Now the rowers lifted the ash-blades, and fell to rowing towards shore: and almost with the first of their strokes, the Sea-eagle moaned out:
“Would we were there, oh, would we were there! Cold groweth eld about my heart. Raven’s Son, thou art standing up; tell me if thou canst see what these folk of the land are doing, and if any others have come thither?”
Said Hallblithe: “There are none others come, but kine and horses are feeding down the meadows. As to what those four are doing, the women are putting off their shoon, and girding up their raiment, as if they would wade the water toward us; and the carle, who was barefoot before, wendeth straight towards the sea, and there he standeth, for very little are the waves become.”
The old man answered nothing, and did but groan for lack of patience; but presently when the water was yet waist deep the rowers stayed the skiff, and two of them slipped over the gunwale into the sea, and between them all they took up the chieftain on his bed and got him forth from the boat and went toward the strand with him; and the landsfolk met them where the water was shallower, and took him from their hands and bore him forth on to the yellow sand, and laid him down out of reach of the creeping ripple of the tide. Hallblithe withal slipped lightly out of the boat and waded the water after them. But the shipmen rowed back again to their ship, and presently Hallblithe heard the hale and how, as they got up their anchor.
But when Hallblithe was come ashore, and was drawn near the folk of the land, the women looked at him askance, and they laughed and said: “Welcome to thee also, O young man!” And he beheld them, and saw that they were of the stature of the maidens of his own land; they were exceeding fair of skin and shapely of fashion, so that the nakedness of their limbs under their girded gowns, and all glistening with the sea, was most lovely and dainty to behold. But Hallblithe knelt by the Sea-eagle to note how he fared, and said: “How is it with thee, O chieftain?”
The old man answered not a word, and he seemed to be asleep, and Hallblithe deemed that his cheeks were ruddier and his skin less wasted and wrinkled than aforetime. Then spake one of those women: “Fear not, young man; he is well and will soon be better.” Her voice was as sweet as a spring bird in the morning; she was white-skinned and dark-haired, and full sweetly fashioned; and she laughed on Hallblithe, but not mockingly; and her fellows also laughed, as though it was strange for him to be there. Then they did on their shoon again, and with the carle laid their hands to the bed whereon the old man lay, and lifted him up, and bore him forth on to the grass, turning their faces toward the flowery wood aforesaid; and they went a little way and then laid him down again and rested; and so on little by little, till they had brought him to the edge of the wood, and still he seemed to be asleep. Then the damsel who had spoken before, she with the dark hair, said to Hallblithe, “Although we have gazed on thee as if with wonder, this is not because we did not look to meet thee, but because thou art so fair and goodly a man: so abide thou here till we come back to thee from out of the wood.”
Therewith she stroked his hand, and with her fellows lifted the old man once more, and they bore him out of sight into the thicket.
But Hallblithe went to and fro a dozen paces from the wood, and looked across the flowery meads and deemed he had never seen any so fair. And afar off toward the hills he saw a great roof arising, and thought he could see men also; and nigher to him were kine pasturing, and horses also, whereof some drew anear him and stretched out their necks and gazed at him; and they were goodly after their kind; and a fair stream of water came round the corner out of the wood and down the meadows to the sea; and Hallblithe went thereto and could see that there was but little ebb and flow of the tide on that shore; for the water of the stream was clear as glass, and the grass and flowers grew right down to its water; so he put off his helm and drank of the stream and washed his face and his hands therein, and then did on his helm again and turned back again toward the wood, feeling very strong and merry; and he looked out seaward and saw the Ship of the Isle of Ransom lessening fast; for a little land wind had arisen and they had spread their sails to it; and he laid down on the grass till the four folk of the country came out of the wood again, after they had been gone somewhat less than an hour, but the Sea-eagle was not with them: and Hallblithe rose up and turned to them, and the carle saluted him and departed, going straight toward that far-away roof he had seen; and the women were left with Hallblithe, and they looked at him and he at them as he stood leaning on his spear.
Then said the black-haired damsel: “True it is, O Spearman, that if we did not know of thee, our wonder would be great that a man so young and lucky-looking should have sought hither.”
“I wot not why thou shouldest wonder,” said Hallblithe; “I will tell thee presently wherefore I come hither. But tell me, is this the Land of the Glittering Plain?”
“Even so,” said the damsel, “dost thou not see how the sun shineth on it? Just so it shineth in the season that other folks call winter.”
“Some such marvel I thought to hear of,” said he; “for I have been told that the land is marvellous; and fair though these meadows be, they are not marvellous to look on now: they are like other lands, though it maybe, fairer.”
“That may be,” she said; “we have nought but hearsay of other lands. If we ever knew them we have forgotten them.”
Said Hallblithe, “Is this land called also the Acre of the Undying?”
As he spake the words the smile faded from the damsel’s face; she and her fellows grew pale, and she said: “Hold thy peace of such words! They are not lawful for any man to utter here. Yet mayst thou call it the Land of the Living.”
He said: “I crave pardon for the rash word.”
Then they smiled again, and drew near to him, and caressed him with their hands, and looked on him lovingly; but he drew a little aback from them and said: “I have come hither seeking something which I have lost, the lack whereof grieveth me.”
Quoth the damsel, drawing nearer to him again, “Mayst thou find it, thou lovely man, and whatsoever else thou desirest.”
Then he said: “Hath a woman named the Hostage been brought hither of late days? A fair woman, bright-haired and grey-eyed, kind of countenance, soft of speech, yet outspoken and nought timorous; tall according to our stature, but very goodly of fashion; a woman of the House of the Rose, and my troth-plight maiden.”
They looked on each other and shook their heads, and the black-haired damsel spake: “We know of no such a woman, nor of the kindred which thou namest.”
Then his countenance fell, and became piteous with desire and grief, and he bent his brows upon them, for they seemed to him light-minded and careless, though they were lovely.
But they shrank from him trembling, and drew aback; for they had all been standing close to him, beholding him with love, and she who had spoken most had been holding his left hand fondly. But now she said: “Nay, look not on us so bitterly! If the woman be not in the land, this cometh not of our malice. Yet maybe she is here. For such as come hither keep not their old names, and soon forget them what they were. Thou shalt go with us to the King, and he shall do for thee what thou wilt; for he is exceeding mighty.”
Then was Hallblithe appeased somewhat; and he said: “Are there many women in the land?”
“Yea, many,” said that damsel.
“And many that are as fair as ye be?” said he. Then they laughed and were glad, and drew near to him again and took his hands and kissed them; and the black-haired damsel said: “Yea, yea, there be many as fair as we be, and some fairer,” and she laughed.
“And that King of yours,” said he, “how do ye name him?”
“He is the King,” said the damsel.
“Hath he no other name?” said Hallblithe.
“We may not utter it,” she said; “but thou shalt see him soon, that there is nought but good in him and mightiness.”