again, and nought
befell them to tell of, till they were come, whenas it lacked scarce
an hour of sunset, to the banks of another river, not right great,
but bigger than the last one. There the Maid cast herself down and
said: "Friend, no further will thy friend go this even; nay, to say
sooth, she cannot. So now we will eat of thy venison, and then
shall my tale be, since I may no longer delay it; and thereafter
shall our slumber be sweet and safe as I deem."

She spake merrily now, and as one who feared nothing, and Walter was
much heartened by her words and her voice, and he fell to and made a
fire, and a woodland oven in the earth, and sithence dighted his
fowl, and baked them after the manner of wood-men. And they ate,
both of them, in all love, and in good-liking of life, and were much
strengthened by their supper. And when they were done, Walter eked
his fire, both against the chill of the midnight and dawning, and
for a guard against wild beasts, and by that time night was come,
and the moon arisen. Then the Maiden drew up to the fire, and
turned to Walter and spake.

CHAPTER XXIV: THE MAID TELLS OF WHAT HAD BEFALLEN HER

"Now, friend, by the clear of the moon and this firelight will I
tell what I may and can of my tale. Thus it is: If I be wholly of
the race of Adam I wot not nor can I tell thee how many years old I
may be. For there are, as it were, shards or gaps in my life,
wherein are but a few things dimly remembered, and doubtless many
things forgotten. I remember well when I was a little child, and
right happy, and there were people about me whom I loved, and who
loved me. It was not in this land; but all things were lovely
there; the year's beginning, the happy mid-year, the year's waning,
the year's ending, and then again its beginning. That passed away,
and then for a while is more than dimness, for nought I remember
save that I was. Thereafter I remember again, and am a young
maiden, and I know some things, and long to know more. I am nowise
happy; I am amongst people who bid me go, and I go; and do this, and
I do it: none loveth me, none tormenteth me; but I wear my heart in
longing for I scarce know what. Neither then am I in this land, but
in a land that I love not, and a house that is big and stately, but
nought lovely. Then is a dim time again, and sithence a time not
right clear; an evil time, wherein I am older, wellnigh grown to
womanhood. There are a many folk about me, and they foul, and
greedy, and hard; and my spirit is fierce, and my body feeble; and I
am set to tasks that I would not do, by them that are unwiser than
I; and smitten I am by them that are less valiant than I; and I know
lack, and stripes, and divers misery. But all that is now become
but a dim picture to me, save that amongst all these unfriends is a
friend to me; an old woman, who telleth me sweet tales of other
life, wherein all is high and goodly, or at the least valiant and
doughty, and she setteth hope in my heart and learneth me, and
maketh me to know much . . . O much . . . so that at last I am grown
wise, and wise to be mighty if I durst. Yet am I nought in this
land all this while, but, as meseemeth, in a great and a foul city."

"And then, as it were, I fall asleep; and in my sleep is nought,
save here and there a wild dream, somedeal lovely, somedeal hideous:
but of this dream is my Mistress a part, and the monster, withal,
whose head thou didst cleave to-day. But when I am awaken from it,
then am I verily in this land, and myself, as thou seest me to-day.
And the first part of my life here is this, that I am in the
pillared ball yonder, half-clad and with bound hands; and the Dwarf
leadeth me to the Lady, and I hear his horrible croak as he sayeth:
'Lady, will this one do?' and then the sweet voice of the Lady
saying: 'This one will do; thou shalt have thy reward: now, set
thou the token upon her.' Then I remember the Dwarf dragging me
away, and my heart sinking for fear of him: but for that time he
did me no more harm than the rivetting upon my leg this iron ring
which here thou seest."

"So from that time forward I have lived in this land, and been the
thrall of the Lady; and I remember my life here day by day, and no
part of it has fallen into the dimness of dreams. Thereof will I
tell thee but little: but this I will tell thee, that in spite of
my past dreams, or it may be because of them, I had not lost the
wisdom which the old woman had erst learned me, and for more wisdom
I longed. Maybe this longing shall now make both thee and me happy,
but for the passing time it brought me grief. For at first my
Mistress was indeed wayward with me, but as any great lady might be
with her bought thrall, whiles caressing me, and whiles chastising
me, as her mood went; but she seemed not to be cruel of malice, or
with any set purpose. But so it was (rather little by little than
by any great sudden uncovering of my intent), that she came to know
that I also had some of the wisdom whereby she lived her queenly
life. That was about two years after I was first her thrall, and
three weary years have gone by since she began to see in me the
enemy of her days. Now why or wherefore I know not, but it seemeth
that it would not avail her to slay me outright, or suffer me to
die; but nought withheld her from piling up griefs and miseries on
my head. At last she set her servant, the Dwarf, upon me, even he
whose head thou clavest to-day. Many things I bore from him whereof
it were unseemly for my tongue to tell before thee; but the time
came when he exceeded, and I could bear no more; and then I showed
him this sharp knife (wherewith I would have thrust me through to
the heart if thou hadst not pardoned me e'en now), and I told him
that if he forbore me not, I would slay, not him, but myself; and
this he might not away with because of the commandment of the Lady,
who had given him the word that in any case I must be kept living.
And her hand, withal, fear held somewhat hereafter. Yet was there
need to me of all my wisdom; for with all this her hatred grew, and
whiles raged within her so furiously that it overmastered her fear,
and at such times she would have put me to death if I had not
escaped her by some turn of my lore."

"Now further, I shall tell thee that somewhat more than a year ago
hither to this land came the King's Son, the second goodly man, as
thou art the third, whom her sorceries have drawn hither since I
have dwelt here. Forsooth, when he first came, he seemed to us, to
me, and yet more to my Lady, to be as beautiful as an angel, and
sorely she loved him; and he her, after his fashion: but he was
light-minded, and cold-hearted, and in a while he must needs turn
his eyes upon me, and offer me his love, which was but foul and
unkind as it turned out; for when I nay-said him, as maybe I had not
done save for fear of my Mistress, he had no pity upon me, but
spared not to lead me into the trap of her wrath, and leave me
without help, or a good word. But, O friend, in spite of all grief
and anguish, I learned still, and waxed wise, and wiser, abiding the
day of my deliverance, which has come, and thou art come."

Therewith she took Walter's hands and kissed them; but he kissed her
face, and her tears wet her lips. Then she went on: "But sithence,
months ago, the Lady began to weary of this dastard, despite of his
beauty; and then it was thy turn to be swept into her net; I partly
guess how. For on a day in broad daylight, as I was serving my
Mistress in the hall, and the Evil Thing, whose head is now cloven,
was lying across the threshold of the door, as it were a dream fell
upon me, though I strove to cast it off for fear of chastisement;
for the pillared hall wavered, and vanished from my sight, and my
feet were treading a rough stone pavement instead of the marble
wonder of the hall, and there was the scent of the salt sea and of
the tackle of ships, and behind me were tall houses, and before me
the ships indeed, with their ropes beating and their sails flapping
and their masts wavering; and in mine ears was the hale and how of
mariners; things that I had seen and heard in the dimness of my life
gone by."

"And there was I, and the Dwarf before me, and the Lady after me,
going over the gangway aboard of a tall ship, and she gathered way
and was gotten out of the haven, and straightway I saw the mariners
cast abroad their ancient."

Quoth Walter: "What then! Sawest thou the blazon thereon, of a
wolf-like beast ramping up against a maiden? And that might well
have been thou."

She said: "Yea, so it was; but refrain thee, that I may tell on my
tale! The ship and the sea vanished away, but I was not back in the
hall of the Golden House; and again were we three in the street of
the self-same town which we had but just left; but somewhat dim was
my vision thereof, and I saw little save the door of a goodly house
before me, and speedily it died out, and we were again in the
pillared hall, wherein my thralldom was made manifest."

"Maiden," said Walter, "one question I would ask thee; to wit, didst
thou see me on the quay by the ships?"

"Nay," she said, "there were many folk about, but they were all as
images of the aliens to me. Now hearken further: three months
thereafter came the dream upon me again, when we were all three
together in the Pillared Hall; and again was the vision somewhat
dim. Once more we were in the street of a busy town, but all unlike
to that other one, and there were men standing together on our right
hands by the door of a house."

"Yea, yea," quoth Walter; "and, forsooth, one of them was who but
I."

"Refrain thee, beloved!" she said; "for my tale draweth to its
ending, and I would have thee hearken heedfully: for maybe thou
shalt once again deem my deed past pardon. Some twenty days after
this last dream, I had some leisure from my Mistress's service, so I
went to disport me by the Well of the Oak-tree (or forsooth she
might have set in my mind the thought of going there, that I might
meet thee and give her some occasion against me); and I sat thereby,
nowise loving the earth, but sick at heart, because of late the
King's Son had been more than ever instant with me to yield him my
body, threatening me else with casting me into all that the worst
could do to me of torments and shames day by day. I say my heart
failed me, and I was wellnigh brought to the point of yea-saying his
desires, that I might take the chance of something befalling me that
were less bad than the worst. But here must I tell thee a thing,
and pray thee to take it to heart. This, more than aught else, had
given me strength to nay-say that dastard, that my wisdom both hath
been, and now is, the wisdom of a wise maid, and not of a woman, and
all the might thereof shall I lose with my maidenhead. Evil wilt
thou think of me then, for all I was tried so sore, that I was at
point to cast it all away, so wretchedly as I shrank from the horror
of the Lady's wrath."

"But there as I sat pondering these things, I saw a man coming, and
thought no otherwise thereof but that it was the King's Son, till I
saw the stranger drawing near, and his golden hair, and his grey
eyes; and then I heard his voice, and his kindness pierced my heart,
and I knew that my friend had come to see me; and O, friend, these
tears are for the sweetness of that past hour!"

Said Walter: "I came to see my friend, I also. Now have I noted
what thou badest me; and I will forbear all as thou commandest me,
till we be safe out of the desert and far away from all evil things;
but wilt thou ban me from all caresses?"

She laughed amidst of her tears, and said: "O, nay, poor lad, if
thou wilt be but wise."

Then she leaned toward him, and took his face betwixt her hands and
kissed him oft, and the tears started in his eyes for love and pity
of her.

Then she said: "Alas, friend! even yet mayst thou doom me guilty,
and all thy love may turn away from me, when I have told thee all
that I have done for the sake of thee and me. O, if then there
might be some chastisement for the guilty woman, and not mere
sundering!"

"Fear nothing, sweetling," said he; "for indeed I deem that already
I know partly what thou hast done."

She sighed, and said: "I will tell thee next, that I banned thy
kissing and caressing of me till to-day because I knew that my
Mistress would surely know if a man, if thou, hadst so much as
touched a finger of mine in love, it was to try me herein that on
the morning of the hunting she kissed and embraced me, till I almost
died thereof, and showed thee my shoulder and my limbs; and to try
thee withal, if thine eye should glister or thy cheek flush thereat;
for indeed she was raging in jealousy of thee. Next, my friend,
even whiles we were talking together at the Well of the Rock, I was
pondering on what we should do to escape from this land of lies.
Maybe thou wilt say: Why didst thou not take my hand and flee with
me as we fled to-day? Friend, it is most true, that were she not
dead we had not escaped thus far. For her trackers would have
followed us, set on by her, and brought us back to an evil fate.
Therefore I tell thee that from the first I did plot the death of
those two, the Dwarf and the Mistress. For no otherwise mightest
thou live, or I escape from death in life. But as to the dastard
who threatened me with a thrall's pains, I heeded him nought to live
or die, for well I knew that thy valiant sword, yea, or thy bare
hands, would speedily tame him. Now first I knew that I must make a
show of yielding to the King's Son; and somewhat how I did therein,
thou knowest. But no night and no time did I give him to bed me,
till after I had met thee as thou wentest to the Golden House,
before the adventure of fetching the lion's skin; and up to that
time I had scarce known what to do, save ever to bid thee, with sore
grief and pain, to yield thee to the wicked woman's desire. But as
we spake together there by the stream, and I saw that the Evil Thing
(whose head thou clavest e'en now) was spying on us, then amidst the
sickness of terror which ever came over me whensoever I thought of
him, and much more when I saw him (ah! he is dead now!), it came
flashing into my mind how I might destroy my enemy. Therefore I
made the Dwarf my messenger to her, by bidding thee to my bed in
such wise that he might hear it. And wot thou well, that he
speedily carried her the tidings. Meanwhile I hastened to lie to
the King's Son, and all privily bade him come to me and not thee.
And thereafter, by dint of waiting and watching, and taking the only
chance that there was, I met thee as thou camest back from fetching
the skin of the lion that never was, and gave thee that warning, or
else had we been undone indeed."

Said Walter: "Was the lion of her making or of thine then?"

She said: "Of hers: why should I deal with such a matter?"

"Yea," said Walter, "but she verily swooned, and she was verily
wroth with the Enemy."

The Maid smiled, and said: "If her lie was not like very sooth,
then had she not been the crafts-master that I knew her: one may
lie otherwise than with the tongue alone: yet indeed her wrath
against the Enemy was nought feigned; for the Enemy was even I, and
in these latter days never did her wrath leave me. But to go on
with my tale."

"Now doubt thou not, that, when thou camest into the hall yester
eve, the Mistress knew of thy counterfeit tryst with me, and meant
nought but death for thee; yet first would she have thee in her arms
again, therefore did she make much of thee at table (and that was
partly for my torment also), and therefore did she make that tryst
with thee, and deemed doubtless that thou wouldst not dare to forgo
it, even if thou shouldst go to me thereafter."

"Now I had trained that dastard to me as I have told thee, but I
gave him a sleepy draught, so that when I came to the bed he might
not move toward me nor open his eyes: but I lay down beside him, so
that the Lady might know that my body had been there; for well had
she wotted if it had not. Then as there I lay I cast over him thy
shape, so that none might have known but that thou wert lying by my
side, and there, trembling, I abode what should befall. Thus I
passed through the hour whenas thou shouldest have been at her
chamber, and the time of my tryst with thee was come as the Mistress
would be deeming; so that I looked for her speedily, and my heart
well-nigh failed me for fear of her cruelty."

"Presently then I heard a stirring in her chamber, and I slipped
from out the bed, and hid me behind the hangings, and was like to
die for fear of her; and lo, presently she came stealing in softly,
holding a lamp in one hand and a knife in the other. And I tell
thee of a sooth that I also had a sharp knife in my hand to defend
my life if need were. She held the lamp up above her head before
she drew near to the bed-side, and I heard her mutter: 'She is not
there then! but she shall be taken.' Then she went up to the bed
and stooped over it, and laid her hand on the place where I had
lain; and therewith her eyes turned to that false image of thee
lying there, and she fell a-trembling and shaking, and the lamp fell
to the ground and was quenched (but there was bright moonlight in
the room, and still I could see what betid). But she uttered a
noise like the low roar of a wild beast, and I saw her arm and hand
rise up, and the flashing of the steel beneath the hand, and then
down came the hand and the steel, and I went nigh to swooning lest
perchance I had wrought over well, and thine image were thy very
self. The dastard died without a groan: why should I lament him?
I cannot. But the Lady drew him toward her, and snatched the
clothes from off his shoulders and breast, and fell a-gibbering
sounds mostly without meaning, but broken here and there with words.
Then I heard her say: 'I shall forget; I shall forget; and the new
days shall come.' Then was there silence of her a little, and
thereafter she cried out in a terrible voice: 'O no, no, no! I
cannot forget; I cannot forget;' and she raised a great wailing cry
that filled all the night with horror (didst thou not hear it?), and
caught up the knife from the bed and thrust it into her breast, and
fell down a dead heap over the bed and on to the man whom she had
slain. And then I thought of thee, and joy smote across my terror;
how shall I gainsay it? And I fled away to thee, and I took thine
hands in mine, thy dear hands, and we fled away together. Shall we
be still together?"

He spoke slowly, and touched her not, and she, forbearing all
sobbing and weeping, sat looking wistfully on him. He said: "I
think thou hast told me all; and whether thy guile slew her, or her
own evil heart, she was slain last night who lay in mine arms the
night before. It was ill, and ill done of me, for I loved not her,
but thee, and I wished for her death that I might be with thee.
Thou wottest this, and still thou lovest me, it may be
overweeningly. What have I to say then? If there be any guilt of
guile, I also was in the guile; and if there be any guilt of murder,
I also was in the murder. Thus we say to each other; and to God and
his Hallows we say: 'We two have conspired to slay the woman who
tormented one of us, and would have slain the other; and if we have
done amiss therein, then shall we two together pay the penalty; for
in this have we done as one body and one soul.'"

Therewith he put his arms about her and kissed her, but soberly and
friendly, as if he would comfort her. And thereafter he said to
her: "Maybe to-morrow, in the sunlight, I will ask thee of this
woman, what she verily was; but now let her be. And thou, thou art
over-wearied, and I bid thee sleep."

So he went about and gathered of bracken a great heap for her bed,
and did his coat thereover, and led her thereto, and she lay down
meekly, and smiled and crossed her arms over her bosom, and
presently fell asleep. But as for him, he watched by the fire-side
till dawn began to glimmer, and then he also laid him down and
slept.

CHAPTER XXV: OF THE TRIUMPHANT SUMMER ARRAY OF THE MAID

When the day was bright Walter arose, and met the Maid coming from
the river-bank, fresh and rosy from the water. She paled a little
when they met face to face, and she shrank from him shyly. But he
took her hand and kissed her frankly; and the two were glad, and had
no need to tell each other of their joy, though much else they
deemed they had to say, could they have found words thereto.

So they came to their fire and sat down, and fell to breakfast; and
ere they were done, the Maid said: "My Master, thou seest we be
come nigh unto the hill-country, and to-day about sunset, belike, we
shall come into the Land of the Bear-folk; and both it is, that
there is peril if we fall into their hands, and that we may scarce
escape them. Yet I deem that we may deal with the peril by wisdom."

"What is the peril?" said Walter; "I mean, what is the worst of it?"

Said the Maid: "To be offered up in sacrifice to their God."

"But if we escape death at their hands, what then?" said Walter.

"One of two things," said she; "the first that they shall take us
into their tribe."

"And will they sunder us in that case?" said Walter.

"Nay," said she.

Walter laughed and said: "Therein is little harm then. But what is
the other chance?"

Said she: "That we leave them with their goodwill, and come back to
one of the lands of Christendom."

Said Walter: "I am not all so sure that this is the better of the
two choices, though, forsooth, thou seemest to think so. But tell
me now, what like is their God, that they should offer up new-comers
to him?"

"Their God is a woman," she said, "and the Mother of their nation
and tribes (or so they deem) before the days when they had
chieftains and Lords of Battle."

"That will be long ago," said he; "how then may she be living now?"

Said the Maid: "Doubtless that woman of yore agone is dead this
many and many a year; but they take to them still a new woman, one
after other, as they may happen on them, to be in the stead of the
Ancient Mother. And to tell thee the very truth right out, she that
lieth dead in the Pillared Hall was even the last of these; and now,
if they knew it, they lack a God. This shall we tell them."

"Yea, yea!" said Walter, "a goodly welcome shall we have of them
then, if we come amongst them with our hands red with the blood of
their God!"

She smiled on him and said: "If I come amongst them with the
tidings that I have slain her, and they trow therein, without doubt
they shall make me Lady and Goddess in her stead."

"This is a strange word," said Walter "but if so they do, how shall
that further us in reaching the kindreds of the world, and the folk
of Holy Church?"

She laughed outright, so joyous was she grown, now that she knew
that his life was yet to be a part of hers. "Sweetheart," she said,
"now I see that thou desirest wholly what I desire; yet in any case,
abiding with them would be living and not dying, even as thou hadst
it e'en now. But, forsooth, they will not hinder our departure if
they deem me their God; they do not look for it, nor desire it, that
their God should dwell with them daily. Have no fear." Then she
laughed again, and said: "What! thou lookest on me and deemest me
to be but a sorry image of a goddess; and me with my scanty coat and
bare arms and naked feet! But wait! I know well how to array me
when the time cometh. Thou shalt see it! And now, my Master, were
it not meet that we took to the road?"

So they arose, and found a ford of the river that took the Maid but
to the knee, and so set forth up the greensward of the slopes
whereas there were but few trees; so went they faring toward the
hill-country.

At the last they were come to the feet of the very hills, and in the
hollows betwixt the buttresses of them grew nut and berry trees, and
the greensward round about them was both thick and much flowery.
There they stayed them and dined, whereas Walter had shot a hare by
the way, and they had found a bubbling spring under a grey stone in
a bight of the coppice, wherein now the birds were singing their
best.

When they had eaten and had rested somewhat, the Maid arose and
said: "Now shall the Queen array herself, and seem like a very
goddess."

Then she fell to work, while Walter looked on; and she made a
garland for her head of eglantine where the roses were the fairest;
and with mingled flowers of the summer she wreathed her middle
about, and let the garland of them hang down to below her knees; and
knots of the flowers she made fast to the skirts of her coat, and
did them for arm-rings about her arms, and for anklets and sandals
for her feet. Then she set a garland about Walter's head, and then
stood a little off from him and set her feet together, and lifted up
her arms, and said: "Lo now! am I not as like to the Mother of
Summer as if I were clad in silk and gold? and even so shall I be
deemed by the folk of the Bear. Come now, thou shalt see how all
shall be well."

She laughed joyously; but he might scarce laugh for pity of his
love. Then they set forth again, and began to climb the hills, and
the hours wore as they went in sweet converse; till at last Walter
looked on the Maid, and smiled on her, and said: "One thing I would
say to thee, lovely friend, to wit: wert thou clad in silk and
gold, thy stately raiment might well suffer a few stains, or here
and there a rent maybe; but stately would it be still when the folk
of the Bear should come up against thee. But as to this flowery
array of thine, in a few hours it shall be all faded and nought.
Nay, even now, as I look on thee, the meadow-sweet that hangeth from
thy girdle-stead has waxen dull, and welted; and the blossoming
eyebright that is for a hem to the little white coat of thee is
already forgetting how to be bright and blue. What sayest thou
then?"

She laughed at his word, and stood still, and looked back over her
shoulder, while with her fingers she dealt with the flowers about
her side like to a bird preening his feathers. Then she said: "Is
it verily so as thou sayest? Look again!"

So he looked, and wondered; for lo! beneath his eyes the spires of
the meadow-sweet grew crisp and clear again, the eyebright blossoms
shone once more over the whiteness of her legs; the eglantine roses
opened, and all was as fresh and bright as if it were still growing
on its own roots.

He wondered, and was even somedeal aghast; but she said: "Dear
friend, be not troubled! did I not tell thee that I am wise in
hidden lore? But in my wisdom shall be no longer any scathe to any
man. And again, this my wisdom, as I told thee erst, shall end on
the day whereon I am made all happy. And it is thou that shall
wield it all, my Master. Yet must my wisdom needs endure for a
little season yet. Let us on then, boldly and happily."

CHAPTER XXVI: THEY COME TO THE FOLK OF THE BEARS

On they went, and before long they were come up on to the down-
country, where was scarce a tree, save gnarled and knotty thorn-
bushes here and there, but nought else higher than the whin. And
here on these upper lands they saw that the pastures were much
burned with the drought, albeit summer was not worn old. Now they
went making due south toward the mountains, whose heads they saw
from time to time rising deep blue over the bleak greyness of the
down-land ridges. And so they went, till at last, hard on sunset,
after they had climbed long over a high bent, they came to the brow
thereof, and, looking down, beheld new tidings.

There was a wide valley below them, greener than the downs which
they had come over, and greener yet amidmost, from the watering of a
stream which, all beset with willows, wound about the bottom. Sheep
and neat were pasturing about the dale, and moreover a long line of
smoke was going up straight into the windless heavens from the midst
of a ring of little round houses built of turfs, and thatched with
reed. And beyond that, toward an eastward-lying bight of the dale,
they could see what looked like to a doom-ring of big stones, though
there were no rocky places in that land. About the cooking-fire
amidst of the houses, and here and there otherwhere, they saw,
standing or going to and fro, huge figures of men and women, with
children playing about betwixt them.

They stood and gazed down at it for a minute or two, and though all
were at peace there, yet to Walter, at least, it seemed strange and
awful. He spake softly, as though he would not have his voice reach
those men, though they were, forsooth, out of earshot of anything
save a shout: "Are these then the children of the Bear? What shall
we do now?"

She said: "Yea, of the Bear they be, though there be other folks of
them far and far away to the northward and eastward, near to the
borders of the sea. And as to what we shall do, let us go down at
once, and peacefully. Indeed, by now there will be no escape from
them; for lo you! they have seen us."

Forsooth, some three or four of the big men had turned them toward
the bent whereon stood the twain, and were hailing them in huge,
rough voices, wherein, howsoever, seemed to be no anger or threat.
So the Maid took Walter by the hand, and thus they went down
quietly, and the Bear-folk, seeing them, stood all together, facing
them, to abide their coming. Walter saw of them, that though they
were very tall and bigly made, they were not so far above the
stature of men as to be marvels. The carles were long-haired, and
shaggy of beard, and their hair all red or tawny; their skins, where
their naked flesh showed, were burned brown with sun and weather,
but to a fair and pleasant brown, nought like to blackamoors. The
queans were comely and well-eyed; nor was there anything of fierce
or evil-looking about either the carles or the queans, but somewhat
grave and solemn of aspect were they. Clad were they all, saving
the young men-children, but somewhat scantily, and in nought save
sheep-skins or deer-skins.

For weapons they saw amongst them clubs, and spears headed with bone
or flint, and ugly axes of big flints set in wooden handles; nor was
there, as far as they could see, either now or afterward, any bow
amongst them. But some of the young men seemed to have slings done
about their shoulders.

Now when they were come but three fathom from them, the Maid lifted
up her voice, and spake clearly and sweetly: "Hail, ye folk of the
Bears! we have come amongst you, and that for your good and not for
your hurt: wherefore we would know if we be welcome."

There was an old man who stood foremost in the midst, clad in a
mantle of deer-skins worked very goodly, and with a gold ring on his
arm, and a chaplet of blue stones on his head, and he spake:
"Little are ye, but so goodly, that if ye were but bigger, we should
deem that ye were come from the Gods' House. Yet have I heard, that
how mighty soever may the Gods be, and chiefly our God, they be at
whiles nought so bigly made as we of the Bears. How this may be, I
wot not. But if ye be not of the Gods or their kindred, then are ye
mere aliens; and we know not what to do with aliens, save we meet
them in battle, or give them to the God, or save we make them
children of the Bear. But yet again, ye may be messengers of some
folk who would bind friendship and alliance with us: in which case
ye shall at the least depart in peace, and whiles ye are with us
shall be our guests in all good cheer. Now, therefore, we bid you
declare the matter unto us."

Then spake the Maid: "Father, it were easy for us to declare what
we be unto you here present. But, meseemeth, ye who be gathered
round the fire here this evening are less than the whole tale of the
children of the Bear."

"So it is, Maiden," said the elder, "that many more children hath
the Bear."

"This then we bid you," said the Maid, "that ye send the tokens
round and gather your people to you, and when they be assembled in
the Doom-ring, then shall we put our errand before you; and
according to that, shall ye deal with us."

"Thou hast spoken well," said the elder; "and even so had we bidden
you ourselves. To-morrow, before noon, shall ye stand in the Doom-
ring in this Dale, and speak with the children of the Bear."

Therewith he turned to his own folk and called out something,
whereof those twain knew not the meaning; and there came to him, one
after another, six young men, unto each of whom he gave a thing from
out his pouch, but what it was Walter might not see, save that it
was little and of small account: to each, also, he spake a word or
two, and straight they set off running, one after the other, turning
toward the bent which was over against that whereby the twain had
come into the Dale, and were soon out of sight in the gathering
dusk.

Then the elder turned him again to Walter and the Maid, and spake:
"Man and woman, whatsoever ye may be, or whatsoever may abide you
to-morrow, to-night, ye are welcome guests to us; so we bid you come
eat and drink at our fire."

So they sat all together upon the grass round about the embers of
the fire, and ate curds and cheese, and drank milk in abundance; and
as the night grew on them they quickened the fire, that they might
have light. This wild folk talked merrily amongst themselves, with
laughter enough and friendly jests, but to the new-comers they were
few-spoken, though, as the twain deemed, for no enmity that they
bore them. But this found Walter, that the younger ones, both men
and women, seemed to find it a hard matter to keep their eyes off
them; and seemed, withal, to gaze on them with somewhat of doubt,
or, it might be, of fear.

So when the night was wearing a little, the elder arose and bade the
twain to come with him, and led them to a small house or booth,
which was amidmost of all, and somewhat bigger than the others, and
he did them to wit that they should rest there that night, and bade
them sleep in peace and without fear till the morrow. So they
entered, and found beds thereon of heather and ling, and they laid
them down sweetly, like brother and sister, when they had kissed
each other. But they noted that four brisk men lay without the
booth, and across the door, with their weapons beside them, so that
they must needs look upon themselves as captives.

Then Walter might not refrain him, but spake: "Sweet and dear
friend, I have come a long way from the quay at Langton, and the
vision of the Dwarf, the Maid, and the Lady; and for this kiss
wherewith I have kissed thee e'en now, and the kindness of thine
eyes, it was worth the time and the travail. But to-morrow,
meseemeth, I shall go no further in this world, though my journey be
far longer than from Langton hither. And now may God and All
Hallows keep thee amongst this wild folk, whenas I shall be gone
from thee."

She laughed low and sweetly, and said: "Dear friend, dost thou
speak to me thus mournfully to move me to love thee better? Then is
thy labour lost; for no better may I love thee than now I do; and
that is with mine whole heart. But keep a good courage, I bid thee;
for we be not sundered yet, nor shall we be. Nor do I deem that we
shall die here, or to-morrow; but many years hence, after we have
known all the sweetness of life. Meanwhile, I bid thee good-night,
fair friend!"

CHAPTER XXVII: MORNING AMONGST THE BEARS

So Walter laid him down and fell asleep, and knew no more till he
awoke in bright daylight with the Maid standing over him. She was
fresh from the water, for she had been to the river to bathe her,
and the sun through the open door fell streaming on her feet close
to Walter's pillow. He turned about and cast his arm about them,
and caressed them, while she stood smiling upon him; then he arose
and looked on her, and said: "How thou art fair and bright this
morning! And yet . . . and yet . . . were it not well that thou do
off thee all this faded and drooping bravery of leaves and blossoms,
that maketh thee look like to a jongleur's damsel on a morrow of
May-day?"

And he gazed ruefully on her.

She laughed on him merrily, and said: "Yea, and belike these others
think no better of my attire, or not much better; for yonder they
are gathering small wood for the burnt-offering; which, forsooth,
shall be thou and I, unless I better it all by means of the wisdom I
learned of the old woman, and perfected betwixt the stripes of my
Mistress, whom a little while ago thou lovedst somewhat."

And as she spake her eyes sparkled, her cheek flushed, and her limbs
and her feet seemed as if they could scarce refrain from dancing for
joy. Then Walter knit his brow, and for a moment a thought half-
framed was in his mind: Is it so, that she will bewray me and live
without me? and he cast his eyes on to the ground. But she said:
"Look up, and into mine eyes, friend, and see if there be in them
any falseness toward thee! For I know thy thought; I know thy
thought. Dost thou not see that my joy and gladness is for the love
of thee, and the thought of the rest from trouble that is at hand?"

He looked up, and his eyes met the eyes of her love, and he would
have cast his arms about her; but she drew aback and said: "Nay,
thou must refrain thee awhile, dear friend, lest these folk cast
eyes on us, and deem us over lover-like for what I am to bid them
deem me. Abide a while, and then shall all be in me according to
thy will. But now I must tell thee that it is not very far from
noon, and that the Bears are streaming into the Dale, and already
there is an host of men at the Doom-ring, and, as I said, the bale
for the burnt-offering is wellnigh dight, whether it be for us, or
for some other creature. And now I have to bid thee this, and it
will be a thing easy for thee to do, to wit, that thou look as if
thou wert of the race of the Gods, and not to blench, or show sign
of blenching, whatever betide: to yea-say both my yea-say and my

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