The Roots of the Mountains - Chapter 2
OF FACE-OF-GOD AND HIS KINDRED
Tells the tale, that on an evening of late autumn when the weather was fair, calm, and sunny, there came a man out of the wood hard by the Mote-stead aforesaid, who sat him down at the roots of the Speech-mound, casting down before him a roe-buck which he had just slain in the wood. He was a young man of three and twenty summers; he was so clad that he had on him a sheep-brown kirtle and leggings of like stuff bound about with white leather thongs; he bore a short-sword in his girdle and a little axe withal; the sword with fair wrought gilded hilts and a dew-shoe of like fashion to its sheath. He had his quiver at his back and bare in his hand his bow unstrung. He was tall and strong, very fair of fashion both of limbs and face, white-skinned, but for the sun’s tanning, and ruddy-cheeked: his beard was little and fine, his hair yellow and curling, cut somewhat close, but for its length so plenteous, and so thick, that none could fail to note it. He had no hat nor hood upon his head, nought but a fillet of golden beads.
As he sat down he glanced at the dale below him with a well-pleased look, and then cast his eyes down to the grass at his feet, as though to hold a little longer all unchanged the image of the fair place he had just seen. The sun was low in the heavens, and his slant beams fell yellow all up the dale, gilding the chestnut groves grown dusk and grey with autumn, and the black masses of the elm-boughs, and gleaming back here and there from the pools of the Weltering Water. Down in the midmost meadows the long-horned dun kine were moving slowly as they fed along the edges of the stream, and a dog was bounding about with exceeding swiftness here and there among them. At a sharply curved bight of the river the man could see a little vermilion flame flickering about, and above it a thin blue veil of smoke hanging in the air, and clinging to the boughs of the willows anear; about it were a dozen menfolk clear to see, some sitting, some standing, some walking to and fro, but all in company together: four of were brown-clad and short-skirted like himself, and from above the hand of one came a flash of light as the sun smote upon the steel of his spear. The others were long-skirted and clad gayer, and amongst them were red and blue and green and white garments, and they were clear to be seen for women. Just as the young man looked up again, those of them who were sitting down rose up, and those that were strolling drew nigh, and they joined hands together, and fell to dancing on the grass, and the dog and another one with him came up to the dancers and raced about and betwixt them; and so clear to see were they all and so little, being far away, that they looked like dainty well-wrought puppets.
The young man sat smiling at it for a little, and then rose up and shouldered his venison, and went down into Wildlake’s Way, and presently was fairly in the Dale and striding along the Portway beside the northern cliffs, whose greyness was gilded yet by the last rays of the sun, though in a minute or two it would go under the western rim. He went fast and cheerily, murmuring to himself snatches of old songs; none overtook him on the road, but he overtook divers folk going alone or in company toward Burgstead; swains and old men, mothers and maidens coming from the field and the acre, or going from house to house; and one or two he met but not many. All these greeted him kindly, and he them again; but he stayed not to speak with any, but went as one in haste.
It was dusk by then he passed under the gate of Burgstead; he went straight thence to the door of the House of the Face, and entered as one who is at home, and need go no further, nor abide a bidding.
The hall he came into straight out of the open air was long and somewhat narrow and not right high; it was well-nigh dark now within, but since he knew where to look, he could see by the flicker that leapt up now and then from the smouldering brands of the hearth amidmost the hall under the luffer, that there were but three men therein, and belike they were even they whom he looked to find there, and for their part they looked for his coming, and knew his step.
He set down his venison on the floor, and cried out in a cheery voice: ‘Ho, Kettel! Are all men gone without doors to sleep so near the winter-tide, that the Hall is as dark as a cave? Hither to me! Or art thou also sleeping?’
A voice came from the further side of the hearth: ‘Yea, lord, asleep I am, and have been, and dreaming; and in my dream I dealt with the flesh-pots and the cake-board, and thou shalt see my dream come true presently to thy gain.’
Quoth another voice: ‘Kettel hath had out that share of his dream already belike, if the saw sayeth sooth about cooks. All ye have been away, so belike he hath done as Rafe’s dog when Rafe ran away from the slain buck.’
He laughed therewith, and Kettel with him, and a third voice joined the laughter. The young man also laughed and said: ‘Here I bring the venison which my kinsman desired; but as ye see I have brought it over-late: but take it, Kettel. When cometh my father from the stithy?’
Quoth Kettel: ‘My lord hath been hard at it shaping the Yule-tide sword, and doth not lightly leave such work, as ye wot, but he will be here presently, for he has sent to bid us dight for supper straightway.’
Said the young man: ‘Where are there lords in the dale, Kettel, or hast thou made some thyself, that thou must be always throwing them in my teeth?’
‘Son of the Alderman,’ said Kettel, ‘ye call me Kettel, which is no name of mine, so why should I not call thee lord, which is no dignity of thine, since it goes well over my tongue from old use and wont? But here comes my mate of the kettle, and the women and lads. Sit down by the hearth away from their hurry, and I will fetch thee the hand-water.’
The young man sat down, and Kettel took up the venison and went his ways toward the door at the lower end of the hall; but ere he reached it it opened, and a noisy crowd entered of men, women, boys, and dogs, some bearing great wax candles, some bowls and cups and dishes and trenchers, and some the boards for the meal.
The young man sat quiet smiling and winking his eyes at the sudden flood of light let into the dark place; he took in without looking at this or the other thing the aspect of his Fathers’ House, so long familiar to him; yet to-night he had a pleasure in it above his wont, and in all the stir of the household; for the thought of the wood wherein he had wandered all day yet hung heavy upon him. Came one of the girls and cast fresh brands on the smouldering fire and stirred it into a blaze, and the wax candles were set up on the dais, so that between them and the mew-quickened fire every corner of the hall was bright. As aforesaid it was long and narrow, over-arched with stone and not right high, the windows high up under the springing of the roof-arch and all on the side toward the street; over against them were the arches of the shut-beds of the housemates. The walls were bare that evening, but folk were wont to hang up hallings of woven pictures thereon when feasts and high-days were toward; and all along the walls were the tenter-hooks for that purpose, and divers weapons and tools were hanging from them here and there. About the dais behind the thwart-table were now stuck for adornment leavy boughs of oak now just beginning to turn with the first frosts. High up on the gable wall above the tenter-hooks for the hangings were carven fair imagery and knots and twining stems; for there in the hewn atone was set forth that same image with the rayed head that was on the outside wall, and he was smiting the dragon and slaying him; but here inside the house all this was stained in fair and lively colours, and the sun-like rays round the head of the image were of beaten gold. At the lower end of the hall were two doors going into the butteries, and kitchen, and other out-bowers; and above these doors was a loft upborne by stone pillars, which loft was the sleeping chamber of the goodman of the house; but the outward door was halfway between the said loft and the hearth of the hall.
So the young man took the shoes from his feet and then sat watching the women and lads arraying the boards, till Kettel came again to him with an old woman bearing the ewer and basin, who washed his feet and poured the water over his hands, and gave him the towel with fair-broidered ends to dry them withal.
Scarce had he made an end of this ere through the outer door came in three men and a young woman with them; the foremost of these was a man younger by some two years than the first-comer, but so like him that none might misdoubt that he was his brother; the next was an old man with a long white beard, but hale and upright; and lastly came a man of middle-age, who led the young woman by the hand. He was taller than the first of the young men, though the other who entered with him outwent him in height; a stark carle he was, broad across the shoulders, thin in the flank, long-armed and big-handed; very noble and well-fashioned of countenance, with a straight nose and grey eyes underneath a broad brow: his hair grown somewhat scanty was done about with a fillet of golden beads like the young men his sons. For indeed this was their father, and the master of the House.
His name was Iron-face, for he was the deftest of weapon-smiths, and he was the Alderman of the Dalesmen, and well-beloved of them; his kindred was deemed the noblest of the Dale, and long had they dwelt in the House of the Face. But of his sons the youngest, the new-comer, was named Hall-face, and his brother the elder Face-of-god; which name was of old use amongst the kindred, and many great men and stout warriors had borne it aforetime: and this young man, in great love had he been gotten, and in much hope had he been reared, and therefore had he been named after the best of the kindred. But his mother, who was hight the Jewel, and had been a very fair woman, was dead now, and Iron-face lacked a wife.
Face-of-god was well-beloved of his kindred and of all the Folk of the Dale, and he had gotten a to-name, and was called Gold-mane because of the abundance and fairness of his hair.
As for the young woman that was led in by Iron-face, she was the betrothed of Face-of-god, and her name was the Bride. She looked with such eyes of love on him when she saw him in the hall, as though she had never seen him before but once, nor loved him but since yesterday; though in truth they had grown up together and had seen each other most days of the year for many years. She was of the kindred with whom the chiefs and great men of the Face mostly wedded, which was indeed far away kindred of them. She was a fair woman and strong: not easily daunted amidst perils she was hardy and handy and light-foot: she could swim as well as any, and could shoot well in the bow, and wield sword and spear: yet was she kind and compassionate, and of great courtesy, and the very dogs and kine trusted in her and loved her. Her hair was dark red of hue, long and fine and plenteous, her eyes great and brown, her brow broad and very fair, her lips fine and red: her cheek not ruddy, yet nowise sallow, but clear and bright: tall she was and of excellent fashion, but well-knit and well-measured rather than slender and wavering as the willow-bough. Her voice was sweet and soft, her words few, but exceeding dear to the listener. In short, she was a woman born to be the ransom of her Folk.
Now as to the names which the menfolk of the Face bore, and they an ancient kindred, a kindred of chieftains, it has been said that in times past their image of the God of the Earth had over his treen face a mask of beaten gold fashioned to the shape of the image; and that when the Alderman of the Folk died, he to wit who served the God and bore on his arm the gold-ring between the people and the altar, this visor or face of God was laid over the face of him who had been in a manner his priest, and therewith he was borne to mound; and the new Alderman and priest had it in charge to fashion a new visor for the God; and whereas for long this great kindred had been chieftains of the people, they had been, and were all so named, that the word Face was ever a part of their names.