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HOME > Classical Novels > The Well at the World's End > CHAPTER 10 An Adventure on the Way to the Mountains
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CHAPTER 10 An Adventure on the Way to the Mountains
 On the morrow Ralph got his men together betimes and rode out a-gates, and was little afraid that any should meddle with him within the town or anigh it, and even so it turned out. But Michael rode in the company new clad, and with his head and face all hidden in a wide sallet. As for Ralph and Ursula, they were exceeding glad, and now that their heads were turned to the last great mountains, it seemed to them that they were verily going home, and they longed for the night, that they might be alone together, and talk of all these matters in each others' arms.  
When they were out a-gates, they rode for two miles along the highway, heedlessly enough by seeming, and then, as Michael bade, turned suddenly into a deep and narrow lane, and forth on, as it led betwixt hazelled banks and coppices of small wood, skirting the side of the hills, so that it was late in the afternoon before they came into the Highway again, which was the only road leading into the passes of the mountains. Then said Michael that now by all likelihood they had beguiled the waylayers for that time; so they went on merrily till half the night was worn, when they shifted for lodging in a little oak-wood by the wayside. There they lay not long, but were afoot betimes in the morning, and rode swiftly daylong, and lay down at night on the wayside with the less dread because they were come so far without hurt.
But on the third day, somewhat after noon, when they were come up above the tilled upland and the land was rough and the ways steep, there lay before them a dark wood swallowing up the road. Thereabout Ralph deemed that he saw weapons glittering ahead, but was not sure, for as clear-sighted as he was. So he stayed his band, and had Ursula into the rearward, and bade all men look to their weapons, and then they went forward heedfully and in good order, and presently not only Ralph, but all of them could see men standing in the jaws of the pass with the wood on either side of them, and though at first they doubted if these were aught but mere strong-thieves, such as any wayfarers might come on, they had gone but a little further when Michael knew them for the riders of Cheaping Knowe. "Yea," said the Sage of Swevenham, "it is clear how it has been: when they found that we came not that first morning, they had an inkling of what had befallen, and went forward toward the mountains, and not back to Cheaping Knowe, and thus outwent us while we were fetching that compass to give them the go-by: wherefore I deem that some great man is with them, else had they gone back to town for new orders."
"Well," said Ralph, "then will they be too many for us; so now will I ride ahead and see if we may have peace." Said the Sage, "Yea, but be wary, for thou hast to do with the guileful."
Then Ralph rode on alone till he was come within hail of those waylayers. Then he thrust his sword into the sheath, and cried out: "Will any of the warriors in the wood speak with me; for I am the captain of the wayfarers?"
Then rode out from those men a very tall man, and two with him, one on either side, and he threw back the sallet from his face, and said: "Wayfarer, all we have weapons in our hands, and we so many that thou and thine will be in regard of us as the pips to the apple. Wherefore, yield ye!" Quoth Ralph: "Unto whom then shall I yield me?" Said the other: "To the men of the King of Cheaping Knowe." Then spake Ralph: "What will ye do with us when we are yolden? Shall we not pay ransom and go our ways?" "Yea," said the tall man, "and this is the ransom: that ye give up into my hands my dastard who hath bewrayed me, and the woman who wendeth in your company."
Ralph laughed; for by this time he knew the voice of the King, yea, and the face of him under his sallet. So he cried back in answer, and in such wise as if the words came rather from his luck than from his youth: "Ho, Sir King! beware beware! lest thou tremble when thou seest the bare blade of the Friend of the Well more than thou trembledst erst, when the blade was hidden in the sheath before the throne of thine hall."
But the King cried out in a loud harsh voice. "Thou, young man, beware thou! and try not thy luck overmuch. We are as many as these trees, and thou canst not prevail over us. Go thy ways free, and leave me what thou canst not help leaving."
"Yea, fool," cried Ralph, "and what wilt thou do with these two?"
Said the King: "The traitor I will flay, and the woman I will bed."
Scarce were the words out of his mouth ere Ralph gave forth a great cry and drew his sword, set spurs to his horse, and gallopped on up the road with all his band at his back for they had drawn anigh amidst this talk. But or ever they came on the foemen, they heard a great confused cry of onset mingled with affright, and lo! the King threw up his arms, and fell forward on his horse's neck with a great arrow through his throat.
Ralph drave on sword in hand, crying out, "Home, home to Upmeads!" and anon was amidst of the foe smiting on either hand. His men followed, shouting: "Ho, for the Friend of the Well!&quo............
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