The Well at World's End 2-9
CHAPTER 9: THEY GO ON THEIR WAY ONCE MORE
“Look now,” she said, “I have held thee so long in talk, that the afternoon is waning; now is it time for us to be on the way again; not because I misdoubt me of thy foeman, but because I would take thee to a fairer dwelling of the desert, and one where I have erst abided; and moreover, there thou shalt not altogether die of hunger. See, is it not as if I had thought to meet thee here?”
“Yea, in good sooth,” said he, “I wot that thou canst see the story of things before they fall.”
She laughed and said: “But all this that hath befallen since I set out to meet thee at the Castle of Abundance I foresaw not, any more than I can foresee to-morrow. Only I knew that we must needs pass by the place whereto I shall now lead thee, and I made provision there. Lo! now the marvel slain: and in such wise shall perish other marvels which have been told of me; yet not all. Come now, let us to the way.”
So they joined hands and left the pleasant place, and were again going speedily amidst the close pine woods awhile, where it was smooth underfoot and silent of noises withal.
Now Ralph said: “Beloved, thou hast told me of many things, but naught concerning how thou camest to be wedded to the Knight of the Sun, and of thy dealings with him.”
Said she, reddening withal: “I will tell thee no more than this, unless thou compel me: that he would have me wed him, as it were against my will, till I ceased striving against him, and I went with him to Sunway, which is no great way from the Castle of Abundance, and there befell that treason of Walter the Black, who loved me and prayed for my love, and when I gainsaid him, swore by all that was holy, before my lord, that it was I who sought his love, and how I had told and taught him ways of witchcraft, whereby we might fulfill our love, so that the Baron should keep a wife for another man. And the Knight of the Sun, whose heart had been filled with many tales of my wisdom, true and false, believed his friend whom he loved, and still believeth him, though he burneth for the love of me now; whereas in those first days of the treason, he burned with love turned to hatred. So of this came that shaming and casting-forth of me. Whereof I will tell thee but this, that the brother of my lord, even the tall champion whom thou hast seen, came upon me presently, when I was cast forth; because he was coming to see the Knight of the Sun at his home; and he loved me, but not after the fashion of his brother, but was kind and mild with me. So then I went with him to Hampton and the Dry Tree, and great joy made the folk thereof of my coming, whereas they remembered their asking of aforetime that I would come to be a Queen over them, and there have I dwelt ever since betwixt Hampton and the Castle of Abundance; and that tall champion has been ever as a brother unto me.”
Said Ralph, “And thou art their Queen there?” “Yea,” she said, “in a fashion; yet have they another who is mightier than I, and might, if she durst, hang me over the battlements of the Scaur, for she is a fierce and hard woman, and now no longer young in years.”
“Is it not so then,” said Ralph, “that some of the ill deeds that are told of thee are of her doing?”
“It is even so,” she said, “and whiles when she has spoken the word I may not be against her openly, therefore I use my wisdom which I have learned, to set free luckless wights from her anger and malice. More by token the last time I did thus was the very night of the day we parted, after thou hadst escaped from the Burg.”
“In what wise was that?” said Ralph. She said: “When I rode away from thee on that happy day of my deliverance by thee, my heart laughed for joy of the life thou hadst given me, and of thee the giver, and I swore to myself that I would set free the first captive or death-doomed creature that I came across, in honour of my pleasure and delight: now speedily I came to Hampton and the Scaur; for it is not very far from the want-ways of the wood: and there I heard how four of our folk had been led away by the men of the Burg, therefore it was clear to me that I must set these men free if I could; besides, it pleased me to think that I could walk about the streets of the foemen safely, who had been but just led thitherward to the slaughter. Thou knowest how I sped therein. But when I came back again to our people, after thou hadst ridden away from us with Roger, I heard these tidings, that there was one new-come into our prison, a woman to wit, who had been haled before our old Queen for a spy and doomed by her, and should be taken forth and slain, belike, in a day or two. So I said to myself that I was not free of my vow as yet, because those friends of mine, I should in any case have done my best to deliver them: therefore I deemed my oath bound me to set that woman free. So in the night-tide when all was quiet I went to the prison and brought her forth, and led her past all the gates and wards, which was an easy thing to me, so much as I had learned, and came with her into the fields betwixt the thorp of Hampton and the wood, when it was more daylight than dawn, so that I could see her clearly, and no word as yet had we spoken to each other. But then she said to me: ‘Am I to be slain here or led to a crueller prison?’ And I said: ‘Neither one thing nor the other: for lo! I have set thee free, and I shall look to it that there shall be no pursuit of thee till thou hast had time to get clear away.’ But she said: ‘What thanks wilt thou have for this? Wherefore hast thou done it?’ And I said, ‘It is because of the gladness I have gotten.’ Said she, ‘And would that I might get gladness!’ So I asked her what was amiss now that she was free. She said: ‘I have lost one thing that I loved, and found another and lost it also.’ So I said: ‘Mightest thou not seek for the lost?’ She said, ‘It is in this wood, but when I shall find it I shall not have it.’ ‘It is love that thou art seeking,’ said I. ‘In what semblance is he?’
“What wilt thou, my friend? Straightway she fell to making a picture of thee in words; so that I knew that she had met thee, and belike after I had departed from thee, and my heart was sore thereat; for now I will tell thee the very truth, that she was a young woman and exceeding fair, as if she were of pearl all over, and as sweet as eglantine; and I feared her lest she should meet thee again in these wildwoods. And so I asked her what would she, and she said that she had a mind to seek to the Well at the World’s End, which quencheth all sorrow; and I rejoiced thereat, thinking that she would be far away from thee, not thinking that thou and I must even meet to seek to it also. So I gave her the chaplet which my witch-mistress took from the dead woman’s neck; and went with her into the wildwood, and taught her wisdom of the way and what she was to do. And again I say to thee that she was so sweet and yet with a kind of pity in her both of soul and body, and wise withal and quiet, that I feared her, though I loved her; yea and still do: for I deem her better than me, and meeter for thee and thy love than I be.—Dost thou know her?”
“Yea,” said Ralph, “and fair and lovely she is in sooth. Yet hast thou naught to do to fear her. And true it is that I saw her and spake with her after thou hadst ridden away. For she came by the want-ways of the Wood Perilous in the dawn of the day after I had delivered thee; and in sooth she told me that she looked either for Death, or the Water of the Well to end her sorrow.”
Then he smiled and said; “As for that which thou sayest, that she had been meeter for me than thou, I know not this word. For look you, beloved, she came, and passed, and is gone, but thou art there and shalt endure.”
She stayed, and turned and faced him at that word; and love so consumed her, that all sportive words failed her; yea and it was as if mirth and light-heartedness were swallowed up in the fire of her love; and all thought of other folk departed from him as he felt her tears of love and joy upon his face, and she kissed and embraced him there in the wilderness.