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

Chapter 22

Ralph Talks With Bull Shockhead

When they rode on again, Ralph rode beside Bull, who was merry and blithe now he was full of meat and drink; and he spake anon: “So thou art a king’s son, master? I deemed from the first that thou wert of lineage. For as for these churls of chapmen, and the sworders whom they wage, they know not the name of their mother’s mother, nor have heard one word of the beginner of their kindred; and their deeds are like unto their kinlessness.”

“And are thy deeds so good?” said Ralph. “Are they ill,” said Bull, “when they are done against the foemen?” Said Ralph: “And are all men your foemen who pass through these mountains?” “All,” said Bull, “but they be of the kindred or their known friends.”

“Well, Bull,” said Ralph, “I like thy deeds little, that thou shouldest ravish men and women from their good life, and sell them for a price into toil and weariness and stripes.”

Said Bull: “How much worse do we than the chapmen by his debtor, and the lord of the manor by his villein?” Said Ralph: “Far worse, if ye did but know it, poor men!” Quoth Bull: “But I neither know it, nor can know it, nay, not when thou sayest it; for it is not so. And look you, master, this life of a bought thrall is not such an exceeding evil life; for oft they be dealt with softly and friendly, and have other thralls to work for them under their whips.”

Ralph laughed: “Which shall I make thee, friend Bull, the upper or the under?” Bull reddened, but said naught. Said Ralph: “Or where shall I sell thee, that I may make the best penny out of my good luck and valiancy?” Bull looked chopfallen: “Nay,” said he in a wheedling voice, “thou wilt not sell me, thou? For I deem that thou wilt be a good master to me: and,” he broke into sudden heat hereat, “if I have another master I shall surely slay him whate’er betide.”

Ralph laughed again, and said: “Seest thou what an evil craft ye follow, when thou deemest it better to be slain with bitter torments (as thou shouldest be if thou slewest thy master) than to be sold to any master save one exceeding good?”

Bull held his peace hereat, but presently he said: “Well, be our craft good or evil, it is gainful; and whiles there is prey taken right good, which, for my part, I would not sell, once I had my hand thereon.” “Yea, women?” said Ralph. “Even so,” said Bull, “such an one was taken by my kinsman Bull Nosy but a little while agone, whom he took down to the market at Cheaping Knowe, as I had not done if I had once my arms about her. For she was as fair as a flower; and yet so well built, that she could bear as much as a strong man in some ways; and, saith Nosy, when she was taken, there was no weeping or screeching in her, but patience rather and quietness, and intent to bear all and live. . . . Master, may I ask thee a question?” “Ask on,” said Ralph. Said Bull: “The pair of beads about thy neck, whence came they?” “They were the gift of a dear friend,” said Ralph. “A woman?” quoth Bull. “Yea,” said Ralph.

“Now is this strange,” said Bull, “and I wot not what it may betoken, but this same woman had about her neck a pair of beads as like to thine as if they had been the very same: did this woman give thee the beads? For I will say this of thee, master, that thou art well nigh as likely a man as she is a woman.”

Ralph sighed, for this talk of the woman and the beads brought all the story into his mind, so that it was as if he saw it adoing again: the Lady of the Wildwood led along to death before he delivered her, and their flight together from the Water of the Oak, and that murder of her in the desert. And betwixt the diverse deeds of the day this had of late become somewhat dim to him. Yet after his grief came joy that this man also had seen the damsel, whom his dream of the night had called Dorothea, and that he knew of her captors; wherefore by his means he might come on her and deliver her.

Now he spake aloud: “Nay, it was not she that gave them to me, but yet were I fain to find this woman that thou sawest; for I look to meet a friend whenas I meet her. So tell me, dost thou think that I may cheapen her of thy kinsman?”

Bull shook his head, and said: “It may be: or it may be that he hath already sold her to one who heedeth not treasure so much as fair flesh; and fair is hers beyond most. But, lord, I will do my best to find her for thee; as thou art a king’s son and no ill master, I deem.”

“Do that,” quoth Ralph, “and I in turn will do what more I may for thee besides making thee free.” And therewith he rode forward that he might get out of earshot, for Bull’s tongue seemed like to be long. And presently he heard laughter behind him, as the carle began jesting and talking with the chapman lads.

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