They Ride to Bear Castle
But while they spake thus and were merry, the dawn had wellnigh passed into daylight. Then Ralph bade old Giles sleep for an hour, and went forth and called Roger and Richard and went to the great barn. There he bade the watch wake up Stephen and all men, and they gat to horse as speedily as they might, and were on the road ere the sun was fully up. The spearmen of the thorp did not fail them, and numbered twenty and three all told. Giles had a horse given him and rode the way by Ralph.
They rode up and down the hills and dales, but went across country and not by the Greenway, for thuswise the road was shorter.
But when they had gone some two leagues, and were nigh on top of a certain low green ridge, they deemed that they heard men’s voices anigh and the clash of arms; and it must be said that by Ralph’s rede they journeyed somewhat silently. So Ralph, who was riding first with Giles, bid all stay and let the crown of the ridge cover them. So did they, and Giles gat off his horse and crept on to the top of the ridge till he could see down to the dale below. Presently he came down again the old face of him puckered with mirth, and said softly to Ralph: “Did I not say thou wert lucky? here is the first fruits thereof. Ride over the ridge, lord, at once, and ye shall have what there is of them as safe as a sheep in a penfold.”
So Ralph drew sword and beckoned his men up, and they all handled their weapons and rode over the brow, and tarried not one moment there, not even to cry their cries; for down in the bottom were a sort of men, two score and six (as they counted them afterward) sitting or lying about a cooking fire, or loitering here and there, with their horses standing behind them, and they mostly unhelmed. The Champions knew them at once for men of their old foes, and there was scarce time for a word ere the full half of them had passed by the sword of the Dry Tree; then Ralph cried out to spare the rest, unless they offered to run; so the foemen cast down their weapons and stood still, and were presently brought before Ralph, who sat on the grass amidst of the ring of the Champions. He looked on them a while and remembered the favour of those whom he had seen erewhile in the Burg; but ere he could speak Giles said softly in his ear: “These be of the Burg, forsooth, as ye may see by their dogs’ faces; but they be not clad nor armed as those whom we have met heretofore. Ask them whence they be, lord.”
Ralph spake and said: “Whence and whither are ye, ye manslayers?” But no man of them answered. Then said Ralph: “Pass these murderers by the edge of the sword, Stephen; unless some one of them will save his life and the life of his fellows by speaking.”