William Morris Archive

Contents: Chapters 3 6 9 15 20 29 34 37 39 41 44 45 48 51 55 58


Then Redesman put down the cup (for it had come into his hands again), and reached his hand to the wall behind him, and took down his fiddle hanging there in its case, and drew it out and fell to tuning it, while the hall grew silent to hearken: then he handled the bow and laid it on the strings till they wailed and chuckled sweetly, and when the song was well awake and stirring briskly, then he lifted up his voice and sang:

The Minstrel saith:

‘O why on this morning, ye maids, are ye tripping
Aloof from the meadows yet fresh with the dew,
Where under the west wind the river is lipping
The fragrance of mint, the white blooms and the blue?

For rough is the Portway where panting ye wander;
On your feet and your gown-hems the dust lieth dun;
Come trip through the grass and the meadow-sweet yonder,
And forget neath the willows the sword of the sun.

The Maidens answer:

Though fair are the moon-daisies down by the river,
And soft is the grass and the white clover sweet;
Though twixt us and the rock-wall the hot glare doth quiver,
And the dust of the wheel-way is dun on our feet;

Yet here on the way shall we walk on this morning
Though the sun burneth here, and sweet, cool is the mead;
For here when in old days the Burg gave its warning,
Stood stark under weapons the doughty of deed.

Here came on the aliens their proud words a-crying,
And here on our threshold they stumbled and fell;
Here silent at even the steel-clad were lying,
And here were our mothers the story to tell.

Here then on the morn of the eve of the wedding
We pray to the Mighty that we too may bear
Such war-walls for warding of orchard and steading,
That the new days be merry as old days were dear.’

Therewith he made an end, and shouts and glad cries arose all about the hall; and an old man arose and cried: ‘A cup to the memory of the Mighty of the Day of the Warding of the Ways.’


Then arose Wood-wont and went to his shut-bed and groped therein, and took from out of it a fiddle in its case; and he opened the case and drew from it a very goodly fiddle, and he stood on the floor amidst of the hall and Bow-may his cousin with him; and he laid his bow on the fiddle and woke up song in it, and when it was well awake she fell a-singing, and he to answering her song, and at the last all they of the house sang together; and this is the meaning of the words which they sang:

She singeth.

Now is the rain upon the day,
And every water’s wide;
Why busk ye then to wear the way,
And whither will ye ride?

He singeth.

Our kine are on the eyot still,
The eddies lap them round;
All dykes the wind-worn waters fill,
And waneth grass and ground.

She singeth.

O ride ye to the river’s brim
In war-weed fair to see?
Or winter waters will ye swim
In hauberks to the knee?

He singeth.

Wild is the day, and dim with rain,
Our sheep are warded ill;
The wood-wolves gather for the plain,
Their ravening maws to fill.

She singeth.

Nay, what is this, and what have ye,
A hunter’s band, to bear
The Banner of our Battle-glee
The skulking wolves to scare?

He singeth.

O women, when we wend our ways
To deal with death and dread,
The Banner of our Fathers’ Days
Must flap the wind o’erhead.

She singeth.

Ah, for the maidens that ye leave!
Who now shall save the hay?
What grooms shall kiss our lips at eve,
When June hath mastered May?

He singeth.

The wheat is won, the seed is sown,
Here toileth many a maid,
And ere the hay knee-deep hath grown
Your grooms the grass shall wade.

They sing all together.

Then fair befall the mountain-side
Whereon the play shall be!
And fair befall the summer-tide
That whoso lives shall see.

Face-of-god thought the song goodly, but to the others it was well known.

. . . .

Said Gold-mane: ‘Father, it is ill to set the words of a lonely man afar from his kin against the song that cometh from the heart of a noble house; yet may I not gainsay thee, but will sing to thee what I may call to mind, and it is called the Song of the Ford.’

Therewith he sang in a sweet and clear voice: and this is the meaning of his words:

In hay-tide, through the day new-born,
Across the meads we come;
Our hauberks brush the blossomed corn
A furlong short of home.

Ere yet the gables we behold
Forth flasheth the red sun,
And smites our fallow helms and cold
Though all the fight be done.

In this last mend of mowing-grass
Sweet doth the clover smell,
Crushed neath our feet red with the pass
Where hell was blent with hell.

And now the willowy stream is nigh,
Down wend we to the ford;
No shafts across its fishes fly,
Nor flasheth there a sword.

But lo! what gleameth on the bank
Across the water wan,
As when our blood the mouse-ear drank
And red the river ran?

Nay, hasten to the ripple clear,
Look at the grass beyond!
Lo ye the dainty band and dear
Of maidens fair and fond!

Lo how they needs must take the stream!
The water hides their feet;
On fair kind arms the gold doth gleam,
And midst the ford we meet.

Up through the garden two and two,
And on the flowers we drip;
Their wet feet kiss the morning dew
As lip lies close to lip.

Here now we sing; here now we stay:
By these grey walls we tell
The love that lived from out the fray,
The love that fought and fell.

When he was done they all said that he had sung well, and that the song was sweet. Yet did Wild-wearer smile somewhat; and Bow-may said outright: ‘Soft is the song, and hath been made by lads and minstrels rather than by warriors.’

And while they were resting after their meat, the Bride sang to them, and her song was a lay of time past; and here ye have somewhat of it:

’Tis over the hill and over the dale
Men ride from the city fast and far,
If they may have a soothfast tale,
True tidings of the host of war.

And first they hap on men-at-arms,
All clad in steel from head to foot:
Now tell true tale of the new-come harms,
And the gathered hosts of the mountain-root.

Fair sirs, from murder-carles we flee,
Whose fashion is as the mountain-trolls’;
No man can tell how many they be,
And the voice of their host as the thunder rolls.

They were weary men at the ending of day,
But they spurred nor stayed for longer word.
Now ye, O merchants, whither away?
What do ye there with the helm and the sword?

O we must fight for life and gear,
For our beasts are spent and our wains are stayed,
And the host of the Mountain-men draws near,
That maketh all the world afraid.

They left the chapmen on the hill,
And through the eve and through the night
They rode to have true tidings still,
And were there on the way when the dawn was bright.

O damsels fair, what do ye then
To loiter thus upon the way,
And have no fear of the Mountain-men,
The host of the carles that strip and slay?

O riders weary with the road,
Come eat and drink on the grass hereby!
And lay you down in a fair abode
Till the midday sun is broad and high;

Then unto you shall we come aback,
And lead you forth to the Mountain-men,
To note their plenty and their lack,
And have true tidings there and then.

‘Tis over the hill and over the dale
They ride from the mountain fast and far;
And now have they learned a soothfast tale,
True tidings of the host of war.

It was summer-tide and the Month of Hay,
And men and maids must fare afield;
But we saw the place were the bow-staves lay,
And the hall was hung with spear and shield.

When the moon was high we drank in the hall,
And they drank to the guests and were kind and blithe,
And they said: Come back when the chestnuts fall,
And the wine-carts wend across the hythe.

Come oft and o’er again, they said;
Wander your ways; but we abide
For all the world in the little stead;
For wise are we, though the world be wide.

Yea, come in arms if ye will, they said;
And despite your host shall we abide
For life or death in the little stead;
For wise are we, though the world be wide.

So she made an end and looked at the fairness of the dale spreading wide before her, and a robin came nigh from out of a thorn-bush and sung his song also, the sweet herald of coming winter; and the lapwings wheeled about, black and white, above the meadow by the river, sending forth their wheedling pipe as they hung above the soft turf.


So the Burgstead men greeted that folk kindly and humbly, and again they fell to praising the dead man, saying how his deed should long be remembered in the Dale and wide about; and they called him a fearless man and of great worth. And the women hearkened, and ceased their crooning and their sobbing, and stood up proudly and raised their heads with gleaming eyes; and as the words of the Burgstead men ended, they lifted up their voices and sang loudly and clearly, standing together in a row, ten of them, on the dais of that poor hall, facing the gable and the wolf-adorned tie-beam, heeding nought as they sang what was about or behind them.

And this is some of what they sang:

Why sit ye bare in the spinning-room?
Why weave ye naked at the loom?

Bare and white as the moon we be,
That the Earth and the drifting night may see.

Now what is the worst of all your work?
What curse amidst the web shall lurk?

The worst of the work our hands shall win
Is wrack and ruin round the kin.

Shall the woollen yarn and the flaxen thread
Be gear for living men or dead?

The woollen yarn and the flaxen thread
Shall flare ‘twixt living men and dead.

O what is the ending of your day?
When shall ye rise and wend away?

Our day shall end to-morrow morn,
When we hear the voice of the battle-horn.

Where first shall eyes of men behold
This weaving of the moonlight cold?

There where the alien host abides
The gathering on the Mountain-sides.

How long aloft shall the fair web fly
When the bows are bent and the spears draw nigh?

From eve to morn and morn till eve
Aloft shall fly the work we weave.

What then is this, the web ye win?
What wood-beast waxeth stark therein?

We weave the Wolf and the gift of war
From the men that were to the men that are.

So sang they: and much were all men moved at their singing, and there was none but called to mind the old days of the Fathers, and the years when their banner went wide in the world.


Then sang men songs of old time, and amongst them Wood-wont stood with his fiddle amidst the Hall and Bow-may beside him, and they sang in turn to it sweetly and clearly; and this is some of what they sang:

She singeth.

Wild is the waste and long leagues over;
Whither then wend ye spear and sword,
Where nought shall see your helms but the plover,
Far and far from the dear Dale’s sward?

He singeth.

Many a league shall we wend together
With helm and spear and bended bow.
Hark! how the wind blows up for weather:
Dark shall the night be whither we go.

Dark shall the night be round the byre,
And dark as we drive the brindled kine;
Dark and dark round the beacon-fire,
Dark down in the pass round our wavering line.

Turn on thy path, O fair-foot maiden,
And come our ways by the pathless road;
Look how the clouds hang low and laden
Over the walls of the old abode!

She singeth.

Bare are my feet for the rough waste’s wending,
Wild is the wind, and my kirtle’s thin;
Faint shall I be ere the long way’s ending
Drops down to the Dale and the grief therein.

He singeth.

Do on the brogues of the wild-wood rover,
Do on the byrnies’ ring-close mail;
Take thou the staff that the barbs hang over,
O’er the wind and the waste and the way to prevail.

Come, for how from thee shall I sunder?
Come, that a tale may arise in the land;
Come, that the night may be held for a wonder,
When the Wolf was led by a maiden’s hand!

She singeth.

Now will I fare as ye are faring,
And wend no way but the way ye wend;
And bear but the burdens ye are bearing,
And end the day as ye shall end.

And many an eve when the clouds are drifting
Down through the Dale till they dim the roof,
Shall they tell in the Hall of the Maiden’s Lifting,
And how we drave the spoil aloof.

They sing together.

Over the moss through the wind and the weather,
Through the morn and the eve and the death of the day,
Wend we man and maid together,
For out of the waste is born the fray.

Then the Sun-beam spake to Gold-mane softly, and told him how this song was made by a minstrel concerning a foray in the early days of their first abode in Shadowy Vale, and how in good sooth a maiden led the fray and was the captain of the warriors:

‘Erst,’ she said, ‘this was counted as a wonder; but now we are so few that it is no wonder though the women will do whatsoever they may.’


And now Redesman turned about to the music and drew his bow across his fiddle, and the other bows ran out in concert, and the harps followed the story of them, and he lifted up his voice and sang the words of an old song, and all the singers joined him and blended their voices with his. And these are some of the words which they sang:

Lo! here is Spring, and all we are living,
We that were wan with Winter’s fear;
Reach out your hands to her hands that are giving,
Lest ye lose her love and the light of the year.

Many a morn did we wake to sorrow,
When low on the land the cloud-wrath lay;
Many an eve we feared to-morrow,
The unbegun unfinished day.

Ah we—we hoped not, and thou wert tardy;
Nought wert thou helping; nought we prayed.
Where was the eager heart, the hardy?
Where was the sweet-voiced unafraid?

But now thou lovest, now thou leadest,
Where is gone the grief of our minds?
What was the word of the tale, that thou heedest
E’en as the breath of the bygone winds?

Green and green is thy garment growing
Over thy blossoming limbs beneath;
Up o’er our feet rise the blades of thy sowing,
Pierced are our hearts with thine odorous breath.

But where art thou wending, thou new-comer?
Hurrying on to the Courts of the Sun?
Where art thou now in the House of the Summer?
Told are thy days and thy deed is done.

Spring has been here for us that are living
After the days of Winter’s fear;
Here in our hands is the wealth of her giving,
The Love of the Earth, and the Light of the Year.

Thus came they to the Gate, and lo! the Bride thereby, leaning against a buttress, gazing with no dull eyes at the coming throng.


So now Redesman fell to caressing his fiddle with the bow till it began to make sweet music, and therewith the hearts of all danced with it; and presently words come into his mouth, and he fell to singing; and the damsels answered him:

Earth-wielders, that fashion the Dale-dwellers’ treasure,
Soft are ye by seeming, yet hardy of heart!
No warrior amongst us withstandeth your pleasure;
No man from his meadow may thrust you apart.

Fresh and fair are your bodies, but far beyond telling
Are the years of your lives, and the craft ye have stored.
Come give us a word, then, concerning our dwelling,
And the days to befall us, the fruit of the sword.

Winter saith:

When last in the feast-hall the Yule-fire flickered,
The foot of no foeman fared over the snow,
And nought but the wind with the ash-branches bickered:
Next Yule ye may deem it a long time ago.

Autumn saith:

Loud laughed ye last year in the wheat-field a-smiting;
And ye laughed as your backs drave the beam of the press.
When the edge of the war-sword the acres are lighting
Look up to the Banner and laugh ye no less.

Summer saith:

Ye called and I came, and how good was the greeting,
When ye wrapped me in roses both bosom and side!
Here yet shall I long, and be fain of our meeting,
As hidden from battle your coming I bide.

Spring saith:

I am here for your comfort, and lo! what I carry;
The blade with the bright edges bared to the sun.
To the field, to the work then, that e’en I may tarry
For the end of the tale in my first days begun!

Therewith the throng opened, and a young man stepped lightly into the ring, clad in very fair armour, with a gilded helm on his head; and he took the sword from the hand of the Maiden of Spring, and waved it in the air till the westering sun flashed back from it. Then each of the four damsels went up to the swain and kissed his mouth; and Redesman drew the bow across the strings, and the four damsels sang together, standing round about the young warrior:

It was but a while since for earth’s sake we trembled,
Lest the increase our life-days had won for the Dale,
All the wealth that the moons and the years had assembled,
Should be but a mock for the days of your bale.

But now we behold the sun smite on the token
In the hand of the Champion, the heart of a man;
We look down the long years and see them unbroken;
Forth fareth the Folk by the ways it began.

So bid ye these chapmen in autumn returning,
To bring iron for ploughshares and steel for the scythe,
And the over-sea oil that hath felt the sun’s burning,
And fair webs for your women soft-spoken and blithe;

And pledge ye your word in the market to meet them,
As many a man and as many a maid,
As eager as ever, as guest-fain to greet them,
And bide till the booth from the waggon is made.

Come, guests of our lovers! for we, the year-wielders,
Bid each man and all to come hither and take
A cup from our hands midst the peace of our shielders,
And drink to the days of the Dale that we make.

Then went the damsels to that wine-fountain, and drew thence cups of the best and brightest wine of the Dale, and went round about the ring, and gave drink to whomsoever would, both of the chapmen and the others; while the weaponed youth stood in the midst bearing aloft his sword and shield like an image in a holy place, and Redesman’s bow still went up and down the strings, and drew forth a sweet and merry tune.


Stark and mighty men they looked; tall and lean, broad-shouldered, dark-faced. As they came amongst the throng the voice of their horn died out, and for a few moments they fared on with no sound save the tramp of their feet; then all at once the man who bare the hidden banner lifted up one hand, and straightway they fell to singing, and with that song they came to their place. And this is some of what they sang:

O white, white Sun, what things of wonder
Hast thou beheld from thy wall of the sky!
All the Roofs of the Rich and the grief thereunder,
As the fear of the Earl-folk flitteth by!

Thou hast seen the Flame steal forth from the Forest
To slay the slumber of the lands,
As the Dusky Lord whom thou abhorrest
Clomb up to thy Burg unbuilt with hands.

Thou lookest down from thy door the golden,
Nor batest thy wide-shining mirth,
As the ramparts fall, and the roof-trees olden
Lie smouldering low on the burning earth.

When flitteth the half-dark night of summer
From the face of the murder great and grim,
‘Tis thou thyself and no new-comer
Shines golden-bright on the deed undim.

Art thou our friend, O Day-dawn’s Lover?
Full oft thine hand hath sent aslant
Bright beams athwart the Wood-bear’s cover,
Where the feeble folk and the nameless haunt.

Thou hast seen us quail, thou hast seen us cower,
Thou hast seen us crouch in the Green Abode,
While for us wert thou slaying slow hour by hour,
And smoothing down the war-rough road.

Yea, the rocks of the Waste were thy Dawns upheaving,
To let the days of the years go through;
And thy Noons the tangled brake were cleaving
The slow-foot seasons’ deed to do.

Then gaze adown on this gift of our giving,
For the WOLF comes wending frith and ford,
And the Folk fares forth from the dead to the living,
For the love of the Lief by the light of the Sword.

Then ceased the song, and the whole band of the Woodlanders came pouring tumultuously into the space allotted them, like the waters pouring over a river-dam, their white swords waving aloft in the morning sunlight; and wild and strange cries rose up from amidst them, with sobbing and weeping of joy.


Then Folk-might spake and said:

‘O Men of the Dale and the Sheepcotes, I will do as ye bid me do;
And fain were ye of the story if every deal ye knew.
But long, long were its telling, were I to tell it all:
Let it bide till the Cup of Deliverance ye drink from hall to hall.

‘Like you we be of the kindreds, of the Sons of the Gods we come,
Midst the Mid-earth’s mighty Woodland of old we had our home;
But of older time we abided ‘neath the mountains of the Earth,
O’er which the Sun ariseth to waken woe and mirth.

Great were we then and many; but the long days wore us thin,
And war, wherein the winner hath weary work to win.
And the woodland wall behind us e’en like ourselves was worn,
And the tramp of the hosts of the foemen adown its glades was borne
On the wind that bent our wheat-fields. So in the morn we rose,
And left behind the stubble and the autumn-fruited close,
And went our ways to the westward, nor turned aback to see
The glare of our burning houses rise over brake and tree.
But the foe was fierce and speedy, nor long they tarried there,
And through the woods of battle our laden wains must fare;
And the Sons of the Wolf were minished, and the maids of the Wolf waxed few,
As amidst the victory-singing we fared the wild-wood through.

‘So saith the ancient story, that west and west we went,

And many a day of battle we had in brake, on bent;
Whilst here a while we tarried, and there we hastened on,
And still the battle-harvest from many a folk we won.

‘Of the tale of the days who wotteth? Of the years what man can tell,
While the Sons of the Wolf were wandering, and knew not where to dwell?
But at last we clomb the mountains, and mickle was our toil,
As high the spear-wood clambered of the drivers of the spoil;
And tangled were the passes and the beacons flared behind,
And the horns of gathering onset came up upon the wind.
So saith the ancient story, that we stood in a mountain-cleft,
Where the ways and the valleys sundered to the right hand and the left.
There in the place of sundering all woeful was the rede;
We knew no land before us, and behind was heavy need.
As the sword cleaves through the byrny, so there the mountain flank
Cleft through the God-kin’s people; and ne’er again we drank
The wine of war together, or feasted side by side
In the Feast-hall of the Warrior on the fruit of the battle-tide.
For there we turned and sundered; unto the North we went
And up along the waters, and the clattering stony bent;
And unto the South and the Sheepcotes down went our sister’s sons;
And O for the years passed over since we saw those valiant ones!’

He ceased, and laid his right hand on the banner-staff a little below the left hand of Red-wolf; and men were so keen to hear each word that he spake, that there was no cry nor sound of voices when he had done, only the sound of the rippling banner of the Wolf over the heads of those twain. The Sun-beam bowed her head now, and wept silently. But the Bride, she had drawn her sword, and held it upright in her hand before her, and the sun smote fire from out of it.

Then it was but a little while before Red-wolf lifted up his voice, and sang:

‘Hearken a wonder, O Folk of the Field,
How they that did sunder stand shield beside shield!

Lo! the old wont and manner by fearless folk made,
On the Bole of the Banner the brothers’ hands laid.

Lo! here the token of what hath betid!
Grown whole is the broken, found that which was hid.

Now one way we follow whate’er shall befall;
As seeketh the swallow his yesteryear’s hall.

Seldom folk fewer to fight-stead hath fared;
Ne’er have men truer the battle-reed bared.

Grey locks now I carry, and old am I grown,
Nor looked I to tarry to meet with mine own.

For we who remember the deeds of old days
Were nought but the ember of battle ablaze.

For what man might aid us? what deed and what day
Should come where Weird laid us aloof from the way?

What man save that other of Twain rent apart,
Our war-friend, our Brother, the piece of our heart.

Then hearken the wonder how shield beside shield
The twain that did sunder wend down to the Field!’

Now when he had made an end, men could no longer forebear the shout; and it went up into the heavens, and was borne by the west-wind down the Dale to the ears of the stay-at-home women and men unmeet to go abroad, and it quickened their blood and the spirits within them as they heard it, and they smiled and were fain; for they knew that their kinsfolk were glad.

But when there was quiet on the Mote-field again, Folk-might spake again and said;

‘It is sooth that my Brother sayeth, and that now again we wend,
All the Sons of the Wolf together, till the trouble hath an end.
But as for that tale of the Ancients, it saith that we who went
To the northward, climbed and stumbled o’er many a stony bent,
Till we happed on that isle of the waste-land, and the grass of Shadowy Vale,
Where we dwelt till we throve a little, and felt our might avail.
Then we fared abroad from the shadow and the little-lighted hold,
And the increase fell to the valiant, and the spoil to the battle-bold,
And never a man gainsaid us with the weapons in our hands;
And in Silver-dale the happy we gat us life and lands.

‘So wore the years o’er-wealthy; and meseemeth that ye know
How we sowed and reaped destruction, and the Day of the overthrow:
How we leaned on the staff we had broken, and put our lives in the hand
Of those whom we had vanquished and the feeble of the land;
And these were the stone of stumbling, and the burden not to be borne,
When the battle-blast fell on us and our day was over-worn.
Thus then did our wealth bewray us, and left us wise and sad;
And to you, bold men, it falleth once more to make us glad,
If so your hearts are bidding, and ye deem the deed of worth.
Such were we; what we shall be, ’tis yours to say henceforth.’

He said furthermore: ‘How great we have been I have told you already; and ye shall see for yourselves how little we be now. Is it enough, and will ye have us for friends and brothers? How say ye?’


And as they went, the sweetness of song stirred in their souls, and at last Bow-may fell to singing in a loud clear voice, and her cousin Wood-wise answered her, and all the warriors of the Wolf who were in their band fell into the song at the ending, and the sound of their melody went down the water and reached the ears of those that were entering the pass, and of those who were abiding till the way should be clear of them: and this is some of what they sang:

Bow-may singeth:

Hear ye never a voice come crying
Out from the waste where the winds fare wide?
‘Sons of the Wolf, the days are dying,
And where in the clefts of the rocks do ye hide?

‘Into your hands hath the Sword been given,
Hard are the palms with the kiss of the hilt;
Through the trackless waste hath the road been riven
For the blade to seek to the heart of the guilt.

‘And yet ye bide and yet ye tarry;
Dear deem ye the sleep ‘twixt hearth and board,
And sweet the maiden mouths ye marry,
And bright the blade of the bloodless sword.’

Wood-wise singeth:

Yea, here we dwell in the arms of our Mother
The Shadowy Queen, and the hope of the Waste;
Here first we came, when never another
Adown the rocky stair made haste.

Far is the foe, and no sword beholdeth
What deed we work and whither we wend;
Dear are the days, and the Year enfoldeth
The love of our life from end to end.

Voice of our Fathers, why will ye move us,
And call up the sun our swords to behold?
Why will ye cry on the foeman to prove us?
Why will ye stir up the heart of the bold?

Bow-may singeth:

Purblind am I, the voice of the chiding;
Then tell me what is the thing ye bear?
What is the gift that your hands are hiding,
The gold-adorned, the dread and dear?

Wood-wise singeth:

Dark in the sheath lies the Anvil’s Brother,
Hid is the hammered Death of Men.
Would ye look on the gift of the green-clad Mother?
How then shall ye ask for a gift again?

The Warriors sing:

Show we the Sunlight the Gift of the Mother,
As foot follows foot to the foeman’s den!
Gleam Sun, breathe Wind, on the Anvil’s Brother,
For bare is the hammered Death of Men.

Therewith they shook their naked swords in the air, and fared on eagerly, and as swiftly as the pass would have them fare.


The Men of the Bridge sing:

Why stand ye together, why bear ye the shield,
Now the calf straineth tether at edge of the field?

Now the lamb bleateth stronger and waters run clear,
And the day groweth longer and glad is the year?

Now the mead-flowers jostle so thick as they stand,
And singeth the throstle all over the land?

The Men of the Steer sing:

No cloud the day darkened, no thunder we heard,
But the horns’ speech we hearkened as men unafeared.

Yea, so merry it sounded, we turned from the Dale,
Where all wealth abounded, to wot of its tale.

The Men of the Bridge sing:

What white boles then bear ye, what wealth of the woods?
What chafferers hear ye bid loud for your goods?

The Men of the Bull sing:

O the bright beams we carry are stems of the steel;
Nor long shall we tarry across them to deal.

Hark the men of the cheaping, how loudly they cry
On the hook for the reaping of men doomed to die!

They all sing:

Heave spear up! fare forward, O Men of the Dale!
For the Warrior, our war-ward, shall hearken the tale.

Therewith they ceased a moment, and then gave a great and hearty shout all together, and all their horns blew, and they moved on down the hill as one man, slowly and with no jostling, the spear-men first, and then they of the axe and the sword; and on their flanks the deft archers loosed on the stumbling jostling throng of the Dusky Men, who for their part came on drifting and surging up the road to the hill.


Then Face-of-god shook Dale-warden in the air, and strode forward fiercely, but not speedily, and the whole company went foot for foot along with him; and as he went, would he or would he not, song came into his mouth, a song of the meadows of the Dale, even such as this:

The wheat is done blooming and rust’s on the sickle,
And green are the meadows grown after the scythe.
Come, hands for the dance! For the toil hath been mickle,
And ‘twixt haysel and harvest ’tis time to be blithe.

And what shall the tale be now dancing is over,
And kind on the meadow sits maiden by man,
And the old man bethinks him of days of the lover,
And the warrior remembers the field that he wan?

Shall we tell of the dear days wherein we are dwelling,
The best days of our Mother, the cherishing Dale,
When all round about us the summer is telling,
To ears that may hearken, the heart of the tale?

Shall we sing of these hands and these lips that caress us,
And the limbs that sun-dappled lie light here beside,
When still in the morning they rise but to bless us,
And oft in the midnight our footsteps abide?

O nay, but to tell of the fathers were better,
And of how we were fashioned from out of the earth;
Of how the once lowly spurned strong at the fetter;
Of the days of the deeds and beginning of mirth.

And then when the feast-tide is done in the morning,
Shall we whet the grey sickle that bideth the wheat,
Till wan grow the edges, and gleam forth a warning
Of the field and the fallow where edges shall meet.

And when cometh the harvest, and hook upon shoulder
We enter the red wheat from out of the road,
We shall sing, as we wend, of the bold and the bolder,
And the Burg of their building, the beauteous abode.

As smiteth the sickle amid the sun’s burning
We shall sing how the sun saw the token unfurled,
When forth fared the Folk, with no thought of returning,
In the days when the Banner went wide in the world.

Many saw that he was singing, but heard not the words of his mouth, for great was the noise and clamour. But he heard Bow-may, how she laughed by his side, and cried out:

‘Gold-mane, dear-heart, now art thou merry indeed; and glad am I, though they told me that I am hurt.—Ah! now beware, beware!’

. . . .

Then they stood together, and raised the whoop of victory, and blew their horns long and loud in token of their joy, and the Woodland men lifted up their voices and sang:

Now far, far aloof
Standeth lintel and roof,
The dwelling of days
Of the Woodland ways:
Now nought wendeth there
Save the wolf and the bear,
And the fox of the waste
Faring soft without haste.
No carle the axe whetteth on oak-laden hill;
No shaft the hart letteth to wend at his will;
None heedeth the thunder-clap over the glade,
And the wind-storm thereunder makes no man afraid.
Is it thus then that endeth man’s days on Mid-earth,
For no man there wendeth in sorrow or mirth?

Nay, look down on the road
From the ancient abode!
Betwixt acre and field
Shineth helm, shineth shield.
And high over the heath
Fares the bane in his sheath;
For the wise men and bold
Go their ways o’er the wold.
Now the Warrior hath given them heart and fair day,
Unbidden, undriven, they fare to the fray.
By the rock and the river the banners they bear,
And their battle-staves quiver ‘neath halbert and spear;
On the hill’s brow they gather, and hang o’er the Dale
As the clouds of the Father hang, laden with bale.

Down shineth the sun
On the war-deed half done;
All the fore-doomed to die,
In the pale dust they lie.
There they leapt, there they fell,
And their tale shall we tell;
But we, e’en in the gate
Of the war-garth we wait,
Till the drift of war-weather shall whistle us on,
And we tread all together the way to be won,
To the dear land, the dwelling for whose sake we came
To do deeds for the telling of song-becrowned fame.
Settle helm on the head then! Heave sword for the Dale!
Nor be mocked of the dead men for deedless and pale.


But now the kindreds had sundered, they upon the dais ranked themselves together there in the House which their fathers had builded; and when they saw themselves so meetly ordered, their hearts being full with the sweetness of hope accomplished and the joy of deliverance from death, song arose amongst them, and they fell to singing together; and this is somewhat of their singing:

Now raise we the lay
Of the long-coming day!
Bright, white was the sun
When we saw it begun:
O’er its noon now we live;
It hath ceased not to give;
It shall give, and give more
From the wealth of its store.
O fair was the yesterday! Kindly and good
Was the wasteland our guester, and kind was the wood;
Though below us for reaping lay under our hand
The harvest of weeping, the grief of the land;
Dumb cowered the sorrow, nought daring to cry
On the help of to-morrow, the deed drawing nigh.

All increase throve
In the Dale of our love;
There the ox and the steed
Fed down the mead;
The grapes hung high
‘Twixt earth and sky,
And the apples fell
Round the orchard well.
Yet drear was the land there, and all was for nought;
None put forth a hand there for what the year wrought,
And raised it o’erflowing with gifts of the earth.
For man’s grief was growing beside of the mirth
Of the springs and the summers that wasted their wealth;
And the birds, the new-comers, made merry by stealth.

Yet here of old
Abode the bold;
Nor had they wailed
Though the wheat had failed,
And the vine no more
Gave forth her store.
Yea, they found the waste good
For the fearless of mood.
Then to these, that were dwelling aloof from the Dale,
Fared the wild-wind a-telling the worst of the tale;
As men bathed in the morning they saw in the pool
The image of scorning, the throne of the fool.
The picture was gleaming in helm and in sword,
And shone forth its seeming from cups of the board.

Forth then they came
With the battle-flame;
From the Wood and the Waste
And the Dale did they haste:
They saw the storm rise,
And with untroubled eyes
The war-storm they met;
And the rain ruddy-wet.
O’er the Dale then was litten the Candle of Day,
Night-sorrow was smitten, and gloom fled away.
How the grief-shackles sunder! How many to morn
Shall awaken and wonder how gladness was born!
O wont unto sorrow, how sweet unto you
Shall be pondering to-morrow what deed is to do!

Fell many a man
‘Neath the edges wan,
In the heat of the play
That fashioned the day.
Praise all ye then
The death of men,
And the gift of the aid
Of the unafraid!
O strong are the living men mighty to save,
And good is their giving, and gifts that we have!
But the dead, they that gave us once, never again;
Long and long shall they save us sore trouble and pain.
O Banner above us, O God of the strong,
Love them as ye love us that bore down our wrong!

So they sang in the Hall; and there was many a man wept, as the song ended, for those that should never see the good days of the Dale, and all the joy that was to be; and men swore, by all that they loved, that they would never forget those that had fallen in the Winning of Silver-dale; and that when each year the Cups of Memory went round, they should be no mere names to them, but the very men whom they had known and loved.


But when the Burning was done and the bale quenched, and the ashes gathered and buried (and that was on the morrow), then men bore forth the Banners of the Jaws of the Wolf, and the Red Hand, and the Silver Arm, and the Golden Bushel, and the Ragged Sword, and the Wolf of the Woodland; and with great joy and triumph they brought them into the Mote-house and hung them up over the dais; and they kindled fire on the Holy Hearth by holding up a disk of bright glass to the sun; and then they sang before the banners. And this is somewhat of the song that they sang before them:

Why are ye wending? O whence and whither?
What shineth over the fallow swords?
What is the joy that ye bear in hither?
What is the tale of your blended words?

No whither we wend, but here have we stayed us,
Here by the ancient Holy Hearth;
Long have the moons and the years delayed us,
But here are we come from the heart of the dearth.

We are the men of joy belated;
We are the wanderers over the waste;
We are but they that sat and waited,
Watching the empty winds make haste.

Long, long we sat and knew no others,
Save alien folk and the foes of the road;
Till late and at last we met our brothers,
And needs must we to the old abode.

For once on a day they prayed for guesting;
And how were we then their bede to do?
Wild was the waste for the people’s resting,
And deep the wealth of the Dale we knew.

Here were the boards that we must spread them
Down in the fruitful Dale and dear;
Here were the halls where we would bed them:
And how should we tarry otherwhere?

Over the waste we came together:
There was the tangle athwart the way;
There was the wind-storm and the weather;
The red rain darkened down the day.

But that day of the days what grief should let us,
When we saw through the clouds the dale-glad sun?
We tore at the tangle that beset us,
And stood at peace when the day was done.

Hall of the Happy, take our greeting!
Bid thou the Fathers come and see
The Folk-signs on thy walls a-meeting,
And deem to-day what men we be.

Look on the Holy Hearth new-litten,
How the sparks fly twinkling up aloof!
How the wavering smoke by the sunlight smitten,
Curls up around the beam-rich roof!

For here once more is the Wolf abiding,
Nor ever more from the Dale shall wend,
And never again his head be hiding,
Till all days be dark and the world have end.


But when they of the foremost of the Host were gotten so far forward that the men of the Face could begin to move, lo! there was Redesman with his fiddle amongst the leaders; and he had done a man’s work in the day of battle, and all looked kindly on him. About him on this morn were some who had learned the craft of singing well together, and knew his minstrelsy, and he turned to these and nodded as their array moved on, and he drew his bow across the strings, and straightway they fell a-singing, even as it might be thus:

Back again to the dear Dale where born was the kindred,
Here wend we all living, and liveth our mirth.
Here afoot fares our joyance, whatever men hindred,
Through all wrath of the heavens, all storms of the earth.

O true, we have left here a part of our treasure,
The ashes of stout ones, the stems of the shield;
But the bold lives they spended have sown us new pleasure,
Fair tales for the telling in fold and on field.

For as oft as we sing of their edges’ upheaving,
When the yellowing windows shine forth o’er the night,
Their names unforgotten with song interweaving
Shall draw forth dear drops from the depths of delight.

Or when down by our feet the grey sickles are lying,
And behind us is curling the supper-tide smoke,
No whit shall they grudge us the joyance undying,
Remembrance of men that put from us the yoke.

When the huddle of ewes from the fells we have driven,
And we see down the Dale the grey reach of the roof,
We shall tell of the gift in the battle-joy given,
All the fierceness of friends that drave sorrow aloof.

Once then we lamented, and mourned them departed;
Once only, no oftener. Henceforth shall we fling
Their names up aloft, when the merriest hearted
To the Fathers unseen of our life-days we sing.

Then was there silence in the ranks of men; and many murmured the names of the fallen as they fared on their way from out the Market-place of Silver-stead. Then once more Redesman and his mates took up the song:

Come tell me, O friends, for whom bideth the maiden
Wet-foot from the river-ford down in the Dale?
For whom hath the goodwife the ox-waggon laden
With the babble of children, brown-handed and hale?

Come tell me for what are the women abiding,
Till each on the other aweary they lean?
Is it loitering of evil that thus they are chiding,
The slow-footed bearers of sorrow unseen?

Nay, yet were they toiling if sorrow had worn them,
Or hushed had they bided with lips parched and wan.
The birds of the air other tidings have borne them —
How glad through the wood goeth man beside man.

Then fare forth, O valiant, and loiter no longer
Than the cry of the cuckoo when May is at hand;
Late waxeth the spring-tide, and daylight grows longer,
And nightly the star-street hangs high o’er the land.

Many lives, many days for the Dale do ye carry;
When the Host breaketh out from the thicket unshorn,
It shall be as the sun that refuseth to tarry
On the crown of all mornings, the Midsummer morn.

Again the song fell down till they were well on the western way down Silver-dale; and then Redesman handled his fiddle once more, and again the song rose up, and such-like were the words which were borne back into the Market-place of Silver-stead:

And yet what is this, and why fare ye so slowly,
While our echoing halls of our voices are dumb,
And abideth unlitten the hearth-brand the holy,
And the feet of the kind fare afield till we come?

For not yet through the wood and its tangle ye wander;
Now skirt we no thicket, no path by the mere;
Far aloof for our feet leads the Dale-road out yonder;
Full fair is the morning, its doings all clear.

There is nought now our feet on the highway delaying
Save the friend’s loving-kindness, the sundering of speech;
The well-willer’s word that ends words with the saying,
The loth to depart while each looketh on each.

Fare on then, for nought are ye laden with sorrow;
The love of this land do ye bear with you still.
In two Dales of the earth for to-day and to-morrow
Is waxing the oak-tree of peace and good-will.

Thus then they departed from Silver-dale, even as men who were a portion thereof, and had not utterly left it behind.


And so at last, when the maidens had been all alone a while, and it was now hard on sunset, they drew together and stood in a ring, and fell to singing; and one Gold-may of the House of the Bridge, a most sweet singer, stood amidst their ring and led them. And this is somewhat of the meaning of their words:

The sun will not tarry; now changeth the light,
Fail the colours that marry the Day to the Night.

Amid the sun’s burning bright weapons we bore,
For this eve of our earning comes once and no more.

For to-day hath no brother in yesterday’s tide,
And to-morrow no other alike it doth hide.

This day is the token of oath and behest
That ne’er shall be broken through ill days and best.

Here the troth hath been given, the oath hath been done,
To the Folk that hath thriven well under the sun.

And the gifts of its giving our troth-day shall win
Are the Dale for our living and dear days therein.

O Sun, now thou wanest! yet come back and see
Amidst all that thou gainest how gainful are we.

O witness of sorrow wide over the earth,
Rise up on the morrow to look on our mirth!

Thy blooms art thou bringing back ever for men,
And thy birds are a-singing each summer again.

But to men little-hearted what winter is worse
Than thy summers departed that bore them the curse?

And e’en such art thou knowing where thriveth the year,
And good is all growing save thralldom and fear.

Nought such be our lovers’ hearts drawing anigh,
While yet thy light hovers aloft in the sky.

Lo the seeker, the finder of Death in the Blade!
What lips shall be kinder on lips of mine laid?

Lo he that hath driven back tribes of the South!
Sweet-breathed is thine even, but sweeter his mouth.

Come back from the sea then, O sun! come aback,
Look adown, look on me then, and ask what I lack!

Come many a morrow to gaze on the Dale,
And if e’er thou seest sorrow remember its tale!

For ‘twill be of a story to tell how men died
In the garnering of glory that no man may hide.

O sun sinking under! O fragrance of earth!
O heart! O the wonder whence longing has birth!

So they sang, and the sun sank indeed; and amidst their singing the eve was still about them, though there came a happy murmur from the face of the meadows and the houses of the Thorp aloof.

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