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       Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair, p.1

           William Morris
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Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair


  Produced by John Hamm

  CHILD CHRISTOPHER AND GOLDILIND THE FAIR

  by William Morris

  1895

  CHAPTER I. OF THE KING OF OAKENREALM, AND HIS WIFE AND HIS CHILD.

  Of old there was a land which was so much a woodland, that a minstrelthereof said it that a squirrel might go from end to end, and all about,from tree to tree, and never touch the earth: therefore was that landcalled Oakenrealm.

  The lord and king thereof was a stark man, and so great a warrior thatin his youth he took no delight in aught else save battle and tourneys.But when he was hard on forty years old, he came across a daughter ofa certain lord, whom he had vanquished, and his eyes bewrayed himinto longing, so that he gave back to the said lord the havings he hadconquered of him that he might lay the maiden in his kingly bed. So hebrought her home with him to Oakenrealm and wedded her.

  Tells the tale that he rued not his bargain, but loved her so dearlythat for a year round he wore no armour, save when she bade him play inthe tilt-yard for her desport and pride.

  So wore the days till she went with child and was near her time, andthen it betid that three kings who marched on Oakenrealm banded themtogether against him, and his lords and thanes cried out on him to leadthem to battle, and it behoved him to do as they would.

  So he sent out the tokens and bade an hosting at his chief city, andwhen all was ready he said farewell to his wife and her babe unborn, andwent his ways to battle once more: but fierce was his heart against thefoemen, that they had dragged him away from his love and his joy.

  Even amidst of his land he joined battle with the host of the ravagers,and the tale of them is short to tell, for they were as the wheat beforethe hook. But as he followed up the chase, a mere thrall of the fleersturned on him and cast his spear, and it reached him whereas his hawberkwas broken, and stood deep in, so that he fell to earth unmighty: andwhen his lords and chieftains drew about him, and cunning men strove toheal him, it was of no avail, and he knew that his soul was departing.Then he sent for a priest, and for the Marshal of the host, who was agreat lord, and the son of his father's brother, and in few words badehim look to the babe whom his wife bore about, and if it were a man, tocherish him and do him to learn all that a king ought to know; and if itwere a maiden, that he should look to her wedding well and worthily: andhe let swear him on his sword, on the edges and the hilts, that he woulddo even so, and be true unto his child if child there were: and he badehim have rule, if so be the lords would, and all the people, till thechild were of age to be king: and the Marshal swore, and all the lordswho stood around bare witness to his swearing. Thereafter the priesthouselled the King, and he received his Creator, and a little whileafter his soul departed.

  But the Marshal followed up the fleeing foe, and two battles more hefought before he beat them flat to earth; and then they craved forpeace, and he went back to the city in mickle honour.

  But in the King's city of Oakenham he found but little joy; for boththe King was bemoaned, whereas he had been no hard man to his folk; andalso, when the tidings and the King's corpse came back to Oakenrealm,his Lady and Queen took sick for sorrow and fear, and fell into labourof her child, and in childing of a man-bairn she died, but the ladlived, and was like to do well.

  So there was one funeral for the slain King and for her whom his slayinghad slain: and when that was done, the little king was borne to thefont, and at his christening he gat to name Christopher.

  Thereafter the Marshal summoned all them that were due thereto to comeand give homage to the new king, and even so did they, though he werebut a babe, yea, and who had but just now been a king lying in hismother's womb. But when the homage was done, then the Marshal calledtogether the wise men, and told them how the King that was had given himin charge his son as then unborn, and the ruling of the realm till thesaid son were come to man's estate: but he bade them seek one worthierif they had heart to gainsay the word of their dying lord. Then all theysaid that he was worthy and mighty and the choice of their dear lord,and that they would have none but he.

  So then was the great folk-mote called, and the same matter was laidbefore all the people, and none said aught against it, whereas no manwas ready to name another to that charge and rule, even had it been hisown self.

  Now then by law was the Marshal, who hight Rolf, lord and earl of theland of Oakenrealm. He ruled well and strongly, and was a fell warrior:he was well befriended by many of the great; and the rest of them fearedhim and his friends: as for the commonalty, they saw that he held therealm in peace; and for the rest, they knew little and saw less of him,and they paid to his bailiffs and sheriffs as little as they could, andmore than they would. But whereas that left them somewhat to grind theirteeth on, and they were not harried, they were not so ill content. Sothe Marshal throve, and lacked nothing of a king's place save the barename.

  CHAPTER II. OF THE KING'S SON.

  As for the King's son, to whom the folk had of late done homage as king,he was at first seen about a corner of the High House with his nurses;and then in a while it was said, and the tale noted, but not much, thathe must needs go for his health's sake, and because he was puny, to somestead amongst the fields, and folk heard say that he was gone to thestrong house of a knight somewhat stricken in years, who was called LordRichard the Lean. The said house was some twelve miles from Oakenham,not far from the northern edge of the wild-wood. But in a while, scarcemore than a year, Lord Richard brake up house at the said castle, andwent southward through the forest. Of this departure was little said,for he was not a man amongst the foremost. As for the King's little son,if any remembered that he was in the hands of the said Lord Richard,none said aught about it; for if any thought of the little babe at all,they said to themselves, Never will he come to be king.

  Now as for Lord Richard the Lean, he went far through the wood, anduntil he was come to another house of his, that stood in a clearingsomewhat near to where Oakenrealm marched on another country, whichhight Meadham; though the said wild-wood ended not where Oakenrealmended, but stretched a good way into Meadham; and betwixt one and theother much rough country there was.

  It is to be said that amongst those who went to this stronghold of thewoods was the little King Christopher, no longer puny, but a stoutbabe enough: so he was borne amongst the serving men and thralls tothe castle of the Outer March; and he was in no wise treated as a greatman's son; but there was more than one woman who was kind to him, andas he waxed in strength and beauty month by month, both carle andquean fell to noting him, and, for as little as he was, he began to bewell-beloved.

  As to the stead where he was nourished, though it were far away amongstthe woods, it was no such lonely or savage place: besides the castle andthe houses of it, there was a merry thorpe in the clearing, the houseswhereof were set down by the side of a clear and pleasant little stream.Moreover the goodmen and swains of the said township were no ill folk,but bold of heart, free of speech, and goodly of favour; and the womenof them fair, kind, and trusty. Whiles came folk journeying in toOakenrealm or out to Meadham, and of these some were minstrels, who hadwith them tidings of what was astir whereas folk were thicker in theworld, and some chapmen, who chaffered with the thorpe-dwellers, andtook of them the woodland spoil for such outland goods as those woodmenneeded.

  So wore the years, and in Oakenham King Christopher was well nighforgotten, and in the wild-wood had never been known clearly for King'sson. At first, by command of Rolf the Marshal, a messenger cameevery year from Lord Richard with a letter that told of how the ladChristopher did. But when five years were worn, the Marshal bade sendhim tidings thereof every three years; and by then it was come to thetwelfth year,
and still the tidings were that the lad throve ever, andmeanwhile the Marshal sat fast in his seat with none to gainsay, theword went to Lord Richard that he should send no more, for that he, theMarshal, had heard enough of the boy; and if he throve it were well, andif not, it was no worse. So wore the days and the years.

  CHAPTER III. OF THE KING OF MEADHAM AND HIS DAUGHTER.

  Tells the tale that in the country which lay south of Oakenrealm, andwas called Meadham, there was in these days a king whose wife was dead,but had left him a fair daughter, who was born some four years afterKing Christopher. A good man was this King Roland, mild, bounteous, andno regarder of persons in his justice; and well-beloved he was of hisfolk: yet could not their love keep him alive; for, whenas his daughterwas of the age of twelve years, he sickened unto death; and so, when heknew that his end drew near, he sent for the wisest of his wise men,and they came unto him sorrowing in the High House of his chiefest city,which hight Meadhamstead. So he bade them sit down nigh unto his bed,and took up the word and spake:

  "Masters, and my good lords, ye may see clearly that a sundering is athand, and that I must needs make a long journey, whence I shall comeback never; now I would, and am verily of duty bound thereto, that Ileave behind me some good order in the land. Furthermore, I would thatmy daughter, when she is of age thereto, should be Queen in Meadham, andrule the land; neither will it be many years before she shall be of ripeage for ruling, if ever she may be; and I deem not that there shall beany lack in her, whereas her mother could all courtesy, and was as wiseas a woman may be. But how say ye, my masters?"

  So they all with one consent said Yea, and they would ask for no betterking than their lady his daughter. Then said the King:

  "Hearken carefully, for my time is short: Yet is she young and a maiden,though she be wise. Now therefore do I need some man well looked to ofthe folk, who shall rule the land in her name till she be of eighteenwinters, and who shall be her good friend and counsellor into all wisdomthereafter. Which of you, my masters, is meet for this matter?"

  Then they all looked one on the other, and spake not. And the King said:"Speak, some one of you, without fear; this is no time for tarrying."

  Thereon spake an elder, the oldest of them, and said: "Lord, this isthe very truth, that none of us here present are meet for this office:whereas, among other matters, we be all unmeet for battle; some of ushave never been warriors, and other some are past the age for leading anhost. To say the sooth, King, there is but one man in Meadham who may dowhat thou wilt, and not fail; both for his wisdom, and his might afield,and the account which is had of him amongst the people; and that man isEarl Geoffrey, of the Southern Marches."

  "Ye say sooth," quoth the King; "but is he down in the South, or nigherto hand?"

  Said the elder: "He is as now in Meadhamstead, and may be in thischamber in scant half an hour." So the King bade send for him, and therewas silence in the chamber till he came in, clad in a scarlet kirtle anda white cloak, and with his sword by his side. He was a tall man,bigly made; somewhat pale of face, black and curly of hair; blue-eyed,thin-lipped, and hook-nosed as an eagle; a man warrior-like, andsomewhat fierce of aspect. He knelt down by the King's bedside, andasked him in a sorrowful voice what he would, and the King said: "I aska great matter of thee, and all these my wise men, and I myself,withal, deem that thou canst do it, and thou alone--nay, hearken: I amdeparting, and I would have thee hold my place, and do unto my peopleeven what I would do if I myself were living; and to my daughter asnigh to that as may be. I say all this thou mayst do, if thou wilt be astrusty and leal to me after I am dead, as thou hast seemed to all men'seyes to have been while I was living. What sayest thou?"

  The Earl had hidden his face in the coverlet of the bed while the Kingwas speaking; but now he lifted up his face, weeping, and said: "Kinsmanand friend and King; this is nought hard to do; but if it were, yetwould I do it."

  "It is well," said the King: "my heart fails me and my voice; so giveheed, and set thine ear close to my mouth: hearken, belike my daughterGoldilind shall be one of the fairest of women; I bid thee wed her tothe fairest of men and the strongest, and to none other."

  Thereat his voice failed him indeed, and he lay still; but he died not,till presently the priest came to him, and, as he might, houselled him:then he departed.

  As for Earl Geoffrey, when the King was buried, and the homages done tothe maiden Goldilind, he did no worse than those wise men deemed of him,but bestirred him, and looked full sagely into all the matters of thekingdom, and did so well therein that all men praised his rule perforce,whether they loved him or not; and sooth to say he was not much beloved.

  CHAPTER IV. OF THE MAIDEN GOLDILIND.

  AMIDST of all his other business Earl Geoffrey bethought him in a whileof the dead King's daughter, and he gave her in charge to a gentlewoman,somewhat stricken in years, a widow of high lineage, but not overwealthy. She dwelt in her own house in a fair valley some twenty milesfrom Meadhamstead: thereabode Goldilind till a year and a half was worn,and had due observance, but little love, and not much kindness fromthe said gentlewoman, who hight Dame Elinor Leashowe. Howbeit, timeand again came knights and ladies and lords to see the little lady, andkissed her hand and did obeisance to her; yet more came to her in thefirst three months of her sojourn at Leashowe than the second, and morein the second than the third.

  At last, on a day when the said year and a half was fully worn, thithercame Earl Geoffrey with a company of knights and men-at-arms, and he didobeisance, as due was, to his master's daughter, and then spake awhileprivily with Dame Elinor; and thereafter they went into the hall, he,and she, and Goldilind, and there before all men he spake aloud andsaid:

  "My Lady Goldilind, meseemeth ye dwell here all too straitly; forneither is this house of Leashowe great enough for thy state, and theentertainment of the knights and lords who shall have will to seek tothee hither; nor is the wealth of thy liege dame and governante as greatas it should be, and as thou, meseemeth, wouldst have it. Wherefore Ihave been considering thy desires herein, and if thou deem it meet togive a gift to Dame Elinor, and live queenlier thyself than now thoudost, then mayst thou give unto her the Castle of Greenharbour, and thesix manors appertaining thereto, and withal the rights of wild-wood andfen and fell that lie thereabout. Also, if thou wilt, thou mayst honourthe said castle with abiding there awhile at thy pleasure; and I shallsee to it that thou have due meney to go with thee thither. How sayestthou, my lady?"

  Amongst that company there were two or three who looked at each otherand half smiled; and two or three looked on the maiden, who wasgoodly as of her years, as if with compassion; but the more part keptcountenance in full courtly wise.

  Then spake Goldilind in a quavering voice (for she was afraid and wise),and she said: "Cousin and Earl, we will that all this be done; and itlikes me well to eke the wealth of this lady and my good friend DameElinor."

  Quoth Earl Geoffrey: "Kneel before thy lady, Dame, and put thine handsbetween hers and thank her for the gift." So Dame Elinor knelt down, anddid homage and obeisance for her new land; and Goldilind raised herup and kissed her, and bade her sit down beside her, and spake to herkindly; and all men praised the maiden for her gentle and courteousways; and Dame Elinor smiled upon her and them, what she could.

  She was small of body and sleek; but her cheeks somewhat flagging; browneyes she had, long, half opened; thin lips, and chin somewhat fallingaway from her mouth; hard on fifty winters had she seen; yet there havebeen those who were older and goodlier both.

  CHAPTER V. GOLDILIND COMES TO GREENHARBOUR.

  But a little while tarried the Earl Geoffrey at Leashowe, but departednext morning and came to Meadhamstead. A month thereafter came folk fromhim to Leashowe, to wit, the new meney for the new abode of Goldilind;amongst whom was a goodly band of men-at-arms, led by an old lordpinched and peevish of face, who kneeled to Goldilind as the newburgreve of Greenharbour; and a chaplain, a black canon, young,broad-cheeked and fresh-looking, but hard-faced and unl
ovely; threenew damsels withal were come for the young Queen, not young maids, butstalworth women, well-grown, and two of them hard-featured; the third,tall, black-haired, and a goodly-fashioned body.

  Now when these were come, who were all under the rule of Dame Elinor,there was no gainsaying the departure to the new home; and in two days'time they went their ways from Leashowe. But though Goldilind was young,she was wise, and her heart misgave her, when she was amidst this newmeney, that she was not riding toward glory and honour, and a world ofworship and friends beloved. Howbeit, whatso might lie before her, sheput a good face upon it, and did to those about her queenly and with allcourtesy.

  Five days they rode from Leashowe north away, by thorpe and town andmead and river, till the land became little peopled, and the sixth daythey rode the wild-wood ways, where was no folk, save now and again thelittle cot of some forester or collier; but the seventh day, aboutnoon, they came into a clearing of the wood, a rugged little plain oflea-land, mingled with marish, with a little deal of acre-land in barleyand rye, round about a score of poor frame-houses set down scattermealabout the lea. But on a long ridge, at the northern end of the saidplain, was a grey castle, strong, and with big and high towers, yetnot so much greater than was Leashowe, deemed Goldilind, as for adwelling-house.

  Howbeit, they entered the said castle, and within, as without, it wassomewhat grim, though nought was lacking of plenishing due for folkknightly. Long it were to tell of its walls and baileys and chambers;but let this suffice, that on the north side, toward the thick forest,was a garden of green-sward and flowers and potherbs; and a garth-wallof grey stone, not very high, was the only defence thereof toward thewood, but it was overlooked by a tall tower of the great wall, whichhight the Foresters' Tower. In the said outer garth-wall also was apostern, whereby there was not seldom coming in and going out.

 
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