The Well at the World's End

CHAPTER 6: Those Two Are Learned Lore by the Sage of Swevenham

Now the Sage led them through the wood till they came to a grassy lawn amidst of which was a table of stone, which it seemed to Ralph must be like to that whereon the witch-wife had offered up the goat to her devils as the Lady of Abundance had told him; and he changed countenance as the thought came into his mind. But the Sage looked on him and shook his head and spake softly: “In these wastes and wilds are many such-like places, where of old time the ancient folks did worship to the Gods of the Earth as they imagined them: and whereas the lore in this book cometh of such folk, this is no ill place for the reading thereof. But if ye fear the book and its writers, who are dead long ago, there is yet time to go back and seek the Well without my helping; and I say not but that ye may find it even thus. But if ye fear not, then sit ye down on the grass, and I will lay the book on this most ancient table, and read in it, and do ye hearken heedfully.”

So they sat down side by side, and Ralph would have taken Ursula’s hand to caress it, but she drew it away from him; howbeit she found it hard to keep her eyes from off him. The Elder looked on them soberly, but nowise in anger, and presently began reading in the book. What he read shall be seen hereafter in the process of this tale; for the more part thereof had but to do with the way to the Well at the World’s End, all things concerning which were told out fully, both great and small. Long was this a-reading, and when the Sage had done, he bade now one, now the other answer him questions as to what he had read; and if they answered amiss he read that part again, and yet again, as children are taught in the school. Until at last when he asked any question Ralph or the maiden answered it rightly at once; and by this time the sun was about to set. So he bade them home to his house that they might eat and sleep there.

“But to-morrow,” said he, “I shall give you your last lesson from this book, and thereafter ye shall go your ways to the Rock of the Fighting Man, and I look not for it that ye shall come to any harm on the way; but whereas I seem to-day to have seen the foes of Utterbol seeking you, I will lead you forth a little.”

So they went home to the house, and he made them the most cheer that he might, and spake to them in friendly and pleasant mood, so that they were merry.

When it was morning they went again to the ancient altar, and again they learned lore from the Elder, till they were waxen wise in the matters of the Well at the World’s End, and long they sat and hearkened him till it was evening again, and once more they slept in the house of the Sage of Swevenham.

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