The Well at the World's End

CHAPTER 11: They Come Through the Mountains Into the Plain

On the morrow early they all fared on together, and thereafter they went for two days more till they came into a valley amidst of the mountains which was fair and lovely, and therein was the dwelling or town of this Folk of the Fells. It was indeed no stronghold, save that it was not easy to find, and that the way thither was well defensible were foemen to try it. The houses thereof were artless, the chiefest of them like to the great barn of an abbey in our land, the others low and small; but the people, both men and women, haunted mostly the big house. As for the folk, they were for the more part like those whom they had met afore: strong men, but not high of stature, black-haired, with blue or grey eyes, cheerful of countenance, and of many words. Their women were mostly somewhat more than comely, smiling, kind of speech, but not suffering the caresses of aliens. They saw no thralls amongst them; and when Ralph asked hereof, how that might be, since they were men-catchers, they told him that when they took men and women, as oft they did, they always sold them for what they would bring to the plain-dwellers; or else slew them, or held them to ransom, but never brought them home to their stead. Howbeit, when they took children, as whiles befell, they sometimes brought them home, and made them very children of their Folk with many uncouth prayers and worship of their Gods, who were indeed, as they deemed, but forefathers of the Folk.

Now Ralph, he and his, being known for friends, these wild men could not make enough of them, and as it were, compelled them to abide there three days, feasting them, and making them all the cheer they might. And they showed the wayfarers their manner of hunting, both of the hart and the boar, and of wild bulls also. At first Ralph somewhat loathed all this (though he kept a pleasant countenance toward his host), for sorely he desired the fields of Upmeads and his father’s house. But at last when the hunt was up in the mountains, and especially of the wild bulls, the heart and the might in him so arose that he enforced himself to do well, and the wild men wondered at his prowess, whereas he was untried in this manner of sports, and they deemed him one of the Gods, and said that their kinsman had done well to get him so good a friend. Both Ursula and the Sage withheld them from this hunting, and Ursula abode with the women, who told her much of their ways of life, and stories of old time; frank and free they were, and loved her much, and she was fain of such manly-minded women after the sleight and lies of the poor thralls of Utterbol.

On the fourth day the wayfarers made them ready and departed; and the chief of the Folk went with them with a chosen band of weaponed men, partly for the love of his guests, and partly that he might see the Goldburg men-at-arms safe back to the road unto the plain and the Midhouse of the Mountains, for they went now by other ways, which missed the said House. On this journey naught befell to tell of, and they all came down safe into the plain.

There the Goldburg men took their wage, and bidding farewell, turned back with the wild men, praising Ralph much for his frankness and open hand. As for the wild men, they exceeded in their sorrow for the parting, and many of them wept and howled as though they had seen him die before their faces. But all that came to an end, and presently their cheer was amended, and their merry speech and laughter came down from the pass unto the wayfarers’ ears as each band rode its way.

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