The Well at World's End 4-31
CHAPTER 31: RALPH BRINGS URSULA HOME TO THE HIGH HORSE
Ralph speedily came to Richard’s house and entered the chamber, and found Ursula alone therein, clad in the daintiest of her woman’s gear of the web of Goldburg. She rose up to meet him, and he took her in his arms, and said: “Now is come the very ending of our journey that we so often longed for; and all will be ready by then we come to the High House.”
“Ah,” she said, as she clung to him, “but they were happy days the days of our journey; and to-morrow begins a new life.”
“Nay,” he said, “but rather this even; shall it be loathly to thee, lady?”
She said: “There will be many people whom I knew not yesterday.” “There will be but me,” he said, “when the night hath been dark for a little.”
She kissed him and said nought. And therewithal came some of Richard’s folk, for it was his house, and led with them a white palfrey for Ursula’s riding, dight all gay and goodly.
“Come then,” said Ralph, “thou needest not to fear the ancient house, for it is kind and lovely, and my father and my mother thou hast seen already, and they love thee. Come then, lest the hall be grown too dusk for men to see thy fairness.” “Yea, yea,” she said, “but first here is a garland I made for thee, and one also for me, while I was abiding thee after the battle, and my love and my hope is woven into it. And she set it on his head, and said, “O thou art fair, and I did well to meet thee in the dark wood.” Then he kissed her dearly on the mouth and led her forth, and none went with them, and they mounted and went their ways.
But Ralph said: “I deem that we should ride the meadow to the bridge, because that way lies the great door of the hall, and if I know my father and Nicholas they will look for us that way. Dost thou yet fear these dead men, sweetheart, whom our folk slew this morning?” “Nay,” she said, “it has been a long time since the morning, and they, and their fierieness which has so burned out, are now to me as a tale that hath been told. It is the living that I am going to, and I hope to do well by them.”
Came they then to the bridge-end and there was no man there, nought but the kine that were wandering about over the dewy grass of eventide. Then they rode over the bridge and through the orchard, and still there was no man, and all gates were open wide. So they came into the base-court of the house, and it also was empty of folk; and they came to the great doors of the hall and they were open wide, and they could see through them that the hall was full of folk, and therein by the light of the low sun that streamed in at the shot-window at the other end they saw the faces of men and the gleam of steel and gold.
So they lighted down from their horses, and took hand in hand and entered bright-faced and calm, and goodly beyond the goodliness of men; then indeed all that folk burst forth into glad cries, and tossed up their weapons, and many wept for joy.
As they went slowly up the long hall (and it was thirty fathom of length) Ralph looked cheerfully and friendly from side to side, and beheld the faces of the Shepherds and the Champions, and the men of Wulstead, and his own folk; and all they cried hail to him and the lovely and valiant Lady. Then he looked up to the high-seat, and saw that his father’s throne was empty, and his mother’s also; but behind the throne stood a knight all armed in bright armour holding the banner of Upmeads; but his father and mother stood on the edge of the dais to meet him and Ursula; and when they came up thither these old folk embraced them and kissed them and led them up to the table. Then Ralph bade Ursula sit by his mother, and made him ready to sit by his father in all love and duty. But King Peter stayed him and said: “Nay, dear son, not there, but here shalt thou sit, thou saviour of Upmeads and conqueror of the hearts of men; this is a little land, but therein shall be none above thee.” And therewith he set Ralph down in the throne, and Ralph, turning to his left hand, saw that it was Ursula, and not his mother, who sat beside him. But at the sight of these two in the throne the glad cries and shouts shook the very timbers of the roof, and the sun sank under while yet they cried hail to the King of Upmeads.
Then were the lights brought and the supper, and all men fell to feast, and plenteous was the wine in the hall; and sure since first men met to eat together none have been merrier than they.
But now when men had well eaten, and the great cup called the River of Upmeads was brought in, the cupbearers, being so bidden before, brought it last of all to King Peter, and he stood up with the River in his hand and spoke aloud, and said: “Lords and warriors, and good people all, here I do you to wit, that it is not because my son Ralph has come home to-day and wrought us a great deliverance, and that my love hath overcome me; it is not for this cause that I have set him in my throne this even; but because I see and perceive that of all the kindred he is meetest to sit therein so long as he liveth; unless perchance this lovely and valiant woman should bear him a son even better than himself— and so may it be. Therefore I do you all to wit that this man is the King of Upmeads, and this woman is his Lady and Queen; and so deem I of his prowess, and his wisdom, and kindliness, that I trow he shall be lord and servant of other lands than Upmeads, and shall draw the good towns and the kindreds and worthy good lords into peace and might and well-being, such as they have not known heretofore. Now within three days shall mass be sung in the choir of St. Laurence, and then shall King Ralph swear on the gospels such oaths as ye wot of, to guard his people, and help the needy, and oppress no man, even as I have sworn it. And I say to you, that if I have kept the oath to my power, yet shall he keep it better, as he is mightier than I.
“Furthermore, when he hath sworn, then shall the vassals swear to him according to ancient custom, to be true to him and hardy in all due service. But so please you I will not abide till then, but will kneel to him and to his Lady and Queen here and now.”
Even so he did, and took Ralph’s hand in his and swore service to him such as was due; and he knelt to Ursula also, and bade her all thanks for what she had done in the helping of his son; and they raised him up and made much of him and of Ralph’s mother; and great was the joy of all folk in the hall.
So the feast went on a while till the night grew old, and folk must fare bedward. Then King Peter and his wife brought Ralph and Ursula to the chamber of the solar, the kingly chamber, which was well and goodly dight with hangings and a fair and glorious bed, and was newly decked with such fair flowers as the summer might furnish; and at the threshold King Peter stayed them and said: “Kinsman, and thou, dear friend, this is become your due chamber and resting-place while ye live in the world, and this night of all others it shall be a chamber of love; for ye are, as it were, new wedded, since now first ye are come amongst the kindred as lover and beloved; and thou, Ursula, art now at last the bride of this ancient house; now tell me, doth it not look friendly and kindly on thee?”
“O yea, yea,” she said. “Come thou, my man and my darling and let us be alone in the master-chamber of this ancient House.”
Then Ralph drew her unto him; and the old man blessed them and prayed for goodly offspring for them, that the House of Upmeads might long endure.
And thus were they two left alone amidst the love and hope of the kindred, as erst they lay alone in the desert.