Child Christopher - Chapter 28
XXVIII. OF THE HOSTING IN HAZELDALE
On the morrow early was Jack of the Tofts dight for departure, with Christopher and David and Gilbert and five score of his best men. But when they went out of the porch into the sweet morning, lo! there was Goldilind before them, clad in her green gown, and as fresh and dear as the early day itself. And Jack looked on her and said: "And thou, my Lady and Queen, thou art dight as thou wouldst wend with us?"
"Yea," she said, "and why not?"
"What sayest thou, King Christopher?" said the Captain.
"Nay," said King Christopher, reddening, "it is for thee to yea-say or nay-say; though true it is that I have bidden her farewell for two days' space." And the two stood looking on one another.
But Jack laughed and said: "Well, then, so be it; but let us get to the way, or else when the sweethearts of these lads know that we have a woman with us we shall have them all at our backs." Thereat all laughed who were within earshot, and were merry.
So they wended the woodland ways, some afoot, some a-horseback, of whom was Jack of the Tofts, but Christopher and David went afoot. And Goldilind rode a fair white horse which the Captain had gotten her.
As they went, and King Christopher ever by Goldilind's right hand, and were merry and joyous, they two were alone in the woodland way; so Christopher took her hand and kissed it, and said: "Sweetling, why didst thou tell me nought of thy will to come along with us? Never had I balked thee."
She looked at him, blushing as a rose, and said: "Dear friend, I will tell thee; I knew that thou wouldst make our parting piteous-sweet this morning; and of that I would not be balked. See, then, how rich I am, since I have both parted from thee and have thee." And therewith she louted down from her saddle, and they kissed together sweetly, and so thereafter wore the way.
So came they to the plain of Hazeldale, which was a wide valley with a middling river winding about it, the wild-wood at its back toward the Tofts, and in front down-land nought wooded, save here and there a tree nigh a homestead or cot; for that way the land was builded for a space. Forsooth it was not easy for the folk thereabout to live quietly, but if they were friends in some wise to Jack of the Tofts.
So when the company of the Tofts came out into the dale about three hours after noon, it was no wonder to them to see men riding and going to and fro, and folk pitching tents and raising booths nigh to the cover of the wood; and when the coming of the Toft-folk was seen, and the winding of their horns heard, there was many a glad cry raised in answer, and many an horn blown, and all men there came running together toward where now was stayed Jack of the Tofts and Christopher and their men.
Then Goldilind bade Christopher help her light down; so he took her in his arms, and was not over hasty in setting her down again. But when she stood by him, she looked over the sunny field darkened by the folk hastening over the greensward, and her eyes glittered and her cheek flushed, and she said: "Lord King, be these some others of thy men?"
"Yea, sweetling," said he, "to live and die with me."
She looked on him, and said softly: "Maybe it were an ill wish to wish that I were thou; yet if it might be for one hour!"
Said he: "Shall it not be for more than one hour? Shall it not be for evermore, since we twain are become one?"
"Nay," she said, "this is but a word; I am but thine handmaid: and now I can scarce refrain my body from falling before thy feet."
He laughed in her face for joy, and said: "Abide a while, until these men have looked on thee, and then shalt thou see how thou wilt be a flame of war in their hearts that none shall withstand."
Now were the dale-dwellers all come together in their weapons, and they were glad of their King and his loveling; and stout men were they all, albeit some were old, and some scarce of man's age. So they were ranked and told over, and the tale of them was over six score who had obeyed the war-arrow, and more and more, they said, would come in every hour. But now the Captains of them bade the Toft-folk eat with them; and they yea-said the bidding merrily, and word was given, and sacks and baskets brought forth, and barrels to boot, and all men sat down on the greensward, and high was the feast and much the merriment on the edge of Hazeldale.