This synopsis will contain spoilers!
Unable to determine who will inherit his kingdom, the King of Upmeads has his 4 sons draw straws. The three with the long straws will each set out on an adventure (to the West, North, and East), while the shortest will remain behind. Ralph, the youngest and fairest, draws the short straw. Unhappy with his lot, he decides to leave anyway, and heads south. He soon meets Clement and his wife who, realizing Ralph's intentions, gives him a necklace with three beads to wear on his journey. He continues on. It is here he first learns of the Well at the World's End.
Next he comes to an Abbey, but not before running into a mysterious man all in black. He leaves the abbey, and then comes to Burton Abbas just before the Woods Perilous. There he meets a young woman, and they fall for each other, but Ralph continues on nevertheless. In the woods, Ralph meets a band of soldiers from the Burg of the Four Friths, but does not join them. Next, he rescues a beautiful woman who had been captured by two Four Friths soldiers, killing the men in the process. She bids him come to Hampton under the Scaur, and to not go to the Burg.
Ralph remains in the woods until he meets the girl from Burton Abbas, who searches for her lost love. He tells her to go to Hampton as well. She leaves, and Ralph next meets Roger of the Dry Tree (Hampton), and they head off to the Burg together. In the Burg, Ralph learns that they are at war with those of the Dry Tree, and take the people from their as slaves. Realizing he is in danger there, Roger takes Ralph from the Burg along with those of the Dry Tree most recently captured. The mysterious man in black from earlier helps them escape as well.
Ralph is taken to the Castle of Abundance, where he learns from a book that the woman he rescued has drunk from the Well at the World's End, and is the Lady of this castle. He waits for her for many days, but eventually heads off into the woods to find her. He comes across two men fighting over her. One wounds the other, and Ralph steps in to protect the Lady, but is overcome. She stops the Knight of the Sun from killing Ralph. It is her husband. After caring for the wounded soldier, the Lady and Ralph flee in the middle of the night.
The Lady tells Ralph how she was a slave, was rescued by a night, married to him, and after he died, went and drank from the Well at the World's End. She also tells him that she ran into the girl from Burton Abbas, and told her the way to the Well. The two are madly in love. After arriving at a cave the Lady had stocked with food, Ralph goes off to hunt and bathe. Upon returning, he hears his love scream, but when he arrives she has been killed by the Knight of the Sun. Ralph immediately kills him with an arrow. Heartbroken, Ralph continues his journey and runs into his brother Blaise and his friend Clement. Clement is on a journey to Whitwall, which is on the way to the Well. Ralph joins Clement, intending to find the girl from Burton Abbas. He has a vision of his dead Love telling him to seek the girl out (and he learns in his vision the girl's name is Dorothea).
On the road to Cheaping Knowe (a town before Whitwall), they discover Dorothea was captured by thieves. Ralph captures a thief on the road named Bull Shockhead who confirms it was his brother who caught Dorothea . In Cheaping Knowe, they discover Dorothea was not sold as a slave, but is meant for the Lord of Utterbol.
In Whitwall, they learn the woman passed through. On the way to Goldburg, the man who captured Dorothea is found dead, but she is gone. They realize another killed the man and took Dorothea to Utterbol. In Goldburg Ralph meets the Queen who falls in love with him. She gives him a letter meant to grant him safe passage through the land of Utterbol (whose Lord is very evil). Ralph joins company with a minstrel (Morfinn) who says he can guide Ralph safely to Utterbol. Ralph frees Bull Shockhead, but not before Bull tells Ralph they will meet again.
Morfinn tells Ralph of a sage who knows the way to the Well. Morfinn, however, betrays Ralph and sells him to the Lord of Utterbol who wants to give Ralph to his wife. Ralph impresses the Lord of Utterbol in a jousting competition, however, and decides to free him. Ralph, however, sneaks off to find the sage and to travel to Utterbol, where Dorothea is being kept for the Lord of Utterbol. Volume I ends with Ralph leaving the camp of the Lord of Utterbol in the dead of night with the help of Redhead.
I was surprised when I started reading Well how archaic the language was. I knew it was written in the 1890s, so I was expecting more Lord of the Rings …- April 21, 2010
"Maybe thou art seeking for what is not. Or maybe thou shalt seek and shalt find, and there may be naught in what thou findest, whereof to give thee such gifts as are meet for thy faithfulness and valiancy. But in thine home shouldst thou have all gifts which thou mayest desire."William Morris in The Well at the World's End Volume I