CHAPTER VII: A FEAST IN THE ISLE OF RANSOM
Therewith fell the hubbub of voices, and there came forth three men with great harps, and a fourth man with them, who was the minstrel; and the harpers smote their harps so that the roof rang therewith, and the noise, though it was great, was tuneable, and when they had played thus a little while, they abated their loudness somewhat, and the minstrel lifted his voice and sang:
The land lies black
With winter’s lack,
The wind blows cold
Round field and fold;
All folk are within,
And but weaving they win.
Where from finger to finger the shuttle flies fast,
And the eyes of the singer look fain on the cast,
As he singeth the story of summer undone
And the barley sheaves hoary ripe under the sun.
Then the maidens stay
The light-hung sley,
And the shuttles bide
By the blue web’s side,
While hand in hand
With the carles they stand.
But ere to the measure the fiddles strike up,
And the elders yet treasure the last of the cup,
There stand they a-hearkening the blast from the lift,
And e’en night is a-darkening more under the drift.
There safe in the hall
They bless the wall,
And the roof o’er head,
Of the valiant stead;
And the hands they praise
Of the olden days.
Then through the storm’s roaring the fiddles break out,
And they think not of warring, but cast away doubt,
And, man before maiden, their feet tread the floor,
And their hearts are unladen of all that they bore.
But what winds are o’er-cold
For the heart of the bold?
What seas are o’er-high
For the undoomed to die?
Dark night and dread wind,
But the haven we find.
Then ashore mid the flurry of stone-washing surf!
Cloud-hounds the moon worry, but light lies the turf;
Lo the long dale before us! the lights at the end,
Though the night darkens o’er us, bid whither to wend.
Who beateth the door
By the foot-smitten floor?
What guests are these
From over the seas?
Take shield and sword
For their greeting-word.
Lo, lo, the dance ended! Lo, midst of the hall
The fallow blades blended! Lo, blood on the wall!
Who liveth, who dieth? O men of the sea,
For peace the folk crieth; our masters are ye.
Now the dale lies grey
At the dawn of day;
And fair feet pass
O’er the wind-worn grass;
And they turn back to gaze
On the roof of old days.
Come tread ye the oaken-floored hall of the sea!
Be your hearts yet unbroken; so fair as ye be,
That kings are abiding unwedded to gain
The news of our riding the steeds of the main.
Much shouting and laughter arose at the song’s end; and men sprang up and waved their swords above the cups, while Hallblithe sat scowling down on their merriment. Lastly arose the chieftain and called out loudly for the good-night cup, and it went round and all men drank.
CHAPTER XVII: HALLBLITHE AMONGST THE MOUNTAINS
Then rose the heart of Hallblithe, and he smote his palms together, and fell to singing an old song of his people, amidst the rocks whereas few men had sung aforetime.
Whence are ye and whither, O fowl of our fathers?
What field have ye looked on, what acres unshorn?
What land have ye left where the battle-folk gathers,
And the war-helms are white o’er the paths of the corn?
What tale do ye bear of the people uncraven,
Where amidst the long hall-shadow sparkle the spears;
Where aloft on the hall-ridge now flappeth the raven,
And singeth the song of the nourishing years?
There gather the lads in the first of the morning,
While white lies the battle-day’s dew on the grass,
And the kind steeds trot up to the horn’s voice of warning,
And the winds wake and whine in the dusk of the pass.
O fowl of our fathers, why now are ye resting?
Come over the mountains and look on the foe.
Full fair after fight won shall yet be your nesting;
And your fledglings the sons of the kindred shall know.
Therewith he strode with his head upraised, and above him flew the ravens, croaking as if they answered his song in friendly fashion.
CHAPTER XVIII: HALLBLITHE DWELLETH IN THE WOOD ALONE
Also, up and down the hall, paced a man younger of aspect than these two, tall and slender, black-haired and dark-eyed, amorous of countenance; he it was who was singing a snatch of song as he went lightly on the hall pavement: a snatch like to this
Fair is the world, now autumn’s wearing,
And the sluggard sun lies long abed;
Sweet are the days, now winter’s nearing,
And all winds feign that the wind is dead.
Dumb is the hedge where the crabs hang yellow,
Bright as the blossoms of the spring;
Dumb is the close where the pears grow mellow,
And none but the dauntless redbreasts sing.
Fair was the spring, but amidst his greening
Grey were the days of the hidden sun;
Fair was the summer, but overweening,
So soon his o’er-sweet days were done.
Come then, love, for peace is upon us,
Far off is failing, and far is fear,
Here where the rest in the end hath won us,
In the garnering tide of the happy year.
Come from the grey old house by the water,
Where, far from the lips of the hungry sea,
Green groweth the grass o’er the field of the slaughter,
And all is a tale for thee and me.
So Hallblithe did on his raiment and went into the hall; and when those three saw him they smiled upon him kindly and greeted him; and the noble man at the board said: “Thanks have thou, O Warrior of the Raven, for thy help in our need: thy reward from us shall not be lacking.”
CHAPTER XIX: HALLBLITHE BUILDS HIM A SKIFF
After Hallblithe had been housed a little while, and the time was again drawing nigh to the twelfth moon since he had come to the Glittering Plain, he went in the wood one day; and, pondering many things without fixing on any one, he stood before a very great oak-tree and looked at the tall straight bole thereof, and there came into his head the words of an old song which was written round a scroll of the carving over the shut-bed, wherein he was wont to lie when he was at home in the House of the Raven: and thus it said:
I am the oak-tree, and forsooth
Men deal by me with little ruth;
My boughs they shred, my life they slay,
And speed me o’er the watery way.
He looked up into that leafy world for a little and then turned back toward his house; but all day long, whether he were at work or at rest, that posy ran in his head, and he kept on saying it over, aloud or not aloud, till the day was done and he went to sleep.
. . .
In the grey dawn Hallblithe awoke, and called to mind his dream, and he leapt from his bed and washed the night from off him in the stream, and clad himself and went the shortest way through the wood to that House of folk aforesaid: and as he went his face was bright and he sang the second part of the carven posy; to wit:
Along the grass I lie forlorn
That when a while of time is worn,
I may be filled with war and peace
And bridge the sundering of the seas.
He came out of the wood and hastened over the flowery meads of the Glittering Plain, and came to that same house when it was yet very early.
CHAPTER XXI: OF THE FIGHT OF THE CHAMPIONS IN THE HALL OF THE RAVAGERS
Then arose the sound of fiddles and the lesser harp, and the doors of the screen were opened, and there flowed into the hall a company of fair damsels not less than a score, each one with a rose on her bosom, and they came and stood in order behind the throne of the Eastlands, and they strewed roses on the ground before them: and when they were duly ranged they fell to singing:
Now waneth spring,
While all birds sing,
And the south wind blows
The earliest rose
To and fro
By the doors we know,
And the scented gale
Fills every dale.
Slow now are brooks running because of the weed,
And the thrush hath no cunning to hide her at need,
So swift as she flieth from hedge-row to tree
As one that toil trieth, and deedful must be.
And O! that at last,
All sorrows past,
This night I lay
‘Neath the oak-beams grey!
O, to wake from sleep,
To see dawn creep
Through the fruitful grove
Of the house that I love!
O! my feet to be treading the threshold once more,
O’er which once went the leading of swords to the war!
O! my feet in the garden’s edge under the sun,
Where the seeding grass hardens for haysel begun!
Lo, lo! the wind blows
To the heart of the Rose,
And the ship lies tied
To the haven side!
But O for the keel
The sails to feel!
And the alien ness
Growing less and less;
As down the wind driveth and thrusts through the sea
The sail-burg that striveth to turn and go free,
But the lads at the tiller they hold her in hand,
And the wind our well-willer drives fierce to the land.
We shall wend it yet,
The highway wet;
For what is this
That our bosoms kiss?
What lieth sweet
Before our feet?
What token hath come
To lead us home?
’Tis the Rose of the garden walled round from the croft
Where the grey roof its warden steep riseth aloft,
’Tis the Rose ‘neath the oaken-beamed hall, where they bide,
The pledges unbroken, the hand of the bride.
Hallblithe heard the song, and half thought it promised him somewhat; but then he had been so misled and mocked at, that he scarce knew how to rejoice at it.
Back to Top