This "The Well at the World's End: A Tale" was written by William Morris in English language.
The Well at the World's
End: A Tale
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Well at the World's End, by William Morris
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net
Title: The Well at the World's End
Author: William Morris
Release Date: June 9, 2008 [EBook #169]
[This file last updated: February 1, 2011]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE WELL AT THE WORLD'S END ***
Produced by John Hamm. HTML version by Al Haines.
The Well at the World's End
Table of Contents
The Road Unto Love
The Sundering of the Ways
Ralph Goeth Back Home to the High House
Ralph Cometh to the Cheaping-Town
Ralph Rideth the Downs
Ralph Cometh to Higham-on-the-Way
Ralph Goeth His Ways From the Abbey of St. Mary at Higham
The Maiden of Bourton Abbas
Ralph Cometh to the Wood Perilous.
An Adventure Therein
Another Adventure in the Wood Perilous
A Meeting and a Parting in the Wood Perilous
Now Must Ralph Ride For It
Ralph Entereth Into the Burg of the Four Friths
The Streets of the Burg of the Four Friths
What Ralph Heard of the Matters of the Burg of the Four Friths
How Ralph Departed From the Burg of the Four Friths
Ralph Rideth the Wood Perilous Again
Ralph Cometh to the House of Abundance
Of Ralph in the Castle of Abundance
Ralph Readeth in a Book Concerning the Well at the World's End
Ralph Meeteth a Man in the Wood
Ralph Weareth Away Three Days Uneasily
An Adventure in the Wood
The Leechcraft of the Lady
Supper and Slumber in the Woodland Hall
The Road Unto Trouble
Ralph Meets With Love in the Wilderness
They Break Their Fast in the Wildwood
The Lady Telleth Ralph of the Past Days of Her Life
The Lady Tells of Her Deliverance
Yet More of the Lady's Story
The Lady Tells Somewhat of Her Doings After She Left the Wilderness
The Lady Tells of the Strife and Trouble That Befell After Her Coming to
the Country of the King's Son
The Lady Maketh an End of Her Tale
They Go On Their Way Once More
Of the Desert-House and the Chamber of Love in the Wilderness
Ralph Cometh Out of the Wilderness
Ralph Falleth in With Friends and Rideth to Whitwall
Richard Talketh With Ralph Concerning the Well at the World's End.
Ralph Falleth in With Another Old Friend
Ralph Dreams a Dream Or Sees a Vision
Of the Tales of Swevenham
Richard Bringeth Tidings of Departing
Ralph Departeth From Whitwall With the Fellowship of Clement Chapman
Master Clement Tells Ralph Concerning the Lands Whereunto They
They Come to the Mid-Mountain Guest-House
A Battle in the Mountains
Ralph Talks With Bull Shockhead
Of the Town of Cheaping Knowe
Ralph Heareth More Tidings of the Damsel
The Fellowship Comes to Whiteness
They Ride the Mountains Toward Goldburg
Clement Tells of Goldburg
Now They Come to Goldburg
Of Goldburg and the Queen Thereof
Ralph Hath Hope of Tidings Concerning the Well at the World's End
The Beginning of the Road To Utterbol
Ralph Happens on Evil Days
Ralph is Brought on the Road Towards Utterbol
The Lord of Utterbol Will Wot of Ralph's Might and Minstrelsy
Ralph Cometh To the Vale of the Tower
The Talk of Two Women Concerning Ralph
How Ralph Justed With the Aliens
A Friend Gives Ralph Warning
The Lord of Utterbol Makes Ralph a Free Man
They Ride Toward Utterness From Out of Vale Turris
Redhead Keeps Tryst
The Road To The Well At World's End.
An Adventure in the Wood Under the Mountains
Ralph Rides the Wood Under the Mountains
Ralph Meeteth With Another Adventure in the Wood Under the Mountain
They Ride the Wood Under the Mountains
They Come on the Sage of Swevenham
Those Two Are Learned Lore by the Sage of Swevenham
An Adventure by the Way
They Come to the Sea of Molten Rocks
They Come Forth From the Rock-Sea
They Come to the Gate of the Mountains
They Come to the Vale of Sweet Chestnuts
Winter Amidst of the Mountains
Of Ursula and the Bear
Now Come the Messengers of the Innocent Folk
They Come to the Land of the Innocent Folk
They Come to the House of the Sorceress
They Come Through the Woodland to the Thirsty Desert
They Come to the Dry Tree
They Come Out of the Thirsty Desert
They Come to the Ocean Sea
Now They Drink of the Well at the World's End
Now They Have Drunk and Are Glad
The Road Home
Ralph and Ursula Come Back Again Through the Great Mountains
They Hear New Tidings of Utterbol
They Winter With the Sage; and Thereafter Come Again to Vale Turris
A Feast in the Red Pavilion
Bull Telleth of His Winning of the Lordship of Utterbol
They Ride From Vale Turris.
Redhead Tells of Agatha
Of Their Riding the Waste, and of a Battle Thereon
Of Goldburg Again, and the Queen Thereof
They Come to Cheaping Knowe Once More.
Of the King Thereof
An Adventure on the Way to the Mountains
They Come Through the Mountains Into the Plain
The Roads Sunder Again
They Come to Whitwall Again
They Ride Away From Whitwall
A Strange Meeting in the Wilderness
They Come to the Castle of Abundance Once More
They Fall in With That Hermit
A Change of Days in the Burg of the Four Friths
Ralph Sees Hampton and the Scaur
They Come to the Gate of Higham By the Way
Talk Between Those Two Brethren
An Old Acquaintance Comes From the Down Country to See Ralph
They Ride to Bear Castle
The Folkmote of the Shepherds
They Come to Wulstead
Ralph Sees His Father and Mother Again
Ralph Holds Converse With Katherine His Gossip
Dame Katherine Tells of the Pair of Beads, and Whence She Had Them
They Go Down to Battle in Upmeads
Ralph Brings His Father and Mother to Upmeads
Ralph Brings Ursula Home to the High House
Yet a Few Words Concerning Ralph of Upmeads
The Road Unto Love
The Sundering of the Ways
Long ago there was a little land, over which ruled a regulus or kinglet, who was called King
Peter, though his kingdom was but little. He had four sons whose names were Blaise, Hugh,
Gregory and Ralph: of these Ralph was the youngest, whereas he was but of twenty winters and
one; and Blaise was the oldest and had seen thirty winters.
Now it came to this at last, that to these young men the kingdom of their father seemed strait;
and they longed to see the ways of other men, and to strive for life.
For though they were king's
sons, they had but little world's wealth; save and except good meat and drink, and enough or too
much thereof; house-room of the best; friends to be merry with, and maidens to kiss, and these
also as good as might be; freedom withal to come and go as they would; the heavens above
them, the earth to bear them up, and the meadows and acres, the woods and fair streams, and
the little hills of Upmeads, for that was the name of their country and the kingdom of King Peter.
So having nought but this little they longed for much; and that the more because, king's sons
as they were, they had but scant dominion save over their horses and dogs: for the men of that
country were stubborn and sturdy vavassors, and might not away with masterful doings, but were
like to pay back a blow with a blow, and a foul word with a buffet.
So that, all things considered, it
was little wonder if King Peter's sons found themselves straitened in their little land: wherein was
no great merchant city; no mighty castle, or noble abbey of monks:
nought but fair little halls of
yeomen, with here and there a franklin's court or a shield-knight's manor-house; with many a
goodly church, and whiles a house of good canons, who knew not the road to Rome, nor how to
find the door of the Chancellor's house.
So these young men wearied their father and mother a long while with telling them of their
weariness, and their longing to be gone: till at last on a fair and hot afternoon of June King Peter
rose up from the carpet which the Prior of St. John's by the Bridge had given him (for he had
been sleeping thereon amidst the grass of his orchard after his dinner) and he went into the hall
of his house, which was called the High House of Upmeads, and sent for his four sons to come to
And they came and stood before his high-seat and he said:
"Sons, ye have long wearied me with words concerning your longing for travel on the roads;
now if ye verily wish to be gone, tell me when would ye take your departure if ye had your
They looked at one another, and the three younger ones nodded at Blaise the eldest:
began, and said:
"Saving the love and honour that we have for thee, and also for our mother, we
would be gone at once, even with the noon's meat still in our bellies.
But thou art the lord in this
land, and thou must rule.
Have I said well, brethren?"
And they all said "Yea, yea." Then said the
king; "Good! now is the sun high and hot; yet if ye ride softly ye may come to some good harbour
before nightfall without foundering your horses.
So come ye in an hour's space to the Four-want-
way, and there and then will I order your departure."
The young men were full of joy when they heard his word; and they departed and went this
way and that, gathering such small matters as each deemed that he needed, and which he might
lightly carry with him; then they armed themselves, and would bid the squires bring them their
horses; but men told them that the said squires had gone their ways already to the Want-way by
the king's commandment: so thither they went at once a-foot all four in company, laughing and
talking together merrily.
It must be told that this Want-way aforesaid was but four furlongs from the House, which lay
in an ingle of the river called Upmeads Water amongst very fair meadows at the end of the
upland tillage; and the land sloped gently up toward the hill-country and the unseen mountains on
the north; but to the south was a low ridge which ran along the water, as it wound along from west
Beyond the said ridge, at a place whence you could see the higher hills to the south, that
stretched mainly east and west also, there was presently an end of the Kingdom of Upmeads,
though the neighbours on that side were peaceable and friendly, and were wont to send gifts to
But toward the north beyond the Want-way King Peter was lord over a good stretch of
land, and that of the best; yet was he never a rich man, for he had no freedom to tax and tail his
folk, nor forsooth would he have used it if he had; for he was no ill man, but kindly and of
On these northern marches there was war at whiles, whereas they ended in a great
forest well furnished of trees; and this wood was debateable, and King Peter and his sons rode
therein at their peril: but great plenty was therein of all wild deer, as hart, and buck, and roe, and
swine, and bears and wolves withal.
The lord on the other side thereof was a mightier man than
King Peter, albeit he was a bishop, and a baron of Holy Church.
To say sooth he was a close-fist
and a manslayer; though he did his manslaying through his vicars, the knights and men-at-arms
who held their manors of him, or whom he waged.
In that forest had King Peter's father died in battle, and his eldest son also; therefore, being a
man of peace, he rode therein but seldom, though his sons, the three eldest of them, had both
ridden therein and ran therefrom valiantly.
As for Ralph the youngest, his father would not have
him ride the Wood Debateable as yet.
So came those young men to the Want-ways, and found their father sitting there on a heap of
stones, and over against him eight horses, four destriers, and four hackneys, and four squires
So they came and stood before their father, waiting for his word, and wondering what it
Now spake King Peter:
"Fair sons, ye would go on all adventure to seek a wider land, and a
more stirring life than ye may get of me at home: so be it!
But I have bethought me, that, since I
am growing old and past the age of getting children, one of you, my sons, must abide at home to
cherish me and your mother, and to lead our carles in war if trouble falleth upon us.
Now I know
not how to choose by mine own wit which of you shall ride and which abide.
For so it is that ye are
diverse of your conditions; but the evil conditions which one of you lacks the other hath, and the
valiancy which one hath, the other lacks. Blaise is wise and prudent, but no great man of his
Hugh is a stout rider and lifter, but headstrong and foolhardy, and over bounteous a
skinker; and Gregory is courteous and many worded, but sluggish in deed; though I will not call
him a dastard.
As for Ralph, he is fair to look on, and peradventure he may be as wise as Blaise,
as valiant as Hugh, and as smooth-tongued as Gregory; but of all this we know little or nothing,
whereas he is but young and untried.
Yet may he do better than you others, and I deem that he
will do so.
All things considered, then, I say, I know not how to choose between you, my sons; so
let luck choose for me, and ye shall draw cuts for your roads; and he that draweth longest shall go
north, and the next longest shall go east, and the third straw shall send the drawer west; but as to
him who draweth the shortest cut, he shall go no whither but back again to my house, there to
abide with me the chances and changes of life; and it is most like that this one shall sit in my
chair when I am gone, and be called King of Upmeads.
"Now, my sons, doth this ordinance please you?
For if so be it doth not, then may ye all abide
at home, and eat of my meat, and drink of my cup, but little chided either for sloth or misdoing,
even as it hath been aforetime."
The young men looked at one another, and Blaise answered and said: "Sir, as for me I say
we will do after your commandment, to take what road luck may show us, or to turn back home
again." They all yeasaid this one after the other; and then King Peter said: "Now before I draw the
cuts, I shall tell you that I have appointed the squires to go with each one of you.
Richard the Red
shall go with Blaise; for though he be somewhat stricken in years, and wise, yet is he a fierce
carle and a doughty, and knoweth well all feats of arms.
"Lancelot Longtongue shall be squire to Hugh; for he is good of seeming and can compass all
courtesy, and knoweth logic (though it be of the law and not of the schools), yet is he a proper
man of his hands; as needs must he be who followeth Hugh; for where is Hugh, there is trouble
"Clement the Black shall serve Gregory:
for he is a careful carle, and speaketh one word to
every ten deeds that he doeth; whether they be done with point and edge, or with the hammer in
"Lastly, I have none left to follow thee, Ralph, save Nicholas Longshanks; but though he hath
more words than I have, yet hath he more wisdom, and is a man lettered and far-travelled, and
loveth our house right well.
"How say ye, sons, is this to your liking?"
They all said "yea."
Then quoth the king; "Nicholas, bring hither the straws ready dight, and I
will give them my sons to draw."
So each young man came up in turn and drew; and King Peter laid the straws together and
looked at them, and said:
"Thus it is, Hugh goeth north with Lancelot, Gregory westward with Clement." He stayed a
moment and then said:
"Blaise fareth eastward and Richard with him.
As for thee, Ralph my dear
son, thou shalt back with me and abide in my house and I shall see thee day by day; and thou
shalt help me to live my last years happily in all honour; and thy love shall be my hope, and thy
valiancy my stay."
Therewith he arose and threw his arm about the young man's neck; but he shrank away a
little from his father, and his face grew troubled; and King Peter noted that, and his countenance
fell, and he said:
"Nay nay, my son; grudge not thy brethren the chances of the road, and the ill-hap of the
Here at least for thee is the bounteous board and the full cup, and the love of kindred and
well-willers, and the fellowship of the folk.
O well is thee, my son, and happy shalt thou be!"
But the young man knit his brows and said no word in answer.
Then came forward those three brethren who were to fare at all adventure, and they stood
before the old man saying nought.
Then he laughed and said: "O ho, my sons!
Here in Upmeads
have ye all ye need without money, but when ye fare in the outlands ye need money; is it not a
lack of yours that your pouches be bare?
Abide, for I have seen to it."
Therewith he drew out of his pouch three little bags, and said; "Take ye each one of these; for
therein is all that my treasury may shed as now.
In each of these is there coined money, both
white and red, and some deal of gold uncoined, and of rings and brooches a few, and by
estimation there is in each bag the same value reckoned in lawful silver of Upmeads and the
Wolds and the Overhill-Countries. Take up each what there is, and do the best ye may therewith."
Then each took his bag, and kissed and embraced his father; and they kissed Ralph and each
other, and so got to horse and departed with their squires, going softly because of the hot sun.
But Nicholas slowly mounted his hackney and led Ralph's war-horse with him home again to King
Ralph Goeth Back Home to the High House
Ralph and King Peter walked slowly home together, and as they went King Peter fell to telling
of how in his young days he rode in the Wood Debateable, and was belated there all alone, and
happed upon men who were outlaws and wolfheads, and feared for his life; but they treated him
kindly, and honoured him, and saw him safe on his way in the morning.
So that never thereafter
would he be art and part with those who hunted outlaws to slay them.
"For," said he, "it is with
these men as with others, that they make prey of folk; yet these for the more part prey on the rich,
and the lawful prey on the poor.
Otherwise it is with these wolfheads as with lords and knights
and franklins, that as there be bad amongst them, so also there be good; and the good ones I
happed on, and so may another man."
Hereto paid Ralph little heed at that time, since he had heard the tale and its morality before,
and that more than once; and moreover his mind was set upon his own matters and these was he
Albeit perchance the words abode with him.
So came they to the House, and Ralph's
mother, who was a noble dame, and well-liking as for her years, which were but little over fifty,
stood in the hall-door to see which of her sons should come back to her, and when she saw them
coming together, she went up to them, and cast her arms about Ralph and kissed him and
caressed him—being exceeding glad that it was he and not one of the others who had returned to
dwell with them; for he was her best-beloved, as was little marvel, seeing that he was by far the
fairest and the most loving.
But Ralph's face grew troubled again in his mother's arms, for he
loved her exceeding well; and forsooth he loved the whole house and all that dwelt there, down
to the turnspit dogs in the chimney ingle, and the swallows that nested in the earthen bottles,
which when he was little he had seen his mother put up in the eaves of the out-bowers: but now,
love or no love, the spur was in his side, and he must needs hasten as fate would have him.
However, when he had disentangled himself from his mother's caresses, he enforced himself to
keep a cheerful countenance, and upheld it the whole evening through, and was by seeming
merry at supper, and went to bed singing.
Ralph Cometh to the Cheaping-Town
He slept in an upper chamber in a turret of the House, which chamber was his own, and none
might meddle with it.
There the next day he awoke in the dawning, and arose and clad himself,
and took his wargear and his sword and spear, and bore all away without doors to the side of the
Ford in that ingle of the river, and laid it for a while in a little willow copse, so that no chance-
comer might see it; then he went back to the stable of the House and took his destrier from the
stall (it was a dapple-grey horse called Falcon, and was right good,) and brought him down to the
said willow copse, and tied him to a tree till he had armed himself amongst the willows, whence
he came forth presently as brisk-looking and likely a man-at-arms as you might see on a summer
Then he clomb up into the saddle, and went his ways splashing across the ford, before the
sun had arisen, while the throstle-cocks were yet amidst their first song.
Then he rode on a little trot south away; and by then the sun was up he was without the
bounds of Upmeads; albeit in the land thereabout dwelt none who were not friends to King Peter
and his sons: and that was well, for now were folk stirring and were abroad in the fields; as a
band of carles going with their scythes to the hay-field; or a maiden with her milking-pails going to
her kine, barefoot through the seeding grass; or a company of noisy little lads on their way to the
nearest pool of the stream that they might bathe in the warm morning after the warm night.
these and more knew him and his armour and Falcon his horse, and gave him the sele of the
day, and he was nowise troubled at meeting them; for besides that they thought it no wonder to
meet one of the lords of Upmeads going armed about his errands, their own errands were close
at home, and it was little likely that they should go that day so far as to Upmeads Water, seeing
that it ran through the meadows a half-score miles to the north-ward.
So Ralph rode on, and came into the high road, that led one way back again into Upmeads,
and crossed the Water by a fair bridge late builded between King Peter and a house of Canons
on the north side, and the other way into a good cheaping-town hight Wulstead, beyond which
Ralph knew little of the world which lay to the south, and seemed to him a wondrous place, full of
fair things and marvellous adventures.
So he rode till he came into the town when the fair morning was still young, the first mass
over, and maids gathered about the fountain amidst the market-place, and two or three dames
sitting under the buttercross.
Ralph rode straight up to the house of a man whom he knew, and
had often given him guesting there, and he himself was not seldom seen in the High House of
This man was a merchant, who went and came betwixt men's houses, and bought and
sold many things needful and pleasant to folk, and King Peter dealt with him much and often.
Now he stood in the door of his house, which was new and goodly, sniffing the sweet scents
which the morning wind bore into the town; he was clad in a goodly long gown of grey welted
with silver, of thin cloth meet for the summer-tide: for little he wrought with his hands, but much
with his tongue; he was a man of forty summers, ruddy-faced and black-bearded, and he was
called Clement Chapman.
When he saw Ralph he smiled kindly on him, and came and held his stirrup as he lighted
down, and said:
Art thou come to give me a message, and eat and drink in a
poor huckster's house, and thou armed so gallantly?"
Ralph laughed merrily, for he was hungry, and he said: "Yea, I will eat and drink with thee
and kiss my gossip, and go my ways."
Therewith the carle led him into the house; and if it were goodly without, within it was better.
For there was a fair chamber panelled with wainscot well carven, and a cupboard of no sorry
vessels of silver and latten: the chairs and stools as fair as might be; no king's might be better: the
windows were glazed, and there were flowers and knots and posies in them; and the bed was
hung with goodly web from over sea such as the soldan useth.
Also, whereas the chapman's
ware-bowers were hard by the chamber, there was a pleasant mingled smell therefrom floating
The table was set with meat and drink and vessel of pewter and earth, all fair and good;
and thereby stood the chapman's wife, a very goodly woman of two-score years, who had held
Ralph at the font when she was a slim damsel new wedded; for she was come of no mean
kindred of the Kingdom of Upmeads: her name was Dame Katherine.
Now she kissed Ralph's cheek friendly, and said: "Welcome, gossip! thou art here in good
time to break thy fast; and we will give thee a trim dinner thereafter, when thou hast been here
and there in the town and done thine errand; and then shalt thou drink a cup and sing me a song,
and so home again in the cool of the evening."
Ralph seemed a little troubled at her word, and he said: "Nay, gossip, though I thank thee for
all these good things as though I had them, yet must I ride away south straightway after I have
breakfasted, and said one word to the goodman.
Goodman, how call ye the next town southward,
and how far is it thither?"
"My son, what hast thou to do with riding south?
As thou wottest, going
hence south ye must presently ride the hill-country; and that is no safe journey for a lonely man,
even if he be a doughty knight like to thee, lord."
Said Ralph, reddening withal:
"I have an errand that way."
"An errand of King Peter's or thine own?" said Clement.
"Of King Peter's, if ye must wot," said Ralph.
Clement were no chapman had he not seen that the lad was lying; so he said:
"Fair lord, saving your worship, how would it be as to the speeding of King Peter's errand, if I
brought thee before our mayor, and swore the peace against thee; so that I might keep thee in
courteous prison till I had sent to thy father of thy whereabouts?"