Ralph Heareth More Tidings of the Damsel
The second day, while the merchants saw to their chaffer, most of the men-at-arms, and Ralph with them, spent their time again in those goodly gardens; where, indeed, some of them made friends of fair women of the place; in which there was less risk than had been for aliens in some towns, whereas at Cheaping Knowe such women as were wedded according to law, or damsels in the care of their kindred, or slaves who were concubines, had not dared so much as to look on a man.
The third day time hung somewhat heavy on Ralph’s hands, not but that the Companions were well at ease, but rather because himseemed that he was not stirring in the quest.
But the next day Clement bade him come see that thrall-merchant aforesaid, and brought him to a corner of the market-place, where was a throng looking on at the cheaping. They went through the throng, and beside a stone like a leaping-on stone saw a tall man, goodly of presence, black bearded, clad in scarlet; and this was the merchant; and by him were two of his knaves and certain weaponed men who had brought their wares to the cheaping. And some of these were arrayed like those foemen of the mountains. There was a half score and three of these chattels to be sold, who stood up one after other on the stone, that folk might cheapen them. The cheaping was long about, because they that had a mind to buy were careful to know what they were buying, like as if they had been cheapening a horse, and most of them before they bid their highest had the chattels away into the merchant’s booth to strip them, lest they should buy damaged or unhandsome bodies; and this more especially if it were a woman, for the men were already well nigh naked. Of women four of them were young and goodly, and Ralph looked at them closely; but they were naught like to the woman of his quest.
Now this cheaping irked Ralph sorely, as was like to be, whereas, as hath been told, he came from a land where were no thralls, none but vavassors and good yeomen: yet he abode till all was done, hansel paid, and the thralls led off by their new masters. Then Clement led him up to the merchant, to whom he gave the sele of the day, and said: “Master, this is the young knight of whom I told thee, who deemeth that a woman who is his friend hath been brought to this market and sold there, and if he might, he would ransom her.”
The merchant greeted Ralph courteously, and bade him and Clement come into his house, where they might speak more privily. So did they, and he treated them with honour, and set wine and spices before them, and bade Ralph say whatlike the woman was. Ralph did so, and wondered at himself how well and closely he could tell of her, like as a picture painted. And, moreover, he drew forth that piece of her gown which he had come on by the Mid-Mountain House.