The Well at World's End 3-14
CHAPTER 14: NOW COME THE MESSENGERS OF THE INNOCENT FOLK
But when he had come forth from the chestnut-grove, and could see the face of their house-rock clearly, he beheld new tidings; for there were folk before the door of the dwelling, and Ursula was standing amidst of them, for he could see the gleam of her armour; and with the men he could see also certain beasts of burden, and anon that these were oxen. So he hastened on to find what this might mean, and drew his sword as he went. But when he came up to the rock, he found there two young men and an elder, and they had with them five oxen, three for riding, and two sumpter beasts, laden: and Ursula and these men were talking together friendly; so that Ralph deemed that the new-comers must be the messengers of the Innocent Folk. They were goodly men all three, somewhat brown of skin, but well fashioned, and of smiling cheerful countenance, well knit, and tall. The elder had a long white beard, but his eye was bright, and his hand firm and smooth. They were all clad in white woollen raiment, and bore no armour, but each had an axe with a green stone blade, curiously tied to the heft, and each of the young men carried a strong bow and a quiver of arrows.
Ralph greeted the men, and bade them sit down on the toft and eat a morsel; they took his greeting kindly, and sat down, while Ursula went into the cave to fetch them matters for their victual, and there was already venison roasting at the fire on the toft, in the place where they were wont to cook their meat. So then came Ursula forth from the cave, and served the new-comers and Ralph of such things as she had, and they ate and drank together; and none said aught of their errand till they had done their meat, but they talked together pleasantly about the spring, and the blossoms of the plain and the mountain, and the wild things that dwelt thereabout.
But when the meal was over, the new-comers rose to their feet, and bowed before Ralph and Ursula, and the elder took up the word and said: “Ye fair people, have ye any errand in the wilderness, or are ye chance-comers who have strayed thus far, and know not how to return?”
“Father,” said Ralph, “we have come a long way on an errand of life or death; for we seek the WELL at the WORLD’S END. And see ye the token thereof, the pair of beads which we bear, either of us, and the fashion whereof ye know.”
Then the elder bowed to them again, and said: “It is well; then is this our errand with you, to be your way-leaders as far as the House of the Sorceress, where ye shall have other help. Will ye set out on the journey to-day? In one hour shall we be ready.”
“Nay,” said Ralph, “we will not depart till tomorrow morn, if it may be so. Therewith I bid you sit down and rest you, while ye hearken a word which I have to say to you.”
So they sat down again, and Ralph arose and took Ursula by the hand, and stood with her before the elder, and said: “This maiden, who is my fellow-farer in the Quest, I desire to wed this same night, and she also desireth me: therefore I would have you as witnesses hereto. But first ye shall tell us if our wedding and the knowing each other carnally shall be to our hurt in the Quest; for if that be so, then shall we bridle our desires and perform our Quest in their despite.”
The old man smiled upon them kindly, and said: “Nay, son, we hear not that it shall be the worse for you in any wise that ye shall become one flesh; and right joyful it is to us, not only that we have found folk who seek to the Well at the World’s End, but also that there is such love as I perceive there is betwixt such goodly and holy folk as ye be. For hither we come year by year according to the behest that we made to the fairest woman of the world, when she came back to us from the Well at the World’s End, and it is many and many a year ago since we found any seekers after the Well dwelling here. Therefore have we the more joy in you. And we have brought hither matters good for you, as raiment, and meal, and wine, on our sumpter-beasts; therefore as ye have feasted us this morning, so shall we feast you this even. And if ye will, we shall build for you in the grove yonder such a bower as we build for our own folk on the night of the wedding.”
Ralph yeasaid this, and thanked them. So then the elder cried: “Up, my sons, and show your deftness to these dear friends!” Then the young men arose, naught loth, and when they had hoppled their oxen and taken the burdens from off them, they all went down the meadow together into the chestnut grove, and they fell to and cut willow boughs, and such-like wood, and drave stakes and wove the twigs together; and Ralph and Ursula worked with them as they bade, and they were all very merry together: because for those two wanderers it was a great delight to see the faces of the children of men once more after so many months, and to hold converse with them; while for their part the young men marvelled at Ursula’s beauty, and the pith and goodliness of Ralph.
By then it was nigh evening they had made a very goodly wattled bower, and roofed it with the skins that were in the cave, and hung it about with garlands, and strewn flowers on the floor thereof. And when all was done they went back to the toft before the rock-chamber, where the elder had opened the loads, and had taken meal thence, and was making cakes at the fire. And there was wine there in well-hooped kegs, and wooden cups fairly carven, and raiment of fine white wool for those twain, broidered in strange but beauteous fashion with the feathers of bright-hued birds.
So then were those twain arrayed for the bridal; and the meat was dight and the cups filled, and they sat down on the grassy toft a little before sunset, and feasted till the night was come, and was grown all light with the moon; and then Ralph rose up, and took Ursula’s hand, and they stood before the elder, and bade him and the young men bear witness that they were wedded: then those twain kissed the newcomers and departed to their bridal bower hand in hand through the freshness of the night.