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CHAPTER 13 They Come to Whitwall Again
Herewith they were come to a little thorp where the way sundered, for the highway went on to Whitwall, and a byway turned off to Swevenham. Thereby was a poor hostel, where they stayed and rested for the night, because evening was at hand. So when those four had eaten and drunk there together, Ralph spoke and said: "Michael-a-dale, thou art for Swevenham to-morrow?" "Yea, lord," said Michael, "belike I shall yet find kindred there; and I call to thy mind that I craved of thee to lead me to Swevenham as payment for all if I had done aught for thy service."
"Sooth is that," said Ralph, "thou shalt go with my good-will; and, as I deem, thou shalt not lack company betwixt here and Swevenham, whereas our dear friend here, the friend of thy father's father, is going the same road."
Then the Sage of Swevenham leaned across the board, and said: "What word hath come out of thy mouth, my son?" Said Ralph, smiling on him: "It is the last word which we have heard from thee of this matter, though verily it was spoken a while ago. What wilt thou add to it as now?" "This," quoth the Sage, "that I will leave thee no more till thou biddest me go from thee. Was this word needful?"
Ralph reached his hand to him and said: "It is well and more; but the road hence to Upmeads may yet be a rough one." "Yea," said the Sage, "yet shall we come thither all living, unless my sight now faileth."
Then Ursula rose up and came to the old man, and cast her arms about him and said: "Yea, father, come with us, and let thy wisdom bless our roof-tree. Wilt thou not teach our children wisdom; yea, maybe our children's children, since thou art a friend of the Well?"
"I know not of the teaching of wisdom," said the Sage; "but as to my going with thee, it shall be as I said e'en-now; and forsooth I looked for this bidding of thee to make naught of the word which I spoke ere yet I had learned wisdom of thee."
Therewith were they merry, and fain of each other, and the evening wore amidst great content.
But when morning was come they gat to horse, and Ralph spake to Michael and said: "Well, friend, now must thou ride alone to thy kindred, and may fair days befall thee in Swevenham. But if thou deem at any time that matters go not so well with thee as thou wouldst, then turn thine head to Upmeads, and try it there, and we shall further thee all we may."
Then came the Sage to Michael as he sat upon his horse, a stalwarth man of some forty winters, and said: "Michael-a-dale, reach me thine hand." So did he, and the Sage looked into the palm thereof, and said: "This man shall make old bones, and it is more like than not, King's son, that he shall seek to thee at Upmeads ere he die." Said Ralph: "His coming shall be a joy to us, how pleasant soever our life may be otherwise. Farewell, Michael! all good go with thee for thine wholesome redes."
So then Michael gave them farewell, and rode his ways to Swevenham, going hastily, as one who should hurry away from a grief.
But the three held on their way to Whitwall, and it was barely noon when they came to the gate thereof on a Saturday of latter May, It was a market-day, and the streets were thronged, and they looked on the folk and were fain of them, since they seemed to them to be something more than aliens. The folk also looked on them curiously, and deemed them goodly, both the old man and the two knights, for they thought no otherwise of Ursula than that she was a carle.
But now as they rode, slowly because of the crowd, up Petergate, they heard a cry of one beside them, as of a man astonished but joyful; so Ralph drew rein, and turned thither whence the cry came, and Ursula saw a man wide-shouldered, grey-haired, blue-eyed, and ruddy of countenance—a man warrior-like to look on, and girt with a long sword. Ralph lighted down from his horse, and met the man, who was coming toward him, cast his arms about his neck, and kissed him, and lo, it was Richard the Red. The people round about, when they saw it, clapped their hands, and crowded about the two crying out: "Hail to the friends long parted, and now united!" But Richard, whom most knew, cried out: "Make way, my masters! will ye sunder us again?" Then he said to Ralph: "Get into thy saddle, lad; for surely thou hast a tale to tell overlong for the open street."
Ralph did as he was bidden, and without more ado they went on all toward that hostelry where Ralph had erst borne the burden of grief. Richard walked by Ralph's side, and as he went he said: "Moreover, lad, I can see that thy tale is no ill one; therefore my heart is not wrung for thee or me, though I wait for it a while." Then again he said: "Thou doest well to hide her loveliness in war-weed even in this town of peace."
Ursula reddened, and Richard laughed and said: "Well, it is a fair rose which thou hast brought from east-away. There will be never another couple in these parts like you. Now I see the words on thy lips; so I tell thee that Blaise thy brother is alive and well and happy; which last word means that his coffer is both deep and full. Forsooth, he would make a poor bargain in buying any kingship that I wot of, so rich he is, yea, and mighty withal."
Said Ralph: "And how went the war with Walter the Black?"
Even as he spake his face changed, for he bethought him over closely of the past days, and his dream of the Lady of Abundance and of Dorothea, who rode by him now as Ursula. But Richard spake: "Short is the tale to tell. I slew him in shock of battle, and his men craved peace of the good town. Many were glad of his death, and few sorrowed for it; for, fair as his young body was, he was a cruel tyrant."
Therewith were they come to the hostel of the Lamb which was the very same house wherein Ralph had abided aforetime; and as he entered it, it is not to be said but that inwardly his heart bled for the old sorrow. Ursula looked on him lovingly and blithely; and when they were within doors Richard turned to the Sage and said: "Hail to thee, reverend man! wert thou forty years older to behold, outworn and forgotten of death, I should have said that thou wert like to the Sage that dwelt alone amidst the mountains nigh to Swevenham when I was a little lad, and fearsome was the sight of thee unto me."
The Sage laughed and said: "Yea, somewhat like am I yet to myself of forty years ago. Good is thy memory, greybeard."
Then Richard shook his head, and spake under his breath: "Yea, then it was no dream or coloured cloud, and he hath drank of the waters, and so then hath my dear lord." Then he looked up bright-faced, and called on the serving-men, and bade one lead them into a fair chamber, and another go forth and provide a banquet to be brought in thither. So they went up into a goodly chamber high aloft; and Ursula went forth from it awhile, and came back presently clad in very fair woman's raiment, which Ralph had bought for her at Goldburg. Richard looked on her and nothing else for a while; then he walked about the chamber uneasily, now speaking with the Sage, now with Ursula, but never with Ralph. At last he spake to Ursula, and said: "Grant me a grace, lady, and be not wroth if I take thy man into the window yonder that I may talk with him privily while ye hold converse together, thou and the Sage of Swevenham."
She laughed merrily and said: "Sir nurse, take thy bantling and cosset him in whatso corner thou wilt, and I will turn away mine eyes from thy caresses."
So Richard took Ralph into a window, and sat down beside him and said: "Mayhappen I shall sadden thee by my question, but I mind me what our last talking together was about, and therefore I must needs ask thee this, was that other one fairer than this one is?"
Ralph knit his brows: "I wot not," quoth he, "since she is gone, that other one."
"Yea," said Richard, "but this I say, that she is without a blemish. Did ye drink of the Well together?"
"Yea, surely," said Ralph. Said Richard: "And is this woman of a good heart? Is she valiant?" "Yea, yea," said Ralph, flushing red.
"As valiant as was that other?" said Richard. Said Ralph: "How may I tell, unless they were tried in one way?" Yet Richard spake: "Are ye wedded?" "Even so," said Ralph.
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