Hereon the Sage held one of the younger men in talk, and taught him what he might of the way to the Burg of the Four Friths, so that they might verily send a messenger to Upmeads if need were. But the country youth said there was no need to think thereof, as no man of theirs would dare the journey through the wood, and that if they had need of a messenger, one of the Fathers of the Thorn would do their errand, whereas they were holy men, and knew the face of the world full well.
Now in this while the folk seemed to have gotten their courage again, and to be cheery, and to have lost their grief for the Lady: and of the maidens left about the oak were more than two or three very fair, who stood gazing at Ralph as if they were exceeding fain of him.
But amidst these things came back the women with the victual; to wit bread in baskets, and cheeses both fresh and old, and honey, and wood-strawberries, and eggs cooked diversely, and skewers of white wood with gobbets of roasted lamb’s flesh, and salad good plenty. All these they bore first to Ralph and Ursula, and their two fellows, and then dealt them to their own folk: and they feasted and were merry in despite of that tale of evil tidings. They brought also bowls and pitchers of wine that was good and strong, and cider of their orchards, and called many a health to the new Lord and his kindred.
Thus then they abode a-feasting till the sun was westering and the shadows waxed about them, and then at last Ralph rose up and called to horse, and the other wayfarers arose also, and the horses were led up to them. Then the maidens, made bold by the joy of the feast, and being stirred to the heart by much beholding of this beloved Lord, cast off their shamefacedness and crowded about him, and kissed his raiment and his hands: some even, though trembling, and more for love than fear, prayed him for kisses, and he, nothing loath, laughed merrily and laid his hands on their shoulders or took them by the chins, and set his lips to the sweetness of their cheeks and their lips, of those that asked and those that refrained; so that their hearts failed them for love of him, and when he was gone, they knew not how to go back to their houses, or the places that were familiar to them. Therewith he and his got into their saddles and rode away slowly, because of the thronging about them of that folk, who followed them to the edge of the wood, and even entered a little thereinto; and then stood gazing on Ralph and his fellows after they had spurred on and were riding down a glade of the woodland.
They Fall in With That Hermit
So much had they tarried over this greeting and feasting, that though they had hoped to have come to the hermit’s house that night, he of whom that folk had told them, it fell not so, whereas the day had aged so much ere they left the Plain of Abundance that it began to dusk before they had gone far, and they must needs stay and await the dawn there; so they dight their lodging as well as they might, and lay down and slept under the thick boughs.