The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter lxiii. They Escape from the Chapmen by the Carline’s Wizardry

The next night after, they were come to but a little way from the end of the mountains, and could see the tilled and peopled lands lying down before them, and this had been no very long day’s journey. The three merchant masters had ridden much apart from each other all day, and there was little feasting between them at even, and all men laid them down early to sleep. The Carline had spoken a word to the Maiden as they were a-riding, so that none might hear: “Sweetling,” she said, “the thing thou hast to do tonight is to give heed to my least word or beckoning, and obey it, and then will all be well.” So they two lay down somewhat away from the carle-folk. Amidst of the night then, awoke the Maiden, and the moon was high and very bright, and looking to her left side she saw the Carline was not there where she ought to have been; but nought scared was she thereat, since she wotted well that something would betide. But moving as little as she might, she let her eyes go round the campment, and even therewith saw the said Carline coming out of the tent of the masters, who slept all together there, whereas their serving-men lay as they might, under cloaks and such-like, beneath the naked heavens, the weather being fine and dry as at that time. Stole the Carline then and went up to each one of the said men and made unked signs over him, and when all that was done stood up by herself amidst them all and laughed aloud. Then she called out: “O sweetling that I am preserving as a pearl of all price for the greatest warrior of the world, wakest thou or sleepest? Speak out and fear not, for these now will lie here like logs long after the moon is gone out and the sun is shining. These carles thou seest, and two of the masters lie therein in their tent; but the third, the old one, I lured away far into the thicket and laid him asleep there; so that his being away, and the others hunting for him, might breed delay and quarrels amongst these runagates.”

The Maiden lightly arose and spake in a clear voice: “My mother, I am verily awake and ready for the road.” So she came down to the Carline, and they went together to the horses and dight their own, which were the best of the company’s, and without more delay gat to saddle and rode quietly down along the pass.

So rode they till it was the afternoon, and they were come out of the mountains into the first of the meadows. Then they drew rein into the first of the meadows. Then they drew rein in a fair little ingle amidst goodly trees, and gat off their horses and tethered them amongst the sweet grass. Then spake the Carline: “I must now look along the ways of sleep and see what is betiding.” Therewith she drew from her hardes a goat-skin bag, which she did over her head, and then laid herself face downwards on the grass; but the Maiden sat by her and watched.

Thus she lay for an hour, and tumbled and routed in her slumber, and thereafter she awoke and sat up, and was much besweated and worn; and she spake in a weak voice: “I have seen what lieth behind and what lieth before; now therefore I can do, and all will be well. For the chapmen have awakened and have striven, the two young ones together, and then the two young with the old because of his bitter mocks. But now they be got to the road again, and though we be most like to prevent them at a place of refuge, yet wise will it be to leave as little as may be to chancehap. As to what lieth before, I have seen our way that it turneth somewhat east tomorrow, and will bring us to a goodly Abbey that hath a noble guest-house, and there, by the help of the Prior’s safe-conduct and the gifts I shall give to the saints and the stewards, we shall be put well upon our way. But now will I do; and when thou seest me fall down and lie like to one dead, be not afeard, but when I come to myself again then sprinkle my face with water and put a cup of wine to my lips, and thereafter shall I be whole, and we shall eat and drink and go on our way.”

The the Carline went about the way and gathered handfuls of the dust and small stones and laid them in the bag, and then lay down on the way and put the bag under her bosom and brooded it, as a hen broodeth her eggs, moaning and muttering the while, and thus she was a long hour. Then she arose and let her hair loose, and it was long and white and not scanty. In this guise she walked to and fro athwart the road, keeping her face turned toward the mountains, and kept taking handfuls of that dust and casting it up toward that quarter; and ever and anon she cried out: “Be mist and mirk, and bewilderment and fear, before those faces of our foemen! Be a wall behind us that they may not pierce through! Mirk behind us, light before us!” So she went on till she had emptied the said bag, and then she fell aback and lay on the road as one dead. And the Maiden did as she had bidden and meddled not with her. But at last, and it was another hour, she began to come to herself, and the Maiden sprinkled her with water and gave her wine to drink, and the old woman arose and was herself again and of good cheer; and she stowed away her bag, and they drew forth victual and ate and drank kindly and merrily together.

So they gat to the road again when when it yet lacked three hours of sunset, but rode not after night had fallen lest they should miss their way. And no shelter they had that night but the grass and the trees and the well-bedecked heavens, and all that was sweet enough for them.

On the morrow they gat to the road early enough, and soon began to come amongst the cots and the homesteads, and saw the folk labouring afield, and none were otherwise than friendly to them; and a company of husbandmen, carles and queans, hailed them from the ingle of an acre where they were eating their dinner and bade light down and share, and they did so with a good will; and the upland folk looked with wonder on the Maiden and her beauty, and gave her much worship. But the Carline talked with them, and asked them much of their land and how it sped with them; and they said it was well with them, for that they dwelt in good peace, whereas they were under the dominion of the great Abbey, which dealt mildly with them, and would not suffer them to be harried; and they pointed out to the newcomers a fair white castle lying on a spur of the hills which went up to the waste mountains, and did them to with that that was the bit and the bridle of any wild men who might get it into their heads to break out on to the wealth of the Holy Fathers. And there be many such, said they, about our land, and especially a good way east and south hence where the land marcheth on the Great Forest, which is haunted by the worst of men, who will not be refrained but by great might and great heed. “And now,” said they, “we here tell of that mighty and good lord, the Knight of Longshaw, that he hath of late prevailed against his foes, who be tyrants and oppressors; and if that be sooth, he shall do as much or more on the east side of the Forest as my Lord Abbot hath done in the west, and peace and good days shall abide with us.” Much those twain heeded this talk, and they prayed for that good lord, him and his.

So they thanked that good folk and went their ways, and in an hour’s time they found the path which would do their eastering for them toward the Abbey; and shortly to say it, they came to the guest-house thereof two hours before it began to dusk, and were well-served by the brethren whose office it was.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07