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

Chapter 5

Bull Telleth of His Winning of the Lordship of Utterbol

“When thou rannest away from me, and left me alone at Goldburg, I was grieved; then Clement Chapman offered to take me back with him to his own country, which, he did me to wit, lieth hard by thine: but I would not go with him, since I had an inkling that I should find the slayer of my brother and be avenged on him. So the Chapmen departed from Goldberg after that Clement had dealt generously by me for thy sake; and when they were gone I bethought me what to do, and thou knowest I can some skill with the fiddle and song, so I betook myself to that craft, both to earn somewhat and that I might gather tidings and be little heeded, till within awhile folk got to know me well, and would often send for me to their merry-makings, where they gave me fiddler’s wages, to wit, meat, drink, and money. So what with one thing what with another I was rich enough to leave Goldburg and fall to my journey unto Utterbol; since I misdoubted me from the first that the caytiff who had slain my brother was the Lord thereof.

“But one day when I went into the market-place I found a great stir and clutter there; some folk, both men and women screeching and fleeing, and some running to bows and other weapons. So I caught hold of one of the fleers, and asked him what was toward; and he cried out, ‘Loose me! let me go! he is loose, he is loose!’

“‘Who is loose, fool?’ quoth I. ‘The lion,’ said he, and therewith in the extremity of his terror tore himself away from me and fled. By this time the others also had got some distance away from me, and I was left pretty much alone. So I went forth on a little, looking about me, and sure enough under one of the pillars of the cloister beneath the market-house (the great green pillar, if thou mindest it), lay crouched a huge yellow lion, on the carcase of a goat, which he had knocked down, but would not fall to eating of amidst all that cry and hubbub.

“Now belike one thing of me thou wottest not, to wit, that I have a gift that wild things love and will do my bidding. The house-mice will run over me as I lie awake looking on them; the small birds will perch on my shoulders without fear; the squirrels and hares will gambol about quite close to me as if I were but a tree; and, withal, the fiercest hound or mastiff is tame before me. Therefore I feared not this lion, and, moreover, I looked to it that if I might tame him thoroughly, he would both help me to live as a jongleur, and would be a sure ward to me.

“So I walked up towards him quietly, till he saw me and half rose up growling; but I went on still, and said to him in a peaceable voice: ‘How now, yellow mane! what aileth thee? down with thee, and eat thy meat.’ So he sat down to his quarry again, but growled still, and I went up close to him, and said to him: ‘Eat in peace and safety, am I not here?’ And therewith I held out my bare hand unclenched to him, and he smelt to it, and straightway began to be peaceable, and fell to tearing the goat, and devouring it, while I stood by speaking to him friendly.

“But presently I saw weapons glitter on the other side of the square place, and men with bended bows. The yellow king saw them also, and rose up again and stood growling; then I strove to quiet him, and said, ‘These shall not harm thee.’

“Therewith the men cried out to me to come away, for they would shoot: But I called out; ‘Shoot not yet! but tell me, does any man own this beast?’ ‘Yea,’ said one, ‘I own him, and happy am I that he doth not own me.’ Said I, ‘Wilt thou sell him?’ ‘Yea’ said he, ‘if thou livest another hour to tell down the money.’ Said I, ‘I am a tamer of wild beasts, and if thou wilt sell this one at such a price, I will rid thee of him.’ The man yeasaid this, but kept well aloof with his fellows, who looked on, handling their weapons.

“Then I turned to my new-bought thrall and bade him come with me, and he followed me like a dog to his cage, which was hard by; and I shut him in there, and laid down the money to his owner; and folk came round about, and wondered, and praised me. But I said: ‘My masters, have ye naught of gifts for the tamer of beasts, and the deliverer of men?’ Thereat they laughed: but they brought me money and other goods, till I had gotten far more than I had given for the lion.

“Howbeit the next day the officers of the Porte came and bade me avoid the town of Goldburg, but gave me more money withal. I was not loth thereto, but departed, riding a little horse that I had, and leading my lion by a chain, though when I was by he needed little chaining.

“So that without more ado I took the road to Utterbol, and wheresoever I came, I had what was to be had that I would; neither did any man fall on me, or on my lion. For though they might have shot him or slain him with many spear-thrusts, yet besides that they feared him sorely, they feared me still more; deeming me some mighty sending from their Gods.

“Thus came I to Utterness, and found it poor and wretched, (as forsooth, it yet is, but shall not be so for long). But the House of Utterbol is exceeding fair and stately (as thou mightest have learned from others, my master,) and its gardens, and orchards, and acres, and meadows as goodly as may be. Yea, a very paradise; yet the dwellers therein as if it were hell, as I saw openly with mine own eyes.

“To be short, the fame of me and my beast had somehow gone before me, and when I came to the House, I was dealt with fairly, and had good entertainment: and this all the more, as the Lord was away for a while, and the life of folk not so hard by a great way as it had been if he had been there: but the Lady was there in the house, and on the morrow of my coming by her command, I brought my lion before her window and made him come and go, and fetch and carry at my bidding, and when I had done my play she bade me up into her bower, and bade me sit and had me served with wine, while she asked me many questions as to my country and friends, and whence and whither I was; and I answered her with the very sooth, so far as the sooth was handy; and there was with her but one of her women, even thy friend Agatha, fair sir.

“Methought both that this Queen was a fair woman, and that she looked kindly upon me, and at last she said, sighing, that she were well at ease if her baron were even such a man as I, whereas the said Lord was fierce and cruel, and yet a dastard withal. But the said Agatha turned on her, and chided her, as one might with a child, and said: ‘Hold thy peace of thy loves and thy hates before a very stranger! Or must I leave yet more of my blood on the pavement of the White Pillar, for the pleasure of thy loose tongue? Come out now, mountain-carle!’

“And she took me by the hand and led me out, and when we had passed the door and it was shut, she turned to me and said: ‘Thou, if I hear any word abroad of what my Lady has just spoken, I shall know that thou hast told it, and though I be but a thrall, yea, and of late a mishandled one, yet am I of might enough in Utterbol to compass thy destruction.’

“I laughed in her face and went my ways: and thereafter I saw many folk and showed them my beast, and soon learned two things clearly.

“And first that the Lord and the Lady were now utterly at variance. For a little before he had come home, and found a lack in his household — to wit, how a certain fair woman whom he had but just got hold of, and whom he lusted after sorely, was fled away. And he laid the wyte thereof on his Lady, and threatened her with death: and when he considered that he durst not slay her, or torment her (for he was verily but a dastard), he made thy friend Agatha pay for her under pretence of wringing a true tale out of her.

“Now when I heard this story I said to myself that I should hear that other one of the slaying of my brother, and even so it befell. For I came across a man who told me when and how the Lord came by the said damsel (whom I knew at once could be none other than thou, Lady,) and how he had slain my brother to get her, even as doubtless thou knowest, Lord Ralph.

“But the second thing which I learned was that all folk at Utterbol, men and women, dreaded the home-coming of this tyrant; and that there was no man but would have deemed it a good deed to slay him. But, dastard as he was, use and wont, and the fear that withholdeth rebels, and the doubt that draweth back slaves, saved him; and they dreaded him moreover as a devil rather than a man. Forsooth one of the men there, who looked upon me friendly, who had had tidings of this evil beast drawing near, spake to me a word of warning, and said: ‘Friend lion-master, take heed to thyself! For I fear for thee when the Lord cometh home and findeth thee here; lest he let poison thy lion and slay thee miserably afterward.’

“Well, in three days from that word home cometh the Lord with a rout of his spearmen, and some dozen of captives, whom he had taken. And the morrow of his coming, he, having heard of me, sent and bade me showing the wonder of the Man and the Lion; therefore in the bright morning I played with the lion under his window as I had done by the Queen. And after I had played some while, and he looking out of the window, he called to me and said: ‘Canst thou lull thy lion to sleep, so that thou mayst leave him for a little? For I would fain have thee up here.’

“I yeasaid that, and chid the beast, and then sang to him till he lay down and slept like a hound weary with hunting. And then I went up into the Lord’s chamber; and as it happed, all the while of my playing I had had my short-sword naked in my hand, and thus, I deem without noting it, yet as weird would, I came before the tyrant, where he sat with none anigh him save this Otter and another man-at-arms. But when I saw him, all the blood within me that was come of one mother with my brother’s blood stirred within me, and I set my foot on the foot-pace of this murderer’s chair, and hove up my short-sword, and clave his skull, in front and with mine own hand: not as he wrought, not as he wrought with my brother.

“Then I turned about to Otter (who had his sword in his fist when it was too late) till he should speak. Hah Otter, what didst thou say?”

Otter laughed: Quoth he, “I said: thus endeth the worst man in the world. Well done, lion-tamer! thou art no ill guest, and hast paid on the nail for meat, drink and lodging. But what shall we do now? Then thou saidst; ‘Well, I suppose thou wilt be for slaying me.’ ‘Nay,’ said I, ‘We will not slay thee; at least not for this, nor now, nor without terms.’ Thou saidst: ‘Perchance then thou wilt let me go free, since this man was ill-beloved: yea, and he owed me a life.’ ‘Nay, nay,’ said I, ‘not so fast, good beast-lord.’ ‘Why not?’ saidst thou, ‘I can see of thee that thou art a valiant man, and whereas thou hast been captain of the host, and the men-at-arms will lightly do thy bidding, why shouldest thou not sit in the place of this man, and be Lord of Utterbol?’

“‘Nay nay,’ said I, ‘it will not do, hearken thou rather: For here I give thee the choice of two things, either that thou be Lord of Utterbol, or that we slay thee here and now. For we be two men all-armed.’

“Thou didst seem to ponder it a while, and then saidst at last: ‘Well, I set not out on this journey with any such-like intent; yet will I not wrestle with weird. Only I forewarn thee that I shall change the days of Utterbol.’

“‘It will not be for the worst then,’ quoth I. ‘So now go wake up thy lion, and lead him away to his den: and we will presently send him this carrion for a reward of his jonglery.’ ‘Gramercy, butcher,’ saidst thou, ‘I am not for thy flesh-meat to-day. I was forewarned that the poor beast should be poisoned at this man’s home-coming, and so will he be if he eat of this dastard; he will not outlive such a dinner.’ Thereat we all laughed heartily.”

“Yea,” said Bull, “So I went to lead away the lion when thou hadst bidden me return in an hours’ wearing, when all should be ready for my Lordship. And thou wert not worse than thy word, for when I came into that court again, there were all the men-at-arms assembled, and the free carles, and the thralls; and the men-at-arms raised me on a shield, set a crowned helm on my head, and thrust a great sword into my hand, and hailed me by the name of the Bull of Utterbol, Lord of the Waste and the Wildwood, and the Mountain-side: and then thou, Otter, wert so simple as to kneel before me and name thyself my man, and take the girding on of sword at my hand. Then even as I was I went in to my Lady and told her the end of my tale, and in three minutes she lay in my arms, and in three days in my bed as my wedded wife. As to Agatha, when I had a little jeered her, I gave her rich gifts and good lands, and freedom, to boot her for her many stripes. And lo there, King’s Son and Sweet Lady, the end of all my tale.”

“Yea,” quoth Otter, “saving this, that even already thou has raised up Utterbol from Hell to Earth, and yet meseemeth thou hast good-will to raise it higher.”

Bull reddened at his word, and said: “Tush, man! praise the day when the sun has set.” Then he turned to Ralph, and said: “Yet couldst thou at whiles put in a good word for me here and there amongst the folks that thou shalt pass through on thy ways home, I were fain to know that I had a well-speaking friend abroad.” “We shall do no less,” said Ralph; and Ursula spake in like wise.

So they talked together merrily a while longer, till night began to grow old, and then went to their chambers in all content and good-liking.

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