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

Chapter 30

Ralph Hath Hope of Tidings Concerning the Well at the World’s End

Now he goes to Clement, and tells him that he deems he has no need to abide their departure from Goldburg to say farewell and follow his quest further afield; since it is clear that in Goldburg he should have no more tidings. Clement laughed and said: “Not so fast, Lord Ralph; thou mayst yet hear a word or two.” “What!” said Ralph, “hast thou heard of something new?” Said Clement: “There has been a man here seeking thee, who said that he wotted of a wise man who could tell thee much concerning the Well at the World’s End. And when I asked him of the Damsel and the Lord of Utterbol, if he knew anything of her, he said yea, but that he would keep it for thy privy ear. So I bade him go and come again when thou shouldst be here. And I deem that he will not tarry long.”

Now they were sitting on a bench outside the hall of the hostel, with the court between them and the gate; and Ralph said: “Tell me, didst thou deem the man good or bad?” Said Clement: “He was hard to look into: but at least he looked not a fierce or cruel man; nor indeed did he seem false or sly, though I take him for one who hath lost his manhood — but lo you! here he comes across the court.”

So Ralph looked, and saw in sooth a man drawing nigh, who came straight up to them and lowted to them, and then stood before them waiting for their word: he was fat and somewhat short, white-faced and pink-cheeked, with yellow hair long and curling, and with a little thin red beard and blue eyes: altogether much unlike the fashion of men of those parts. He was clad gaily in an orange-tawny coat laced with silver, and broidered with colours.

Clement spake to him and said: “This is the young knight who is minded to seek further east to wot if it be mere lies which he hath heard of the Well at the World’s End.”

The new-comer lowted before them again, and said in a small voice, and as one who was shy and somewhat afeared: “Lords, I can tell many a tale concerning that Well, and them who have gone on the quest thereof. And the first thing I have to tell is that the way thereto is through Utterness, and that I can be a shower of the way and a leader to any worthy knight who listeth to seek thither; and moreover, I know of a sage who dwelleth not far from the town of Utterness, and who, if he will, can put a seeker of the Well on the right road.”

He looked askance on Ralph, whose face flushed and whose eyes glittered at that word. But Clement said: “Yea, that seemeth fair to look to: but hark ye! Is it not so that the way to Utterness is perilous?” Said the man: “Thou mayst rather call it deadly, to any who is not furnished with a let-pass from the Lord of Utterbol, as I am. But with such a scroll a child or a woman may wend the road unharmed.” “Where hast thou the said let-pass?” said Clement. “Here,” quoth the new-comer; and therewith he drew a scroll from out of his pouch, and opened it before them, and they read it together, and sure enough it was a writing charging all men so let pass and aid Morfinn the Minstrel (of whose aspect it told closely), under pain of falling into the displeasure of Gandolf, Lord of Utterbol; and the date thereon was but three months old.

Said Clement: “This is good, this let-pass: see thou, Ralph, the seal of Utterbol, the Bear upon the Castle Wall. None would dare to counterfeit this seal, save one who was weary of life, and longed for torments.”

Said Ralph, smiling: “Thou seest, Master Clement, that there must be a parting betwixt us, and that this man’s coming furthers it: but were he or were he not, yet the parting had come. And wert thou not liefer that it should come in a way to pleasure and aid me, than that thou shouldst but leave me behind at Goldburg when thou departest: and I with naught done toward the achieving my quest, but merely dragging my deedless body about these streets; and at last, it may be, going on a perilous journey without guiding or safe-conduct?”

“Yea, lad,” said Clement, “I wotted well that thou wouldst take thine own way, but fain had I been that it had been mine also.” Then he pondered a while and said afterwards: “I suppose that thou wilt take thy servant Bull Shockhead with thee, for he is a stout man-at-arms, and I deem him trusty, though he be a wild man. But one man is of little avail to a traveller on a perilous road, so if thou wilt I will give leave and license to a half score of our sergeants to follow thee on the road; for, as thou wottest, I may easily wage others in their place. Or else wouldst thou ask the Queen of Goldburg to give thee a score of men-at-arms; she looked to me the other day as one who would deny thee few of thine askings.”

Ralph blushed red, and said: “Nay, I will not ask her this.” Then he was silent; the new-comer looked from one to the other, and said nothing. At last Ralph spake: “Look you, Clement, my friend, I wot well how thou wouldst make my goings safe, even if it were to thy loss, and I thank thee for it: but I deem I shall do no better than putting myself into this man’s hands, since he has a let-pass for the lands of him of Utterbol: and meseemeth from all that I have heard, that a half score or a score, or for the matter of that an hundred men-at-arms would not be enough to fight a way to Utterbol, and their gathering together would draw folk upon them, who would not meddle with two men journeying together, even if they had no let-pass of this mighty man.” Clement sighed and grunted, and then said: “Well, lord, maybe thou art right.”

“Yea,” said the guide, “he is as right as may be: I have not spoken before lest ye might have deemed me untrusty: but now I tell thee this, that never should a small band of men unknown win through the lands of the Lord of Utterbol, or the land debatable that lieth betwixt them and Goldburg.”

Ralph nodded friendly at him as he spake; but Clement looked on him sternly; and the man beheld his scowling face innocently, and took no heed of it.

Then said Ralph: “As to Bull Shockhead, I will speak to him anon; but I will not take him with me; for indeed I fear lest his mountain-pride grow up over greenly at whiles and entangle me in some thicket of peril hard to win out of.”

“Well,” said Clement, “and when wilt thou depart?” “To-morrow,” said Ralph, “if my faring-fellow be ready for me by then.” “I am all ready,” said the man: “if thou wilt ride out by the east gate about two hours before noon to-morrow, I will abide thee on a good horse with all that we may need for the journey: and now I ask leave.” “Thou hast it,” said Clement.

So the man departed, and those two being left alone, Master Clement said: “Well, I deemed that nothing else would come of it: and I fear that thy gossip will be ill-content with me; for great is the peril.” “Yea,” said Ralph, “and great the reward.” Clement smiled and sighed, and said: “Well, lad, even so hath a many thought before thee, wise men as well as fools.” Ralph looked at him and reddened, and departed from him a little, and went walking in the cloister there to and fro, and pondered these matters; and whatever he might do, still would that trim figure be before his eyes which he had looked on so gladly erewhile in the hostel of Bourton Abbas; and he said aloud to himself: “Surely she needeth me, and draweth me to her whether I will or no.” So wore the day.

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