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CHAPTER 22 An Adventure in the Wood
 Ralph arrayed himself for departure next morning without more words; and when he was ready the carline said to him: "When thou wentest forth before, I was troubled at thy going and feared for thy returning: but now I fear not; for I know that thou wilt return; though it may be leading a fair woman by the hand. So go, and all luck go with thee." Ralph smiled at her words and went his ways, and came into the wood that lay due south from the Castle, and he went on and on and had no thought of turning back. He rested twice and still went on, till the fashion of the thickets and the woods changed about him; and at last when the sun was getting low, he saw light gleaming through a great wood of pines, which had long been dark before him against the tall boles, and soon he came to the very edge of the wood, and going heedfully, saw between the great stems of the outermost trees, a green strand, and beyond it a long smooth water, a little lake between green banks on either side. He came out of the pinewood on to the grass; but there were thornbushes a few about, so that moving warily from one to the other, he might perchance see without being seen. Warily he went forsooth, going along the green strand to the east and the head of that water, and saw how the bank sloped up gently from its ending toward the pine-wood, in front of whose close-set trees stood three great-boled tall oak-trees on a smooth piece of green sward. And now he saw that there were folk come before him on this green place, and keen-sighted as he was, could make out that three men were on the hither side of the oak-trees, and on the further side of them was a white horse. Thitherward then he made, stealing from bush to bush, since he deemed that he needed not be seen of men who might be foes, for at the first sight he had noted the gleam of weapons there. And now he had gone no long way before he saw the westering sun shine brightly from a naked sword, and then another sprang up to meet it, and he heard faintly the clash of steel, and saw withal that the third of the folk had long and light raiment and was a woman belike. Then he bettered his pace, and in a minute or two came so near that he could see the men clearly, that they were clad in knightly war-gear, and were laying on great strokes so that the still place rang with the clatter. As for the woman, he could see but little of her, because of the fighting men before her; and the shadow of the oak boughs fell on her withal.  
Now as he went, hidden by the bushes, they hid the men also from him, and when he was come to the last bush, some fifty paces from them, and peered out from it, in that very nick of time the two knights were breathing them somewhat, and Ralph saw that one of them, the furthest from him, was a very big man with a blue surcoat whereon was beaten a great golden sun, and the other, whose back was towards Ralph, was clad in black over his armour. Even as he looked and doubted whether to show himself or not, he of the sun raised his sword aloft, and giving forth a great roar as of wrath and grief mingled together, rushed on his foe and smote so fiercely that he fell to the earth before him, and the big man fell upon him as he fell, and let knee and sword-pommel and fist follow the stroke, and there they wallowed on the earth together.
Straightway Ralph came forth from the bushes with his drawn sword in his hand, and even therewith what with the two knights being both low upon the earth, what with the woman herself coming from out the shadow of the oak boughs, and turning her toward Ralph, he saw her clearly, and stood staring and amazed—for lo! it was the Lady whom he had delivered at the want-ways. His heart well nigh stood still with joy, yet was he shamefaced also: for though now she was no longer clad in that scanty raiment, yet did he seem to see her body through that which covered it. But now her attire was but simple; a green gown, thin and short, and thereover a cote-hardy of black cloth with orphreys of gold and colours: but on her neck was a collar that seemed to him like to that which Dame Katherine had given him; and the long tresses of her hair, which he had erst seen floating loose about her, were wound as a garland around her head. She looked with a flushed and joyous face on Ralph, and seemed as if she heeded nought the battle of the knights, but saw him only: but he feared her, and his love for her and stood still, and durst not move forward to go to her.
Thus they abode for about the space of one minute: and meanwhile the big man rose up on one knee and steadied him with his sword for a moment of time, and the blade was bloody from the point half way up to the hilt; but the black knight lay still and made no sign of life. Then the Knight of the Sun rose up slowly and stood on his feet and faced the Lady and seemed not to see Ralph, for his back was towards him. He came slowly toward the Lady, scowling, and his face white as chalk; then he spake to her coldly and sternly, stretching out his bloody sword before her.
"I have done thy bidding, and slain my very earthly friend of friends for thy sake. Wherewith wilt thou reward me?"
Then once more Ralph heard the voice, which he remembered so sweet amidst peril and battle aforetime, as she said as coldly as the Knight: "I bade thee not: thine own heart bade thee to strive with him because thou deemedst that he loved me. Be content! thou hast slain him who stood in thy way, as thou deemedst. Thinkest thou that I rejoice at his slaying? O no! I grieve at it, for all that I had such good cause to hate him."
He said: "My own heart! my own heart! Half of my heart biddeth me slay thee, who hast made me slay him. What wilt thou give me?" She knit her brow and spake angrily: "Leave to depart," she said. Then after a while, and in a kinder voice: "And thus much of my love, that I pray thee not to sorrow for me, but to have a good heart, and live as a true knight should." He frowned: "Wilt thou not go with me?" said he. "Not uncompelled," she said: "if thou biddest me go with threats of hewing and mangling the body which thou sayest thou lovest, needs must I go then. Yet scarce wilt thou do this."
"I have a mind to try it," said he; "If I set thee on thine horse and bound thine hands for thee, and linked thy feet together under the beast's belly; belike thou wouldest come. Shall I have slain my brother-in-arms for nought?"
"Thou hast the mind," said she, "hast thou the might?" "So I deem," said he, smiling grimly.
She looked at him proudly and said: "Yea, but I misdoubt me thereof." He still had his back to Ralph and was staring at the lady; she turned her head a little and made a sign to Ralph, just as the Knight of the Sun said: "Thou misdoubtest thee? Who shall help thee in the desert?"
"Look over thy left shoulder," she said. He turned, and saw Ralph drawing near, sword in hand, smiling, but somewhat pale. He drew aback from the Lady and, spinning round on his heel, faced Ralph, and cried out: "Hah! Hast thou raised up a devil against me, thou sorceress, to take from me my grief and my lust, and my life? Fair will the game be to fight with thy devil as I have fought with my friend! Yet now I know not whether I shall slay him or thee."
She spake not, but stood quietly looking on him, not unkindly, while a wind came up from the water and played with a few light locks of hair that hung down from that ruddy crown, and blew her raiment from her feet and wrapped it close round her limbs; and Ralph beheld her, and close as was the very death to him (for huge and most warrior-like was his foeman) yet longing for her melted the heart within him, and he felt the sweetness of life in his inmost soul as he had never felt it before.
Suddenly the Knight of the Sun turned about to the Lady again, and fell down on his knees before her, and clasped his hands as one praying, and said: "Now pardon me all my words, I pray thee; and let this young man depart unhurt, whether thou madest him, or hast but led him away from country and friends and all. Then do thou come with me, and make some semblance of loving me, and suffer me to love thee. And then shall all be well, for in a few days we will go back to thy people, and there will I be their lord or thy servant, or my brother's man, or what thou wilt. O wilt thou not let the summer days be sweet?"
But she spake, holding up her head proudly and speaking in a clear ringing voice: "I have said it, that uncompelled I will not go with thee at all." And therewithal she turned her face toward Ralph, as she might do on any chance-met courteous man, and he saw her smiling, but she said nought to him, and gave no token of knowing him. Then the Knight of the Sun sprang to his feet, and shoo............
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