The Roots of the Mountain - Chapter 18
FACE-OF-GOD TALKETH WITH THE FRIEND IN SHADOWY VALE
It was now about two hours after noon, and a broad band of sunlight lay upon the grass of the vale below Gold-mane’s feet; he went lightly down the scree, and strode forward over the level grass toward the Doom-ring, his helm and war-gear glittering bright in the sun. He must needs go through the Doom-ring to come to the Hall, and as he stepped out from behind the last of the big upright-stones, he saw a woman standing on the threshold of the Hall-door, which was but some score of paces from him, and knew her at once for the Friend.
She was clad like himself in a green kirtle gaily embroidered and fitting close to her body, and had no gown or cloak over it; she had a golden fillet on her head beset with blue mountain stones, and her hair hung loose behind her.
Her beauty was so exceeding, and so far beyond all memory of her that his mind had held, that once more fear of her fell upon Face-of-god, and he stood still with beating heart till she should speak to him. But she came forward swiftly with both her hands held out, smiling and happy-faced, and looking very kindly on him, and she took his hands and said to him:
‘Now welcome, Gold-mane, welcome, Face-of-god! and twice welcome art thou and threefold. Lo! this is the day that thou asked for: art thou happy in it?’
He lifted her hands to his lips and kissed them timorously, but said nought; and therewithal Sure-foot came running forth from the Hall, and fell to bounding round about them, barking noisily after the manner of dogs who have met their masters again; and still she held his hands and beheld him kindly. Then she called the hound to her, and patted him on the neck and quieted him, and then turned to Face-of-god and laughed happily and said:
‘I do not bid thee hold thy peace; yet thou sayest nought. Is well with thee?’
‘Yea,’ he said, ‘and more than well.’
‘Thou seemest to me a goodly warrior,’ she said; ‘hast thou met any foemen yesterday or this morning?’
‘Nay,’ said he, ‘none hindered me; thou hast made the ways easy to me.’
She said soberly, ‘Such as I might do, I did. But we may not wield everything, for our foes are many, and I feared for thee. But come thou into our house, which is ours, and far more ours than the booth before the pine-wood.’
She took his hand again and led him toward the door, but Face-of-god looked up, and above the lintel he saw carved on the dark stone that image of the Wolf, even as he had seen it carved on Wood-grey’s tie-beam; and therewith such thoughts came into his mind that he stopped to look, pressing the Friend’s hand hard as though bidding her note it. The stone wherein the image was carved was darker than the other building stones, and might be called black; the jaws of the wood-beast were open and gaping, and had been painted with cinnabar, but wind and weather had worn away the most of the colour.
Spake the Friend: ‘So it is: thou beholdest the token of the God and Father of out Fathers, that telleth the tale of so many days, that the days which now pass by us be to them but as the drop in the sea of waters. Thou beholdest the sign of our sorrow, the memory of our wrong; yet is it also the token of our hope. Maybe it shall lead thee far.’
‘Whither?’ said he. But she answered not a great while, and he looked at her as she stood a-gazing on the image, and saw how the tears stole out of her eyes and ran adown her cheeks. Then again came the thought to him of Wood-grey’s hall, and the women of the kindred standing before the Wolf and singing of him; and though there was little comeliness in them and she was so exceeding beauteous, he could not but deem that they were akin to her.
But after a while she wiped the tears from her face and turned to him and said: ‘My friend, the Wolf shall lead thee no-whither but where I also shall be, whatsoever peril or grief may beset the road or lurk at the ending thereof. Thou shalt be no thrall, to labour while I look on.’
His heart swelled within him as she spoke, and he was at point to beseech her love that moment; but now her face had grown gay and bright again, and she said while he was gathering words to speak withal:
‘Come in, Gold-mane, come into our house; for I have many things to say to thee. And moreover thou art so hushed, and so fearsome in thy mail, that I think thou yet deemest me to be a Wight of the Waste, such as Stone-face thy Fosterer told thee tales of, and forewarned thee. So would I eat before thee, and sign the meat with the sign of the Earth-god’s Hammer, to show thee that he is in error concerning me, and that I am a very woman flesh and fell, as my kindred were before me.’
He laughed and was exceeding glad, and said: ‘Tell me now, kind friend, dost thou deem that Stone-face’s tales are mere mockery of his dreams, and that he is beguiled by empty semblances or less? Or are there such Wights in the Waste.’
‘Nay,’ she said, ‘the man is a true man; and of these things are there many ancient tales which we may not doubt. Yet so it is that such wights have I never yet seen, nor aught to scare me save evil men: belike it is that I have been over-much busied in dealing with sorrow and ruin to look after them: or it may be that they feared me and the wrath-breeding grief of the kindred.’
He looked at her earnestly, and the wisdom of her heart seemed to enter into his; but she said: ‘It is of men we must talk, and of me and thee. Come with me, my friend.’
And she stepped lightly over the threshold and drew him in. The Hall was stern and grim and somewhat dusky, for its windows were but small: it was all of stone, both walls and roof. There was no timber-work therein save the benches and chairs, a little about the doors at the lower end that led to the buttery and out-bowers; and this seemed to have been wrought of late years; yea, the chairs against the gable on the dais were of stone built into the wall, adorned with carving somewhat sparingly, the image of the Wolf being done over the midmost of them. He looked up and down the Hall, and deemed it some seventy feet over all from end to end; and he could see in the dimness those same goodly hangings on the wall which he had seen in the woodland booth.
She led him up to the dais, and stood there leaning up against the arm of one of those stone seats silent for a while; then she turned and looked at him, and said:
‘Yea, thou lookest a goodly warrior; yet am I glad that thou camest hither without battle. Tell me, Gold-mane,’ she said, taking one of his spears from his hand, ‘art thou deft with the spear?’
‘I have been called so,’ said he.
She looked at him sweetly and said: ‘Canst thou show me the feat of spear-throwing in this Hall, or shall we wend outside presently that I may see thee throw?’
‘The Hall sufficeth,’ he said. ‘Shall I set this steel in the lintel of the buttery door yonder?’
‘Yea, if thou canst,’ she said.
He smiled and took the spear from her, and poised it and shook it till it quivered again, then suddenly drew back his arm and cast, and the shaft sped whistling down the dim hall, and smote the aforesaid door-lintel and stuck there quivering: then he sprang down from the dais, and ran down the hall, and put forth his hand and pulled it forth from the wood, and was on the dais again in a trice, and cast again, and the second time set the spear in the same place, and then took his other spear from the board and cast it, and there stood the two staves in the wood side by side; then he went soberly down the hall and drew them both out of the wood and came back to her, while she stood watching him, her cheek flushed, her lips a little parted.
She said: ‘Good spear-casting, forsooth! and far above what our folk can do, who be no great throwers of the spear.’
Gold-mane laughed: ‘Sooth is that,’ said he, ‘or hardly were I here to teach thee spear-throwing.’
‘Wilt thou NEVER be paid for that simple onslaught?’ she said.
‘Have I been paid then?’ said he.
She reddened, for she remembered her word to him on the mountain; and he put his hand on her shoulder and kissed her cheek, but timorously; nor did she withstand him or shrink aback, but said soberly:
‘Good indeed is thy spear-throwing, and meseems my brother will love thee when he hath seen thee strike a stroke or two in wrath. But, fair warrior, there be no foemen here: so get thee to the lower end of the Hall, and in the bower beyond shalt thou find fresh water; there wash the waste from off thee, and do off thine helm and hauberk, and come back speedily and eat with me; for I hunger, and so dost thou.’
He did as she bade him, and came back presently bearing in his hand both helm and hauberk, and he looked light-limbed and trim and lissome, an exceeding goodly man.