On the morrow, when Ralph and Clement met in the hall, Clement spake and said: “Lord Ralph, as I told thee in Whitwall, we chapmen are now at the end of our outward journey, and in about twenty days time we shall turn back to the mountains; but, as I deem, thou wilt be minded to follow up thy quest of the damsel, and whatsoever else thou mayst be seeking. Now this thou mayst well do whiles we are here in Goldburg, and yet come back hither in time to fare back with us: and also, if thou wilt, thou mayst have fellows in thy quest, to wit some of those our men-at-arms, who love thee well. But now, when thou hast done thy best these days during, if thou hast then found naught, I counsel thee and beseech thee to come thy ways back with us, that we twain may wend to Upmeads together, where thou shalt live well, and better all the deeds of thy father. Meseemeth this will be more meet for thee than the casting away of thy life in seeking a woman, who maybe will be naught to thee when thou hast found her; or in chasing some castle in the clouds, that shall be never the nigher to thee, how far soever thou farest. For now I tell thee that I have known this while how thou art seeking the Well at the World’s End; and who knoweth that there is any such thing on the earth? Come, then, thou art fair, and young, and strong; and if ye seek wealth thou shalt have it, and my furtherance to the utmost, if that be aught worth. Bethink thee, child, there are they that love thee in Upmeads and thereabout, were it but thy gossip, my wife, dame Katherine.”
Said Ralph: “Master Clement, I thank thee for all that thou hast said, and thy behest, and thy deeds. Thy rede is good, and in all ways will I follow it save one; to wit, that if I have not found the damsel ere ye turn back, I must needs abide in this land searching for her. And I pray the pardon both of thee and of thy gossip, if I answer not your love as ye would, and perchance as I should. Yea, and of Upmeads also I crave pardon. But in doing as I do, my deed shall be but according to the duty bounden on me by mine oath, when Duke Osmond made me knight last year, in the church of St. Laurence of Upmeads.”
Said Clement: “I see that there is something else in it than that; I see thee to be young, and that love and desire bind thee in closer bonds than thy knightly oath. Well, so it must be, and till thou hast her, there is but one woman in the world for thee.”
“Nay, it is not so, Master Clement,” said Ralph, “and I will tell thee this, so that thou mayst trow my naysay; since I departed from Upmeads, I have been taken in the toils of love, and desired a fair woman, and I have won her and death hath taken her. Trowest thou my word?”
“Yea,” said Clement, “but to one of thy years love is not plucked up by the root, and it soon groweth again.” Then said Ralph, sadly: “Now tell my gossip of this when thou comest home.” Clement nodded yeasay, and Ralph spake again in a moment: “And now will I begin my search in Goldburg by praying thee to bring me to speech of merchants and others who may have seen or heard tidings of my damsel.”
He looked at Clement anxiously as he spoke; and Clement smiled, for he said to himself that looking into Ralph’s heart on this matter was like looking into a chamber through an open window. But he said: “Fear not but I will look to it; I am thy friend, and not thy schoolmaster.”
Therewith he departed from Ralph, and within three days he had brought him to speech of all those who were like to know anything of the matter; and one and all they said that they had seen no such woman, and that as for the Lord of Utterbol, he had not been in Goldburg these three months. But one of the merchants said: “Master Clement, if this young knight is boun for Utterbol, he beareth his life in his hand, as thou knowest full well. Now I rede thee bring him to our Queen, who is good and compassionate, and if she may not help him otherwise, yet belike she may give him in writing to show to that tyrant, which may stand him in stead: for it does not do for any man to go against the will of our Lady and Queen; who will surely pay him back for his ill-will some day or other.” Said Clement: “It is well thought of, and I will surely do as thou biddest.”
So wore four days, and, that time during, Ralph was going to and fro asking questions of folk that he came across, as people new come to the city and hunters from the mountain-feet and the forests of the plain, and mariners and such like, concerning the damsel and the Lord of Utterbol; and Bull also went about seeking tidings: but whereas Ralph asked downright what he wanted to know, Bull was wary, and rather led men on to talk with him concerning those things than asked them of them in such wise that they saw the question. Albeit it was all one, and no tidings came to them; indeed, the name of the Lord of Utterbol (whom forsooth Bull named not) seemed to freeze the speech of men’s tongues, and they commonly went away at once when it was spoken.
On the fifth day came Clement to Ralph and said: “Now will I bring thee to the Queen, and she is young, and so fair, and withal so wise, that it seems to me not all so sure but that the sight of her will make an end of thy quest once for all. So that meseems thou mayest abide here in a life far better than wandering amongst uncouth folk, perilous and cruel. Yea, so thou mayst have it if thou wilt, being so exceeding goodly, and wise, and well-spoken, and of high lineage.”
Ralph heard and reddened, but gave him back no answer; and they went together to the High House of the Queen, which was like a piece of the Kingdom of Heaven for loveliness, so many pillars as there were of bright marble stone, and gilded, and the chapiters carved most excellently: not many hangings on the walls, for the walls themselves were carven, and painted with pictures in the most excellent manner; the floors withal were so dainty that they seemed as if they were made for none but the feet of the fairest of women. And all this was set amidst of gardens, the like of which they had never seen.
But they entered without more ado, and were brought by the pages to the Lady’s innermost chamber; and if the rest of the house were goodly, this was goodlier, and a marvel, so that it seemed wrought rather by goldsmiths and jewellers than by masons and carvers. Yet indeed many had said with Clement that the Queen who sat there was the goodliest part thereof.
Now she spake to Clement and said: “Hail, merchant! Is this the young knight of whom thou tellest, he who seeketh his beloved that hath been borne away into thralldom by evil men?”
“Even so,” said Clement. But Ralph spake: “Nay, Lady, the damsel whom I seek is not my beloved, but my friend. My beloved is dead.”
The Queen looked on him smiling kindly, yet was her face somewhat troubled. She said: “Master chapman, thy time here is not over long for all that thou hast to do; so we give thee leave to depart with our thanks for bringing a friend to see us. But this knight hath no affairs to look to: so if he will abide with us for a little, it will be our pleasure.”
So Clement made his obeisance and went his ways. But the Queen bade Ralph sit before her, and tell her of his griefs, and she looked so kindly and friendly upon him that the heart melted within him, and he might say no word, for the tears that brake out from him, and he wept before her; while she looked on him, the colour coming and going in her face, and her lips trembling, and let him weep on. But he thought not of her, but of himself and how kind she was to him. But after a while he mastered his passion and began, and told her all he had done and suffered. Long was the tale in the telling, for it was sweet to him to lay before her both his grief and his hope. She let him talk on, and whiles she listened to him, and whiles, not, but all the time she gazed on him, yet sometimes askance, as if she were ashamed. As for him, he saw her face how fair and lovely she was, yet was there little longing in his heart for her, more than for one of the painted women on the wall, for as kind and as dear as he deemed her.
When he had done, she kept silence a while, but at last she enforced her, and spake: “Sad it is for the mother that bore thee that thou art not in her house, wherein all things would be kind and familiar to thee. Maybe thou art seeking for what is not. Or maybe thou shalt seek and shalt find, and there may be naught in what thou findest, whereof to give thee such gifts as are meet for thy faithfulness and valiancy. But in thine home shouldst thou have all gifts which thou mayest desire.”
Then was she silent awhile, and then spake: “Yet must I needs say that I would that thine home were in Goldburg.”
He smiled sadly and looked on her, but with no astonishment, and indeed he still scarce thought of her as he said: “Lady and Queen, thou art good to me beyond measure. Yet, look you! One home I had, and left it; another I looked to have, and I lost it; and now I have no home. Maybe in days to come I shall go back to mine old home; and whiles I wonder with what eyes it will look on me. For merry is that land, and dear; and I have become sorrowful.”
“Fear not,” she said; “I say again that in thine home shall all things look kindly on thee.”
Once more she sat silent, and no word did his heart bid him speak. Then she sighed and said: “Fair lord, I bid thee come and go in this house as thou wilt; but whereas there are many folk who must needs see me, and many things are appointed for me to do, therefore I pray thee to come hither in three days’ space, and meanwhile I will look to the matter of thy search, that I may speed thee on the way to Utterness, which is no great way from Utterbol, and is the last town whereof we know aught. And I will write a letter for thee to give to the lord of Utterbol, which he will heed, if he heedeth aught my good-will or enmity. I beseech thee come for it in three days wearing.”
Therewith she arose and took his hand and led him to the door, and he departed, blessing her goodness, and wondering at her courtesy and gentle speech.
For those three days he was still seeking tidings everywhere, till folk began to know of him far and wide, and to talk of him. And at the time appointed he went to the Queen’s House and was brought to her chamber as before, and she was alone therein. She greeted him and smiled on him exceeding kindly, but he might not fail to note of her that she looked sad and her face was worn by sorrow. She bade him sit beside her, and said: “Hast thou any tidings of the woman whom thou seekest?” “Nay, nay,” said he, “and now I am minded to carry on the search out-a-gates. I have some good friends who will go with me awhile. But thou, Lady, hast thou heard aught?”
“Naught of the damsel,” she said. “But there is something else. As Clement told me, thou seekest the Well at the World’s End, and through Utterness and by Utterbol is a way whereby folk seek thither. Mayst thou find it, and may it profit thee more than it did my kinsman of old, who first raised up Goldburg in the wilderness. Whereas for him was naught but strife and confusion, till he was slain in a quarrel, wherein to fail was to fail, and to win the day was to win shame and misery.”
She looked on him sweetly and said: “Thou art nowise such as he; and if thou drink of the Well, thou wilt go back to Upmeads, and thy father and mother, and thine own folk and thine home. But now here is the letter which thou shalt give to the Lord of Utterbol if thou meet him; and mayhappen he is naught so evil a man as the tale of him runs.”
She gave him the letter into his hands, and spake again: “And now I have this to say to thee, if anything go amiss with thee, and thou be nigh enough to seek to me, come hither, and then, in whatso plight thou mayst be, or whatsoever deed thou mayst have done, here will be the open door for thee and the welcome of a friend.”
Her voice shook a little as she spake, and she was silent again, mastering her trouble. Then she said: “At last I must say this to thee, that there may no lie be between us. That damsel of whom thou spakest that she was but thy friend, and not thy love—O that I might be thy friend in such-wise! But over clearly I see that it may not be so. For thy mind looketh on thy deeds to come, that they shall be shared by some other than me. Friend, it seemeth strange and strange to me that I have come on thee so suddenly, and loved thee so sorely, and that I must needs say farewell to thee in so short a while. Farewell, farewell!”
Therewith she arose, and once more she took his hand in hers, and led him to the door. And he was sorry and all amazed: for he had not thought so much of her before, that he might see that she loved him; and he thought but that she, being happy and great, was kind to him who was hapless and homeless. And he was bewildered by her words and sore ashamed that for all his grief for her he had no speech, and scarce a look for her; he knew not what to do or say.
So he left the Queen’s House and the court thereof, as though the pavement were growing red hot beneath his feet.