That night they slept yet amongst the mountains, or rather in the first of the hill country at their feet; but on the morrow they rode down into the lowlands, and thereby lost all sight of Goldburg, and it was yet afar off, so that they rode four days through lands well-tilled, but for the most part ill-housed, a country of little hills and hollows and rising grounds, before they came in sight of it again heaving up huge and bright under the sun. It was built partly on three hills, the buttresses of a long ridge which turned a wide river, and on the ridge itself, and partly on the flat shore of the river, on either side, hillward and plainward: but a great white wall girt it all about, which went right over the river as a bridge, and on the plain side it was exceeding high, so that its battlements might be somewhat evened with those of the hill-wall above. So that as they came up to the place they saw little of the town because of the enormity of the wall; scarce aught save a spire or a tall towering roof here and there.
So when they were come anigh the gate, they displayed their banners and rode right up to it; and people thronged the walls to see their riding. One by one they passed through the wicket of the gate: which gate itself was verily huge beyond measure, all built of great ashlar-stones; and when they were within, it was like a hall somewhat long and exceeding high, most fairly vaulted; midmost of the said hall they rode through a noble arch on their right hand, and lo another hall exceeding long, but lower than the first, with many glazen windows set in its townward wall; and when they looked through these, they saw the river running underneath; for this was naught but the lower bridge of the city and they learned afterwards and saw, that above the vault of this long bridge rose up the castle, chamber on chamber, till its battlements were level with the highest towers of the wall on the hill top.
Thus they passed the bridge, and turning to the left at its ending, came into the Water-Street of Goldburg, where the river, with wide quays on either side thereof, ran betwixt the houses. As for these, beneath the dwellings went a fair arched passage like to the ambulatory of an abbey; and every house all along this street was a palace for its goodliness. The houses were built of white stones and red and grey; with shapely pillars to the cloister, and all about carvings of imagery and knots of flowers; goodly were the windows and all glazed, as fair as might be. On the river were great barges, and other craft such as were not sea-goers, river-ships that might get them through the bridges and furnished with masts that might be lowered and shipped.
Much people was gathered to see the chapmen enter, yet scarce so many as might be looked for in so goodly a town; yea, and many of the folk were clad foully, and were haggard of countenance, and cried on the chapmen for alms. Howbeit some were clad gaily and richly enough, and were fair of favour as any that Ralph had seen since he left Upmeads: and amongst these goodly folk were women not a few, whose gear and bearing called to Ralph’s mind the women of the Wheatwearers whom he had seen erst in the Burg of the Four Friths, whereas they were somewhat wantonly clad in scanty and thin raiment. And of these, though they were not all thralls, were many who were in servitude: for, as Clement did Ralph to wit, though the tillers of the soil, and the herdsmen, in short the hewers of wood and drawers of water, were men masterless, yet rich men might and did buy both men and women for servants in their houses, and for their pleasure and profit in divers wise.
So they rode to their hostel in the market place, which lay a little back from the river in an ingle of the ridge and one of its buttresses; and all round the said market were houses as fair as the first they had seen: but above, on the hill-sides, save for the castle and palace of the Queen (for a woman ruled in Goldburg), were the houses but low, poorly built of post and pan, and thatched with straw, or reed, or shingle. But the great church was all along one side of the market place; and albeit this folk was somewhat wild and strange of faith for Christian men, yet was it dainty and delicate as might be, and its steeples and bell-towers were high and well builded, and adorned exceeding richly.
So they lighted down at their hostel, and never had Ralph seen such another, for the court within was very great and with a fair garden filled with flowers and orchard-trees, and amidst it was a fountain of fresh water, built in the goodliest fashion of many-coloured marble-stones. And the arched and pillared way about the said court was as fair as the cloister of a mitred abbey; and the hall for the guests was of like fashion, vaulted with marvellous cunning, and with a row of pillars amidmost.
There they abode in good entertainment; yet this noted Ralph, that as goodly as was the fashion of the building of that house, yet the hangings and beds, and stools, and chairs, and other plenishing were no richer or better than might be seen in the hostelry of any good town.
So they went bedward, and Ralph slept dreamlessly, as was mostly his wont.