Child Christopher - Chapter 38
XXXVIII. OF MATTERS OF MEADHAM
GOES the tale back now to the time when the kingship of Child Christopher was scarce more than one month old; and tells that as the King sat with his Queen in the cool of his garden on a morning of August, there came to him a swain of service, who did him to wit that an outland lord was come, and would see him and give him a message.
So the King bade bring him in to the garden to him straight-way; so the man went, and came back again leading in a knight somewhat stricken in years, on whose green surcoat was beaten a golden lion.
He came to those twain and did obeisance to them, but spake, as it seemed, to Goldilind alone: "Lady, and Queen of Meadham," said he, "it is unto thee, first of all, that mine errand is."
Then she spoke and said: "Welcome to thee, Sir Castellan of Greenharbour, we shall hear thy words gladly."
Said the new-comer: "Lady, I am no longer the Burgreve of Greenharbour, but Sir Guisebert, lord of the Green March, and thy true servant and a suitor for thy grace and pardon."
"I pardon thee not, but thank thee for what thou didst of good to me," said Goldilind, "and I think that now thine errand shall be friendly."
Then turned the Green Knight to the King, and he said: "Have I thy leave to speak, Lord King?" and he smiled covertly.
But Christopher looked on the face and coat-armour of him, and called him to mind as the man who had stood betwixt him and present death that morning in the porch of the Littledale house; so he looked on him friendly, and said: "My leave thou hast, Sir Knight, to speak fully and freely, and that the more as meseemeth I saw thee first when thou hadst weaponed men at thy back, and wert turning their staves away from my breast."
"Even so it is, Lord King," said the Knight; "and to say sooth, I fear thee less for thy kingship, than because I wot well that thou mayst lightly take me up by the small of my back and cast me over thy shoulder if thou have a mind therefor."
Christopher laughed at his word, and bade him sit down upon the green grass and tell his errand straightway; and the Knight tarried not, but spake out: "Queen of Meadham, I am a friend and fellow, and in some sort a servant, to Earl Geoffrey, Regent of Meadham, whom thou knowest; and he hath put a word in my mouth which is both short and easy for me to tell. All goes awry in Meadham now, and men are arming against each other, and will presently be warring, but if thou look to it; because all this is for lack of thee. But if thou wilt vouchsafe to come to Meadhamstead, and sit on thy throne for a little while, commanding and forbidding; and if thou wilt appoint one of the lords for thine Earl there, and others for thy captains, and governors and burgreves and so forth; then if the people see thee and hear thee, the swords will go into their sheaths, and the spears will hang on the wall again, and we shall have peace in Meadham, for all will do thy bidding. Wherefore, Lady and Queen, I beseech thee to come to us, and stave off the riot and ruin. What sayest thou?"
Goldilind made answer in a while: "Sir Guisebert, true it is that I long to see my people, and to look once more on my father's house, and the place where he was born and died. But how know I but this is some wile of Earl Geoffrey, for he hath not been abounding in trustiness toward us?"
But Sir Guisebert swore on his salvation that there was no guile therein, and they were undone save Goldilind came unto them. Then spake Christopher: "Sir Knight, I am willing to pleasure my Lady, who, as I can see, longeth to behold her own land and people; and also by thy voice and thy face I deem that thou art not lying unto me, and that no harm will befall the Lady; yet will I ask thee right out what thou and thy lord would think thereof if she come into Meadham accompanied; to wit, if I rode with her, and had five hundreds of good riders at my back, would ye have guesting for so many and such stark lads?"
The Knight took up the word eagerly, and said: "Wilt thou but come, dearlord, and bring a thousand or more, then the surer and the safer it would be for us."
Said the King, smiling: "Well, it shall be thought on; and meantime be thou merry with us; for indeed I deem of thee, that but for thy helping my life had been cast away that morning in Littledale."
So they made much of the Meadham man for three days, and thereafter they rode into Meadham and to Meadhamstead, Christopher, and Jack of the Tofts, and Goldilind, in all honour and triumph, they and seven hundreds of spears, and never were lords received with such joy and kindness as were they, but it were on the day when Christopher and his entered Oakenham.
The Earl Geoffrey was not amongst them that met them; but whenas they sat at the banquet in the hall, and Goldilind was in the high-seat, gloriously clad and with the kingly crown on her head, there came a tall man up to the dais, grey-headed and keen-eyed, and he was unarmed, without so much as a sword by his side, and clad in simple black; and he knelt before Goldilind, and laid his head on her lap, and spake: "Lady and Queen, here is my head to do with as thou wilt; for I have been thy dastard, and I crave thy pardon, if so it may be, for I am Geoffrey."
She looked kindly on him, and raised him up; and then she turned to the chief of the serving-men, and said: "Fetch me a sword with its sheath and its girdle, and see that it be a good blade, and all well-adorned, both sword and sheath and girdle." Even so it was done; and when she had the sword, she bade Sir Geoffrey kneel again before her, and she girt him with the said sword and spake: "Sir Geoffrey, all the wrong which thou didest to me, I forgive it thee and forget it; but wherein thou hast done well, I will remember it, for thou hast given me a mighty King to be my man; nay, the mightiest and the loveliest on earth; wherefore I bless thee, and will make thee my Earl to rule all Meadham under me, if so be the folk gainsay it not. Wherefore now let these folk fetch thee seemly garments and array thee, and then come sit amongst us, and eat and drink on this high day; for a happy day it is when once again I sit in my father's house, and see the faces of my folk that loveth me."
She spake loud and clear, so that most folk in the hall heard her; and they rejoiced at her words, for Sir Geoffrey was no ill ruler, but wise and of great understanding, keen of wit and deft of word, and a mighty warrior withal; only they might not away with it that their Lady and Queen had become as alien to them. So when they heard her speak her will, they shouted for joy of the peace and goodwill that was to be.
There then sat Geoffrey at the banquet; and Christopher smiled on him, and said: "See now, lord, if I have not done as thou badest when thou gavest me the treasure of Greenharbour, for I have brought the wolf-heads to thy helping and not to thy scathing. Do thou as much for me, and be thou a good earl to thy Lady and mine, and then shalt thou yet live and die a happy man, and my friend. Or else--"
"There shall be no else, Lord King," quoth Geoffrey; "all men henceforth shall tell of me as a true man."
So they were blithe and joyous together. But a seven days thence was the Allmen's Mote gathered to the wood-side without Meadhamstead, and thronged it was: and there Goldilind stood up before all the folk and named Sir Geoffrey for Earl to rule the land under her, and none gainsaid it, for they knew him meet thereto. Then she named from the baronage and knighthood such men as she had been truly told were meet thereto to all the offices of the kingdom, and there was none whom she named but was well- pleasing to the folk; for she had taken counsel beforehand with all the wisest men of all degrees.
As for herself, all loved and worshipped her; and this alone seemed hard unto them, that she must needs go back to Oakenrealm in a few days: but when she heard them murmur thereat, she behight them, that once in every year she would come into Meadham and spend one whole month therein; and, were it possible, ever should that be the month of May. So when they heard that, they all praised her, and were the more content. This custom she kept ever thereafter, and she lay in with her second son in the city of Meadhamstead, so that he was born therein; and she named him to be King after her, to the great joy of that folk; and he grew up strong and well-liking, and came to the kingship while his mother was yet alive, and was a good man and well-beloved of his folk.
Before she turned back with her man, she let seek out Aloyse, and when she came before her, gave her gifts and bade her come back with her to Oakenham and serve her there if she would: and the damsel was glad, for there in Meadhamstead was she poor and not well seen to, whereas it was rumoured of her that she had been one of the jailers of Goldilind.
When they came back to Oakenham, there they met Gandolf, Baron of Brimside, now whole of his hurts, and the King greeted him kindly, and did well to him all his life; and found him ever a true man.
Good thenceforward was the life of Child Christopher and Goldilind: whiles indeed they happed on unpeace or other trouble; but never did fair love and good worship depart from them, either of each unto each, or of the whole folk unto them twain.
To no man did Christopher mete out worse than his deserts, nay, to most far better he meted: no man he feared, nor hated any save the tormentors of poor folk; and but a little while abided his hatred of those, for it cut short their lives, so that they were speedily done with and forgotten. And when he died a very old man but one year after Goldilind his dear, no king that ever lived was so bewailed by his folk as was Child Christopher.