Said Ralph: “And did the carline keep
troth with thee?
Was she not but luring thee thither to be her thrall?
Or did the book that I read in the Castle of Abundance but
lie concerning thee?”
“She held her troth to me in all wise,” said the Lady, “and I was no thrall of hers, but as a sister, or it may be even as a daughter; for ever to my eyes was she the old carline who learned me lore in the Dale of the wildwood.
“But now a long while, years long, we abode in that House of the Sorceress ere we durst seek further to the Well at the World’s End. And yet meseems though the years wore, they wore me no older; nay, in the first days at least I waxed stronger of body and fairer than I had been in the King’s Palace in the Land of the Tower, as though some foretaste of the Well was there for us in the loneliness of the desert; although forsooth the abiding there amidst the scantiness of livelihood, and the nakedness, and the toil, and the torment of wind and weather were as a penance for the days and deeds of our past lives. What more is to say concerning our lives here, saving this, that in those days I learned yet more wisdom of the Teacher of Lore, and amidst that wisdom was much of that which ye call sorcery: as the foreseeing of things to come, and the sending of dreams or visions, and certain other matters. And I may tell thee that the holy man who came to us last even, I sent him the dream which came to him drowsing, and bade him come to the helping of Walter the Black: for I knew that I should take thy hand and flee with thee this morning e’en as I have done: and I would fain have a good leech to Walter lest he should die, although I owe him hatred rather than love. Now, my friend, tell me, is this an evil deed, and dost thou shrink from the Sorceress?”
He strained her to his bosom and kissed her mouth, and then he said: “Yet thou hast never sent a dream to me.” She laughed and said: “What! hast thou never dreamed of me since we met at the want-way of the Wood Perilous?” “Never,” said he. She stroked his cheek fondly, and said: “Young art thou, sweet friend, and sleepest well a-nights. It was enough that thou thoughtest of me in thy waking hours.” Then she went on with her tale.
The Lady Maketh an End of Her Tale
“Well, my friend, after we had lived thus a long time, we set out one day to seek to the Well at the World’s End, each of us signed and marked out for the quest by bearing such-like beads as thou and I both bear upon our necks today. Once again of all that befell us on that quest I will tell thee naught as now: because to that Well have I to bring thee: though myself, belike, I need not its waters again.”
Quoth Ralph: “And must thou lead me thy very self, mayest thou not abide in some safe place my going and returning? So many and sore as the toils and perils of the way may be.” “What!” she said, “and how shall I be sundered from thee now I have found thee? Yea, and who shall lead thee, thou lovely boy? Shall it be a man to bewray thee, or a woman to bewray me? Yet need we not go tomorrow, my beloved, nor for many days: so sweet as we are to each other.