Child Christopher - Chapter 7
VII. HOW CHRISTOPHER WENT A JOURNEY INTO THE WILD-WOOD
Next morning Christopher, who slept in the little hall of the inner court of the Castle, arose betimes, and came to the great gate; but, for as early as he was, there he saw the squire Simon abiding him, standing between two strong horses; to him he gave the sele of the day, and the squire greeted him, but in somewhat surly wise. Then he said to him: "Well, King Christopher, art thou ready for the road?"
"Yea, as thou seest," said the youngling smiling. For, indeed, he had breeches now beneath his shirt, and a surcoat of green woollen over it; boots of deerskin had he withal, and spurs thereon: he was girt with a short sword, and had a quiver of arrows at his back, and bare a great bow in his hand.
"Yea," quoth Simon, "thou deemest thee a gay swain belike; but thou lookest likelier for a deerstealer than a rider, thou, hung up to thy shooting-gear. Deemest thou we go a-hunting of the hind?"
Quoth Christopher: "I wot not, squire; but the great lord who lieth sleeping yonder, hath told me that thou shouldest give me his errand; and of some hunting or feat of wood-craft he spake. Moreover, this crooked stick can drive a shaft through matters harder than a hind's side."
Simon looked confused, and he reddened and stammered somewhat as he answered: "Ah, yea: so it was; I mind me; I will tell thee anon."
Said Christopher: "Withal, squire, if we are wending into the wood, as needs we must, unless we ride round about this dale in a ring all day, dost thou deem we shall go at a gallop many a mile? Nay, fair sir; the horses shall wend a foot's pace oftenest, and we shall go a-foot not unseldom through the thickets."
Now was Simon come to himself again, and that self was surly, so he said: "Ay, ay, little King, thou deemest thee exceeding wise in these woods, dost thou not? and forsooth, thou mayst be. Yet have I tidings for thee."
"Yea, and what be they?" said Christopher.
Simon grinned: "Even these," said he, "that Dr. Knowall was no man's cousin while he lived, and that he died last week."
Therewith he swung himself into his saddle, and Christopher laughed merrily at his poor gibe and mounted in like wise.
Wherewithal they rode their ways through the thorpe, and at the southern end thereof Simon drew rein, and looked on Christopher as if he would ask him something, but asked not. Then said Christopher: "Whither go we now?"
Said Simon: "It is partly for thee to say: hearken, I am bidden first to ride the Redwater Wood with thee: knowest thou that?"
"Yea," said the lad, "full well: but which way shall we ride it? Wilt thou come out of it at Redwater Head, or Herne Moss, or the Long Pools?"
Said Simon: "We shall make for the Long Pools, if thou canst bring me there."
Christopher laughed: "Aha!" said he, "then am I some faraway cousin of Dr. Knowall when the whole tale is told: forsooth I can lead thee thither; but tell me, what shall I do of valiant deeds at the Long Pools? for there is no fire-drake nor effit, nay, nor no giant, nor guileful dwarf, nought save mallard and coot, heron and bittern; yea, and ague-shivers to boot."
Simon looked sourly on him and said: "Thou are bidden to go with me, young man, or gainsay the Marshal. Art thou mighty enough thereto? For the rest, fear not but that the deed shall come to thee one day."
"Nay," said Christopher, "it is all one to me, for I am at home in these woods and wastes, I and my shafts. Tell me of the deeds when thou wilt." But indeed he longed to know the deed, and fretted him because of Simon's surliness and closeness. Then he said: "Well, Squire Simon, let us to the road; for thou shalt know that to-night we must needs house us under the naked heaven; in nowise can we come to the Long Pools before to-morrow morning."
"Yea, and why not?" said the squire; "I have lain in worse places."
"Wilt thou tell me thereof?" said Christopher.
"Mayhappen," said Simon, "if to-morrow comes and goes for both of us twain."
So they rode their ways through the wood, and baited at midday with what Simon bare in his saddle-bags, and then went on till night fell on them; then asked Simon how long they were from the Long Pools, and Christopher told him that they were yet short of them some fifteen miles, and those long ones, because of the marish grounds. So they tethered their horses there and ate their supper; and lay down to sleep in the house of the woods, by a fire-side which they lighted.
But in the midnight Christopher, who was exceeding fine-eared, had an inkling of someone moving afoot anigh him, and he awoke therewith, and sprang up, his drawn short-sword in his hand, and found himself face to face with Simon, and he also with his sword drawn. Simon sprang aback, but held up his sword-point, and Christopher, not yet fully awake, cried out: "What wouldst thou? What is it?"
Simon answered, stammering and all abashed: "Didst thou not hear then? it wakened me."
"I heard nought," said Christopher; "what was it?"
"Horses going in the wood," said Simon
"Ah, yea," said Christopher, "it will have been the wild colts and the mares; they harbour about these marsh-land parts. Go to sleep again, neighbour, the night is not yet half worn; but I will watch a while."
Then Simon sheathed his sword, and turned about and stood uneasily a little while, and then cast him down as one who would sleep hastily; but slept not forsooth, though he presently made semblance of it: as for Christopher, he drew together the brands of the fire, and sat beside it with his blade over his knees, until the first beginning of the summer dawn was in the sky; then he began to nod, and presently lay aback and slept soundly. Simon slept not, but durst not move. So they lay till it was broad day, and the sunbeams came thrusting through the boughs of the thicket.