The Well At The World's End, by William Morris

Chapter 17

Richard Bringeth Tidings of Departing

Fell the talk between them at that time, and three days wore, and on the morning of the fourth day came Richard to Ralph, and said to him: “Foster-son, I am sorry for the word I must say, but Clement Chapman came within the gates this morning early, and the company with which he is riding are alboun for the road, and will depart at noon to-day, so that there are but four hours wherein we twain may be together; and thereafter whatso may betide thee, it may well be, that I shall see thy face no more; so what thou wilt tell me must be told straightway. And now I will say this to thee, that of all things I were fain to ride with thee, but I may not, because it is Blaise whom I am bound to serve in all ways. And I deem, moreover, that troublous times may be at hand here in Whitwall. For there is an Earl hight Walter the Black, a fair young man outwardly, but false at heart and a tyrant, and he had some occasion against the good town, and it was looked for that he should send his herald here to defy the Port more than a half moon ago; but about that time he was hurt in a fray as we hear, and may not back a horse in battle yet. Albeit, fristed is not forgotten, as saith the saw; and when he is whole again, we may look for him at our gates; and whereas Blaise knows me for a deft man-at-arms or something more, it is not to be looked for that he will give me to thee for this quest. Nay, of thee also it will be looked for that thou shouldest do knightly service to the Port, and even so Blaise means it to be; therefore have I lied to him on thy behalf, and bidden Clement also to lie (which forsooth he may do better than I, since he wotteth not wholly whither thou art minded), and I have said thou wouldst go with Clement no further than Cheaping Knowe, which lieth close to the further side of these mountains, and will be back again in somewhat more than a half-moon’s wearing. So now thou art warned hereof.”

Ralph was moved by these words of Richard, and he spake: “Forsooth, old friend, I am sorry to depart from thee; yet though I shall presently be all alone amongst aliens, yet now is manhood rising again in me. So for that cause at least shall I be glad to be on the way; and as a token that I am more whole than I was, I will now tell thee the tale of my grief, if thou wilt hearken to it, which the other day I might not tell thee.”

“I will hearken it gladly,” said Richard. And therewith they sat down in a window, for they were within doors in the hostel, and Ralph told all that had befallen him as plainly and shortly as he might; and when he had done, Richard said:

“Thou has had much adventure in a short space, lord, and if thou mightest now refrain thy longing for that which is gone, and set it on that which is to come, thou mayest yet harden into a famous knight and a happy man.” Said Ralph: “Yea? now tell me all thy thought.”

Said Richard: “My thought is that this lady who was slain, was scarce wholly of the race of Adam; but that at the least there was some blending in her of the blood of the fays. Or how deemest thou?”

“I wot not,” said Ralph sadly; “to me she seemed but a woman, though she were fairer and wiser than other women.” Said Richard: “Well, furthermore, if I heard thee aright, there is another woman in the tale who is also fairer and wiser than other women?”

“I would she were my sister!” said Ralph. “Yea,” quoth Richard, “and dost thou bear in mind what she was like? I mean the fashion of her body.” “Yea, verily,” said Ralph.

Again said Richard: “Doth it seem to thee as if the Lady of the Dry Tree had some inkling that thou shouldst happen upon this other woman: whereas she showed her of the road to the Well at the World’s End, and gave her that pair of beads, and meant that thou also shouldest go thither? And thou sayest that she praised her — her beauty and wisdom. In what wise did she praise her? how came the words forth from her? was it sweetly?”

“Like honey and roses for sweetness,” said Ralph. “Yea,” said Richard, “and she might have praised her in such wise that the words had came forth like gall and vinegar. Now I will tell thee of my thought, since we be at point of sundering, though thou take it amiss and be wroth with me: to wit, that thou wouldst have lost the love of this lady as time wore, even had she not been slain: and she being, if no fay, yet wiser than other women, and foreseeing, knew that so it would be.” Ralph brake in: “Nay, nay, it is not so, it is not so!” “Hearken, youngling!” quoth Richard; “I deem that it was thus. Her love for thee was so kind that she would have thee happy after the sundering: therefore she was minded that thou shouldest find the damsel, who as I deem loveth thee, and that thou shouldest love her truly.”

“O nay, nay!” said Ralph, “all this guess of thine is naught, saying that she was kind indeed. Even as heaven is kind to them who have died martyrs, and enter into its bliss after many torments.”

And therewith he fell a-weeping at the very thought of her great kindness: for indeed to this young man she had seemed great, and exalted far above him.

Richard looked at him a while; and then said: “Now, I pray thee be not wroth with me for the word I have spoken. But something more shall I say, which shall like thee better. To wit, when I came back from Swevenham on Wednesday I deemed it most like that the Well at the World’s End was a tale, a coloured cloud only; or that at most if it were indeed on the earth, that thou shouldest never find it. But now is my mind changed by the hearing of thy tale, and I deem both that the Well verily is, and that thou thyself shalt find it; and that the wise Lady knew this, and set the greater store by thy youth and goodliness, as a richer and more glorious gift than it had been, were it as fleeting as such things mostly be. Now of this matter will I say no more; but I think that the words that I have said, and which now seem so vain to thee, shall come into thy mind on some later day, and avail thee somewhat; and that is why I have spoken them. But this again is another word, that I have got a right good horse for thee, and other gear, such as thou mayest need for the road, and that Clement’s fellowship will meet in Petergate hard by the church, and I will be thy squire till thou comest thither, and ridest thence out a-gates. Now I suppose that thou will want to bid Blaise farewell: yet thou must look to it that he will not deem thy farewell of great moment, since he swimmeth in florins and goodly wares; and moreover deemeth that thou wilt soon be back here.”

“Nevertheless,” said Ralph, “I must needs cast my arms about my own mother’s son before I depart: so go we now, as all this talk hath worn away more than an hour of those four that were left me.”

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