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

Chapter 8

They Come to the Sea of Molten Rocks

When they woke again the sun was high above their heads, and they saw the Sage dighting their breakfast. So they arose and washed the night off them in the stream and ate hastily, and got to horse on a fair forenoon; then they rode the mountain neck east from that valley; and it was a long slope of stony and barren mountain nigh waterless.

And on the way Ursula told Ralph how the man who was scared by the wizardry last night was verily the nephew of the Lord from whom she had stolen her armour by wheedling and a seeming promise. “But,” said she, “his love lay not so deep but that he would have avenged him for my guile on my very body had he taken us.” Ralph reddened and scowled at her word, and the Sage led them into the other talk.

So long was that fell, that they were nigh benighted ere they gained the topmost, or came to any pass. When they had come to a place where there was a little pool in a hollow of the rocks they made stay there, and slept safe, but ill-lodged, and on the morrow were on their way betimes, and went toiling up the neck another four hours, and came to a long rocky ridge or crest that ran athwart it; and when they had come to the brow thereof, then were they face to face with the Great Mountains, which now looked so huge that they seemed to fill all the world save the ground whereon they stood. Cloudless was the day, and the air clean and sweet, and every nook and cranny was clear to behold from where they stood: there were great jutting nesses with straight-walled burgs at their top-most, and pyramids and pinnacles that no hand of man had fashioned, and awful clefts like long streets in the city of the giants who wrought the world, and high above all the undying snow that looked as if the sky had come down on to the mountains and they were upholding it as a roof.

But clear as was the fashion of the mountains, they were yet a long way off: for betwixt them and the ridge whereon those fellows stood, stretched a vast plain, houseless and treeless, and, as they beheld it thence grey and ungrassed (though indeed it was not wholly so) like a huge river or firth of the sea it seemed, and such indeed it had been once, to wit a flood of molten rock in the old days when the earth was a-burning.

Now as they stood and beheld it, the Sage spake: “Lo ye, my children, the castle and its outwork, and its dyke that wardeth the land of the Well at the World’s End. Now from to-morrow, when we enter into the great sea of the rock molten in the ancient earth-fires, there is no least peril of pursuit for you. Yet amidst that sea should ye perish belike, were it not for the wisdom gathered by a few; and they are dead now save for the Book, and for me, who read it unto you. Now ye would not turn back were I to bid you, and I will not bid you. Yet since the journey shall be yet with grievous toil and much peril, and shall try the very hearts within you, were ye as wise as Solomon and as mighty as Alexander, I will say this much unto you; that if ye love not the earth and the world with all your souls, and will not strive all ye may to be frank and happy therein, your toil and peril aforesaid shall win you no blessing but a curse. Therefore I bid you be no tyrants or builders of cities for merchants and usurers and warriors and thralls, like the fool who builded Goldberg to be for a tomb to him: or like the thrall-masters of the Burg of the Four Friths, who even now, it may be, are pierced by their own staff or overwhelmed by their own wall. But rather I bid you to live in peace and patience without fear or hatred, and to succour the oppressed and love the lovely, and to be the friends of men, so that when ye are dead at last, men may say of you, they brought down Heaven to the Earth for a little while. What say ye, children?”

Then said Ralph: “Father, I will say the sooth about mine intent, though ye may deem it little-minded. When I have accomplished this quest, I would get me home again to the little land of Upmeads, to see my father and my mother, and to guard its meadows from waste and its houses from fire-raising: to hold war aloof and walk in free fields, and see my children growing up about me, and lie at last beside my fathers in the choir of St. Laurence. The dead would I love and remember; the living would I love and cherish; and Earth shall be the well beloved house of my Fathers, and Heaven the highest hall thereof.”

“It is well,” said the Sage, “all this shalt thou do and be no little-heart, though thou do no more. And thou, maiden?”

She looked on Ralph and said: “I lost, and then I found, and then I lost again. Maybe I shall find the lost once more. And for the rest, in all that this man will do, I will help, living or dead, for I know naught better to do.”

“Again it is well,” said the Sage, “and the lost which was verily thine shalt thou find again, and good days and their ending shall betide thee. Ye shall have no shame in your lives and no fear in your deaths. Wherefore now lieth the road free before you.”

Then was he silent a while, neither spake the others aught, but stood gazing on the dark grey plain, and the blue wall that rose beyond it, till at last the Sage lifted up his hand and said: “Look yonder, children, to where I point, and ye shall see how there thrusteth out a ness from the mountain-wall, and the end of it stands like a bastion above the lava-sea, and on its sides and its head are streaks ruddy and tawny, where the earth-fires have burnt not so long ago: see ye?”

Ralph looked and said: “Yea, father, I see it, and its rifts and its ridges, and its crannies.”

Quoth the Sage: “Behind that ness shall ye come to the Rock of the Fighting Man, which is the very Gate of the Mountains; and I will not turn again nor bid you farewell till I have brought you thither. And now time presses; for I would have you come timely to that cavern, whereof I have taught you, before ye fall on the first days of winter, or ye shall be hard bestead. So now we will eat a morsel, and then use diligence that we may reach the beginning of the rock-sea before nightfall.”

So did they, and the Sage led them down by a slant-way from off the ridge, which was toilsome but nowise perilous. So about sunset they came down into the plain, and found a belt of greensward, and waters therein betwixt the foot of the ridge and the edge of the rock-sea. And as for the said sea, though from afar it looked plain and unbroken, now that they were close to, and on a level with it, they saw that it rose up into cliffs, broken down in some places, and in others arising high into the air, an hundred foot, it might be. Sometimes it thrust out into the green shore below the fell, and otherwhile drew back from it as it had cooled ages ago.

So they came to a place where there was a high wall of rock round three sides of a grassy place by a stream-side, and there they made their resting-place, and the night went calmly and sweetly with them.

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