They Go Down to Battle in Upmeads
Before it was light were all men come into the market-place, and Ralph and Richard and Clement and Stephen a-Hurst fell to and arrayed them duly; and now, what with the company which Ralph had led into Wulstead, what with the men of the town, and them that had fled from Upmeads (though these last were mostly old men and lads), they were a thousand and four score and three. Ralph would go afoot as he went yesterday; but today he bore in his hand the ancient staff of war, the gold-written guisarme; and he went amongst the Shepherds, with whom were joined the feeble folk of Upmeads, men whom he had known of old and who knew him, and it was as if their hearts had caught fire from his high heart, and that whatever their past days had been to them, this day at least should be glorious. Withal anon comes Ursula from St. Austin’s with the Sage of Swevenham, whose face was full smiling and cheerful. Ursula wore that day a hauberk under her gown, and was helmed with a sallet; and because of her armour she rode upon a little horse. Ralph gave her into the warding of the Sage, who was armed at all points, and looked a valiant man of war. But Ralph’s brother, Hugh, had gotten him a horse, and had fallen into the company of the Champions, saying that he deemed they would go further forth than a sort of sheep-tending churls and the runaways of Upmeads.
As for Ralph, he walked up and down the ranks of the stout men of the Down-country, and saw how they had but little armour for defence, though their weapons for cutting and thrusting looked fell and handy. So presently he turned about to Giles, who, as aforesaid, bore a long hauberk, and said: “Friend, the walk we are on to-day is a long one for carrying burdens, and an hour after sunrise it will be hot. Wilt thou not do with thy raiment as I do?” And therewith he did off his hauberk and his other armour save his sallet. “This is good,” said he, “for the sun to shine on, so that I may be seen from far; but these other matters are good for folk who fight a-horseback or on a wall; we striders have no need of them.”
Then arose great shouting from the Shepherds, and men stretched out the hand to him and called hail on his valiant heart.
Amidst of which cries Giles muttered, but so as Ralph might hear him: “It is all down hill to Upmeads; I shall take off my iron-coat coming back again.” So Ralph clapped him on the shoulder and bade him come back whole and well in any case. “Yea, and so shalt thou come back,” said he.
Then the horns blew for departure, and they went their ways out of the market-place, and out into the fields through the new wooden wall of Wulstead. Richard led the way with a half score of the Champions, but he rode but a little way before Ralph, who marched at the head of the Shepherds.
So they went in the fresh morning over the old familiar fields, and strange it seemed to Ralph that he was leading an host into the little land of Upmeads. Speedily they went, though in good order, and it was but a little after sunrise when they were wending toward the brow of the little hill whence they would look down into the fair meads whose image Ralph had seen on so many days of peril and weariness.