So after a while, when it was a little past noon, they came adown to the lower slopes of the mountains and the foot-hills, which were green and unstony; and thereon were to be seen cattle and neatherds and shepherds, and here and there the garth of a homestead, and fenced acres about it.
So now that they were come down into the peopled parts, they displayed the banners of their fellowships, to wit, the Agnes, the White Fleece, the Christopher, and the Ship and Nicholas, which last was the banner of the Faring-knights of Whitwall; but Ralph was glad to ride under the banner of St. Nicholas, his friend, and deemed that luck might the rather come to him thereby. But they displayed their banners now, because they knew that no man of the peopled parts would be so hardy as to fall upon the Chapmen, of whom they looked to have many matters for their use and pleasure.
So now that they felt themselves safe, they stayed them, and sat down by a fair little stream, and ate their dinner of such meat and drink as they had; and Ralph departed his share with his thrall, and the man was hungry and ate well; so that Clement said mockingly: “Thou feedest thy thrall over well, lord, even for a king’s son: is it so that thou art minded to fatten him and eat him?” Then some of the others took up the jest, and bade the carle refrain him of the meat, so that he might not fatten, and might live the longer. He hearkened to them, and knit his brows and looked fiercely from one to the other. But Ralph laughed aloud, and shook his finger at him and refrained him, and his wrath ran off him and he laughed, and shoved the victual into him doughtily, and sighed for pleasure when he had made an end and drunk a draught of wine.
Ralph Talks With Bull Shockhead
When they rode on again, Ralph rode beside Bull, who was merry and blithe now he was full of meat and drink; and he spake anon: “So thou art a king’s son, master? I deemed from the first that thou wert of lineage. For as for these churls of chapmen, and the sworders whom they wage, they know not the name of their mother’s mother, nor have heard one word of the beginner of their kindred; and their deeds are like unto their kinlessness.”
“And are thy deeds so good?” said Ralph. “Are they ill,” said Bull, “when they are done against the foemen?” Said Ralph: “And are all men your foemen who pass through these mountains?” “All,” said Bull, “but they be of the kindred or their known friends.”
“Well, Bull,” said Ralph, “I like thy deeds little, that thou shouldest ravish men and women from their good life, and sell them for a price into toil and weariness and stripes.”
Said Bull: “How much worse do we than the chapmen by his debtor, and the lord of the manor by his villein?” Said Ralph: “Far worse, if ye did but know it, poor men!” Quoth Bull: “But I neither know it, nor can know it, nay, not when thou sayest it; for it is not so. And look you, master, this life of a bought thrall is not such an exceeding evil life; for oft they be dealt with softly and friendly, and have other thralls to work for them under their whips.”