Mostly we three rode abreast over the pleasant country. So long as we were crossing the plain of the Wolfmark we saw few tilled fields, and the farm-houses were fewer still. But wherever these were to be seen they were fortified and defended like castles, and had gates, great and high, with iron plates upon them and knobs like the points of spears beaten blunt.
The Lady Ysolinde, who had often ridden that way, told us that these were all in the Duke Casimir’s country, and were mostly possessed by the kin of his chief captains—feudal tenants, who for the right of possession were compelled to furnish so many riders to the Duke’s Companies.
“But wait,” she said, “till you come to the dominions of the Prince of Plassenburg. You will find that he is indeed a ruler that can make the broom-bush keep the cow.”
So we rode on, and passed pleasant and exciting things, more than I had ever seen in all my life before.
Once we saw half a dozen men driving cattle across our path, and it was curious to mark how readily they drew their swords and couched their lances at us, turning themselves about this way and that like a quintain till we were quite gone by, which made us laugh. For it seemed a strange thing that men so well armed should fear a company of no more than their own numbers, and two of them maids upon palfreys.
But Ysolinde said: “It is not, after all, so strange, for over yonder blue hills dwells Joan of the Swordhand, who can lead a foray as well as any man, and once worsted Duke Casimir himself when he beset her castle.”
So the day went past swiftly, with good company and the converse of folk well liking one another. And ever I wondered how we were to spend the night, and what sort of cheer we should find at our inn.
The gray plain of the Wolfmark, which we had been traversing ever since we descended out of the steep Weiss Thor of the city of Thorn, had now begun to break into ridges and mounded hills of stiff red clay. And I, who had often kept my watch on the highest pinnacle of the Red Tower, looked with astonishment back upon the city I had left behind. Seen from the plain, Thorn had an aspect almost imperial.
It rose above the colorless flat of gray suddenly, unexpectedly, almost insolently. The city, with its numberless gables, spires of churches, turreted gate-houses, occupied a ridge of gradually swelling ground which rose like a huge whale-back from the misty plain. Its walls were grim, high, and far-stretching. But as we travelled farther into the Wolfmark the city seemed to sink deeper into the plain and the dark castle of Duke Casimir to shoot ever higher into the skies. So that presently, as we looked back, we could only see the Wolfsberg itself, the abode of cruelty and wrong, standing black against the white sky of noon.