Complaining thus-wise, he fell asleep from sheer weariness, and when he awoke it was broad day, calm and bright and cloudless, with the scent of the earth refreshed going up into the heavens, and the birds singing sweetly in the bushes about him: for the dale whereunto he was now come was a fair and lovely place amidst the shelving slopes of the mountains, a paradise of the wilderness, and nought but pleasant and sweet things were to be seen there, now that the morn was so clear and sunny.
He arose and looked about him, and saw where, a hundred yards aloof, was a thicket of small wood, as thorn and elder and whitebeam, all wreathed about with the bines of wayfaring tree; it hid a bight of the stream, which turned round about it, and betwixt it and Walter was the grass short and thick, and sweet, and all beset with flowers; and he said to himself that it was even such a place as wherein the angels were leading the Blessed in the great painted paradise in the choir of the big church at Langton on Holm. But lo! as he looked he cried aloud for joy, for forth from the thicket on to the flowery grass came one like to an angel from out of the said picture, white-clad and bare-foot, sweet of flesh, with bright eyes and ruddy cheeks; for it was the Maid herself. So he ran to her, and she abode him, holding forth kind hands to him, and smiling, while she wept for joy of the meeting. He threw himself upon her, and spared not to kiss her, her cheeks and her mouth, and her arms and her shoulders, and wheresoever she would suffer it. Till at last she drew aback a little, laughing on him for love, and said: “Forbear now, friend, for it is enough for this time, and tell me how thou hast sped.”
“Ill, ill,” said he.
“What ails thee?” she said.
“Hunger,” he said, “and longing for thee.”
“Well,” she said, “me thou hast; there is one ill quenched; take my hand, and we will see to the other one.”
So he took her hand, and to hold it seemed to him sweet beyond measure. But he looked up, and saw a little blue smoke going up into the air from beyond the thicket; and he laughed, for he was weak with hunger, and he said: “Who is at the cooking yonder?”
“Thou shalt see,” she said; and led him therewith into the said thicket and through it, and lo! a fair little grassy place, full of flowers, betwixt the bushes and the bight of the stream; and on the little sandy ere, just off the greensward, was a fire of sticks, and beside it two trouts lying, fat and red-flecked.
“Here is the breakfast,” said she; “when it was time to wash the night off me e’en now, I went down the strand here into the rippling shallow, and saw the bank below it, where the water draws together yonder, and deepens, that it seemed like to hold fish; and whereas I looked to meet thee presently, I groped the bank for them, going softly; and lo thou! Help me now, that we cook them.”
So they roasted them on the red embers, and fell to and ate well, both of them, and drank of the water of the stream out of each other’s hollow hands; and that feast seemed glorious to them, such gladness went with it.
But when they were done with their meat, Walter said to the Maid: “And how didst thou know that thou shouldst see me presently?”
She said, looking on him wistfully: “This needed no wizardry. I lay not so far from thee last night, but that I heard thy voice and knew it.”
Said he, “Why didst thou not come to me then, since thou heardest me bemoaning thee?”
She cast her eyes down, and plucked at the flowers and grass, and said: “It was dear to hear thee praising me; I knew not before that I was so sore desired, or that thou hadst taken such note of my body, and found it so dear.”
Then she reddened sorely, and said: “I knew not that aught of me had such beauty as thou didst bewail.”
And she wept for joy. Then she looked on him and smiled, and said: “Wilt thou have the very truth of it? I went close up to thee, and stood there hidden by the bushes and the night. And amidst thy bewailing, I knew that thou wouldst soon fall asleep, and in sooth I out-waked thee.”
Then was she silent again; and he spake not, but looked on her shyly; and she said, reddening yet more: “Furthermore, I must needs tell thee that I feared to go to thee in the dark night, and my heart so yearning towards thee.”
And she hung her head adown; but he said: “Is it so indeed, that thou fearest me? Then doth that make me afraid—afraid of thy nay-say. For I was going to entreat thee, and say to thee: Beloved, we have now gone through many troubles; let us now take a good reward at once, and wed together, here amidst this sweet and pleasant house of the mountains, ere we go further on our way; if indeed we go further at all. For where shall we find any place sweeter or happier than this?”
But she sprang up to her feet, and stood there trembling before him, because of her love; and she said: “Beloved, I have deemed that it were good for us to go seek mankind as they live in the world, and to live amongst them. And as for me, I will tell thee the sooth, to wit, that I long for this sorely. For I feel afraid in the wilderness, and as if I needed help and protection against my Mistress, though she be dead; and I need the comfort of many people, and the throngs of the cities. I cannot forget her: it was but last night that I dreamed (I suppose as the dawn grew a-cold) that I was yet under her hand, and she was stripping me for the torment; so that I woke up panting and crying out. I pray thee be not angry with me for telling thee of my desires; for if thou wouldst not have it so, then here will I abide with thee as thy mate, and strive to gather courage.”
He rose up and kissed her face, and said: “Nay, I had in sooth no mind to abide here for ever; I meant but that we should feast a while here, and then depart: sooth it is, that if thou dreadest the wilderness, somewhat I dread the city.”
She turned pale, and said: “Thou shalt have thy will, my friend, if it must be so. But bethink thee we be not yet at our journey’s end, and may have many things and much strife to endure, before we be at peace and in welfare. Now shall I tell thee—did I not before?— that while I am a maid untouched, my wisdom, and somedeal of might, abideth with me, and only so long. Therefore I entreat thee, let us go now, side by side, out of this fair valley, even as we are, so that my wisdom and might may help thee at need. For, my friend, I would not that our lives be short, so much of joy as hath now come into them.”
“Yea, beloved,” he said, “let us on straightway then, and shorten the while that sundereth us.”
“Love,” she said, “thou shalt pardon me one time for all. But this is to be said, that I know somewhat of the haps that lie a little way ahead of us; partly by my lore, and partly by what I learned of this land of the wild folk whiles thou wert lying asleep that morning.”
So they left that pleasant place by the water, and came into the open valley, and went their ways through the pass; and it soon became stony again, as they mounted the bent which went up from out the dale. And when they came to the brow of the said bent, they had a sight of the open country lying fair and joyous in the sunshine, and amidst of it, against the blue hills, the walls and towers of a great city.
Then said the Maid: “O, dear friend, lo you! is not that our abode that lieth yonder, and is so beauteous? Dwell not our friends there, and our protection against uncouth wights, and mere evil things in guileful shapes? O city, I bid thee hail!”
But Walter looked on her, and smiled somewhat; and said: “I rejoice in thy joy. But there be evil things in yonder city also, though they be not fays nor devils, or it is like to no city that I wot of. And in every city shall foes grow up to us without rhyme or reason, and life therein shall be tangled unto us.”
“Yea,” she said; “but in the wilderness amongst the devils, what was to be done by manly might or valiancy? There hadst thou to fall back upon the guile and wizardry which I had filched from my very foes. But when we come down yonder, then shall thy valiancy prevail to cleave the tangle for us. Or at the least, it shall leave a tale of thee behind, and I shall worship thee.”
He laughed, and his face grew brighter: “Mastery mows the meadow,” quoth he, “and one man is of little might against many. But I promise thee I shall not be slothful before thee.”