There the Goldburg men took their wage, and bidding farewell, turned back with the wild men, praising Ralph much for his frankness and open hand. As for the wild men, they exceeded in their sorrow for the parting, and many of them wept and howled as though they had seen him die before their faces. But all that came to an end, and presently their cheer was amended, and their merry speech and laughter came down from the pass unto the wayfarers’ ears as each band rode its way.
The Roads Sunder Again
Ralph and Ursula, with the Sage and Michael-a-dale went their ways, and all was smooth with them, and they saw but few folk, and those mild and lowly. At last, of an afternoon, they saw before them afar off the towers and pinnacles of Whitwall, and Ralph’s heart rose within him, so that he scarce knew how to contain himself; but Ursula was shy and silent, and her colour came and went, as though some fear had hold of her. Now they two were riding on somewhat ahead of the others, so Ralph turned to Ursula, and asked what ailed her. She smiled on him and said: “A simple sickness. I am drawing nigh to thy home, and I am ashamed. Beyond the mountains, who knew what and whence I was? I was fair, and for a woman not unvaliant, and that was enough. But now when I am coming amongst the baronages and the lineages, what shall I do to hold up my head before the fools and the dastards of these high kindreds? And that all the more, my knight, because thou art changed since yester-year, and since we met on the want-way of the Wood Perilous, when I bade thee remember that thou wert a King’s son and I a yeoman’s daughter; for then thou wert but a lad, high-born and beautiful, but simple maybe, and untried; whereas now thou art meet to sit in the Kaiser’s throne and rule the world from the Holy City.”
He laughed gaily and said: “What! is it all so soon forgotten, our deeds beyond the Mountains? Belike because we had no minstrel to rhyme it for us. Or is it all but a dream? and has the last pass of the mountains changed all that for us? What then! hast thou never become my beloved, nor lain in one bed with me? Thou whom I looked to deliver from the shame and the torment of Utterbol, never didst thou free thyself without my helping, and meet me in the dark wood, and lead me to the Sage who rideth yonder behind us! No, nor didst thou ride fearless with me, leaving the world behind; nor didst thou comfort me when my heart went nigh to breaking in the wilderness! Nor thee did I deliver as I saw thee running naked from the jaws of death. Nor were we wedded in the wilderness far from our own folk. Nor didst thou deliver me from the venom of the Dry Tree. Yea verily, nor did we drink together of the Water of the Well! It is all but tales of Swevenham, a blue vapour hanging on the mountains yonder! So be it then! And here we ride together, deedless, a man and a maid of whom no tale may be told. What next then, and who shall sunder us?”