So the Sage went within, and came out with the others, and they mounted their horses anon, and Roger went ahead on foot, and led them through the thicket-ways without fumbling; and they lay down that night on the farther side of the Swelling Flood.
A Change of Days in the Burg of the Four Friths
There is naught to tell of their ways till they came out of the thicket into the fields about the Burg of the Four Friths; and even there was a look of a bettering of men’s lives; though forsooth the husbandmen there were much the same as had abided in the fields aforetime, whereas they were not for the most part freemen of the Burg, but aliens who did service in war and otherwise thereto. But, it being eventide, there were men and women and children, who had come out of gates, walking about and disporting themselves in the loveliness of early summer, and that in far merrier guise than they had durst do in the bygone days. Moreover, there was scarce a sword or spear to be seen amongst them, whereat Roger grudged somewhat, and Richard said: “Meseems this folk trusts the peace of the Burg overmuch since, when all is told, unpeace is not so far from their borders.”
But as they drew a little nigher Ralph pointed out to his fellows the gleam of helms and weapons on the walls, and they saw a watchman on each of the high towers of the south gate; and then quoth Roger: “Nay, the Burg will not be won so easily; and if a few fools get themselves slain outside it is no great matter.”
Folk nowise let them come up to the gate unheeded, but gathered about them to look at the newcomers, but not so as to hinder them, and they could see that these summerers were goodly folk enough, and demeaned them as though they had but few troubles weighing on them. But the wayfarers were not unchallenged at the gate, for a stout man-at-arms stayed them and said: “Ye ride somewhat late, friends. What are ye?” Quoth Ralph: “We be peaceful wayfarers save to them that would fall on us, and we seek toward Upmeads.” “Yea?” said the man, “belike ye shall find something less than peace betwixt here and Upmeads, for rumour goes that there are alien riders come into the lands of Higham, and for aught I know the said unpeace may spread further on. Well if ye will go to the Flower de Luce and abide there this night, ye shall have a let-pass to-morn betimes.”
Then Ralph spake a word in Roger’s ear, and Roger nodded his head, and, throwing his cowl aback, went up to the man-at-arms and said: “Stephen a-Hurst, hast thou time for a word with an old friend?” “Yea, Roger,” said the man “is it verily thou? I deemed that thou hadst fled away from all of us to live in the wilds.”
“So it was, lad,” said Roger, “but times change from good to bad and back again; and now am I of this good lord’s company; and I shall tell thee, Stephen, that though he rideth but few to-day, yet merry shall he be that rideth with him to-morrow if unpeace be in the land. Lo you, Stephen, this is the Child of Upmeads, whom belike thou hast heard of; and if thou wilt take me into the chamber of thy tower, I will tell thee things of him that thou wottest not.”