The Roots of the Mountain - Chapter 21
FACE-OF-GOD LOOKETH ON THE DUSKY MEN
When he awoke again he saw a man standing over him, and knew him for Wood-wise: he was clad in his war-gear, and had his quiver at his back and his bow in his hand, for Wood-father’s children were all good bowmen, though not so sure as Bow-may. He spake to Face-of-god:
‘Dawn is in the sky, Dalesman; there is yet time for thee to wash the night off of thee in our bath of the Shivering Flood and to put thy mouth to the milk-bowl; but time for nought else: for I and Bow-may are appointed thy fellows for the road, and it were well that we were back home speedily.’
So Face-of-god leapt up and went forth from the Hall, and Wood-wise led to where was a pool in the river with steps cut down to it in the rocky bank.
‘This,’ said Wood-wise, ‘is the Carle’s Bath; but the Queen’s is lower down, where the water is wider and shallower below the little mid-dale force.’
So Gold-mane stripped off his raiment and leapt into the ice-cold pool; and they had brought his weapons and war-gear with them; so when he came out he clad and armed himself for the road, and then turned with Wood-wise toward the outgate of the Dale; and soon they saw two men coming from lower down the water in such wise that they would presently cross their path, and as yet it was little more than twilight, so that they saw not at first who they were, but as they drew nearer they knew them for the Sun-beam and Bow-may. The Sun-beam was clad but in her white linen smock and blue gown as he had first seen her, her hair was wet and dripping with the river, her face fresh and rosy: she carried in her two hands a great bowl of milk, and stepped delicately, lest she should spill it. But Bow-may was clad in her war-gear with helm and byrny, and a quiver at her back, and a bended bow in her hand. So they greeted each other kindly, and the Sun-beam gave the bowl to Face-of-god and said:
‘Drink, guest, for thou hast a long and thirsty road before thee.’
So Face-of-god drank, and gave her the bowl back again, and she smiled on him and drank, and the others after her till the bowl was empty: then Bow-may put her hand on Wood-wise’s shoulder, and they led on toward the outgate, while those twain followed them hand in hand. But the Sun-beam said:
‘This then is the new day I spoke of, and lo! it bringeth our sundering with it; yet shall it be no longer than a day when all is said, and new days shall follow after. And now, my friend, I shall see thee no later than the April market; for doubt not that I shall go thither with Folk-might, whether he will or not. Also as I led thee out of the house when we last met, so shall I lead thee out of the Dale to-day, and I will go with thee a little way on the waste; and therefore am I shod this morning, as thou seest, for the ways on the waste are rough. And now I bid thee have courage while my hand holdeth thine. For afterwards I need not bid thee anything; for thou wilt have enough to do when thou comest to thy Folk, and must needs think more of warriors then than of maidens.’
He looked at her and longed for her, but said soberly: ‘Thou art kind, O friend, and thinkest kindly of me ever. But methinks it were not well done for thee to wend with me over a deal of the waste, and come back by thyself alone, when ye have so many foemen nearby.’
‘Nay,’ she said, ‘they be nought so near as that yet, and I wot that Folk-might hath gone forth toward the north-west, where he looketh to fall in with a company of the foemen. His battle shall be a guard unto us.’
‘I pray thee turn back at the top of the outgate,’ said he, ‘and be not venturesome. Thou wottest that the pitcher is not broken the first time it goeth to the well, nor maybe the twentieth, but at last it cometh not back.’
She said: ‘Nevertheless I shall have my will herein. And it is but a little way I will wend with thee.’
Therewith were they come to the scree, and talk fell down between them as they clomb it; but when they were in the darksome passage of the rocks, and could scarce see one another, Face-of-god said:
‘Where then is another outgate from the Dale? Is it not up the water?’
‘Yea,’ she said, ‘and there is none other: at the lower end the rocks rise sheer from out the water, and a little further down is a great force thundering betwixt them; so that by no boat or raft may ye come out of the Dale. But the outgate up the water is called the Road of War, as this is named the Path of Peace. But now are all ways ways of war.’
‘There is peace in my heart,’ said Gold-mane.
She answered not for a while, but pressed his hand, and he felt her breath on his cheek; and even therewithal they came out of the dark, and Gold-mane saw that her cheek was flushed; and now she spake:
‘One thing would I say to thee, my friend. Thou hast seen me amongst men of war, amongst outlaws who seek violence; thou hast heard me bid my brother to count the slain, and I shrinking not; thou knowest (for I have told thee) how I have schemed and schemed for victorious battle. Yet I would not have thee think of me as a Chooser of the Slain, a warrior maiden, or as of one who hath no joy save in the battle whereto she biddeth others. O friend, the many peaceful hours that I have had on the grass down yonder, sitting with my rock and spindle in hand, the children round about my knees hearkening to some old story so well remembered by me! or the milking of the kine in the dewy summer even, when all was still but for the voice of the water and the cries of the happy children, and there round about me were the dear and beauteous maidens with whom I had grown up, happy amidst all our troubles, since their life was free and they knew no guile. In such times my heart was at peace indeed, and it seemed to me as if we had won all we needed; as if war and turmoil were over, after they had brought about peace and good days for our little folk.
‘And as for the days that be, are they not as that rugged pass, full of bitter winds and the voice of hurrying waters, that leadeth yonder to Silver-dale, as thou hast divined? and there is nought good in it save that the breath of life is therein, and that it leadeth to pleasant places and the peace and plenty of the fair dale.’
‘Sweet friend,’ he said, ‘what thou sayest is better than well: for time shall be, if we come alive out of this pass of battle and bitter strife, when I shall lead thee into Burgdale to dwell there. And thou wottest of our people that there is little strife and grudging amongst them, and that they are merry, and fair to look on, both men and women; and no man there lacketh what the earth may give us, and it is a saying amongst us that there may a man have that which he desireth save the sun and moon in his hands to play with: and of this gladness, which is made up of many little matters, what story may be told? Yet amongst it shall I live and thou with me; and ill indeed it were if it wearied thee and thou wert ever longing for some day of victorious strife, and to behold me coming back from battle high-raised on the shields of men and crowned with bay; if thine ears must ever be tickled with the talk of men and their songs concerning my warrior deeds. For thus it shall not be. When I drive the herds it shall be at the neighbours’ bidding whereso they will; not necks of men shall I smite, but the stalks of the tall wheat, and the boles of the timber-trees which the woodreeve hath marked for felling; the stilts of the plough rather than the hilts of the sword shall harden my hands; my shafts shall be for the deer, and my spears for the wood-boar, till war and sorrow fall upon us, and I fight for the ceasing of war and trouble. And though I be called a chief and of the blood of chiefs, yet shall I not be masterful to the goodman of the Dale, but rather to my hound; for my chieftainship shall be that I shall be well beloved and trusted, and that no man shall grudge against me. Canst thou learn to love such a life, which to me seemeth lovely? And thou? of whom I say that thou art as if thou wert come down from the golden chairs of the Burg of the Gods.’
They were well-nigh out of the steep path by now, and the daylight was bright about them; there she stayed her feet a moment and turned to him and said:
‘All this should I love even now, if the grief of our Folk were but healed, and hereafter shall I learn yet more of thy well-beloved face.’
Therewith she laid her face to his and kissed him fondly, and put his hand to her side and held it there, saying: ‘Soon shall we be one in body and in soul.’
And he laughed with joy and pride of life, and took her hand and led her on again, and said:
‘Yet feel the cold rings of my hauberk, my friend; look at the spears that cumber my hand, and at Dale-warden hanging by my side. Thou shalt yet see me as the Slain’s Chooser would see her speech-friend; for there is much to do ere we win wheat-harvest in Burgdale.’
Therewith they stepped together on to the level ground of the waste, and saw Bow-may sitting on a stone hard by, and Wood-wise standing beside her bending his bow. Bow-may smiled on Gold-mane and rose up, and they all went on together, turning so that they went nearly alongside the wall of the Vale, but westering a little; then the Sun-beam said:
‘Many a time have I trodden this heath alongside our rock-wall; for if ye wend a little further as our faces are turned, ye come to the crags over the place where the Shivering Flood goeth out of Shadowy Vale. There when ye have clomb a little may’st thou stand on the edge of the rock-wall, and look down and behold the Flood swirling and eddying in the black gorge of the rocks, and see presently the reek of the force go up, and hear the thunder of the waters as they pour over it: and all this about us now is as the garden of our house—is it not so, Bow-may?’
‘Yea,’ said she, ‘and there are goodly cluster-berries to be gotten hereabout in the autumn; many a time have the Sun-beam and I reddened our lips with them. Yet is it best to be wary when war is abroad and hot withal.’
‘Yea,’ said the Sun-beam, ‘and all this place comes into the story of our House: lo! Gold-mane, two score paces before us a little on our right hand those five grey stones. They are called the Rocks of the Elders: for there in the first days of our abiding in Shadowy Vale the Elders were wont to come together to talk privily upon our matters.’
Face-of-god looked thither as she spoke, but therewith saw Bow-may, who went on the left hand of the Sun-beam, as Face-of-god on her right hand, notch a shaft on her bent bow, and Wood-wise, who was on his right hand, saw it also and did the like, and therewithal Face-of-god got his target on to his arm, and even as he did so Bow-may cried out suddenly:
‘Yea, yea! Cast thyself on to the ground, Sun-beam! Gold-mane, targe and spear, targe and spear! For I see steel gleaming yonder out from behind the Elders’ Rocks.’
Scarce were the words out of her mouth ere three shafts came flying, and the bow-strings twanged. Gold-mane felt that one smote his helm and glanced from it. Therewithal he saw the Sun-beam fall to earth, though he knew not if she had but cast herself down as Bow-may bade. Bow-may’s string twanged at once, and a yell came from the foemen: but Wood-wise loosed not, but set his hand to his mouth and gave a loud wild cry—Ha! ha! ha! ha! How-ow-ow!—ending in a long and exceeding great whoop like nought but the wolf’s howl. Now Gold-mane thinking swiftly, in a moment of time, as war-meet men do, judged that if the Sun-beam were hurt (and she had made no cry), it were yet wiser to fall on the foe before turning to tend her, or else all might be lost; so he rushed forward spear in hand and target on arm, and saw, as he opened up the flank of the Elders’ Rocks, six men, whereof one leaned aback on the rock with Bow-may’s shaft in his shoulder, and two others were just in act of loosing at him. In a moment, as he rushed at them, one shaft went whistling by him, and the other glanced from off his target; he cast a spear as he bounded on, and saw it smite one of the shooters full in the naked face, and saw the blood spout out and change his face and the man roll over, and then in another moment four men were hewing at him with their short steel axes. He thrust out his target against them, and then let the weight of his body come on his other spear, and drave it through the second shooter’s throat, and even therewith was smitten on the helm so hard that, though the Alderman’s work held out, he fell to his knees, holding his target over his head and striving to draw forth Dale-warden; in that nick of time a shaft whistled close by his ear, and as he rose to his feet again he saw his foeman rolling over and over, clutching at the ling with both hands. Then rang out again the terrible wolf-whoop from Wood-wise’s mouth, and both he and Bow-may loosed a shaft, for the two other foes had turned their backs and were fleeing fast. Again Bow-may hit the clout, and the Dusky Man fell dead at once, but Wood-wise’s arrow flew over the felon’s shoulder as he ran. Then in a trice was Gold-mane bounding after him like the hare just roused from her form; for it came into his head that these felons had beheld them coming up out of the Vale, and that if even this one man escaped, he would bring his company down upon the Vale-dwellers.
Strong and light-foot as any was Face-of-god, and though he was cumbered with his hauberk, yet was Iron-face’s handiwork far lighter than the war-coat of the Dusky Man, and the race was soon over. The felon turned breathless to meet Gold-mane, who drave his target against him and cast him to earth, and as he strove to rise smote off his head at one stroke; for Dale-warden was a good sword and the Dalesman as fierce of mood as might be. There he let the felon lie, and, turning, walked back swiftly toward the Elders’ Rocks, and found there Wood-wise and the dead foemen, for the carle had slain the wounded, and he was now drawing the silver arm-rings off the slain men; for all these Dusky Felons bore silver arm-rings. But Bow-may was walking towards the Sun-beam, and thitherward followed Gold-mane speedily.
He found her sitting on a tussock of grass close by where she had fallen, her face pale, her eyes eager and gleaming; she looked up at him as he drew nigher and said:
‘Friend, art thou hurt?’
‘Nay,’ he said, ‘and thou? Thou art pale.’
‘I am not hurt,’ she said. Then she smiled and said again:
‘Did I not tell thee that I am no warrior like Bow-may here? Such deeds make maidens pale.’
Said Bow-may: ‘If ye will have the truth, Gold-mane, she is not wont to grow pale when battle is nigh her. Look you, she hath had the gift of a new delight, and findeth it sweeter and softer than she had any thought of; and now hath she feared lest it should be taken from her.’
‘Bow-may saith but the sooth,’ said the Sun-beam simply, ‘and kind it is of her to say it. I saw thee, Bow-may, and good was thy shooting, and I love thee for it.’
Said Bow-may: ‘I never shoot otherwise than well. But those idle shooters of the Dusky Ones, whereabouts nigh to thee went their shafts?’
Said the Sun-beam: ‘One just lifted the hair by my left ear, and that was not so ill-aimed; as for the other, it pierced my raiment by my right knee, and pinned me to the earth, so that I tottered and fell, and my gown and smock are grievously wounded, both of them.’
And she took the folds of the garments in her hands to show the rents therein; and her colour was come again, and she was glad.
‘What were best to do now?’ she said.
Said Face-of-god: ‘Let us tarry a little; for some of thy carles shall surely come up from the Vale: because they will have heard Wood-wise’s whoop, since the wind sets that way.’
‘Yea, they will come,’ said the Sun-beam.
‘Good is that,’ said Face-of-god; ‘for they shall take the dead felons and cast them where they be not seen if perchance any more stray hereby. For if they wind them, they may well happen on the path down to the Vale. Also, my friend, it were well if thou wert to bid a good few of the carles that are in the Vale to keep watch and ward about here, lest there be more foemen wandering about the waste.’
She said: ‘Thou art wise in war, Gold-mane; I will do as thou biddest me. But soothly this is a perilous thing that the Dusky Men are gotten so close to the Vale.’
Said Face-of-god: ‘This will Folk-might look to when he cometh home; and it is most like that he will deem it good to fall on them somewhere a good way aloof, so as to draw them off from wandering over the waste. Also I will do my best to busy them when I am home in Burgdale.’
Therewith came up Wood-wise, and fell to talk with them; and his mind it was that these foemen were but a band of strayers, and had had no inkling of Shadowy Vale till they had heard them talking together as they came up the path from the Vale, and that then they had made that ambush behind the Elders’ Rocks, so that they might slay the men, and then bear off the woman. He said withal that it would be best to carry their corpses further on, so that they might be cast over the cliffs into the fierce stream of the Shivering Flood.
Amidst this talk came up men from the Vale, a score of them, well armed; and they ran to meet the wayfarers; and when they heard what had befallen, they rejoiced exceedingly, and were above all glad that Face-of-god had shown himself doughty and deft; and they deemed his rede wise, to set a watch thereabouts till Folk-might came home, and said that they would do even so.
Then spake the Sun-beam and said:
‘Now must ye wayfarers depart; for the road is but rough, and the day not over-long.’
Then she turned to Face-of-god and put her hand on his shoulder, and brought her face close to his and spake to him softly:
‘Doth this second parting seem at all strange to thee, and that I am now so familiar to thee, I whom thou didst once deem to be a very goddess? And now thou hast seen me redden before thine eyes because of thee; and thou hast seen me grow pale with fear because of thee; and thou hast felt my caresses which I might not refrain; even as if I were altogether such a maiden as ye warriors hang about for a nine days’ wonder, and then all is over save an aching heart—wilt thou do so with me? Tell me, have I not belittled myself before thee as if I asked thee to scorn me? For thus desire dealeth both with maid and man.’
He said: ‘In all this there is but one thing for me to say, and that is that I love thee; and surely none the less, but rather the more, because thou lovest me, and art of my kind, and mayest share in my deeds and think well of them. Now is my heart full of joy, and one thing only weigheth on it; and that is that my kinswoman the Bride begrudgeth our love together. For this is the thing that of all things most misliketh me, that any should bear a grudge against me.’
She said: ‘Forget not the token, and my message to her.’
‘I will not forget it,’ said he. ‘And now I bid thee to kiss me even before all these that are looking on; for there is nought to belittle us therein, since we be troth-plight.’
And indeed those folk stood all round about them gazing on them, but a little aloof, that they might not hear their words if they were minded to talk privily. For they had long loved the Sun-beam, and now the love of Face-of-god had begun to spring up in their hearts.
So the twain embraced and kissed one another, and made no haste thereover; and those men deemed that but meet and right, and clashed their weapons on their shields in token of their joy.
Then Face-of-god turned about and strode out of the ring of men, with Bow-may and Wood-wise beside him, and they went on their journey over the necks towards Burgstead. But the Sun-beam turned slowly from that place toward the Vale, and two of the stoutest carles went along with her to guard her from harm, and she went down into the Vale pondering all these things in her heart.
Then the other carles dragged off the corpses of the Dusky Men till they had brought them to the sheer rocks above the Shivering Flood, and there they tossed them over into the boiling caldron of the force, and so departed taking with them the silver arm-rings of the slain to add to the tale.
But when they came back into the Vale the Sun-beam duly ordered that watch and ward to keep the ingate thereto, and note all that should befall till Folk-might came home.