Child Christopher - Chapter 11
XI. HOW CHRISTOPHER CAME TO LITTLEDALE TO ABIDE THERE A WHILE
In about a week's time from this, those four fellows went their ways southward from the Tofts, having with them four good nags and four sumpter beasts laden with such things as they needed, whereof were weapons enough, though they all, save Christopher, bare bows; and he and the others were girt with swords, and a leash of good dogs followed them. Two milch kine also they drave with them.
Merry they were all as they went their ways through the woods, but the gladness of Christopher was even past words; wherefore, after a little, he spake scarce at all, but sat in his saddle hearkening the tales and songs and jests of his fellows, who went close beside him, for more often they went a-foot than rode. And, forsooth, as the sweet morning wore, it seemed to him, so great was his joy, as if all the fair show of the greenery, and the boles of the ancient oaks, and the squirrels running from bough to bough, and the rabbits scuttling from under the bracken, and the hind leaping in the wood-lawn, and the sun falling through the rustling leaves, and the wind on his face, and the scent of the forest, yea, and his fair companions and their loveliness & valiancy and kindness, and the words and songs that came from their dear mouths, all these seemed to him, as it were, one great show done for the behoof and pleasure of him, the man come from the peril of death and the sick-bed.
They lay that night in all glee under the green boughs; and arose on the morrow, and went all day, and again slept in the greenwood, and the next morning came down into a fair valley, which was indeed Littledale, through which ran a pleasant little river; and on a grassy knoll, but a short way from its bank, was a long framed hall, somewhat narrow, and nought high, whitherward they turned them straightway, and were presently before the door; then Gilbert drew a key from out of his scrip and unlocked the door, and they entered, and found within a fair little hall, with shut-beds out from it on the further side, and kitchen, and store-bowers at the end; all things duly appointed with plenishing, and meal and wine; for it was but some three months since one of Jack of the Tofts' allies, Sir Launcelot a'Green and his wife and two bairns, had left it till their affair was made straight; whereas he had dwelt there a whole year, for he had been made an outlaw of Meadham, and was a dear friend of the said Jack.
"Now," said David smiling, "here is now thy high house and thy castle, little King Christopher; how doth it like thee?"
"Right well," said Christopher; "and, to say sooth, I would almost that it were night, or my bones do else, that I might lie naked in a bed."
"Nay, lad," said Gilbert, "make it night now, and we will do all that needs must be done, while thou liest lazy, as all kings use to do."
"Nay," said Christopher, "I will be more a king than so, for I will do neither this nor that; I will not work and I will not go to bed, but will look on, till it is time for me to take to the crooked stick and the grey-goose wing and seek venison."
"That is better than well," said David; "for I can see by thine eyes, that are dancing with pleasure, that in three or four days thou wilt be about the thickets with us."
"Meantime," said Joanna, "thou shalt pay for thy meat and drink by telling us tales when we come home weary."
"Yea," said Christopher laughing, "that ye may go to sleep before your time."
So they talked, and were joyous and blithe together, and between them they made the house trim, and decked it with boughs and blossoms; and though Christopher told them no tale that night, Joanna and David sang both; and in a night or two it was Christopher that was the minstrel. So when the morrow came there began their life of the woodland; but, save for the changing of the year and the chances of the hunt, the time passed on from day to day with little change, and it was but seldom that any man came their way. When Yule was, they locked the house door behind them and went their ways home to the Tofts; and now of all of these wayfarers was Christopher by far the hardest and strongest, for his side had utterly forgotten Simon's knife. At the Tofts they were welcomed with all triumph, and they were about there in the best of cheer, till it was wearing toward Candlemas, and then they took occasion of a bright and sunny day to go back to Littledale once more, and there they abode till spring was come and was wearing into summer, and messages had come and gone betwixt them and the Tofts, and it was agreed that with the first of autumn they should go back to the Tofts and see what should betide.
But now leave we Christopher and these good fellows of the Tofts and turn to Goldilind, who is yet dwelling amid no very happy days in the Castle of Greenharbour, on the northernmost marches of Meadham.