The Roots of the Mountain - Chapter 22
FACE-OF-GOD COMETH HOME TO BURGSTEAD
But Face-of-god with Bow-may and Wood-wise fared over the waste, going at first alongside the cliffs of the Shivering Flood, and then afterwards turning somewhat to the west. They soon had to climb a very high and steep bent going up to a mountain-neck; and the way over the neck was rough indeed when they were on it, and they toiled out of it into a barren valley, and out of the valley again on to a rough neck; and such-like their journey the day long, for they were going athwart all those great dykes that went from the ice-mountains toward the lower dales like the outspread fingers of a hand or the roots of a great tree. And the ice-mountains they had on their left hands and whiles at their backs.
They went very warily, with their bows bended and spear in hand, but saw no man, good or bad, and but few living things. At noon they rested in a valley where was a stream, but no grass, nought but stones and sand; but where they were at least sheltered from the wind, which was mostly very great in these high wastes; and there Bow-may drew meat and wine from a wallet she bore, and they ate and drank, and were merry enough; and Bow-may said:
‘I would I were going all the way with thee, Gold-mane; for I long sore to let my eyes rest a while on the land where I shall one day live.’
‘Yea,’ said Face-of-god, ‘art thou minded to dwell there? We shall be glad of that.’
‘Whither are thy wits straying?’ said she; ‘whether I am minded to it or not, I shall dwell there.’
And Wood-wise nodded a yea to her. But Face-of-god said:
‘Good will be thy dwelling; but wherefore must it be so?’
Then Wood-wise laughed and said: ‘I shall tell thee in fewer words than she will, and time presses now: Wood-father and Wood-mother, and I and my two brethren and this woman have ever been about and anigh the Sun-beam; and we deem that war and other troubles have made us of closer kin to her than we were born, whether ye call it brotherhood or what not, and never shall we sunder from her in life or in death. So when thou goest to Burgdale with her, there shall we be.’
Then was Face-of-god glad when he found that they deemed his wedding so settled and sure; but Wood-wise fell to making ready for the road. And Face-of-god said to him:
‘Tell me one thing, Wood-wise; that whoop that thou gavest forth when we were at handy-strokes e’en now—is it but a cry of thine own or is it of thy Folk, and shall I hear it again?’
‘Thou may’st look to hear it many a time,’ said Wood-wise, ‘for it is the cry of the Wolf. Seldom indeed hath battle been joined where men of our blood are, but that cry is given forth. Come now, to the road!’
So they went their ways and the road worsened upon them, and toilsome was the climbing up steep bents and the scaling of doubtful paths in the cliff-sides, so that the journey, though the distance of it were not so long to the fowl flying, was much eked out for them, and it was not till near nightfall that they came on the ghyll of the Weltering Water some six miles above Burgstead. Forsooth Wood-wise said that the way might be made less toilsome though far longer by turning back eastward a little past the vale where they had rested at midday; and that seemed good to Gold-mane, in case they should be wending hereafter in a great company between Burgdale and Shadowy Vale.
But now those two went with Face-of-god down a path in the side of the cliff whereby him-seemed he had gone before; and they came down into the ghyll and sat down together on a stone by the water-side, and Face-of-god spake to them kindly, for he deemed them good and trusty faring-fellows.
‘Bow-may,’ said he, ‘thou saidst a while ago that thou wouldst be fain to look on Burgdale; and indeed it is fair and lovely, and ye may soon be in it if ye will. Ye shall both be more than welcome to the house of my father, and heartily I bid you thither. For night is on us, and the way back is long and toilsome and beset with peril. Sister Bow-may, thou wottest that it would be a sore grief to me if thou camest to any harm, and thou also, fellow Wood-wise. Daylight is a good faring-fellow over the waste.’
Said Bow-may: ‘Thou art kind, Gold-mane, and that is thy wont, I know; and fain were I to-night of the candles in thine hall. But we may not tarry; for thou wottest how busy we be at home; and Sun-beam needeth me, if it were only to make her sure that no Dusky Man is bearing off thine head by its lovely locks. Neither shall we journey in the mirk night; for look you, the moon yonder.’
‘Well,’ said Face-of-god, ‘parting is ill at the best, and I would I could give you twain a gift, and especially to thee, my sister Bow-may.’
Said Wood-wise: ‘Thou may’st well do that; or at least promise the gift; and that is all one as if we held it in our hands.’
‘Yea,’ said Bow-may, ‘Wood-wise and I have been thinking in one way belike; and I was at point to ask a gift of thee.’
‘What is it?’ said Gold-mane. ‘Surely it is thine, if it were but a guerdon for thy good shooting.’
She laughed and handled the skirts of his hauberk as she said:
‘Show us the dint in thine helm that the steel axe made this morning.’
‘There is no such great dint,’ said he; ‘my father forged that helm, and his work is better than good.’
‘Yea,’ said Bow-may, ‘and might I have hauberk and helm of his handiwork, and Wood-wise a good sword of the same, then were I a glad woman, and this man a happy carle.’
Said Gold-mane: ‘I am well pleased at thine asking, and so shall Iron-face be when he heareth of thine archery; and how that Hall-face were now his only son but for thy close shooting. But now must I to the way; for my heart tells me that there may have been tidings in Burgstead this while I have been aloof.’
So they rose all three, and Bow-may said:
‘Thou art a kind brother, and soon shall we meet again; and that will be well.’
Then he put his hands on her shoulders and kissed both her cheeks; and he kissed Wood-wise, and turned and went his ways, threading the stony tangle about the Weltering Water, which was now at middle height, and running clear and strong; so turning once he beheld Wood-wise and Bow-may climbing the path up the side of the ghyll, and Bow-may turned to him also and waved her bow as token of farewell. Then he went upon his way, which was rough enough to follow by night, though the moon was shining brightly high aloft. Yet as he knew his road he made but little of it all, and in somewhat more than an hour and a half was come out of the pass into the broken ground at the head of the Dale, and began to make his way speedily under the bright moonlight toward the Gate, still going close by the water. But as he went he heard of a sudden cries and rumour not far from him, unwonted in that place, where none dwelt, and where the only folk he might look to see were those who cast an angle into the pools and eddies of the Water. Moreover, he saw about the place whence came the cries torches moving swiftly hither and thither; so that he looked to hear of new tidings, and stayed his feet and looked keenly about him on every side; and just then, between his rough path and the shimmer of the dancing moonlit water, he saw the moon smite on something gleaming; so, as quietly as he could, he got his target on his arm, and shortened his spear in his right hand, and then turned sharply toward that gleam. Even therewith up sprang a man on his right hand, and then another in front of him just betwixt him and the water; an axe gleamed bright in the moon, and he caught a great stroke on his target, and therewith drave his left shoulder straight forward, so that the man before him fell over into the water with a mighty splash; for they were at the very edge of the deepest eddy of the Water. Then he spun round on his heel, heeding not that another stroke had fallen on his right shoulder, yet ill-aimed, and not with the full edge, so that it ran down his byrny and rent it not. So he sent the thrust of his spear crashing through the face and skull of the smiter, and looked not to him as he fell, but stood still, brandishing his spear and crying out, ‘For the Burg and the Face! For the Burg and the Face!’
No other foe came against him, but like to the echo of his cry rose a clear shout not far aloof, ‘For the Face, for the Face! For the Burg and the Face!’ He muttered, ‘So ends the day as it begun,’ and shouted loud again, ‘For the Burg and the Face!’ And in a minute more came breaking forth from the stone-heaps into the moonlit space before the water the tall shapes of the men of Burgstead, the red torchlight and the moonlight flashing back from their war-gear and weapons; for every man had his sword or spear in hand.
Hall-face was the first of them, and he threw his arms about his brother and said: ‘Well met, Gold-mane, though thou comest amongst us like Stone-fist of the Mountain. Art thou hurt? With whom hast thou dealt? Where be they? Whence comest thou?’
‘Nay, I am not hurt,’ said Face-of-god. ‘Stint thy questions then, till thou hast told me whom thou seekest with spear and sword and candle.’
‘Two felons were they,’ said Hall-face, ‘even such as ye saw lying dead at Wood-grey’s the other day.’
‘Then may ye sheathe your swords and go home,’ said Gold-mane, ‘for one lieth at the bottom of the eddy, and the other, thy feet are well-nigh treading on him, Hall-face.’
Then arose a rumour of praise and victory, and they brought the torches nigh and looked at the fallen man, and found that he was stark dead; so they even let him lie there till the morrow, and all turned about toward the Thorp; and many looked on Face-of-god and wondered concerning him, whence he was and what had befallen him. Indeed, they would have asked him thereof, but could not get at him to ask; but whoso could, went as nigh to Hall-face and him as they might, to hearken to the talk between the brothers.
So as they went along Hall-face did verily ask him whence he came: ‘For was it not so,’ said he, ‘that thou didst enter into the wood seeking some adventure early in the morning the day before yesterday?’
‘Sooth is that,’ said Face-of-god, ‘and I came to Shadowy Vale, and thence am I come this morning.’
Said Hall-face: ‘I know not Shadowy Vale, nor doth any of us. This is a new word. How say ye, friends, doth any man here know of Shadowy Vale?’
They all said, ‘Nay.’
Then said Hall-face: ‘Hast thou been amongst mere ghosts and marvels, brother, or cometh this tale of thy minstrelsy?’
‘For all your words,’ said Gold-mane, ‘to that Vale have I been; and, to speak shortly (for I desire to have your tale, and am waiting for it), I will tell thee that I found there no marvels or strange wights, but a folk of valiant men; a folk small in numbers, but great of heart; a folk come, as we be, from the Fathers and the Gods. And this, moreover, is to be said of them, that they are the foes of these felons of whom ye were chasing these twain. And these same Dusky Men of Silver-dale would slay them every man if they might; and if we look not to it they will soon be doing the same by us; for they are many, and as venomous as adders, as fierce as bears, and as foul as swine. But these valiant men, who bear on their banner the image of the Wolf, should be our fellows in arms, and they have good will thereto; and they shall show us the way to Silver-dale by blind paths, so that we may fall upon these felons while they dwell there tormenting the poor people of the land, and thus may we destroy them as lads a hornet’s nest. Or else the days shall be hard for us.’
The men who hung about them drank in his words greedily. But Hall-face was silent a little while, and then he said: ‘Brother Gold-mane, these be great tidings. Time was when we might have deemed them but a minstrel’s tale; for Silver-dale we know not, of which thou speakest so glibly, nor the Dusky Men, any more than the Shadowy Vale. Howbeit, things have befallen these two last days so strange and new, that putting them together with the murder at Wood-grey’s, and thy words which seem somewhat wild, it may well seem to us that tidings unlooked for are coming our way.’
‘Come, then,’ said Face-of-god, ‘give me what thou hast in thy scrip, and trust me, I shall not jeer at thy tale.’
Said Hall-face: ‘I also will be short with the tale; and that the more, as meseemeth it is not yet done, and that thou thyself shalt share in the ending of it. It was the day before yesterday, that is the day when thou departedst into the woods on that adventure whereof thou shalt one day tell me more, wilt thou not?’
‘Yea, in good time,’ said Face-of-god.
‘Well,’ quoth Hall-face, ‘we went into the woods that day and in the morning, but after sunrise, to the number of a score: we looked to meet a bear and a she-bear with cubs in a certain place; for one of the Woodlanders, a keen hunter, had told us of their lair. Also we were wishful to slay some of the wild-swine, the yearlings, if we might. Therefore, though we had no helms or shields or coats of fence, we had bowshot a plenty, and good store of casting-weapons, besides our wood-knives and an axe or so; and some of us, of whom I was one, bore our battle-swords, as we are wont ever to do, be the foe beast or man.
‘Thus armed we went up Wildlake’s Way and came to Carlstead, where half-a-score Woodlanders joined themselves to us, so that we became a band. We went up the half-cleared places past Carlstead for a mile, and then turned east into the wood, and went I know not how far, for the Woodlanders led us by crooked paths, but two hours wore away in our going, till we came to the place where they looked to find the bears. It is a place that may well be noted, for it is unlike the wood round about. There is a close thicket some two furlongs about of thorn and briar and ill-grown ash and oak and other trees, planted by the birds belike; and it stands as it were in an island amidst of a wide-spreading woodlawn of fine turf, set about in the most goodly fashion with great tall straight-boled oak-trees, that seem to have been planted of set purpose by man’s hand. Yea, dost thou know the place?’
‘Methinks I do,’ said Gold-mane, ‘and I seem to have heard the Woodlanders give it a name and call it Boars-bait.’
‘That may be,’ said Hall-face. ‘Well, there we were, the dogs and the men, and we drew nigh the thicket and beset it, and doubted not to find prey therein: but when we would set the dogs at the thicket to enter it, they were uneasy, and would not take up the slot, but growled and turned about this way and that, so that we deemed that they winded some fierce beast at our flanks or backs.
‘Even so it was, and fierce enough and deadly was the beast; for suddenly we heard bow-strings twang, and shafts came flying; and Iron-shield of the Upper Dale, who was close beside me, leapt up into the air and fell down dead with an arrow through his back. Then I bethought me in the twinkling of an eye, and I cried out, “The foe are on us! take the cover of the tree-boles and be wary! For the Burg and the Face! For the Burg and the Face!”
‘So we scattered and covered ourselves with the oak-boles, but besides Iron-shield, who was slain outright, two goodmen were sorely hurt, to wit Bald-face, a man of our house, and Stonyford of the Lower Dale.
‘I looked from behind my tree-bole, a great one; and far off down the glades I saw men moving, clad in gay raiment; but nearer to me, not a hundred yards from my cover, I saw an arm clad in scarlet come out from behind a tree-bole, so I loosed at it, and missed not; for straight there tottered out from behind the tree one of those dusky foul-favoured men like to those that were slain by Wood-grey. I had another shaft ready notched, so I loosed and set the shaft in his throat, and he fell.
‘Straightway was a yelling and howling about us like the cries of scalded curs, and the oak-wood swarmed thick with these felons rushing on us; for it seems that the man whom I had slain was a chief amongst them, or we judged so by his goodly raiment.
‘Methought then our last day was come. What could we do but run together again after we had loosed at a venture, and so withstand them sword and spear in hand? Some fell beneath our shot, but not many, for they came on very swiftly.
‘So they fell on us; but for all their fierceness and their numbers they might not break our array, and we slew four and hurt many by sword-hewing and spear-casting and push of spear; and five of us were hurt and one slain by their dart-casting. So they drew off from us a little, and strove to spread out and fall to shooting at us again; but this we would not suffer, but pushed on as they fell back, keeping as close together as we might for the trees. For we said that we would all die together if needs must; and verily the stour was hard.
‘Yet hearken! In that nick of time rose up a strange cry not far from us, Ha! ha! ha! ha! How-ow-ow! ending like the howl of a wolf, and then another and another and another, till the whole wood rang again.
‘At first we deemed that here were come fresh foemen, and that we were undone indeed; but when they heard it, the foe-men before us faltered and gave way, and at last turned their backs and fled, and we followed, keeping well together still: thereby the more part of these men escaped us, for they fled wildly here and there from those who bore that cry with them; so we knew that our work was being done for us; therefore we stood, and saw tall men clad in sheep-brown weed running through the glades pursuing those felons and smiting them down, till both fleers and pursuers passed out of our sight like men in a dream, or as when ye roll up a pictured cloth to lay it in the coffer.
‘But to Stone-face’s mind those brown-clad men were the Wights of the Wood that be of the Fathers’ blood, and our very friends; and when some of us would yet have gone forward and foregathered with them, and followed the chase along with them, Stone-face gainsaid it, bidding us not to run into the arms of a second death, when we had but just escaped from the first. Sooth to say, moreover, we had divers hurt men that needed looking to.
‘So what with one thing, what with another, we turned back: but War-cliff’s brother, a tall man, had felled two of those felons with an oak sapling which he had torn from the thicket; but he had not slain them, and by now they were just awakening from their swoon, and were sitting up looking round them with fierce rolling eyes, expecting the stroke, for Raven of Longscree was standing over them with a naked war-sword in his hand. But now that our blood was cool, we were loth to slay them as they lay in our hands; so we bound them and brought them away with us; and our own dead we carried also on such biers as we might lightly make there, and with them three that were so grievously hurt that they might not go afoot, these we left at Carlstead: they were Tardy the Son of the Untamed, and Swan of Bull-meadow, both of the Lower Dale, and a Woodlander, Undoomed to wit. But the dead were Iron-shield aforesaid, and Wool-sark, and the Hewer, a Woodlander.
‘So came we sadly at eventide to Burgstead with the two dead Burgdalers, and the captive felons, and the wounded of us that might go afoot; and ye may judge that they of Burgdale and our father deemed these tidings great enough, and wotted not what next should befall. Stone-face would have had those two felons slain there and then; for no true tale could we get out of them, nor indeed any word at all. But the Alderman would not have it so; and he deemed they might serve our turn as hostages if any of our folk should be taken: for one and all we deemed, and still deem, that war is on us and that new folk have gathered on our skirts.
‘So the captives were shut up in the red out-bower of our house; and our father was minded that thou mightest tell us somewhat of them when thou wert come home. But about dusk to-day the word went that they had broken out and gotten them weapons and fled up the Dale; and so it was.
‘But to-morrow morning will a Gate-thing be holden, and there it will be looked for of thee that thou tell us a true tale of thy goings. For it is deemed, and it is my deeming especially, that thou may’st tell us more of these men than thou hast yet told us. Is it not so?’
‘Yea, surely,’ said Gold-mane, ‘I can make as many words as ye will about it; yet when all is said, it will come to much the same tale as I have already told thee. Yet belike, if ye are minded to take up the sword to defend you, I may tell you in what wise to lay hold on the hilts.’
‘And that is well,’ said Hall-face, ‘and no less do I look for of thee. But lo! here are we come to the Gate of the Burg that abideth battle.’