The Story of the Glittering Plain - Chapter 16
THOSE THREE GO THEIR WAYS TO THE EDGE OF THE GLITTERING PLAIN
So the evening wore merrily; and they made Hallblithe lie in an ingle of the tent on a fair bed, and he was weary, and slept thereon like a child. But in the morning early they waked him; and while they were breaking their fast they began to speak to him of his departure, and asked him if he had an inkling of the way whereby he should get him gone, and he said: “If I escape it must needs be by way of the mountains that wall the land about till they come down to the sea. For on the sea is no ship and no haven; and well I wot that no man of the land durst or can ferry me over to the land of my kindred, or otherwhere without the Glittering Plain. Tell me therefore (and I ask no more of you), is there any rumour or memory of a way that cleaveth yonder mighty wall of rock to other lands?”
Said the damsel: “There is more than a memory or a rumour: there is a road through the mountains known to all men. For at whiles the earthly pilgrims come into the Glittering Plain thereby; and yet but seldom, so many are the griefs and perils which beset the wayfarers on that road. Whereof thou hadst far better bethink thee in time, and abide here and be happy with us and others who long sore to make thee happy.”
“Nay,” said Hallblithe, “there is nought to do but tell me of the way, and I will depart at once, blessing you.”
Said the Sea-eagle: “More than that at least will we do. May I lose the bliss whereto I have attained, if I go not with thee to the very edge of the land of the Glittering Plain. Shall it not be so, sweetheart?”
“Yea, at least we may do that,” said the damsel; and she hung her head as if she were ashamed, and said: “And that is all that thou wilt get from us at most.”
Said Hallblithe: “It is enough, and I asked not so much.”
Then the damsel busied herself, and set meat and drink in two wallets, and took one herself and gave the other to the Sea-eagle, and said: “We will be thy porters, O Spearman, and will give thee a full wallet from the last house by the Desert of Dread, for when thou hast entered therein, thou mayst well find victual hard to come by: and now let us linger no more since the road is dear to thee.”
So they set forth on foot, for in that land men were slow to feel weariness; and turning about the hill of Wood-end, they passed by some broken country, and came at even to a house at the entrance of a long valley, with high and steeply-sloping sides, which seemed, as it were, to cleave the dale country wherein they had fared aforetime. At that house they slept well-guested by its folk, and the next morning took their way down the valley, and the folk of the house stood at the door to watch their departure; for they had told the wayfarers that they had fared but a little way thitherward and knew of no folk who had used that road.
So those three fared down the valley southward all day, ever mounting higher as they went. The way was pleasant and easy, for they went over fair, smooth, grassy lawns betwixt the hill-sides, beside a clear rattling stream that ran northward; at whiles were clumps of tall trees, oak for the most part, and at whiles thickets of thorn and eglantine and other such trees: so that they could rest well shaded when they would.
They passed by no house of men, nor came to any such in the even, but lay down to sleep in a thicket of thorn and eglantine, and rested well, and on the morrow they rose up betimes and went on their ways.
This second day as they went, the hill-sides on either hand grew lower, till at last they died out into a wide plain, beyond which in the southern offing the mountains rose huge and bare. This plain also was grassy and beset with trees and thickets here and there. Hereon they saw wild deer enough, as hart and buck, and roebuck and swine: withal a lion came out of a brake hard by them as they went, and stood gazing on them, so that Hallblithe looked to his weapons, and the Sea-eagle took up a big stone to fight with, being weaponless; but the damsel laughed, and tripped on her way lightly with girt-up gown, and the beast gave no more heed to them.
Easy and smooth was their way over this pleasant wilderness, and clear to see, though but little used, and before nightfall, after they had gone a long way, they came to a house. It was not large nor high, but was built very strongly and fairly of good ashlar: its door was shut, and on the jamb thereof hung a slug-horn. The damsel, who seemed to know what to do, set her mouth to the horn, and blew a blast; and in a little while the door was opened, and a big man clad in red scarlet stood therein: he had no weapons, but was somewhat surly of aspect: he spake not, but stood abiding the word: so the damsel took it up and said: “Art thou not the Warden of the Uttermost House?”
He said: “I am.”
Said the damsel: “May we guest here to-night?”
He said: “The house lieth open to you with all that it hath of victual and plenishing: take what ye will, and use what ye will.”
They thanked him; but he heeded not their thanks, and withdrew him from them. So they entered and found the table laid in a fair hall of stone carven and painted very goodly; so they ate and drank therein, and Hallblithe was of good heart, and the Sea-eagle and his mate were merry, though they looked softly and shyly on Hallblithe because of the sundering anigh; and they saw no man in the house save the man in scarlet, who went and came about his business, paying no heed to them. So when the night was deep they lay down in the shut-bed off the hall, and slept, and the hours were tidingless to them until they woke in the morning.
On the morrow they arose and broke their fast, and thereafter the damsel spake to the man in scarlet and said: “May we fill our wallets with victual for the way?”
Said the Warden: “There lieth the meat.”
So they filled their wallets, while the man looked on; and they came to the door when they were ready, and he unlocked it to them, saying no word. But when they turned their faces towards the mountains he spake at last, and stayed them at the first step. Quoth he: “Whither away? Ye take the wrong road!”
Said Hallblithe: “Nay, for we go toward the mountains and the edge of the Glittering Plain.”
“Ye shall do ill to go thither,” said the Warden, “and I bid you forbear.”
“O Warden of the Uttermost House, wherefore should we forbear?” said the Sea-eagle.
Said the scarlet man: “Because my charge is to further those who would go inward to the King, and to stay those who would go outward from the King.”
“How then if we go outward despite thy bidding?” said the Sea-eagle, “wilt thou then hinder us perforce?”
“How may I,” said the man, “since thy fellow hath weapons?”
“Go we forth, then,” said the Sea-eagle.
“Yea,” said the damsel, “we will go forth. And know, O Warden, that this weaponed man only is of mind to fare over the edge of the Glittering Plain; but we twain shall come back hither again, and fare inwards.”
Said the Warden: “Nought is it to me what ye will do when you are past this house. Nor shall any man who goeth out of this garth toward the mountains ever come back inwards save he cometh in the company of new-corners to the Glittering Plain.”
“Who shall hinder him?” said the Sea-eagle.
“The KING,” said the Warden.
Then there was silence awhile, and the man said:
“Now do as ye will.” And therewith he turned back into the house and shut the door.
But the Sea-eagle and the damsel stood gazing on one another, and at Hallblithe; and the damsel was downcast and pale; but the Sea-eagle cried out:
“Forward now, O Hallblithe, since thou willest it, and we will go with thee and share whatever may befall thee; yea, right up to the very edge of the Glittering Plain. And thou, O beloved, why dost thou delay? Why dost thou stand as if thy fair feet were grown to the grass?”
But the damsel gave a lamentable cry, and cast herself down on the ground, and knelt before the Sea-eagle, and took him by the knees, and said betwixt sobbing and weeping: “O my lord and love, I pray thee to forbear, and the Spearman, our friend, shall pardon us. For if thou goest, I shall never see thee more, since my heart will not serve me to go with thee. O forbear! I pray thee!”
And she grovelled on the earth before him; and the Sea-eagle waxed red, and would have spoken but Hallblithe cut his speech across, and said “Friends, be at peace! For this is the minute that sunders us. Get ye back at once to the heart of the Glittering Plain, and live there and be happy; and take my blessing and thanks for the love and help that ye have given me. For your going forward with me should destroy you and profit me nothing. It would be but as the host bringing his guests one field beyond his garth, when their goal is the ends of the earth; and if there were a lion in the path, why should he perish for courtesy’s sake?”
Therewith he stooped down to the damsel, and lifted her up and kissed her face; and he cast his arms about the Sea-eagle and said to him: “Farewell, shipmate!”
Then the damsel gave him the wallet of victual, and bade him farewell, weeping sorely; and he looked kindly on them for a moment of time, and then turned away from them and fared on toward the mountains, striding with great strides, holding his head aloft. But they looked no more on him, having no will to eke their sorrow, but went their ways back again without delay.