The Well at World's End 2-5
CHAPTER 5: YET MORE OF THE LADY'S STORY
“Lo thou, beloved,” she said, “thou hast seen me in the wildwood with little good quickened in me: doth not thine heart sink at the thought of thy love and thy life given over to the keeping of such an one?” He smiled in her face, and said: “Belike thou hast done worse than all thou hast told me: and these days past I have wondered often what there was in the stories which they of the Burg had against thee: yet sooth to say, they told little of what thou hast done: no more belike than being their foe.” She sighed and said: “Well, hearken; yet shall I not tell thee every deed that I have been partaker in.
“I sat in the Dale that next day and was happy, though I longed to see that fair man again: sooth to say, since my mistress was dead, everything seemed fairer to me, yea even mine own face, as I saw it in the pools of the stream, though whiles I wondered when I should have another mistress, and how she would deal with me; and ever I said I would ask the carline when she came again to me. But all that day she came not: nor did I marvel thereat. But when seven days passed and still she came not, I fell to wondering what I should do: for my bread was all gone, and I durst not go back to the house to fetch meal; though there was store of it there. Howbeit, I drank of the milk of the goats, and made curds thereof with the woodland roots, and ate of the wood-berries like as thou hast done, friend, e’en now. And it was easier for me to find a livelihood in the woods than it had been for most folk, so well as I knew them. So wore the days, and she came not, and I began to think that I should see the wise carline no more, as indeed fell out at that time; and the days began to hang heavy on my hands, and I fell to thinking of that way to the west and the peopled parts, whereof the carline had told me; and whiles I went out of the Dale and went away hither and thither through the woods, and so far, that thrice I slept away out of the Dale: but I knew that the peopled parts would be strange to me and I feared to face them all alone.
“Thus wore the days till July was on the wane, and on a morning early I awoke with unwonted sounds in mine ears; and when my eyes were fairly open I saw a man standing over me and a white horse cropping the grass hard by. And my heart was full and fain, and I sprang to my feet and showed him a smiling happy face, for I saw at once that it was that fair man come back again. But lo! his face was pale and worn, though he looked kindly on me, and he said: ‘O my beloved, I have found thee, but I am faint with hunger and can speak but little.’ And even therewith he sank down on the grass. But I bestirred myself, and gave him milk of my goats, and curds and berries, and the life came into him again, and I sat down by him and laid his head in my lap, and he slept a long while; and when he awoke (and it was towards sunset) he kissed my hands and my arms, and said to me: ‘Fair child, perhaps thou wilt come with me now; and even if thou art a thrall thou mayest flee with me; for my horse is strong and fat, though I am weak, for he can make his dinner on the grass.’
“Then he laughed and I no less; but I fed him with my poor victual again, and as he ate I said: ‘I am no mistress’s thrall now; for the evening of the day whereon I saw thee I slew her, else had she slain me.’ ‘The saints be praised,’ said he: ‘Thou wilt come with me, then?’ ‘O yea,’ said I. Then I felt shamefaced and I reddened; but I said: ‘I have abided here many days for a wise woman who hath taught me many things; but withal l hoped that thou wouldst come also.’
“Then he put his arms about my shoulders and loved me much; but at last he said: “Yet is it now another thing than that which I looked for, when I talked of setting thee by me on the golden throne. For now am I a beaten man; I have failed of that I sought, and suffered shame and hunger and many ills. Yet ever I thought that I might find thee here or hereby.’ Then a thought came into my mind, and I said: ‘Else maybe thou hadst found what thou soughtest, and overcome the evil things.’ ‘Maybe,’ he said; ‘it is now but a little matter.’”
“As for me, I could have no guess at what were the better things he had meant for me, and my heart was full of joy, and all seemed better than well. And we talked together long till the day was gone. Then we kissed and embraced each other in the Dale of Lore, and the darkness of summer seemed but short for our delight.”