The Well at World's End 4-25
CHAPTER 25: THEY COME TO WULSTEAD
Thus went they, and nought befell them to tell of till they came anigh the gates of Wulstead hard on sunset. The gates, it has been said; for whereas Ralph left Wulstead a town unwalled, he now found it fenced with pales, and with two towers strongly framed of timber, one on either side the gate, and on the battlements of the said towers they saw spears glittering; before the gate they saw a barrier of big beams also, and the gleaming of armour therein. Ralph was glad when he saw that they meant some defence; for though Wulstead was not in the lands of Upmeads, yet it was always a friendly neighbour, and he looked to eke out his host therein.
Wulstead standeth on a little hill or swelling of the earth, and the road that the company of Ralph took went up to the gate across the plain meadows, which had but here and there a tree upon them, so that the going of the company was beheld clearly from the gate; as was well seen, because anon came the sound of the blowing of great horns, and the spears thickened in the towers. Then Ralph stayed his company two bowshots from the barriers, while he himself, with his sword in his sheath, took Ursula’s hand and set forth an easy pace toward the gate. Some of his company, and specially Roger and Stephen, would have letted him; but he laughed and said, “Why, lads, why? these be friends.” “Yea,” quoth Roger, “but an arrow knoweth no kindred nor well-willers: have a care, lord.” Said the Sage of Swevenham: “Ye speak but after the folly of men of war; the hands and the eyes that be behind the bows have other hands and eyes behind them which shall not suffer that a Friend of the Well shall be hurt.”
So Ralph and Ursula went forth, and came within a stone’s cast of the barrier, when Ralph lifted up his voice and said: “Is there a captain of the townsfolk within the timber there?” A cheery voice answered him: “Yea, yea, lad; spare thy breath; I am coming to thee.”
And therewith a man came from out the barrier and did off his headpiece and ran straight toward Ralph, who saw at once that it was Clement Chapman; he made no more ado, but coming up to Ralph fell to clipping him in his arms, while the tears ran down his face. Then he stood aloof and gazed upon him speechless a little while, and then spake: “Hail, and a hundred times hail! but now I look on thee I see what hath betid, and that thou art too noble and high that I should have cast mine arms about thee. But now as for this one, I will be better mannered with her.”
Therewith he knelt down before Ursula, and kissed her feet, but reverently. And she stooped down and raised him up, with a merry countenance kissed his face, and stroked his cheeks with her hand and said: “Hail, friend of my lord! Was it not rather thou than he who delivered me from the pain and shame of Utterbol, whereas thou didst bring him safe through the mountains unto Goldburg? And but for that there had been no Well, either for him or for me.”
But Clement stood with his head hanging down, and his face reddening. Till Ralph said to him: “Hail, friend! many a time we thought of this meeting when we were far away and hard bestead; but this is better than all we thought of. But now, Clement, hold up thine head and be a stout man of war, for thou seest that we are not alone.”
Said Clement: “Yea, fair lord, and timely ye come, both thou and thy company; and now that I have my speech again which joy hath taken away from me at the first, I shall tell thee this, that if ye go further than the good town ye shall be met and fought withal by men who are over-many and over-fierce for us.” “Yea,” said Ralph, “and how many be they?” Quoth Clement: “How many men may be amongst them I wot not, but I deem there be some two thousand devils.”
Now Ralph reddened, and he took Clement by the shoulder, and said: “Tell me, Clement, are they yet in Upmeads?” “Sooth to say,” said Clement, “by this while they may be therein; but this morn it was yet free of them; but when thou art home in our house, thy gossip shall belike tell thee much more than I can; for she is foreseeing, and hath told us much in this matter also that hath come to pass.” Then spake Ralph: “Where are my father and my mother; and shall I go after them at once without resting, through the dark night and all?”
Said Clement, and therewith his face brightened: “Nay, thou needest go no further to look for them than the House of Black Canons within our walls: there are they dwelling in all honour and dignity these two days past.” “What!” said Ralph, “have they fled from Upmeads, and left the High House empty? I pray thee, Clement, bring me to them as speedily as may be.”
“Verily,” said Clement, “they have fled, with many another, women and children and old men, who should but hinder the carles who have abided behind. Nicholas Longshanks is the leader of them down there, and the High House is their stronghold in a way; though forsooth their stout heads and strong hands are better defence.”
Here Ralph brake in: “Sweetling Ursula, though thy feet have worn a many miles to-day, I bid thee hasten back to the company and tell Richard that it is as I said, to wit, that friends, and good guesting await them; so let them hasten hither and come within gates at once. For as for me, I have sworn it that I will not go one step back till I have seen my father and mother in their house of Upmeads. Is it well said, Clement?” “Yea, forsooth,” said Clement; but he could not take his eyes off Ursula’s loveliness, as she kilted her skirts and ran her ways like one of Diana’s ladies in the wildwood. At last he said, “Thou shalt wot, fair sir, that ye will have a little band to go with thee from us of Wulstead; forsooth we had gone to-morrow morn in any case, but since thou art here, all is well.” Even as he spake a great shout broke out from the company as Ursula had given her message, and then came the tramp of men and horses and the clash of weapons as they set forward; and Clement looked and beheld how first of all the array came Ursula, bearing the hallowed staff in her hand; for her heart also was set on what was to come. Then cried out Clement: “Happy art thou, lord, and happy shalt thou be, and who shall withstand thee? Lo! what a war-duke it is! and what a leader that marches with fate in her hands before thine host!”
Therewith were they all joined together, and Ursula gave the guisarme into Ralph’s hand, and with his other hand he took hers, and the bar of the barrier was lifted and the gates thrown open, and they all streamed into the street, the champions coming last and towering over the footmen as they sat, big men on their big horses, as if they were very bodyguards of the God of War.