Short was the road back again to Wulstead, and whereas the day was not very old when Ralph came there, he failed not to stop at Clement’s house, and came into the chamber where sat Dame Katherine in pensive wise nigh to the window, with her open hands in her lap. Quoth Ralph: “Rejoice, gossip! for neither is Clement hurt, nor I, and all is done that should be done.” She moved her but little, but the tears came into her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. “What, gossip?” quoth Ralph; “these be scarce tears of joy; what aileth thee?” “Nay,” said Katherine, “indeed I am joyful of thy tidings, though sooth to say I looked for none other. But, dear lord and gossip, forgive me my tears on the day of thy triumph; for if they be not wholly of joy, so also are they not wholly of sorrow. But love and the passing of the days are bittersweet within my heart to-day. Later on thou shalt see few faces more cheerful and merry in the hall at Upmeads than this of thy gossip’s. So be merry now, and go fetch thy father and thy mother, and rejoice their hearts that thou hast been even better than thy word to them. Farewell, gossip; but look to see me at Upmeads before many days are past; for I know thee what thou art; and that the days will presently find deeds for thee, and thou wilt be riding into peril, and coming safe from out of it. Farewell!”
So he departed and rode to the House of St. Austin, and the folk gathered so about him in the street that at the gate of the Priory he had to turn about and speak to them; and he said: “Good people, rejoice! there are no more foemen of Wulstead anigh you now; and take this word of me, that I will see to it in time to come that ye live in peace and quiet here.”
Folk shouted for joy, and the fathers who were standing within the gate heard his word and rejoiced, and some of them ran off to tell King Peter that his son was come back victorious already; so that by then he had dismounted at the Guest-house door, lo! there was the King and his wife with him, and both they alboun for departure. And when they saw him King Peter cried out: “There is no need to say a word, my son; unless thou wouldst tell the tale to the holy father Prior, who, as ye see, has e’en now come out to us.”
Said Ralph: “Father and mother, I pray your blessing, and also the blessing of the father Prior here; and the tale is short enough: that we have overthrown them and slain the more part, and the others are now being driven like a herd of swine into their stronghold of the Wood Debateable, where, forsooth, I shall be ere the world is one month older. And in the doing of all this have but three of our men been slain and a few hurt, amongst whom is thy son Hugh, but not sorely.”
“O yea, son,” said his mother, “he shall do well enough. But now with thy leave, holy Prior, we will depart, so that we may sleep in the High House to-night, and feel that my dear son’s hand is over us to ward us.”
Then Ralph knelt before them, and King Peter and his wife blessed their son when they had kissed and embraced each other, and they wept for joy of him. The Prior also, who was old, and a worthy prelate, and an ancient friend of King Peter, might not refrain his tears at the joy of his friends as he gave Ralph his blessing. And then, when Ralph had risen up and the horses were come, he said to him: “One thing thou art not to forget, young conqueror, to wit, that thou art to come here early one day, and tell me all thy tale at full length.”
“Yea, Prior,” said Ralph, “or there is the High House of Upmeads for thee to use as thine own, and a rest for thee of three or four days while thou hearkenest the tale; for it may need that.”
“Hearken,” said King Peter softly to the Dame, “how he reckons it all his own; my day is done, my dear.” He spake smiling, and she said: “Soothly he is waxen masterful, and well it becometh the dear youngling.”
Now they get to horse and ride their ways, while all folk blessed them. The two old folk rode fast and pressed their nags whatever Ralph might do to give them pastime of words; so they came into the plain field of Upmeads two hours before sunset; and King Peter said: “Now I account it that I have had one day more of my life than was my due, and thou, son, hast added it to the others whereas thou didst not promise to bring me hither till morrow.”
Ralph led them round by the ford, so that they might not come across the corpses of the robbers; but already were the Upmeads carles at work digging trenches wherein to bury them.
So Ralph led his father and his mother to the gate of the garth of High House; then he got off his horse and helped them down, and as he so dealt with his father, he said to him: “Thou art springy and limber yet, father; maybe thou wilt put on thine helm this year to ride the Debateable Wood with me.”
The old man laughed and said: “Maybe, son; but as now it is time for thee to enter under our roof-tree once more.”
“Nay,” said Ralph, “but go ye in and sit in the high-seat and abide me. For did I not go straight back to you from the field of battle; and can I suffer it that any other hand than mine should lead my wife into the hall and up to the high-seat of my fathers; and therefore I go to fetch her from the house of Richard the Red where she is abiding me; but presently I shall lead her in, and do ye then with us what ye will.”
Therewith he turned about and rode his ways to Richard’s house, which was but a half-mile thence. But his father and mother laughed when he was gone, and King Peter said: “There again! thou seest, wife, it is he that commands and we that obey.”
“O happy hour that so it is!” said the Lady, “and happy now shall be the wearing of our days.”
So they entered the garth and came into the house, and were welcomed with all joy by Nicholas, and told him all that Ralph had said, and bade him array the house as he best might; for there was much folk about the High House, though the Upmeads carles and queans had taken the more part of the host to their houses, which they had delivered from the fire and sword, and they made much of them there with a good heart.