William Morris Archive

Contents: Chapters 3 5 6 7 10

CHAPTER III. Wolves Harry the Flock

Then said the goodwife: "What is to do here? Hast thou run against the settle-end, John, that thy cheek is red and blue?"

Laughed the youngling thereat, and a word came into his mouth, and he sang:

All grey on the bent
There the sheep-greedy went:
The big spear and shield
Met the foes of the field,
But nought the white teeth
In the warriors gat sheath,
For master and man
Full meetly they ran.
But now in this hall
The fear off doth fall
From one of the twain,
And his hand getteth gain,
But the other sits there,
And new groweth his fear
Both of man and of grey.
So the meat on board lay,
Thou on whom gold doth ride,
Meat-goddess grey-eyed,
Let the loaf-warden eat,
And the man whom he beat,
And the lad that doth lie
In wall-nook hereby,
And thou Gold-tree the fair,
And the milk-mother dear,
Lest the meat wax a-cold
Both for bold and unbold.

Hereat all laughed, but the two men somewhat from one side of their mouths. And the goodman said: "See thou to it, kinsman, lest stripes be thy song-pay." But Osberne laughed from a fair and merry face and sang again:

O lord of the land,
To the staff lay no hand
Till the grey ones thou face
In the wind-weary place.

And therewith he fell to his meat and ate stoutly, and to the women it seemed that their little kinsman had the makings of a champion in him, and his staves they loved dearly in their hearts, and they smiled upon him kindly; and he looked from one to the other and quoth he:

Three mothers had I,
And one is gone by,
But two are left here,
Leal, buxom, and dear.

As for the goodman, now that the meat was getting into him, the wrath was running off, and he thought within himself that presently he should have good avail of his grandson.

CHAPTER V. Osberne Slays the Wolves

Then he stood up in the hall, the little one, but trim and goodly, with gleaming eyes and bright hair, and a word came into his mouth:

On the wind-weary bent
The grey ones they went,
Growled the greedy and glared
On the sheep-kin afeared;
Low looked the bright sun
On the battle begun,
For they saw how the swain
Stood betwixt them and gain.
'Twas the spear in the belly, the spear in the mouth,
And a warp of the shield from the north to the south,
The spear in the throat, and the eyes of the sun
Scarce shut as the last of the battle was done.

"Well sung, kinsman!" said the goodman: "now shalt thou show us the snipes."

CHAPTER VI. They Fare to the Cloven Mote

And one man made up this stave, which was presently sung all about the Eastern Mote, and went over the water with the tale to the Western one:

          To run and to fight
           Are deeds free to the wight,
           And John tried in battle
           Had heard the boards rattle,
           But needed to prove
           The race back to the stove;
           So his wightness he showed
           In way-wearing the road.
           While Osberne, who knew
           How the foot-race to do,
           Must try the new game
           Where the battle-beasts came.
Bairn for fight, but for running the strong man and tall,
And all folk for the laughter when both are in hall.

When Surly John heard this stave he cursed between his teeth, but said nought.

CHAPTER VII. Of a Newcomer, and His Gift to Osberne

Then the man betook him the bow which he had in his hand and said: "Here is one that shall make thee deft; for whoso hath this as a gift from me shall hit what he shooteth at if he use my shafts withal, and here be three which I will give thee; and if thou take heed, thou shalt not find them easy to lose, since ever they shall go home. But if ever thou lose two of them, then take the third and go into some waste place where there is neither meadow nor acre, and turn to the north-east and shoot upward toward the heavens, and say this rhyme:

A shaft to the north,
Come ye three, come ye forth;
A shaft to the east,
Come three at the least;
A shaft to the sky,
Come swift, come anigh!
Come one, one and one,
And the tale is all done.

And then shalt thou find the arrows lying at thy feet. Now take the bow and arrows, and drive me thy sheep betwixt us to the top of the bent that looks down on Wethermel."

CHAPTER X. Osberne and Elfhild Hold Converse Together

Quoth he: "At home they deem me somewhat of a scald, so that I can smithy out staves." She clapped her hands together and cried: "Now that is good indeed, since thou canst also slay wolves. But how sweet it would be for me to have thee making a stave before me now. Wouldst thou?"

"I wot not," he said, laughing; "but let me try." So he sat down and fell to conning his rhymes, while she stood looking on from across the water. At last he stood up and sang:

          Now the grass groweth free
           And the lily's on lea,
           And the April-tide green
           Is full goodly beseen,
           And far behind
           Lies the winter blind,
           And the lord of the Gale
           Is shadowy pale;
And thou, linden be-blossomed, with bed of the worm
Camest forth from the dark house as spring from the storm.

          O barm-cloth tree,
           The light is in thee,
           And as spring-tide shines
           Through the lily lines,
           So forth from thine heart
           Through thy red lips apart
           Came words and love
           To wolf-bane's grove,
And the shaker of battle-board blesseth the Earth
For the love and the longing, kind craving and mirth.

          May I forget
           The grass spring-wet
           And the quivering stem
           On the brooklet's hem,
           And the brake thrust up
           And the saffron's cup,
           Each fashioned thing
           From the heart of Spring,
Long ere I forget it, the house of thy word
And the doors of thy learning, the roof of speech-hoard.

          When thou art away
           In the winter grey,
           Through the hall-reek then
           And the din of men
           Shall I yet behold
           Sif's hair of gold
           And Hild's bright feet,
           The battle-fleet,
And from threshold to hearthstone, like as songs of the South,
To and fro shall be fleeting the words of thy mouth.

Then his song dropped down, and they stood looking silently at each other, and tears ran over the little maiden's cheeks. But she spake first and said: "Most lovely is thy lay, and there is this in it, that I see thou hast made it while thou wert sitting there, for it is all about thee and me, and how thou lovest me and I thee. And full surely I know that thou wilt one day be a great and mighty man. Yet this I find strange in thy song almost to foolishness, that thou speakest in it as I were a woman grown, and thou a grown man, whereas we be both children. And look, heed it, what sunders us, this mighty Flood, which hath been from the beginning and shall be to the end."

CHAPTER XVII. The Slaying of Hardcastle

Osberne stood still a while looking on him, but Stephen ran up and knelt beside him, and felt his wrist and laid his hand on the breast, and then turned and looked up at Osberne, who knelt down beside him also and wiped the blood off Boardcleaver with a lap of the dead man's coat. Then he stood up and thrust the blade back into the sheath, and wound the peace-strings about it all. Then came the word into his mouth, and he sang:

          Came sword and shield
           To the hazelled field
           Where the fey man fell
           At Wethermel:
           The grey blade grew glad
           In the hands of a lad,
           And the tall man and stark
           Leapt into the dark.
For the cleaver of war-boards came forth from his door
And guided the hand of the lacking in lore.

          But now is the blade
           In the dark sheath laid,
           And the peace-strings lull
           His heart o'erfull.
           Up dale and down
           The hall-roofs brown
           Hang over the peace
           Of the year's increase.
No fear rendeth midnight and dieth the day
With no foe save the winter that weareth away.

Then he cried out: "Draw nigh, goodman and grandsire, and take again the house and lands of Wethermel, as ye had them aforetime before yesterday was a day." So the goodman came to him and kissed him and thanked him kind and humbly, and the women came and embraced him and hung about him. As for Surly John, he had slunk away so soon as he saw the fall of his master, and now when they looked around for him, they saw him but as a fleck going swiftly down the Dale. Thereat they all laughed together, and the laughter eased their hearts, so that they felt free and happy.

CHAPTER XXIX. Osberne and His Men Return to Wethermel

Yet were not the stay-at-homes to be put off with so little, and they called a cup for Osberne the Captain of the warriors; and when it had been drunk, then all folk looked toward the captain to see what he would do; but he rose up and stood in his place, his cheek flushed and his eyes sparkling: and the word came into his mouth and he sang:

          The War-god's gale
           Drave down the Dale
           And thrust us out
           To the battle-shout;
           We wended far
           To the wall of war
           And trod the way
           Where the edges lay,
The rain of the string rattled rough on the field
Where the haysel was hoarded with sword-edge & shield.

          Long lived the sun
           When the play was begun,
           And little but white
           Was the moon all night;
           But the days drew in
           And work was to win,
           And on the snow
           Lay men alow,
And at Yule fared we feasting in war-warded wall
And the helm and the byrny were bright in the hall.

          Then changed the year
           And spring was dear,
           But no maid went
           On mead or bent,
           For there grew on ground
           New battle-round,
           New war-wall ran
           Round houses of man,
There tower to tower oft dark and dim grew
At noontide of summer with rain of the yew.

          Neath point and edge
           In the battle hedge
           We dwelt till wore
           Late summer o'er;
           We steered aright
           The wisdom-bark
           Through the steel-thronged dark,
The warrior we wafted from out of the fray,
And he woke midst the worthy and hearkened their say.

          Now peace is won
           And all strife done,
           And in our hands
           The fame of lands
           Aback we bear
           To the dale the dear,
           And the Fathers lie
           Made glad thereby.
Now blossometh bliss in the howes of the old
At our tale growing green from their tale that is told.

Loud was the glee and the shouting at his song, and all men said that every whit thereof was sooth, and that this was the best day that had ever dawned on Wethermel; and great joy and bliss was on the hall till they must needs go to their rest. So changed was Wethermel, the niggard once, and that, it might be deemed, was but one youngling's doing.

CHAPTER XXXVI. The Staves which Osberne Taught to the Dalesmen

And last of all, when the summer night was as dark as it would be before the dawn, and the folk of the two sides were all ranged each in a line on their own shore of the river, they sang these staves from side to side across the Sundering Flood, the Westdalers beginning, and then the Eastdalers taking it up:

          Tis Summer and night,
           Little dusk and long light,
           Little loss and much gain
           When the day must needs wane,
           Little bitter, much sweet
           From the weed to the wheat;
           Little moan, mickle praise
           Of the Midsummer days,
When the love of the sleeping sun lieth along
And broodeth the acres abiding the song.

          Were the spring to come o'er
           And again as before,
           What then would ye crave
           From the summer to have?
           Sweeter grass would ye pray,
           And more lea-lading hay?
           For more wheat would ye cry,
           Thicker swathe of the rye?
Stouter sons would ye ask for, and daughters more dear?
Well-willers more trusty than them ye have here?

          O the wheat is yet green
           But full fair beseen,
           And the rye groweth tall
           By the turfen wall.
           Thick and sweet was the hay
           On the lealand that lay;
           Dear daughters had we,
           Sons goodly to see,
And of all the well-willers ere trusted for true
The least have ye failed us to deal and to do.

          What then is this,
           That the summer's bliss
           Somewhat ye fail
           In your treasure's tale?
           What then have ye lost,
           And what call ye the cost
           Of the months of life
           Since winter's strife?
For unseldom the summer sun curseth the Dale
With the tears thrust aback and the unuttered wail.

          Forsooth o'er-well
           The tale may we tell:
           Tis the spear and the sword
           And the House of the Sward.
           The bright and the best
           Have gone to their rest,
           And our eyes are blind
           Their eyes to find.
In mead and house wend we because they were stayed,
And we stand up because in the earth they were laid.

          Would ye call them aback
           Then, to look on your lack?

          Nay, we would that their tale
           From our hearts ne'er should fail.

          This then maketh you sad,
           That such dear death they had?

          This night are we sad
           For the joy that we had,
           And their memory's beginning
           Great grief would be winning.
           But while weareth away,
           And e'en woe waxeth gay.
           In fair words is it told,
           Weighed e'en as fine gold;
           Sweet as wind of the south
           Grows the speech in the mouth.
And from father to son speeds the tale of the true,
Of the brave that forbore that the brethren might do.

When this was sung then each man went home to his house. But it is said that these staves were made by Osberne, and that he taught them to the Western men as well as to the Eastern.

CHAPTER XXXVII. Osberne Takes Leave of Wethermel

Even so it was done, and all folk sat to meat, and thereafter was the drink brought in, and they drank all a cup to Osberne, and he to them; and then was the cup filled for Wethermel, and then again for the Dale; and the last cup was for Osberne's luck.

Then came a word into his mouth, and he stood up and sang:

          From the Wethermel reek
           I set me to seek
           The world-ways unkenned
           And the first of the end.
           For when out there I be
           Each way unto me
           Shall seem nought save it lead
           Back to Wethermel's need,
And many a twilight twixt dawning and day
Shall the feet of the waker dream wending the way.

          When the war-gale speeds
           Point-bitter reeds,
           And the edges flash
           O'er the war-board's clash,
           Through the battle's rent
           Shall I see the bent,
           And the gable's peace
           Midst the Dale's increase,
And the victory-whooping shall seem to me oft
As the Dale shepherd's cry where the reek wends aloft.

          When to right and left
           The ranks are cleft,
           And the edges wan
           Mate master and man,
           It shall be as the fall
           Of a hindering wall
           Twixt my blade and me
           And the garth on the lea;
So shall day unto day tell the hope of the year,
And season on season shall draw the Dale near.

This they deemed kindly sung and well; and now so high rose their hearts, that it was to them as if they saw the day of his returning and the gladness of fellowship renewed.

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