The Story of the Glittering Plain - Chapter 12
THEY LOOK ON THE KING OF THE GLITTERING PLAIN
So now the women led them along up the stream, and Hallblithe went side by side by the Sea-eagle; but the women had become altogether merry again, and played and ran about them as gamesome as young goats; and they waded the shallows of the clear bright stream barefoot to wash their limbs of the sea-brine, and strayed about the meadows, plucking the flowers and making them wreaths and chaplets, which they did upon themselves and the Sea-eagle; but Hallblithe they touched not, for still they feared him. They went on as the stream led them up toward the hills, and ever were the meads about them as fair and flowery as might be. Folk they saw afar off, but fell in with none for a good while, saving a man and a maid clad lightly as for mid-summer days, who were wandering together lovingly and happily by the stream-side, and who gazed wonderingly on the stark Sea-eagle, and on Hallblithe with his glittering spear. The black-haired damsel greeted these twain and spake something to them, and they laughed merrily, and the man stooped down amongst the grasses and blossoms of the bank, and drew forth a basket, and spread dainty victuals on the grass under a willow-tree, and bade them be his guests that fair afternoon. So they sat down there above the glistering stream and ate and drank and were merry. Thereafter the new-comers and their way-leaders departed with kind words, and still set their faces towards the hills.
At last they saw before them a little wooded hill, and underneath it something red and shining, and other coloured things gleaming in the sun about it. Then said the Sea-eagle: “What have we yonder?”
Said his damsel: “That is the pavilion of the King; and about it are the tents and tilts of our folk who are of his fellowship: for oft he abideth in the fields with them, though he hath houses and halls as fair as the heart of man can conceive.”
“Hath he no foemen to fear?” said the Sea-eagle.
“How should that be?” said the damsel. “If perchance any came into this land to bring war upon him, their battle-anger should depart when once the bliss of the Glittering Plain had entered into their souls, and they would ask for nought but leave to abide here and be happy. Yet I trow that if he had foemen he could crush them as easily as I set my foot on this daisy.”
So as they went on they fell in with many folk, men and women, sporting and playing in the fields; and there was no semblance of eld on any of them, and no scar or blemish or feebleness of body or sadness of countenance; nor did any bear a weapon or any piece of armour. Now some of them gathered about the new-corners, and wondered at Hallblithe and his long spear and shining helm and dark grey byrny; but none asked concerning them, for all knew that they were folk new come to the bliss of the Glittering Plain. So they passed amidst these fair folk little hindered by them, and into Hallblithe’s thoughts it came how joyous the fellowship of such should be and how his heart should be raised by the sight of them, if only his troth-plight maiden were by his side.
Thus then they came to the King’s pavilion, where it stood in a bight of the meadow-land at the foot of the hill, with the wood about it on three sides. So fair a house Hallblithe deemed he had never seen; for it was wrought all over with histories and flowers, and with hems sewn with gold, and with orphreys of gold and pearl and gems.
There in the door of it sat the King of the Land in an ivory chair; he was clad in golden gown, girt with a girdle of gems, and had his crown on his head and his sword by his side. For this was the hour wherein he heard what any of his folk would say to him, and for that very end he sat there in the door of his tent, and folk were standing before him, and sitting and lying on the grass round about; and now one, now another, came up to him and spoke before him.
His face shone like a star; it was exceeding beauteous, and as kind as the even of May in the gardens of the happy, when the scent of the eglantine fills all the air. When he spoke his voice was so sweet that all hearts were ravished, and none might gainsay him.
But when Hallblithe set eyes on him, he knew at once that this was he whose carven image he had seen in the Hall of the Ravagers, and his heart beat fast, and he said to himself: “Hold up thine head now, O Son of the Raven, strengthen thine heart, and let no man or god cow thee. For how can thine heart change, which bade thee go to the house wherefrom it was due to thee to take the pleasure of woman, and there to pledge thy faith and troth to her that loveth thee most, and hankereth for thee day by day and hour by hour, so that great is the love that we twain have builded up.”
Now they drew nigh, for folk fell back before them to the right and left, as before men who are new come and have much to do; so that there was nought between them and the face of the King. But he smiled upon them so that he cheered their hearts with the hope of fulfilment of their desires, and he said: “Welcome, children! Who be these whom ye have brought hither for the increase of our joy? Who is this tall, ruddy-faced, joyous man so meet for the bliss of the Glittering Plain? And who is this goodly and lovely young man, who beareth weapons amidst our peace, and whose face is sad and stern beneath the gleaming of his helm?
Said the dark-haired damsel: “O King! O Gift-giver and assurer of joy! this tall one is he who was once oppressed by eld, and who hath come hither to thee from the Isle of Ransom, according to the custom of the land.”
Said the King: “Tall man, it is well that thou art come. Now are thy days changed and thou yet alive. For thee battle is ended, and therewith the reward of battle, which the warrior remembereth not amidst the hard hand-play: peace hath begun, and thou needest not be careful for the endurance thereof: for in this land no man hath a lack which he may not satisfy without taking aught from any other. I deem not that thine heart may conceive a desire which I shall not fulfil for thee, or crave a gift which I shall not give thee.”
Then the Sea-eagle laughed for joy, and turned his head this way and that, so that he might the better take to him the smiles of all those that stood around.
Then the King said to Hallblithe: “Thou also art welcome; I know thee who thou art: meseemeth great joy awaiteth thee, and I will fulfil thy desire to the uttermost.”
Said Hallblithe: “O great King of a happy land, I ask of thee nought save that which none shall withhold from me uncursed.”
“I will give it to thee,” said the King, “and thou shalt bless me. But what is it which thou wouldst? What more canst thou have than the Gifts of the land?”
Said Hallblithe: “I came hither seeking no gifts, but to have mine own again; and that is the bodily love of my troth-plight maiden. They stole her from me, and me from her; for she loved me. I went down to the sea-side and found her not, nor the ship which had borne her away. I sailed from thence to the Isle of Ransom, for they told me that there I should buy her for a price; neither was her body there. But her image came to me in a dream of the night, and bade me seek to her hither. Therefore, O King, if she be here in the land, show me how I shall find her, and if she be not here, show me how I may depart to seek her otherwhere. This is all my asking.”
Said the King: “Thy desire shall be satisfied; thou shalt have the woman who would have thee, and whom thou shouldst have.”
Hallblithe was gladdened beyond measure by that word; and now did the King seem to him a comfort and a solace to every heart, even as he had deemed of his carven image in the Hall of the Ravagers; and he thanked him, and blessed him.
But the King bade him abide by him that night, and feast with him. “And on the morrow,” said he, “thou shalt go thy ways to look on her whom thou oughtest to love.”
Therewith was come the eventide and beginning of night, warm and fragrant and bright with the twinkling of stars, and they went into the King’s pavilion, and there was the feast as fair and dainty as might be; and Hallblithe had meat from the King’s own dish, and drink from his cup; but the meat had no savour to him and the drink no delight, because of the longing that possessed him.
And when the feast was done, the damsels led Hallblithe to his bed in a fair tent strewn with gold about his head like the starry night, and he lay down and slept for sheer weariness of body.