At last the old man said: "My children, ye shall now come with me
unto the Doom-ring of our folk, the Bears of the Southern Dales, and
deliver to them your errand; and I beseech you to have pity upon
your own bodies, as I have pity on them; on thine especially,
Maiden, so fair and bright a creature as thou art; for so it is,
that if ye deal us out light and lying words after the manner of
dastards, ye shall miss the worship and glory of wending away amidst
of the flames, a gift to the God and a hope to the people, and shall
be passed by the rods of the folk, until ye faint and fail amongst
them, and then shall ye be thrust down into the flow at the Dale's
End, and a stone-laden hurdle cast upon you, that we may thenceforth
forget your folly."
The Maid now looked full into his eyes, and Walter deemed that the
old man shrank before her; but she said: "Thou art old and wise,
great man of the Bears, yet nought I need to learn of thee. Now
lead us on our way to the Stead of the Errands."
So the elder brought them along to the Doom-ring at the eastern end
of the Dale; and it was now all peopled with those huge men,
weaponed after their fashion, and standing up, so that the grey
stones thereof but showed a little over their heads. But amidmost
of the said Ring was a big stone, fashioned as a chair, whereon sat
a very old man, long-hoary and white-bearded, and on either side of
him stood a great-limbed woman clad in war-gear, holding, each of
them, a long spear, and with a flint-bladed knife in the girdle; and
there were no other women in all the Mote.
Then the elder led those twain into the midst of the Mote, and there
bade them go up on to a wide, flat-topped stone, six feet above the
ground, just over against the ancient chieftain; and they mounted it
by a rough stair, and stood there before that folk; Walter in his
array of the outward world, which had been fair enough, of crimson
cloth and silk, and white linen, but was now travel-stained and
worn; and the Maid with nought upon her, save the smock wherein she
had fled from the Golden House of the Wood beyond the World, decked
with the faded flowers which she had wreathed about her yesterday.
Nevertheless, so it was, that those big men eyed her intently, and
with somewhat of worship.
Now did Walter, according to her bidding, sink down on his knees
beside her, and drawing his sword, hold it before him, as if to keep
all interlopers aloof from the Maid. And there was silence in the
Mote, and all eyes were fixed on those twain.
At last the old chief arose and spake: "Ye men, here are come a
and a woman, we know not whence; whereas they have given word to our
folk who first met them, that they would tell their errand to none
save the Mote of the People; which it was their due to do, if they
were minded to risk it. For either they be aliens without an errand
hither, save, it may be, to beguile us, in which case they shall
presently die an evil death; or they have come amongst us that we
may give them to the God with flint-edge and fire; or they have a
message to us from some folk or other, on the issue of which lieth
life or death. Now shall ye hear what they have to say concerning
themselves and their faring hither. But, meseemeth, it shall be the
woman who is the chief and hath the word in her mouth; for, lo you!
the man kneeleth at her feet, as one who would serve and worship
her. Speak out then, woman, and let our warriors hear thee."
Then the Maid lifted up her voice, and spake out clear and
shrilling, like to a flute of the best of the minstrels: "Ye men
the Children of the Bear, I would ask you a question, and let the
chieftain who sitteth before me answer it."
The old man nodded his head, and she went on: "Tell me, Children
the Bear, how long a time is worn since ye saw the God of your
worship made manifest in the body of a woman!"
Said the elder: "Many winters have worn since my father's father
was a child, and saw the very God in the bodily form of a woman."
Then she said again: "Did ye rejoice at her coming, and would ye
rejoice if once more she came amongst you?"
"Yea," said the old chieftain, "for she gave us gifts,
us lore, and came to us in no terrible shape, but as a young woman
as goodly as thou."
Then said the Maid: "Now, then, is the day of your gladness come;
for the old body is dead, and I am the new body of your God, come
amongst you for your welfare."
Then fell a great silence on the Mote, till the old man spake and
said: "What shall I say and live? For if thou be verily the God,
and I threaten thee, wilt thou not destroy me? But thou hast spoken
a great word with a sweet mouth, and hast taken the burden of blood
on thy lily hands; and if the Children of the Bear be befooled of
light liars, how shall they put the shame off them? Therefore I
say, show to us a token; and if thou be the God, this shall be easy
to thee; and if thou show it not, then is thy falsehood manifest,
and thou shalt dree the weird. For we shall deliver thee into the
hands of these women here, who shall thrust thee down into the flow
which is hereby, after they have wearied themselves with whipping
thee. But thy man that kneeleth at thy feet shall we give to the
true God, and he shall go to her by the road of the flint and the
fire. Hast thou heard? Then give to us the sign and the token."
She changed countenance no whit at his word; but her eyes were the
brighter, and her cheek the fresher and her feet moved a little, as
if they were growing glad before the dance; and she looked out over
the Mote, and spake in her clear voice: "Old man, thou needest not
to fear for thy words. Forsooth it is not me whom thou threatenest
with stripes and a foul death, but some light fool and liar, who is
not here. Now hearken! I wot well that ye would have somewhat of
me, to wit, that I should send you rain to end this drought, which
otherwise seemeth like to lie long upon you: but this rain, I must
go into the mountains of the south to fetch it you; therefore shall
certain of your warriors bring me on my way, with this my man, up to
the great pass of the said mountains, and we shall set out
thitherward this very day."
She was silent a while, and all looked on her, but none spake or
moved, so that they seemed as images of stone amongst the stones.
Then she spake again and said: "Some would say, men of the Bear,
that this were a sign and a token great enough; but I know you, and
how stubborn and perverse of heart ye be; and how that the gift not
yet within your hand is no gift to you; and the wonder ye see not,
your hearts trow not. Therefore look ye upon me as here I stand, I
who have come from the fairer country and the greenwood of the
lands, and see if I bear not the summer with me, and the heart that
maketh increase and the hand that giveth."
Lo then! as she spake, the faded flowers that hung about her
gathered life and grew fresh again; the woodbine round her neck and
her sleek shoulders knit itself together and embraced her freshly,
and cast its scent about her face. The lilies that girded her loins
lifted up their heads, and the gold of their tassels fell upon her;
the eyebright grew clean blue again upon her smock; the eglantine
found its blooms again, and then began to shed the leaves thereof
upon her feet; the meadow-sweet wreathed amongst it made clear the
sweetness of her legs, and the mouse-ear studded her raiment as with
gems. There she stood amidst of the blossoms, like a great orient
pearl against the fretwork of the goldsmiths, and the breeze that
came up the valley from behind bore the sweetness of her fragrance
all over the Man-mote.
Then, indeed, the Bears stood up, and shouted and cried, and smote
on their shields, and tossed their spears aloft. Then the elder
rose from his seat, and came up humbly to where she stood, and
prayed her to say what she would have done; while the others drew
about in knots, but durst not come very nigh to her. She answered
the ancient chief, and said, that she would depart presently toward
the mountains, whereby she might send them the rain which they
lacked, and that thence she would away to the southward for a while;
but that they should hear of her, or, it might be, see her, before
they who were now of middle age should be gone to their fathers.
Then the old man besought her that they might make her a litter of
fragrant green boughs, and so bear her away toward the mountain pass
amidst a triumph of the whole folk. But she leapt lightly down from
the stone, and walked to and fro on the greensward, while it seemed
of her that her feet scarce touched the grass; and she spake to the
ancient chief where he still kneeled in worship of her, and said
"Nay; deemest thou of me that I need bearing by men's hands, or that
I shall tire at all when I am doing my will, and I, the very heart
of the year's increase? So it is, that the going of my feet over
your pastures shall make them to thrive, both this year and the
coming years: surely will I go afoot."
So they worshipped her the more, and blessed her; and then first of
all they brought meat, the daintiest they might, both for her and
for Walter. But they would not look on the Maid whiles she ate, or
suffer Walter to behold her the while. Afterwards, when they had
eaten, some twenty men, weaponed after their fashion, made them
ready to wend with the Maiden up into the mountains, and anon they
set out thitherward all together. Howbeit, the huge men held them
ever somewhat aloof from the Maid; and when they came to the
resting-place for that night, where was no house, for it was up
amongst the foot-hills before the mountains, then it was a wonder to
see how carefully they built up a sleeping-place for her, and tilted
it over with their skin-cloaks, and how they watched nightlong about
her. But Walter they let sleep peacefully on the grass, a little
way aloof from the watchers round the Maid.
CHAPTER XXIX: WALTER STRAYS IN THE PASS AND IS SUNDERED FROM THE
Morning came, and they arose and went on their ways, and went all
day till the sun was nigh set, and they were come up into the very
pass; and in the jaws thereof was an earthen howe. There the Maid
bade them stay, and she went up on to the howe, and stood there and
spake to them, and said: "O men of the Bear, I give you thanks for
your following, and I bless you, and promise you the increase of the
earth. But now ye shall turn aback, and leave me to go my ways; and
my man with the iron sword shall follow me. Now, maybe, I shall
come amongst the Bear-folk again before long, and yet again, and
learn them wisdom; but for this time it is enough. And I shall tell
you that ye were best to hasten home straightway to your houses in
the downland dales, for the weather which I have bidden for you is
even now coming forth from the forge of storms in the heart of the
mountains. Now this last word I give you, that times are changed
since I wore the last shape of God that ye have seen, wherefore a
change I command you. If so be aliens come amongst you, I will not
that ye send them to me by the flint and the fire; rather, unless
they be baleful unto you, and worthy of an evil death, ye shall
suffer them to abide with you; ye shall make them become children of
the Bears, if they be goodly enough and worthy, and they shall be my
children as ye be; otherwise, if they be ill-favoured and weakling,
let them live and be thralls to you, but not join with you, man to
woman. Now depart ye with my blessing."
Therewith she came down from the mound, and went her ways up the
pass so lightly, that it was to Walter, standing amongst the Bears,
as if she had vanished away. But the men of that folk abode
standing and worshipping their God for a little while, and that
while he durst not sunder him from their company. But when they had
blessed him and gone on their way backward, he betook him in haste
to following the Maid, thinking to find her abiding him in some nook
of the pass.
Howsoever, it was now twilight or more, and, for all his haste, dark
night overtook him, so that perforce he was stayed amidst the tangle
of the mountain ways. And, moreover, ere the night was grown old,
the weather came upon him on the back of a great south wind, so that
the mountain nooks rattled and roared, and there was the rain and
the hail, with thunder and lightning, monstrous and terrible, and
all the huge array of a summer storm. So he was driven at last to
crouch under a big rock and abide the day.
But not so were his troubles at an end. For under the said rock he
fell asleep, and when he awoke it was day indeed; but as to the
pass, the way thereby was blind with the driving rain and the
lowering lift; so that, though he struggled as well as he might
against the storm and the tangle, he made but little way.
And now once more the thought came on him, that the Maid was of the
fays, or of some race even mightier; and it came on him now not as
erst, with half fear and whole desire, but with a bitter oppression
of dread, of loss and misery; so that he began to fear that she had
but won his love to leave him and forget him for a new-comer, after
the wont of fay-women, as old tales tell.
Two days he battled thus with storm and blindness, and wanhope of
his life; for he was growing weak and fordone. But the third
morning the storm abated, though the rain yet fell heavily, and he
could see his way somewhat as well as feel it: withal he found that
now his path was leading him downwards. As it grew dusk, he came
down into a grassy valley with a stream running through it to the
southward, and the rain was now but little, coming down but in
dashes from time to time. So he crept down to the stream-side, and
lay amongst the bushes there; and said to himself, that on the
morrow he would get him victual, so that he might live to seek his
Maiden through the wide world. He was of somewhat better heart:
but now that he was laid quiet, and had no more for that present to
trouble him about the way, the anguish of his loss fell upon him the
keener, and he might not refrain him from lamenting his dear Maiden
aloud, as one who deemed himself in the empty wilderness: and thus
he lamented for her sweetness and her loveliness, and the kindness
of her voice and her speech, and her mirth. Then he fell to crying
out concerning the beauty of her shaping, praising the parts of her
body, as her face, and her hands, and her shoulders, and her feet,
and cursing the evil fate which had sundered him from the
friendliness of her, and the peerless fashion of her.
CHAPTER XXX: NOW THEY MEET AGAIN
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;
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
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
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
Said he, "Why didst thou not come to me then, since thou heardest
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
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
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,
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
"Yea, beloved," he said, "let us on straightway then,
the while that sundereth us."
"Love," she said, "thou shalt pardon me one time for all.
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
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
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,
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."