But when they were well on the way, and riding a good pace by the clear of the moon, Richard spake to Ralph, and said: “Wither ride we now?” said Ralph: “Wither, save to Upmeads?” “Yea, yea,” said Richard, “but by what road? shall we ride down to the ford of the Swelling Flood, and ride the beaten way, or take to the downland and the forest, and so again by the forest and downland and the forest once more, till we come to the Burg of the Four Friths?”
“Which way is the shorter?” said Ralph. “Forsooth,” said Richard, “by the wildwood ye may ride shorter, if ye know it as I do.” Quoth the Sage: “Yea, or as I do. Hear a wonder! that two men of Swevenham know the wilds more than twenty miles from their own thorp.”
Said Ralph: “Well, wend we the shorter road; why make more words over it? Or what lion lieth on the path? Is it that we may find it hard to give the go-by to the Burg of the Four Friths?”
Said Richard: “Though the Burg be not very far from Whitwall, we hear but little tidings thence; our chapmen but seldom go there, and none cometh to us thence save such of our men as have strayed thither. Yet, as I said e’en now in the hostel, there is an air of tidings abroad, and one rumour sayeth, and none denieth it, that the old fierceness and stout headstrong mood of the Burg is broken down, and that men dwell there in peace and quiet.”
Said the Sage: “In any case we have amongst us lore enough to hoodwink them if they be foes; so that we shall pass easily. Naught of this need we fear.”
But Richard put his mouth close to Ralph’s ear, and spake to him softly: “Shall we indeed go by that shorter road, whatever in days gone by may have befallen in places thereon, to which we must go a-nigh tomorrow?” Ralph answered softly in turn: “Yea, forsooth: for I were fain to try my heart, how strong it may be.”
So they rode on, and turned off from the road that led down to the ford of the Swelling Flood, anigh which Ralph had fallen in with Blaise and Richard on the day after the woeful slaying, which had made an end of his joy for that time. But when they were amidst of the bushes and riding a deep ghyll of the waste, Richard said: “It is well that we are here: for now if Blaise send riders to bring us back courteously, they shall not follow us at once, but shall ride straight down to the ford, and even cross it in search of us.” “Yea,” said Ralph, “it is well in all wise.”
So then they rode thence awhile till the moon grew low, and great, and red, and sank down away from them; and by then were they come to a shepherd’s cot, empty of men, with naught therein save an old dog, and some victual, as bread and white cheese, and a well for drinking. So there they abode and rested that night.