The Story of the Glittering Plain - Chapter 18
HALLBLITHE DWELLETH IN THE WOOD ALONE
But on the morrow they arose betimes, and broke their fast on that woodland victual, and then went speedily down the mountain-side; and Hallblithe saw by the clear morning light that it was indeed the Uttermost House which he had seen across the green waste. So he told the seekers; but they were silent and heeded nought, because of a fear that had come upon them, lest they should die before they came into that good land. At the foot of the mountain they came upon a river, deep but not wide, with low grassy banks, and Hallblithe, who was an exceeding strong swimmer, helped the seekers over without much ado; and there they stood upon the grass of that goodly waste.
Hallblithe looked on them to note if any change should come over them, and he deemed that already they were become stronger and of more avail. But he spake nought thereof, and strode on toward the Uttermost House, even as that other day he had stridden away from it.
Such diligence they made, that it was but little after noon when they came to the door thereof. Then Hallblithe took the horn and blew upon it, while his fellows stood by murmuring, “It is the Land! It is the Land!”
So came the Warden to the door, clad in red scarlet, and the elder went up to him and said: “Is this the Land?”
“What land?” said the Warden.
“Is it the Glittering Plain?” said the second of the seekers.
“Yea, forsooth,” said the Warden. Said the sad man: “Will ye lead us to the King?
“Ye shall come to the King,” said the Warden.
“When, oh when?” cried they out all three.
“The morrow of to-morrow, maybe,” said the Warden.
“Oh! if to-morrow were but come!” they cried.
“It will come,” said the red man; “enter ye the house, and eat and drink and rest you.”
So they entered, and the Warden heeded Hallblithe nothing. They ate and drank and then went to their rest, and Hallblithe lay in a shut-bed off from the hall, but the Warden brought the seekers otherwhere, so that Hallblithe saw them not after he had gone to bed; but as for him he slept and forgot that aught was.
In the morning when he awoke he felt very strong and well-liking; and he beheld his limbs that they were clear of skin and sleek and fair; and he heard one hard by in the hall carolling and singing joyously. So he sprang from his bed with the wonder of sleep yet in him, and drew the curtains of the shut-bed and looked forth into the hall; and lo on the high-seat a man of thirty winters by seeming, tall, fair of fashion, with golden hair and eyes as grey as glass, proud and noble of aspect; and anigh him sat another man of like age to look on, a man strong and burly, with short curling brown hair and a red beard, and ruddy countenance, and the mien of a warrior. Also, up and down the hall, paced a man younger of aspect than these two, tall and slender, black-haired and dark-eyed, amorous of countenance; he it was who was singing a snatch of song as he went lightly on the hall pavement: a snatch like to this
Fair is the world, now autumn’s wearing,
Dumb is the hedge where the crabs hang yellow,
Fair was the spring, but amidst his greening
Come then, love, for peace is upon us,
Come from the grey old house by the water,
So Hallblithe did on his raiment and went into the hall; and when those three saw him they smiled upon him kindly and greeted him; and the noble man at the board said: “Thanks have thou, O Warrior of the Raven, for thy help in our need: thy reward from us shall not be lacking.”
Then the brown-haired man came up to him, and clapped him on the back and said to him: “Brisk man of the Raven, good is thy help at need; even so shall be mine to thee henceforward.”
But the young man stepped up to him lightly, and cast his arms about him, and kissed him, and said: “O friend and fellow, who knoweth but I may one day help thee as thou hast holpen me? though thou art one who by seeming mayst well help thyself. And now mayst thou be as merry as I am to-day!”
Then they all three cried out joyously: “It is the Land! It is the Land!”
So Hallblithe knew that these men were the two elders and the sad man of yesterday, and that they had renewed their youth.
Joyously now did those men break their fast: nor did Hallblithe make any grim countenance, for he thought: “That which these dotards and drivellers have been mighty enough to find, shall I not be mighty enough to flee from?” Breakfast done, the seekers made little delay, so eager as they were to behold the King, and to have handsel of their new sweet life. So they got them ready to depart, and the once-captain said: “Art thou able to lead us to the King, O Raven-son, or must we seek another man to do so much for us?”
Said Hallblithe: “I am able to lead you so nigh unto Wood-end (where, as I deem, the King abideth) that ye shall not miss him.”
Therewith they went to the door, and the Warden unlocked to them, and spake no word to them when they departed, though they thanked him kindly for the guesting.
When they were without the garth, the young man fell to running about the meadow plucking great handfuls of the rich flowers that grew about, singing and carolling the while. But he who had been king looked up and down and round about, and said at last: “Where be the horses and the men?”
But his fellow with the red beard said: “Raven-son, in this land when they journey, what do they as to riding or going afoot?”
Said Hallblithe: “Fair fellows, ye shall wot that in this land folk go afoot for the most part, both men and women; whereas they weary but little, and are in no haste.”
Then the once-captain clapped the once-king on the shoulder, and said: “Hearken, lord, and delay no longer, but gird up thy gown, since here is no mare’s son to help thee: for fair is to-day that lies before us, with many a new fair day beyond it.”
So Hallblithe led the way inward, thinking of many things, yet but little of his fellows. Albeit they, and the younger man especially, were of many words; for this black-haired man had many questions to ask, chiefly concerning the women, what they were like to look on, and of what mood they were. Hallblithe answered thereto as long as he might, but at last he laughed and said: “Friend, forbear thy questions now; for meseemeth in a few hours thou shalt be as wise hereon as is the God of Love himself.”
So they made diligence along the road, and all was tidingless till on the second day at even they came to the first house off the waste. There had they good welcome, and slept. But on the morrow when they arose, Hallblithe spake to the Seekers, and said: “Now are things much changed betwixt us since the time when we first met: for then I had all my desire, as I thought, and ye had but one desire, and well nigh lacked hope of its fulfilment. Whereas now the lack hath left you and come to me. Wherefore even as time agone ye might not abide even one night at the House of the Raven, so hard as your desire lay on you; even so it fareth with me to-day, that I am consumed with my desire, and I may not abide with you; lest that befall which befalleth betwixt the full man and the fasting. Wherefore now I bless you and depart.”
They abounded in words of good-will to him, and the once-king said: “Abide with us, and we shall see to it that thou have all the dignities that a man may think of.”
And the once-captain said: “Lo, here is mine hand that hath been mighty; never shalt thou lack it for the accomplishment of thine uttermost desire. Abide with us.”
Lastly said the young man: “Abide with us, Son of the Raven! Set thine heart on a fair woman, yea even were it the fairest; and I will get her for thee, even were my desire set on her.”
But he smiled on them, and shook his head, and said: “All hail to you! but mine errand is yet undone.” And therewith he departed.
He skirted Wood-end and came not to it, but got him down to the side of the sea, not far from where he first came aland, but somewhat south of it. A fair oak-wood came down close to the beach of the sea; it was some four miles end-long and over-thwart. Thither Hallblithe betook him, and in a day or two got him wood-wright’s tools from a house of men a little outside the wood, three miles from the sea-shore. Then he set to work and built him a little frame-house on a lawn of the wood beside a clear stream; for he was a very deft wood-wright. Withal he made him a bow and arrows, and shot what he would of the fowl and the deer for his livelihood; and folk from that house and otherwhence came to see him, and brought him bread and wine and spicery and other matters which he needed. And the days wore, and men got used to him, and loved him as if he had been a rare image which had been brought to that land for its adornment; and now they no longer called him the Spearman, but the Wood-lover. And as for him, he took all in patience, abiding what the lapse of days should bring forth.