So they rode on, and turned off from the road that led down to the ford of the Swelling Flood, anigh which Ralph had fallen in with Blaise and Richard on the day after the woeful slaying, which had made an end of his joy for that time. But when they were amidst of the bushes and riding a deep ghyll of the waste, Richard said: “It is well that we are here: for now if Blaise send riders to bring us back courteously, they shall not follow us at once, but shall ride straight down to the ford, and even cross it in search of us.” “Yea,” said Ralph, “it is well in all wise.”
So then they rode thence awhile till the moon grew low, and great, and red, and sank down away from them; and by then were they come to a shepherd’s cot, empty of men, with naught therein save an old dog, and some victual, as bread and white cheese, and a well for drinking. So there they abode and rested that night.
A Strange Meeting in the Wilderness
On the morrow betimes they got to the road again; the country at first, though it was scanty of tillage, was not unfurnished of sheep, being for the most part of swelling hills and downs well grassed, with here and there a deep cleft in them. They saw but few houses, and those small and poor. A few shepherds they fell in with, who were short of speech, after the manner of such men, but deemed a greeting not wholly thrown away on such goodly folk as those wayfarers.
So they rode till it was noon, and Richard talked more than his wont was, though his daily use it was to be of many words: nor did the Sage spare speech; but Ursula spoke little, nor heeded much what the others said, and Ralph deemed that she was paler than of wont, and her brows were knitted as if she were somewhat anxious. As for him, he was grave and calm, but of few words; and whiles when Richard was wordiest he looked on him steadily for a moment whereat Richard changed countenance, and for a while stinted his speech, but not for long; while Ralph looked about him, inwardly striving to gather together the ends of unhappy thoughts that floated about him, and to note the land he was passing through, if indeed he had verily seen it aforetime, elsewhere than in some evil dream.
At last when they stopped to bait by some scrubby bushes at the foot of a wide hill-side, he took Richard apart, and said to him: “Old friend, and whither go we?” Said Richard: “As thou wottest, to the Burg of the Four Friths.” “Yea,” said Ralph, “but by what road?” Said Richard: “Youngling is not thine heart, then, as strong as thou deemedst last night?” Ralph was silent a while, and then he said: “I know what thou wouldst say; we are going by the shortest road to the Castle of Abundance.”
He spake this out loud, but Richard nodded his head to him, as if he would say: “Yea, so it is; but hold thy peace.” But Ralph knew that Ursula had come up behind him, and, still looking at Richard, he put his open hand aback toward her, and her hand fell into it. Then he turned about to her, and saw that her face was verily pale; so he put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her kindly; and she let her head fall on to his bosom and fell a-weeping, and the two elders turned away to the horses, and feigned to be busy with them.