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The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris

Part 3 out of 3

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nay-say: and lastly this, which is the only hard thing for thee
(but thou hast already done it before somewhat), to look upon me
with no masterful eyes of love, nor as if thou wert at once praying
me and commanding me; rather thou shalt so demean thee as if thou
wert my man all simply, and nowise my master."

"O friend beloved," said Walter, "here at least art thou the master,
and I will do all thy bidding, in certain hope of this, that either
we shall live together or die together."

But as they spoke, in came the elder, and with him a young maiden,
bearing with them their breakfast of curds arid cream and
strawberries, and he bade them eat. So they ate, and were not
unmerry; and the while of their eating the elder talked with them
soberly, but not hardly, or with any seeming enmity: and ever his
talk gat on to the drought, which was now burning up the down-
pastures; and how the grass in the watered dales, which was no wide
spread of land, would not hold out much longer unless the God sent
them rain. And Walter noted that those two, the elder and the Maid,
eyed each other curiously amidst of this talk; the elder intent on
what she might say, and if she gave heed to his words; while on her
side the Maid answered his speech graciously and pleasantly, but
said little that was of any import: nor would she have him fix her
eyes, which wandered lightly from this thing to that; nor would her
lips grow stern and stable, but ever smiled in answer to the light
of her eyes, as she sat there with her face as the very face of the
gladness of the summer day.

CHAPTER XXVIII: OF THE NEW GOD OF THE BEARS

At last the old man said: "My children, ye shall now come with me
unto the Doom-ring of our folk, the Bears of the Southern Dales, and
deliver to them your errand; and I beseech you to have pity upon
your own bodies, as I have pity on them; on thine especially,
Maiden, so fair and bright a creature as thou art; for so it is,
that if ye deal us out light and lying words after the manner of
dastards, ye shall miss the worship and glory of wending away amidst
of the flames, a gift to the God and a hope to the people, and shall
be passed by the rods of the folk, until ye faint and fail amongst
them, and then shall ye be thrust down into the flow at the Dale's
End, and a stone-laden hurdle cast upon you, that we may thenceforth
forget your folly."

The Maid now looked full into his eyes, and Walter deemed that the
old man shrank before her; but she said: "Thou art old and wise, O
great man of the Bears, yet nought I need to learn of thee. Now
lead us on our way to the Stead of the Errands."

So the elder brought them along to the Doom-ring at the eastern end
of the Dale; and it was now all peopled with those huge men,
weaponed after their fashion, and standing up, so that the grey
stones thereof but showed a little over their heads. But amidmost
of the said Ring was a big stone, fashioned as a chair, whereon sat
a very old man, long-hoary and white-bearded, and on either side of
him stood a great-limbed woman clad in war-gear, holding, each of
them, a long spear, and with a flint-bladed knife in the girdle; and
there were no other women in all the Mote.

Then the elder led those twain into the midst of the Mote, and there
bade them go up on to a wide, flat-topped stone, six feet above the
ground, just over against the ancient chieftain; and they mounted it
by a rough stair, and stood there before that folk; Walter in his
array of the outward world, which had been fair enough, of crimson
cloth and silk, and white linen, but was now travel-stained and
worn; and the Maid with nought upon her, save the smock wherein she
had fled from the Golden House of the Wood beyond the World, decked
with the faded flowers which she had wreathed about her yesterday.
Nevertheless, so it was, that those big men eyed her intently, and
with somewhat of worship.

Now did Walter, according to her bidding, sink down on his knees
beside her, and drawing his sword, hold it before him, as if to keep
all interlopers aloof from the Maid. And there was silence in the
Mote, and all eyes were fixed on those twain.

At last the old chief arose and spake: "Ye men, here are come a man
and a woman, we know not whence; whereas they have given word to our
folk who first met them, that they would tell their errand to none
save the Mote of the People; which it was their due to do, if they
were minded to risk it. For either they be aliens without an errand
hither, save, it may be, to beguile us, in which case they shall
presently die an evil death; or they have come amongst us that we
may give them to the God with flint-edge and fire; or they have a
message to us from some folk or other, on the issue of which lieth
life or death. Now shall ye hear what they have to say concerning
themselves and their faring hither. But, meseemeth, it shall be the
woman who is the chief and hath the word in her mouth; for, lo you!
the man kneeleth at her feet, as one who would serve and worship
her. Speak out then, woman, and let our warriors hear thee."

Then the Maid lifted up her voice, and spake out clear and
shrilling, like to a flute of the best of the minstrels: "Ye men of
the Children of the Bear, I would ask you a question, and let the
chieftain who sitteth before me answer it."

The old man nodded his head, and she went on: "Tell me, Children of
the Bear, how long a time is worn since ye saw the God of your
worship made manifest in the body of a woman!"

Said the elder: "Many winters have worn since my father's father
was a child, and saw the very God in the bodily form of a woman."

Then she said again: "Did ye rejoice at her coming, and would ye
rejoice if once more she came amongst you?"

"Yea," said the old chieftain, "for she gave us gifts, and learned
us lore, and came to us in no terrible shape, but as a young woman
as goodly as thou."

Then said the Maid: "Now, then, is the day of your gladness come;
for the old body is dead, and I am the new body of your God, come
amongst you for your welfare."

Then fell a great silence on the Mote, till the old man spake and
said: "What shall I say and live? For if thou be verily the God,
and I threaten thee, wilt thou not destroy me? But thou hast spoken
a great word with a sweet mouth, and hast taken the burden of blood
on thy lily hands; and if the Children of the Bear be befooled of
light liars, how shall they put the shame off them? Therefore I
say, show to us a token; and if thou be the God, this shall be easy
to thee; and if thou show it not, then is thy falsehood manifest,
and thou shalt dree the weird. For we shall deliver thee into the
hands of these women here, who shall thrust thee down into the flow
which is hereby, after they have wearied themselves with whipping
thee. But thy man that kneeleth at thy feet shall we give to the
true God, and he shall go to her by the road of the flint and the
fire. Hast thou heard? Then give to us the sign and the token."

She changed countenance no whit at his word; but her eyes were the
brighter, and her cheek the fresher and her feet moved a little, as
if they were growing glad before the dance; and she looked out over
the Mote, and spake in her clear voice: "Old man, thou needest not
to fear for thy words. Forsooth it is not me whom thou threatenest
with stripes and a foul death, but some light fool and liar, who is
not here. Now hearken! I wot well that ye would have somewhat of
me, to wit, that I should send you rain to end this drought, which
otherwise seemeth like to lie long upon you: but this rain, I must
go into the mountains of the south to fetch it you; therefore shall
certain of your warriors bring me on my way, with this my man, up to
the great pass of the said mountains, and we shall set out
thitherward this very day."

She was silent a while, and all looked on her, but none spake or
moved, so that they seemed as images of stone amongst the stones.

Then she spake again and said: "Some would say, men of the Bear,
that this were a sign and a token great enough; but I know you, and
how stubborn and perverse of heart ye be; and how that the gift not
yet within your hand is no gift to you; and the wonder ye see not,
your hearts trow not. Therefore look ye upon me as here I stand, I
who have come from the fairer country and the greenwood of the
lands, and see if I bear not the summer with me, and the heart that
maketh increase and the hand that giveth."

Lo then! as she spake, the faded flowers that hung about her
gathered life and grew fresh again; the woodbine round her neck and
her sleek shoulders knit itself together and embraced her freshly,
and cast its scent about her face. The lilies that girded her loins
lifted up their heads, and the gold of their tassels fell upon her;
the eyebright grew clean blue again upon her smock; the eglantine
found its blooms again, and then began to shed the leaves thereof
upon her feet; the meadow-sweet wreathed amongst it made clear the
sweetness of her legs, and the mouse-ear studded her raiment as with
gems. There she stood amidst of the blossoms, like a great orient
pearl against the fretwork of the goldsmiths, and the breeze that
came up the valley from behind bore the sweetness of her fragrance
all over the Man-mote.

Then, indeed, the Bears stood up, and shouted and cried, and smote
on their shields, and tossed their spears aloft. Then the elder
rose from his seat, and came up humbly to where she stood, and
prayed her to say what she would have done; while the others drew
about in knots, but durst not come very nigh to her. She answered
the ancient chief, and said, that she would depart presently toward
the mountains, whereby she might send them the rain which they
lacked, and that thence she would away to the southward for a while;
but that they should hear of her, or, it might be, see her, before
they who were now of middle age should be gone to their fathers.

Then the old man besought her that they might make her a litter of
fragrant green boughs, and so bear her away toward the mountain pass
amidst a triumph of the whole folk. But she leapt lightly down from
the stone, and walked to and fro on the greensward, while it seemed
of her that her feet scarce touched the grass; and she spake to the
ancient chief where he still kneeled in worship of her, and said
"Nay; deemest thou of me that I need bearing by men's hands, or that
I shall tire at all when I am doing my will, and I, the very heart
of the year's increase? So it is, that the going of my feet over
your pastures shall make them to thrive, both this year and the
coming years: surely will I go afoot."

So they worshipped her the more, and blessed her; and then first of
all they brought meat, the daintiest they might, both for her and
for Walter. But they would not look on the Maid whiles she ate, or
suffer Walter to behold her the while. Afterwards, when they had
eaten, some twenty men, weaponed after their fashion, made them
ready to wend with the Maiden up into the mountains, and anon they
set out thitherward all together. Howbeit, the huge men held them
ever somewhat aloof from the Maid; and when they came to the
resting-place for that night, where was no house, for it was up
amongst the foot-hills before the mountains, then it was a wonder to
see how carefully they built up a sleeping-place for her, and tilted
it over with their skin-cloaks, and how they watched nightlong about
her. But Walter they let sleep peacefully on the grass, a little
way aloof from the watchers round the Maid.

CHAPTER XXIX: WALTER STRAYS IN THE PASS AND IS SUNDERED FROM THE
MAID

Morning came, and they arose and went on their ways, and went all
day till the sun was nigh set, and they were come up into the very
pass; and in the jaws thereof was an earthen howe. There the Maid
bade them stay, and she went up on to the howe, and stood there and
spake to them, and said: "O men of the Bear, I give you thanks for
your following, and I bless you, and promise you the increase of the
earth. But now ye shall turn aback, and leave me to go my ways; and
my man with the iron sword shall follow me. Now, maybe, I shall
come amongst the Bear-folk again before long, and yet again, and
learn them wisdom; but for this time it is enough. And I shall tell
you that ye were best to hasten home straightway to your houses in
the downland dales, for the weather which I have bidden for you is
even now coming forth from the forge of storms in the heart of the
mountains. Now this last word I give you, that times are changed
since I wore the last shape of God that ye have seen, wherefore a
change I command you. If so be aliens come amongst you, I will not
that ye send them to me by the flint and the fire; rather, unless
they be baleful unto you, and worthy of an evil death, ye shall
suffer them to abide with you; ye shall make them become children of
the Bears, if they be goodly enough and worthy, and they shall be my
children as ye be; otherwise, if they be ill-favoured and weakling,
let them live and be thralls to you, but not join with you, man to
woman. Now depart ye with my blessing."

Therewith she came down from the mound, and went her ways up the
pass so lightly, that it was to Walter, standing amongst the Bears,
as if she had vanished away. But the men of that folk abode
standing and worshipping their God for a little while, and that
while he durst not sunder him from their company. But when they had
blessed him and gone on their way backward, he betook him in haste
to following the Maid, thinking to find her abiding him in some nook
of the pass.

Howsoever, it was now twilight or more, and, for all his haste, dark
night overtook him, so that perforce he was stayed amidst the tangle
of the mountain ways. And, moreover, ere the night was grown old,
the weather came upon him on the back of a great south wind, so that
the mountain nooks rattled and roared, and there was the rain and
the hail, with thunder and lightning, monstrous and terrible, and
all the huge array of a summer storm. So he was driven at last to
crouch under a big rock and abide the day.

But not so were his troubles at an end. For under the said rock he
fell asleep, and when he awoke it was day indeed; but as to the
pass, the way thereby was blind with the driving rain and the
lowering lift; so that, though he struggled as well as he might
against the storm and the tangle, he made but little way.

And now once more the thought came on him, that the Maid was of the
fays, or of some race even mightier; and it came on him now not as
erst, with half fear and whole desire, but with a bitter oppression
of dread, of loss and misery; so that he began to fear that she had
but won his love to leave him and forget him for a new-comer, after
the wont of fay-women, as old tales tell.

Two days he battled thus with storm and blindness, and wanhope of
his life; for he was growing weak and fordone. But the third
morning the storm abated, though the rain yet fell heavily, and he
could see his way somewhat as well as feel it: withal he found that
now his path was leading him downwards. As it grew dusk, he came
down into a grassy valley with a stream running through it to the
southward, and the rain was now but little, coming down but in
dashes from time to time. So he crept down to the stream-side, and
lay amongst the bushes there; and said to himself, that on the
morrow he would get him victual, so that he might live to seek his
Maiden through the wide world. He was of somewhat better heart:
but now that he was laid quiet, and had no more for that present to
trouble him about the way, the anguish of his loss fell upon him the
keener, and he might not refrain him from lamenting his dear Maiden
aloud, as one who deemed himself in the empty wilderness: and thus
he lamented for her sweetness and her loveliness, and the kindness
of her voice and her speech, and her mirth. Then he fell to crying
out concerning the beauty of her shaping, praising the parts of her
body, as her face, and her hands, and her shoulders, and her feet,
and cursing the evil fate which had sundered him from the
friendliness of her, and the peerless fashion of her.

CHAPTER XXX: NOW THEY MEET AGAIN

Complaining thus-wise, he fell asleep from sheer weariness, and when
he awoke it was broad day, calm and bright and cloudless, with the
scent of the earth refreshed going up into the heavens, and the
birds singing sweetly in the bushes about him: for the dale
whereunto he was now come was a fair and lovely place amidst the
shelving slopes of the mountains, a paradise of the wilderness, and
nought but pleasant and sweet things were to be seen there, now that
the morn was so clear and sunny.

He arose and looked about him, and saw where, a hundred yards aloof,
was a thicket of small wood, as thorn and elder and whitebeam, all
wreathed about with the bines of wayfaring tree; it hid a bight of
the stream, which turned round about it, and betwixt it and Walter
was the grass short and thick, and sweet, and all beset with
flowers; and he said to himself that it was even such a place as
wherein the angels were leading the Blessed in the great painted
paradise in the choir of the big church at Langton on Holm. But lo!
as he looked he cried aloud for joy, for forth from the thicket on
to the flowery grass came one like to an angel from out of the said
picture, white-clad and bare-foot, sweet of flesh, with bright eyes
and ruddy cheeks; for it was the Maid herself. So he ran to her,
and she abode him, holding forth kind hands to him, and smiling,
while she wept for joy of the meeting. He threw himself upon her,
and spared not to kiss her, her cheeks and her mouth, and her arms
and her shoulders, and wheresoever she would suffer it. Till at
last she drew aback a little, laughing on him for love, and said:
"Forbear now, friend, for it is enough for this time, and tell me
how thou hast sped."

"Ill, ill," said he.

"What ails thee?" she said.

"Hunger," he said, "and longing for thee."

"Well," she said, "me thou hast; there is one ill quenched; take my
hand, and we will see to the other one."

So he took her hand, and to hold it seemed to him sweet beyond
measure. But he looked up, and saw a little blue smoke going up
into the air from beyond the thicket; and he laughed, for he was
weak with hunger, and he said: "Who is at the cooking yonder?"

"Thou shalt see," she said; and led him therewith into the said
thicket and through it, and lo! a fair little grassy place, full of
flowers, betwixt the bushes and the bight of the stream; and on the
little sandy ere, just off the greensward, was a fire of sticks, and
beside it two trouts lying, fat and red-flecked.

"Here is the breakfast," said she; "when it was time to wash the
night off me e'en now, I went down the strand here into the rippling
shallow, and saw the bank below it, where the water draws together
yonder, and deepens, that it seemed like to hold fish; and whereas I
looked to meet thee presently, I groped the bank for them, going
softly; and lo thou! Help me now, that we cook them."

So they roasted them on the red embers, and fell to and ate well,
both of them, and drank of the water of the stream out of each
other's hollow hands; and that feast seemed glorious to them, such
gladness went with it.

But when they were done with their meat, Walter said to the Maid:
"And how didst thou know that thou shouldst see me presently?"

She said, looking on him wistfully: "This needed no wizardry. I
lay not so far from thee last night, but that I heard thy voice and
knew it."

Said he, "Why didst thou not come to me then, since thou heardest me
bemoaning thee?"

She cast her eyes down, and plucked at the flowers and grass, and
said: "It was dear to hear thee praising me; I knew not before that
I was so sore desired, or that thou hadst taken such note of my
body, and found it so dear."

Then she reddened sorely, and said: "I knew not that aught of me
had such beauty as thou didst bewail."

And she wept for joy. Then she looked on him and smiled, and said:
"Wilt thou have the very truth of it? I went close up to thee, and
stood there hidden by the bushes and the night. And amidst thy
bewailing, I knew that thou wouldst soon fall asleep, and in sooth I
out-waked thee."

Then was she silent again; and he spake not, but looked on her
shyly; and she said, reddening yet more: "Furthermore, I must needs
tell thee that I feared to go to thee in the dark night, and my
heart so yearning towards thee."

And she hung her head adown; but he said: "Is it so indeed, that
thou fearest me? Then doth that make me afraid--afraid of thy nay-
say. For I was going to entreat thee, and say to thee: Beloved, we
have now gone through many troubles; let us now take a good reward
at once, and wed together, here amidst this sweet and pleasant house
of the mountains, ere we go further on our way; if indeed we go
further at all. For where shall we find any place sweeter or
happier than this?"

But she sprang up to her feet, and stood there trembling before him,
because of her love; and she said: "Beloved, I have deemed that it
were good for us to go seek mankind as they live in the world, and
to live amongst them. And as for me, I will tell thee the sooth, to
wit, that I long for this sorely. For I feel afraid in the
wilderness, and as if I needed help and protection against my
Mistress, though she be dead; and I need the comfort of many people,
and the throngs of the cities. I cannot forget her: it was but
last night that I dreamed (I suppose as the dawn grew a-cold) that I
was yet under her hand, and she was stripping me for the torment; so
that I woke up panting and crying out. I pray thee be not angry
with me for telling thee of my desires; for if thou wouldst not have
it so, then here will I abide with thee as thy mate, and strive to
gather courage."

He rose up and kissed her face, and said: "Nay, I had in sooth no
mind to abide here for ever; I meant but that we should feast a
while here, and then depart: sooth it is, that if thou dreadest the
wilderness, somewhat I dread the city."

She turned pale, and said: "Thou shalt have thy will, my friend, if
it must be so. But bethink thee we be not yet at our journey's end,
and may have many things and much strife to endure, before we be at
peace and in welfare. Now shall I tell thee--did I not before?--
that while I am a maid untouched, my wisdom, and somedeal of might,
abideth with me, and only so long. Therefore I entreat thee, let us
go now, side by side, out of this fair valley, even as we are, so
that my wisdom and might may help thee at need. For, my friend, I
would not that our lives be short, so much of joy as hath now come
into them."

"Yea, beloved," he said, "let us on straightway then, and shorten
the while that sundereth us."

"Love," she said, "thou shalt pardon me one time for all. But this
is to be said, that I know somewhat of the haps that lie a little
way ahead of us; partly by my lore, and partly by what I learned of
this land of the wild folk whiles thou wert lying asleep that
morning."

So they left that pleasant place by the water, and came into the
open valley, and went their ways through the pass; and it soon
became stony again, as they mounted the bent which went up from out
the dale. And when they came to the brow of the said bent, they had
a sight of the open country lying fair and joyous in the sunshine,
and amidst of it, against the blue hills, the walls and towers of a
great city.

Then said the Maid: "O, dear friend, lo you! is not that our abode
that lieth yonder, and is so beauteous? Dwell not our friends
there, and our protection against uncouth wights, and mere evil
things in guileful shapes? O city, I bid thee hail!"

But Walter looked on her, and smiled somewhat; and said: "I rejoice
in thy joy. But there be evil things in yonder city also, though
they be not fays nor devils, or it is like to no city that I wot of.
And in every city shall foes grow up to us without rhyme or reason,
and life therein shall be tangled unto us."

"Yea," she said; "but in the wilderness amongst the devils, what was
to be done by manly might or valiancy? There hadst thou to fall
back upon the guile and wizardry which I had filched from my very
foes. But when we come down yonder, then shall thy valiancy prevail
to cleave the tangle for us. Or at the least, it shall leave a tale
of thee behind, and I shall worship thee."

He laughed, and his face grew brighter: "Mastery mows the meadow,"
quoth he, "and one man is of little might against many. But I
promise thee I shall not be slothful before thee."

CHAPTER XXXI: THEY COME UPON NEW FOLK

With that they went down from the bent again, and came to where the
pass narrowed so much, that they went betwixt a steep wall of rock
on either side; but after an hour's going, the said wall gave back
suddenly, and, or they were ware almost, they came on another dale
like to that which they had left, but not so fair, though it was
grassy and well watered, and not so big either. But here indeed
befell a change to them; for lo! tents and pavilions pitched in the
said valley, and amidst of it a throng of men, mostly weaponed, and
with horses ready saddled at hand. So they stayed their feet, and
Walter's heart failed him, for he said to himself: Who wotteth what
these men may be, save that they be aliens? It is most like that we
shall be taken as thralls; and then, at the best, we shall be
sundered; and that is all one with the worst.

But the Maid, when she saw the horses, and the gay tents, and the
pennons fluttering, and the glitter of spears, and gleaming of white
armour, smote her palms together for joy, and cried out: "Here now
are come the folk of the city for our welcoming, and fair and lovely
are they, and of many things shall they be thinking, and a many
things shall they do, and we shall be partakers thereof. Come then,
and let us meet them, fair friend!"

But Walter said: "Alas! thou knowest not: would that we might
flee! But now is it over late; so put we a good face on it, and go
to them quietly, as erewhile we did in the Bear-country."

So did they; and there sundered six from the men-at-arms and came to
those twain, and made humble obeisance to Walter, but spake no word.
Then they made as they would lead them to the others, and the twain
went with them wondering, and came into the ring of men-at-arms, and
stood before an old hoar knight, armed all, save his head, with most
goodly armour, and he also bowed before Walter, but spake no word.
Then they took them to the master pavilion, and made signs to them
to sit, and they brought them dainty meat and good wine. And the
while of their eating arose up a stir about them; and when they were
done with their meat, the ancient knight came to them, still bowing
in courteous wise, and did them to wit by signs that they should
depart: and when they were without, they saw all the other tents
struck, and men beginning to busy them with striking the pavilion,
and the others mounted and ranked in good order for the road; and
there were two horse-litters before them, wherein they were bidden
to mount, Walter in one, and the Maid in the other, and no otherwise
might they do. Then presently was a horn blown, and all took to the
road together; and Walter saw betwixt the curtains of the litter
that men-at-arms rode on either side of him, albeit they had left
him his sword by his side.

So they went down the mountain-passes, and before sunset were gotten
into the plain; but they made no stay for nightfall, save to eat a
morsel and drink a draught, going through the night as men who knew
their way well. As they went, Walter wondered what would betide,
and if peradventure they also would be for offering them up to their
Gods; whereas they were aliens for certain, and belike also
Saracens. Moreover there was a cold fear at his heart that he
should be sundered from the Maid, whereas their masters now were
mighty men of war, holding in their hands that which all men desire,
to wit, the manifest beauty of a woman. Yet he strove to think the
best of it that he might. And so at last, when the night was far
spent, and dawn was at hand, they stayed at a great and mighty gate
in a huge wall. There they blew loudly on the horn thrice, and
thereafter the gates were opened, and they all passed through into a
street, which seemed to Walter in the glimmer to be both great and
goodly amongst the abodes of men. Then it was but a little ere they
came into a square, wide-spreading, one side whereof Walter took to
be the front of a most goodly house. There the doors of the court
opened to them or ever the horn might blow, though, forsooth, blow
it did loudly three times; all they entered therein, and men came to
Walter and signed to him to alight. So did he, and would have
tarried to look about for the Maid, but they suffered it not, but
led him up a huge stair into a chamber, very great, and but dimly
lighted because of its greatness. Then they brought him to a bed
dight as fair as might be, and made signs to him to strip and lie
therein. Perforce he did so, and then they bore away his raiment,
and left him lying there. So he lay there quietly, deeming it no
avail for him, a mother-naked man, to seek escape thence; but it was
long ere he might sleep, because of his trouble of mind. At last,
pure weariness got the better of his hopes and fears, and he fell
into slumber just as the dawn was passing into day.

CHAPTER XXXII: OF THE NEW KING OF THE CITY AND LAND OF STARK-WALL

When he awoke again the sun was shining brightly into that chamber,
and he looked, and beheld that it was peerless of beauty and riches,
amongst all that he had ever seen: the ceiling done with gold and
over-sea blue; the walls hung with arras of the fairest, though he
might not tell what was the history done therein. The chairs and
stools were of carven work well be-painted, and amidmost was a great
ivory chair under a cloth of estate, of bawdekin of gold and green,
much be-pearled; and all the floor was of fine work alexandrine.

He looked on all this, wondering what had befallen him, when lo!
there came folk into the chamber, to wit, two serving-men well-
bedight, and three old men clad in rich gowns of silk. These came
to him and (still by signs, without speech) bade him arise and come
with them; and when he bade them look to it that he was naked, and
laughed doubtfully, they neither laughed in answer, nor offered him
any raiment, but still would have him arise, and he did so perforce.
They brought him with them out of the chamber, and through certain
passages pillared and goodly, till they came to a bath as fair as
any might be; and there the serving-men washed him carefully and
tenderly, the old men looking on the while. When it was done, still
they offered not to clothe him, but led him out, and through the
passages again, back to the chamber. Only this time he must pass
between a double hedge of men, some weaponed, some in peaceful
array, but all clad gloriously, and full chieftain-like of aspect,
either for valiancy or wisdom.

In the chamber itself was now a concourse of men, of great estate by
deeming of their array; but all these were standing orderly in a
ring about the ivory chair aforesaid. Now said Walter to himself:
Surely all this looks toward the knife and the altar for me; but he
kept a stout countenance despite of all.

So they led him up to the ivory chair, and he beheld on either side
thereof a bench, and on each was laid a set of raiment from the
shirt upwards; but there was much diversity betwixt these arrays.
For one was all of robes of peace, glorious and be-gemmed, unmeet
for any save a great king; while the other was war-weed, seemly,
well-fashioned, but little adorned; nay rather, worn and bestained
with weather, and the pelting of the spear-storm.

Now those old men signed to Walter to take which of those raiments
he would, and do it on. He looked to the right and the left, and
when he had looked on the war-gear, the heart arose in him, and he
called to mind the array of the Goldings in the forefront of battle,
and he made one step toward the weapons, and laid his hand thereon.
Then ran a glad murmur through that concourse, and the old men drew
up to him smiling and joyous, and helped him to do them on; and as
he took up the helm, he noted that over its broad brown iron sat a
golden crown.

So when he was clad and weaponed, girt with a sword, and a steel axe
in his hand, the elders showed him to the ivory throne, and he laid
the axe on the arm of the chair, and drew forth the sword from the
scabbard, and sat him down, and laid the ancient blade across his
knees; then he looked about on those great men, and spake: "How
long shall we speak no word to each other, or is it so that God hath
stricken you dumb?"

Then all they cried out with one voice: "All hail to the King, the
King of Battle!"

Spake Walter: "If I be king, will ye do my will as I bid you?"

Answered the elder: "Nought have we will to do, lord, save as thou
biddest."

Said Walter: "Thou then, wilt thou answer a question in all truth?"

"Yea, lord," said the elder, "if I may live afterward."

Then said Walter: "The woman that came with me into your Camp of
the Mountain, what hath befallen her?"

The elder answered: "Nought hath befallen her, either of good or
evil, save that she hath slept and eaten and bathed her. What,
then, is the King's pleasure concerning her?"

"That ye bring her hither to me straightway," said Walter.

"Yea," said the elder; "and in what guise shall we bring her hither?
shall she be arrayed as a servant, or a great lady?"

Then Walter pondered a while, and spake at last: "Ask her what is
her will herein, and as she will have it, so let it be. But set ye
another chair beside mine, and lead her thereto. Thou wise old man,
send one or two to bring her in hither, but abide thou, for I have a
question or two to ask of thee yet. And ye, lords, abide here the
coming of my she-fellow, if it weary you not."

So the elder spake to three of the most honourable of the lords, and
they went their ways to bring in the Maid.

CHAPTER XXXIII: CONCERNING THE FASHION OF KING-MAKING IN STARK-WALL

Meanwhile the King spake to the elder, and said: "Now tell me
whereof I am become king, and what is the fashion and cause of the
king-making; for wondrous it is to me, whereas I am but an alien
amidst of mighty men."

"Lord," said the old man, "thou art become king of a mighty city,
which hath under it many other cities and wide lands, and havens by
the sea-side, and which lacketh no wealth which men desire. Many
wise men dwell therein, and of fools not more than in other lands.
A valiant host shall follow thee to battle when needs must thou wend
afield; an host not to be withstood, save by the ancient God-folk,
if any of them were left upon the earth, as belike none are. And as
to the name of our said city, it hight the City of the Stark-wall,
or more shortly, Stark-wall. Now as to the fashion of our king-
making: If our king dieth and leaveth an heir male, begotten of his
body, then is he king after him; but if he die and leave no heir,
then send we out a great lord, with knights and sergeants, to that
pass of the mountain whereto ye came yesterday; and the first man
that cometh unto them, they take and lead to the city, as they did
with thee, lord. For we believe and trow that of old time our
forefathers came down from the mountains by that same pass, poor and
rude, but full of valiancy, before they conquered these lands, and
builded the Stark-wall. But now furthermore, when we have gotten
the said wanderer, and brought him home to our city, we behold him
mother-naked, all the great men of us, both sages and warriors; then
if we find him ill-fashioned and counterfeit of his body, we roll
him in a great carpet till he dies; or whiles, if he be but a simple
man, and without guile, we deliver him for thrall to some artificer
amongst us, as a shoemaker, a wright, or what not, and so forget
him. But in either case we make as if no such man had come to us,
and we send again the lord and his knights to watch the pass; for we
say that such an one the Fathers of old time have not sent us. But
again, when we have seen to the new-comer that he is well-fashioned
of his body, all is not done; for we deem that never would the
Fathers send us a dolt or a craven to be our king. Therefore we bid
the naked one take to him which he will of these raiments, either
the ancient armour, which now thou bearest, lord, or this golden
raiment here; and if he take the war-gear, as thou takedst it, King,
it is well; but if he take the raiment of peace, then hath he the
choice either to be thrall of some goodman of the city, or to be
proven how wise he may be, and so fare the narrow edge betwixt death
and kingship; for if he fall short of his wisdom, then shall he die
the death. Thus is thy question answered, King, and praise be to
the Fathers that they have sent us one whom none may doubt, either
for wisdom or valiancy."

CHAPTER XXXIV: NOW COMETH THE MAID TO THE KING

Then all they bowed before the King, and he spake again: "What is
that noise that I hear without, as if it were the rising of the sea
on a sandy shore, when the south-west wind is blowing."

Then the elder opened his mouth to answer; but before he might get
out the word, there was a stir without the chamber door, and the
throng parted, and lo! amidst of them came the Maid, and she yet
clad in nought save the white coat wherewith she had won through the
wilderness, save that on her head was a garland of red roses, and
her middle was wreathed with the same. Fresh and fair she was as
the dawn of June; her face bright, red-lipped, and clear-eyed, and
her cheeks flushed with hope and love. She went straight to Walter
where he sat, and lightly put away with her hand the elder who would
lead her to the ivory throne beside the King; but she knelt down
before him, and laid her hand on his steel-clad knee, and said: "O
my lord, now I see that thou hast beguiled me, and that thou wert
all along a king-born man coming home to thy realm. But so dear
thou hast been to me; and so fair and clear, and so kind withal do
thine eyes shine on me from under the grey war-helm, that I will
beseech thee not to cast me out utterly, but suffer me to be thy
servant and handmaid for a while. Wilt thou not?"

But the King stooped down to her and raised her up, and stood on his
feet, and took her hands and kissed them, and set her down beside
him, and said to her: "Sweetheart, this is now thy place till the
night cometh, even by my side."

So she sat down there meek and valiant, her hands laid in her lap,
and her feet one over the other; while the King said: "Lords, this
is my beloved, and my spouse. Now, therefore, if ye will have me
for King, ye must worship this one for Queen and Lady; or else
suffer us both to go our ways in peace."

Then all they that were in the chamber cried out aloud: "The Queen,
the Lady! The beloved of our lord!"

And this cry came from their hearts, and not their lips only; for as
they looked on her, and the brightness of her beauty, they saw also
the meekness of her demeanour, and the high heart of her, and they
all fell to loving her. But the young men of them, their cheeks
flushed as they beheld her, and their hearts went out to her, and
they drew their swords and brandished them aloft, and cried out for
her as men made suddenly drunk with love: "The Queen, the Lady, the
lovely one!"

CHAPTER XXXV: OF THE KING OF STARK-WALL AND HIS QUEEN

But while this betid, that murmur without, which is aforesaid, grew
louder; and it smote on the King's ear, and he said again to the
elder: "Tell us now of that noise withoutward, what is it?"

Said the elder: "If thou, King, and the Queen, wilt but arise and
stand in the window, and go forth into the hanging gallery thereof,
then shall ye know at once what is this rumour, and therewithal
shall ye see a sight meet to rejoice the heart of a king new come
into kingship."

So the King arose and took the Maid by the hand, and went to the
window and looked forth; and lo! the great square of the place all
thronged with folk as thick as they could stand, and the more part
of the carles with a weapon in hand, and many armed right gallantly.
Then he went out into the gallery with his Queen, still holding her
hand, and his lords and wise men stood behind him. Straightway then
arose a cry, and a shout of joy and welcome that rent the very
heavens, and the great place was all glittering and strange with the
tossing up of spears and the brandishing of swords, and the
stretching forth of hands.

But the Maid spake softly to King Walter and said: "Here then is
the wilderness left behind a long way, and here is warding and
protection against the foes of our life and soul. O blessed be thou
and thy valiant heart!"

But Walter spake nothing, but stood as one in a dream; and yet, if
that might be, his longing toward her increased manifold.

But down below, amidst of the throng, stood two neighbours somewhat
anigh to the window; and quoth one to the other: "See thou! the new
man in the ancient armour of the Battle of the Waters, bearing the
sword that slew the foeman king on the Day of the Doubtful Onset!
Surely this is a sign of good-luck to us all."

"Yea," said the second, "he beareth his armour well, and the eyes
are bright in the head of him: but hast thou beheld well his she-
fellow, and what the like of her is?"

"I see her," said the other, "that she is a fair woman; yet somewhat
worse clad than simply. She is in her smock, man, and were it not
for the balusters I deem ye should see her barefoot. What is amiss
with her?"

"Dost thou not see her," said the second neighbour, "that she is not
only a fair woman, but yet more, one of those lovely ones that draw
the heart out of a man's body, one may scarce say for why? Surely
Stark-wall hath cast a lucky net this time. And as to her raiment,
I see of her that she is clad in white and wreathed with roses, but
that the flesh of her is so wholly pure and sweet that it maketh all
her attire but a part of her body, and halloweth it, so that it hath
the semblance of gems. Alas, my friend! let us hope that this Queen
will fare abroad unseldom amongst the people."

Thus, then, they spake; but after a while the King and his mate went
back into the chamber, and he gave command that the women of the
Queen should come and fetch her away, to attire her in royal array.
And thither came the fairest of the honourable damsels, and were
fain of being her waiting-women. Therewithal the King was unarmed,
and dight most gloriously, but still he bore the Sword of the King's
Slaying: and sithence were the King and the Queen brought into the
great hall of the palace, and they met on the dais, and kissed
before the lords and other folk that thronged the hall. There they
ate a morsel and drank a cup together while all beheld them; and
then they were brought forth, and a white horse of the goodliest,
well bedight, brought for each of them, and thereon they mounted and
went their ways together, by the lane which the huge throng made for
them, to the great church, for the hallowing and the crowning; and
they were led by one squire alone, and he unarmed; for such was the
custom of Stark-wall when a new king should be hallowed: so came
they to the great church (for that folk was not miscreant, so to
say), and they entered it, they two alone, and went into the choir:
and when they had stood there a little while wondering at their lot,
they heard how the bells fell a-ringing tunefully over their heads;
and then drew near the sound of many trumpets blowing together, and
thereafter the voices of many folk singing; and then were the great
doors thrown open, and the bishop and his priests came into the
church with singing and minstrelsy, and thereafter came the whole
throng of the folk, and presently the nave of the church was filled
by it, as when the water follows the cutting of the dam, and fills
up the dyke. Thereafter came the bishop and his mates into the
choir, and came up to the King, and gave him and the Queen the kiss
of peace. This was mass sung gloriously; and thereafter was the
King anointed and crowned, and great joy was made throughout the
church. Afterwards they went back afoot to the palace, they two
alone together, with none but the esquire going before to show them
the way. And as they went, they passed close beside those two
neighbours, whose talk has been told of afore, and the first one, he
who had praised the King's war-array, spake and said: "Truly,
neighbour, thou art in the right of it; and now the Queen has been
dight duly, and hath a crown on her head, and is clad in white
samite done all over with pearls, I see her to be of exceeding
goodliness; as goodly, maybe, as the Lord King."

Quoth the other: "Unto me she seemeth as she did e'en now; she is
clad in white, as then she was, and it is by reason of the pure and
sweet flesh of her that the pearls shine out and glow, and by the
holiness of her body is her rich attire hallowed; but, forsooth, it
seemed to me as she went past as though paradise had come anigh to
our city, and that all the air breathed of it. So I say, praise be
to God and His Hallows who hath suffered her to dwell amongst us!"

Said the first man: "Forsooth, it is well; but knowest thou at all
whence she cometh, and of what lineage she may be?"

"Nay," said the other, "I wot not whence she is; but this I wot full
surely, that when she goeth away, they whom she leadeth with her
shall be well bestead. Again, of her lineage nought know I; but
this I know, that they that come of her, to the twentieth
generation, shall bless and praise the memory of her, and hallow her
name little less than they hallow the name of the Mother of God."

So spake those two; but the King and Queen came back to the palace,
and sat among the lords and at the banquet which was held
thereafter, and long was the time of their glory, till the night was
far spent and all men must seek to their beds.

CHAPTER XXXVI: OF WALTER AND THE MAID IN THE DAYS OF THE KINGSHIP

Long it was, indeed, till the women, by the King's command, had
brought the Maid to the King's chamber; and he met her, and took her
by the shoulders and kissed her, and said: "Art thou not weary,
sweetheart? Doth not the city, and the thronging folk, and the
watching eyes of the great ones . . . doth it not all lie heavy on
thee, as it doth upon me?"

She said: "And where is the city now? is not this the wilderness
again, and thou and I alone together therein?"

He gazed at her eagerly, and she reddened, so that her eyes shone
light amidst the darkness of the flush of her cheeks.

He spake trembling and softly, and said: "Is it not in one matter
better than the wilderness? is not the fear gone, yea, every whit
thereof?"

The dark flush had left her face, and she looked on him exceeding
sweetly, and spoke steadily and clearly: "Even so it is, beloved."
Therewith she set her hand to the girdle that girt her loins, and
did it off, and held it out toward him, and said: "Here is the
token; this is a maid's girdle, and the woman is ungirt."

So he took the girdle and her hand withal, and cast his arms about
her: and amidst the sweetness of their love and their safety, and
assured hope of many days of joy, they spake together of the hours
when they fared the razor-edge betwixt guile and misery and death,
and the sweeter yet it grew to them because of it; and many things
she told him ere the dawn, of the evil days bygone, and the dealings
of the Mistress with her, till the grey day stole into the chamber
to make manifest her loveliness; which, forsooth, was better even
than the deeming of that man amidst the throng whose heart had been
so drawn towards her. So they rejoiced together in the new day.

But when the full day was, and Walter arose, he called his thanes
and wise men to the council; and first he bade open the prison-
doors, and feed the needy and clothe them, and make good cheer to
all men, high and low, rich and unrich; and thereafter he took
counsel with them on many matters, and they marvelled at his wisdom
and the keenness of his wit; and so it was, that some were but half
pleased thereat, whereas they saw that their will was like to give
way before his in all matters. But the wiser of them rejoiced in
him, and looked for good days while his life lasted.

Now of the deeds that he did, and his joys and his griefs, the tale
shall tell no more; nor of how he saw Langton again, and his
dealings there.

In Stark-wall he dwelt, and reigned a King, well beloved of his
folk, sorely feared of their foemen. Strife he had to deal with, at
home and abroad; but therein he was not quelled, till he fell asleep
fair and softly, when this world had no more of deeds for him to do.
Nor may it be said that the needy lamented him; for no needy had he
left in his own land. And few foes he left behind to hate him.

As to the Maid, she so waxed in loveliness and kindness, that it was
a year's joy for any to have cast eyes upon her in street or on
field. All wizardry left her since the day of her wedding; yet of
wit and wisdom she had enough left, and to spare; for she needed no
going about, and no guile, any more than hard commands, to have her
will done. So loved she was by all folk, forsooth, that it was a
mere joy for any to go about her errands. To be short, she was the
land's increase, and the city's safeguard, and the bliss of the
folk.

Somewhat, as the days passed, it misgave her that she had beguiled
the Bear-folk to deem her their God; and she considered and thought
how she might atone it.

So the second year after they had come to Stark-wall, she went with
certain folk to the head of the pass that led down to the Bears; and
there she stayed the men-at-arms, and went on further with a two
score of husbandmen whom she had redeemed from thralldom in Stark-
wall; and when they were hard on the dales of the Bears, she left
them there in a certain little dale, with their wains and horses,
and seed-corn, and iron tools, and went down all bird-alone to the
dwelling of those huge men, unguarded now by sorcery, and trusting
in nought but her loveliness and kindness. Clad she was now, as
when she fled from the Wood beyond the World, in a short white coat
alone, with bare feet and naked arms; but the said coat was now
embroidered with the imagery of blossoms in silk and gold, and gems,
whereas now her wizardry had departed from her.

So she came to the Bears, and they knew her at once, and worshipped
and blessed her, and feared her. But she told them that she had a
gift for them, and was come to give it; and therewith she told them
of the art of tillage, and bade them learn it; and when they asked
her how they should do so, she told them of the men who were abiding
them in the mountain dale, and bade the Bears take them for their
brothers and sons of the ancient Fathers, and then they should be
taught of them. This they behight her to do, and so she led them to
where her freedmen lay, whom the Bears received with all joy and
loving-kindness, and took them into their folk.

So they went back to their dales together; but the Maid went her
ways back to her men-at-arms and the city of Stark-wall.

Thereafter she sent more gifts and messages to the Bears, but never
again went herself to see them; for as good a face as she put on it
that last time, yet her heart waxed cold with fear, and it almost
seemed to her that her Mistress was alive again, and that she was
escaping from her and plotting against her once more.

As for the Bears, they throve and multiplied; till at last strife
arose great and grim betwixt them and other peoples; for they had
become mighty in battle: yea, once and again they met the host of
Stark-wall in fight, and overthrew and were overthrown. But that
was a long while after the Maid had passed away.

Now of Walter and the Maid is no more to be told, saving that they
begat between them goodly sons and fair daughters; whereof came a
great lineage in Stark-wall; which lineage was so strong, and
endured so long a while, that by then it had died out, folk had
clean forgotten their ancient Custom of king-making, so that after
Walter of Langton there was never another king that came down to
them poor and lonely from out of the Mountains of the Bears.

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