It must be told that those footprints which Face-of-god and the Sun-beam had blessed betwixt jest and earnest had more to do with them than they wotted of. For Folk-might, who had had many thoughts and longings since he had seen the Bride again, rose up early about sunrise, and went out-a-doors, and wandered about the Burg, letting his eyes stray over the goodly stone houses and their trim gardens, yet noting them little, since the Bride was not there.
At last he came to where there was an open place, straight-sided, longer than it was wide, with a wall on each side of it, over which showed the blossomed boughs of pear and cherry and plum-trees: on either hand before the wall was a row of great lindens, now showing their first tender green, especially on their lower twigs, where they were sheltered by the wall. At the nether end of this place Folk-might saw a grey stone house, and he went towards it betwixt the lindens, for it seemed right great, and presently was but a score of paces from its door, and as yet there was no man, carle or queen, stirring about it.
It was a long low house with a very steep roof; but belike the hall was built over some undercroft, for many steps went up to the door on either hand; and the doorway was low, with a straight lintel under its arch. This house, like the House of the Face, seemed ancient and somewhat strange, and Folk-might could not choose but take note of it. The front was all of good ashlar work, but it was carven all over, without heed being paid to the joints of the stones, into one picture of a flowery meadow, with tall trees and bushes in it, and fowl perched in the trees and running through the grass, and sheep and kine and oxen and horses feeding down the meadow; and over the door at the top of the stair was wrought a great steer bigger than all the other neat, whose head was turned toward the sun-rising and uplifted with open mouth, as though he were lowing aloud. Exceeding fair seemed that house to Folk-might, and as though it were the dwelling of some great kindred.
But he had scarce gone over it with his eyes, and was just about to draw nigher yet to it, when the door at the top of those steps opened, and a woman came out of the house clad in a green kirtle and a gown of brazil, with a golden-hilted sword girt to her side. Folk-might saw at once that it was the Bride, and drew aback behind one of the trees so that she might not see him, if she had not already seen him, as it seemed not that she had, for she stayed but for a moment on the top of the stair, looking out down the tree-rows, and then came down the stair and went soberly along the road, passing so close to Folk-might that he could see the fashion of her beauty closely, as one looks into the work of some deftest artificer. Then it came suddenly into his head that he would follow her and see whither she was wending. ‘At least,’ said he to himself, ‘if I come not to speech with her, I shall be nigh unto her, and shall see somewhat of her beauty.’
So he came out quietly from behind the tree, and followed her softly; and he was clad in no garment save his kirtle, and bare no weapons to clash and jingle, though he had his helm on his head for lack of a softer hat. He kept her well in sight, and she went straight onward and looked not back. She went by the way whereas he had come, till they were in the main street, wherein as yet was no one afoot; she made her way to the Bridge, and passed over it into the meadows; but when she had gone but a few steps, she stayed a little and looked on the ground, and as she did so turned a little toward Folk-might, who had drawn back into the last of the refuges over the up-stream buttresses. He saw that there was a half-smile on her face, but he could not tell whether she were glad or sorry. A light wind was beginning to blow, that stirred her raiment and raised a lock of hair that had strayed from the golden fillet round about her head, and she looked most marvellous fair.
Now she looked along the grass that glittered under the beams of the newly-risen sun, and noted belike how heavy the dew lay on it; and the grass was high already, for the spring had been hot, and haysel would be early in the Dale. So she put off her shoes, that were of deerskin and broidered with golden threads, and turned somewhat from the way, and hung them up amidst the new green leaves of a hawthorn bush that stood nearby, and so went thwart the meadow somewhat eastward straight from that bush, and her feet shone out like pearls amidst the deep green grass.
Folk-might followed presently, and she stayed not again, nor turned, nor beheld him; he recked not if she had, for then would he have come up with her and hailed her, and he knew that she was no foolish maiden to start at the sight of a man who was the friend of her Folk.
So they went their ways till she came to the strand of the water-meadow brook aforesaid, and she went through the little ripples of the shallow without staying, and on through the tall deep grass of the meadow beyond, to where they met the brook again; for it swept round the meadow in a wide curve, and turned back toward itself; so it was some half furlong over from water to water.
She stood a while on the brink of the brook here, which was brim-full and nigh running into the grass, because there was a dam just below the place; and Folk-might drew nigher to her under cover of the thorn-bushes, and looked at the place about her and beyond her. The meadow beyond stream was very fair and flowery, but not right great; for it was bounded by a grove of ancient chestnut trees, that went on and on toward the southern cliffs of the Dale: in front of the chestnut wood stood a broken row of black-thorn bushes, now growing green and losing their blossom, and he could see betwixt them that there was a grassy bank running along, as if there had once been a turf-wall and ditch round about the chestnut trees. For indeed this was the old place of tryst between Gold-mane and the Bride, whereof the tale hath told before.
The Bride stayed scarce longer than gave him time to note all this; but he deemed that she was weeping, though he could not rightly see her face; for her shoulders heaved, and she hung her face adown and put up her hands to it. But now she went a little higher up the stream, where the water was shallower, and waded the stream and went up over the meadow, still weeping, as he deemed, and went between the black-thorn bushes, and sat her down on the grassy bank with her back to the chestnut trees.
Folk-might was ashamed to have seen her weeping, and was half-minded to turn him back again at once; but love constrained him, and he said to himself, ‘Where shall I see her again privily if I pass by this time and place?’ So he waited a little till he deemed she might have mastered the passion of tears, and then came forth from his bush, and went down to the water and crossed it, and went quietly over the meadow straight towards her. But he was not half-way across, when she lifted up her face from between her hands and beheld the man coming. She neither started nor rose up; but straightened herself as she sat, and looked right into Folk-might’s eyes as he drew near, though the tears were not dry on her cheeks.
Now he stood before her, and said: ‘Hail to the Daughter of a mighty House! Mayst thou live happy!’
She answered: ‘Hail to thee also, Guest of our Folk! Hast thou been wandering about our meadows, and happened on me perchance?’
‘Nay,’ he said; ‘I saw thee come forth from the House of the Steer, and I followed thee hither.’
She reddened a little, and knit her brow, and said:
‘Thou wilt have something to say to me?’
‘I have much to say to thee,’ he said; ‘yet it was sweet to me to behold thee, even if I might not speak with thee.’
She looked on him with her deep simple eyes, and neither reddened again, nor seemed wroth; then she said:
‘Speak what thou hast in thine heart, and I will hearken without anger whatsoever it may be; even if thou hast but to tell me of the passing folly of a mighty man, which in a month or two he will not remember for sorrow or for joy. Sit here beside me, and tell me thy thought.’
So he sat him adown and said: ‘Yea, I have much to say to thee, but it is hard to me to say it. But this I will say: to-day and yesterday make the third time I have seen thee. The first time thou wert happy and calm, and no shadow of trouble was on thee; the second time thine happy days were waning, though thou scarce knewest it; but to-day and yesterday thou art constrained by the bonds of grief, and wouldest loosen them if thou mightest.’
She said: ‘What meanest thou? How knowest thou this? How may a stranger partake in my joy and my sorrow?’
He said: ‘As for yesterday, all the people might see thy grief and know it. But when I beheld thee the first time, I saw thee that thou wert more fair and lovely than all other women; and when I was away from thee, the thought of thee and thine image were with me, and I might not put them away; and oft at such and such a time I wondered and said to myself, what is she doing now? though god wot I was dealing with tangles and troubles and rough deeds enough. But the second time I beheld thee, when I had looked to have great joy in the sight of thee, my heart was smitten with a pang of grief; for I saw thee hanging on the words and the looks of another man, who was light-minded toward thee, and that thou wert troubled with the anguish of doubt and fear. And he knew it not, nor saw it, though I saw it.’
Her face grew troubled, and the tearful passion stirred within her. But she held it aback, and said, as anyone might have said it:
‘How wert thou in the Dale, mighty man? We saw thee not.’
He said: ‘I came hither hidden in other semblance than mine own. But meddle not therewith; it availeth nought. Let me say this, and do thou hearken to it. I saw thee yesterday in the street, and thou wert as the ghost of thine old gladness; although belike thou hast striven with sorrow; for I see thee with a sword by thy side, and we have been told that thou, O fairest of women, hast given thyself to the Warrior to be his damsel.’
‘Yea,’ she said, ‘that is sooth.’
He went on: ‘But the face which thou bearedst yesterday against thy will, amidst all the people, that was because thou hadst seen my sister the Sun-beam for the first time, and Face-of-god with her, hand clinging to hand, lip longing for lip, desire unsatisfied, but glad with all hope.’
She laid hand upon hand in the lap of her gown, and looked down, and her voice trembled as she said:
‘Doth it avail to talk of this?’
He said: ‘I know not: it may avail; for I am grieved, and shall be whilst thou art grieved; and it is my wont to strive with my griefs till I amend them.’
She turned to him with kind eyes and said:
‘O mighty man, canst thou clear away the tangle which besetteth the soul of her whose hope hath bewrayed her? Canst thou make hope grow up in her heart? Friend, I will tell thee that when I wed, I shall wed for the sake of the kindred, hoping for no joy therein. Yea, or if by some chance the desire of man came again into my heart, I should strive with it to rid myself of it, for I should know of it that it was but a wasting folly, that should but beguile me, and wound me, and depart, leaving me empty of joy and heedless of life.’
He shook his head and said: ‘Even so thou deemest now; but one day it shall be otherwise. Or dost thou love thy sorrow? I tell thee, as it wears thee and wears thee, thou shalt hate it, and strive to shake it off.’
‘Nay, nay,’ she said; ‘I love it not; for not only it grieveth me, but also it beateth me down and belittleth me.’
‘Good is that,’ said he. ‘I know how strong thine heart is. Now, wilt thou take mine hand, which is verily the hand of thy friend, and remember what I have told thee of my grief which cannot be sundered from thine? Shall we not talk more concerning this? For surely I shall soon see thee again, and often; since the Warrior, who loveth me belike, leadeth thee into fellowship with me. Yea, I tell thee, O friend, that in that fellowship shalt thou find both the seed of hope, and the sun of desire that shall quicken it.’
Therewith he arose and stood before her, and held out to her his hand all hardened with the sword-hilt, and she took it, and stood up facing him, and said:
‘This much will I tell thee, O friend; that what I have said to thee this hour, I thought not to have said to any man; or to talk with a man of the grief that weareth me, or to suffer him to see my tears; and marvellous I deem it of thee, for all thy might, that thou hast drawn this speech from out of me, and left me neither angry nor ashamed, in spite of these tears; and thou whom I have known not, though thou knewest me!
‘But now it were best that thou depart, and get thee home to the House of the Face, where I was once so frequent; for I wot that thou hast much to do; and as thou sayest, it will be in warfare that I shall see thee. Now I thank thee for thy words and the thought thou hast had of me, and the pain which thou hast taken to heal my hurt: I thank thee, I thank thee, for as grievous as it is to show one’s hurts even to a friend.’
He said: ‘O Bride, I thank thee for hearkening to my tale; and one day shall I thank thee much more. Mayest thou fare well in the Field and amidst the Folk!’
Therewith he kissed her hand, and turned away, and went across the meadow and the stream, glad at heart and blithe with everyone; for kindness grew in him as gladness grew.