“Nay,” she said, “that word is but from the teeth outwards; for thou knowest, as I do, that the perils of the homeward road shall overcome us, despite of love, if we have not drunk of the Well at the World’s End.”
Again they were silent awhile, but anon she arose to her feet and said: “Now must I needs dight victual for us twain; but first” (and she smiled on him withal), “how is it that thou hast not asked me if the beast did me any hurt? Art thou grown careless of me, now the wedding is so nigh?”
He said: “Nay, but could I not see thee that thou wert not hurt? There was no mark of blood upon thee, nor any stain at all.” Then she reddened, and said: “Ah, I forgot how keen-eyes thou art.” And she stood silent a little while, as he looked on her and loved her sweetness. Then he said: “I am exceeding full of joy, but my body is uneasy; so I will now go and skin that troll who went so nigh to slay thee, and break up the carcase, if thou wilt promise to abide about the door of the house, and have thy sword and the spear ready to hand, and to don thine helm and hauberk to boot.”
She laughed and said: “That were but strange attire for a cook-maid, Ralph, my friend; yet shall I do thy will, my lord and my love.”
Then went Ralph into the cave, and brought forth the armour and did it on her, and kissed her, and so went his ways to the carcase of the bear, which lay some two furlongs from their dwelling; and when he came to the quarry he fell to work, and was some time about it, so huge as the beast was. Then he hung the skin and the carcase on a tree of the grove, and went down to the river and washed him, and then went lightly homewards.
Now Come the Messengers of the Innocent Folk
But when he had come forth from the chestnut-grove, and could see the face of their house-rock clearly, he beheld new tidings; for there were folk before the door of the dwelling, and Ursula was standing amidst of them, for he could see the gleam of her armour; and with the men he could see also certain beasts of burden, and anon that these were oxen. So he hastened on to find what this might mean, and drew his sword as he went. But when he came up to the rock, he found there two young men and an elder, and they had with them five oxen, three for riding, and two sumpter beasts, laden: and Ursula and these men were talking together friendly; so that Ralph deemed that the new-comers must be the messengers of the Innocent Folk. They were goodly men all three, somewhat brown of skin, but well fashioned, and of smiling cheerful countenance, well knit, and tall. The elder had a long white beard, but his eye was bright, and his hand firm and smooth. They were all clad in white woollen raiment, and bore no armour, but each had an axe with a green stone blade, curiously tied to the heft, and each of the young men carried a strong bow and a quiver of arrows.