The Roots of the Mountain - Chapter 23
TALK IN THE HALL OF THE HOUSE OF THE FACE
In sooth they were come to the very Gate of Burgstead, and the great gates were shut, and only a wicket was open, and a half score of stout men in all their war-gear were holding ward thereby. They gave place to Hall-face and his company, albeit some of the warders followed them through the wicket that they might hear the story told.
The street was full of folk, both men and women, talking together eagerly concerning all these tidings, and when they saw the men of the Hue-and-cry they came thronging about them, so that they might scarce get to the door of the House of the Face because of the press; so Hall-face (who was a very tall man) cried out:
‘Good people, all is well! the runaways are slain, and Face-of-god is come back with us; give place a little, that we may come into our house.’
Then the throng set up a shout, and made way a little, so that Hall-face and Gold-mane and the others could get to the door. And they entered into the Hall, and saw much folk therein; and men were sitting at table, for supper was not yet over. But when they saw the new-comers they mostly rose up from the board and stood silent to hear the tale, for they had been talking many together each to each, so that the Hall was full of confused noise.
So Hall-face again cried out: ‘Men in this hall, good is the tidings. The runaways are slain; and it was Face-of-god who slew them as he came back safe from the waste.’
Then they shouted for joy, and the brethren and Stone-face with them (for he had entered with them from the street) went up on to the dais, while the others of the Hue-and-cry gat them seats where they might at the endlong tables.
But when Face-of-god came up on to the dais, there sat Iron-face looking down on the thronged Hall with a ruddy cheerful countenance, and beside him sat the Bride; for he had caused her to be brought thither when he had heard of the tidings of battle. She was daintily clad in a flame-coloured kirtle embroidered with gold about the bosom and sleeves, and there was a fillet of golden roses on her ruddy hair. Her eyes shone bright and eager, and the pommels of her cheeks were flushed and red contrary to their wont. Needs must Gold-mane sit by her, and when he came close to her he knew not what to do, but he put forth his hand to her, yet with a troubled countenance; for he feared her grief mingled with her beauty: as for her, she wavered in her mind whether she should forbear to touch him or not; but she saw that men about were looking at them, and especially was Iron-face looking on her: therefore she stood up and took Gold-mane’s hand and kissed his face as she had been wont to do, and by then was her face as white as paper; and her anguish pierced his heart, so that he well-nigh groaned for grief of her. But Iron-face looked on her and said kindly:
‘Kinswoman, thou art pale; thou hast feared for thy mate amidst all these tidings of war, and still fearest for him. But pluck up a heart; for the man is a deft warrior for all his fair face, which thou lovest as a woman should, and his hands may yet save his head. And if he be slain, yet are there other men of the kindred, and the earth will not be a desert to thee even then.’
She looked at Iron-face, and the colour was come back to her face somewhat, and she said:
‘It is true; I have feared for him; for he goeth into perilous places. But for thee, thou art kind, and I thank thee for it.’
And therewith she kissed Iron-face and sat down in her place, and strove to overmaster her grief, that her face might not be changed by it; for now were thoughts of battle, and valiant hopes arising in men’s hearts; and it seemed to her too grievous if she should mar that feast on the eve of battle.
But Iron-face kissed and embraced his son and said: ‘Art thou late come from the waste? Hast thou seen new things? We look to have a notable tale from thee; though here also have been tidings, and it is not unlike that we shall presently have new work on our hands.’
‘Father,’ quoth Face-of-god, ‘I deem that when thou hast heard my tale thou wilt think no less of it than that there are valiant folk to be holpen, poor folk to be delivered, and evil folk to be swept from off the face of the earth.’
‘It is well, son,’ said Iron-face. ‘I see that thy tale is long; let it alone for to-night. To-morrow shall we hold a Gate-thing, and then shall we hear all that thou hast to tell. Now eat thy meat and drink a bowl of wine, and comfort thy troth-plight maiden.’
So Gold-mane sat down by the Bride, and ate and drank as he needs must; but he was ill at ease and he durst not speak to her. For, on the one hand, he thought concerning his love for the Sun-beam, and how sweet and good a thing it was that she should take him by the hand and lead him into noble deeds and great fame, caressing him so softly and sweetly the while; and, on the other hand, there sat the Bride beside him, sorrowful and angry, begrudging all that sweetness of love, as though it were something foul and unseemly; and heavy on him lay the weight of that grudge, for he was a man of a friendly heart.
Stone-face sat outward from him on the other side of the Bride; and he leaned across her towards Gold-mane and said:
‘Fair shall be thy tale to-morrow, if thou tellest us all thine adventure. Or wilt thou tell us less than all?’
Said Face-of-god: ‘In good time shalt thou know it all, foster-father; but it is not unlike that by the time that thou hast heard it, there shall be so many other things to tell of, that my tale shall seem of little account to thee—even as the saw saith that one nail driveth out the other.’
‘Yea,’ said Stone-face, ‘but one tale belike shall be knit up with the others, as it fareth with the figures that come one after other on the weaver’s cloth; though one maketh not the other, yet one cometh of the other.’
Said Face-of-god: ‘Wise art thou now, foster-father, but thou shalt be wiser yet in this matter by then a month hath worn: and to-morrow shalt thou know enough to set thine hands a-work.’
So the talk fell between them; and the night wore, and the men of Burgdale feasted in their ancient hall with merry hearts, little weighed down by thought of the battle that might be and the trouble to come; for they were valorous and kindly folk.