The Roots of the Mountain - Chapter 46
MEN MEET IN THE MARKET OF SILVER-STEAD
So sang they; but Face-of-god went with Red-wolf, who was hurt sorely, but not deadly, and led him back toward the place just under the break of the bent; and there he found Bow-may in the hands of the women who were tending her hurts. She smiled on him from a pale face as he drew nigh, and he looked kindly at her, but he might not abide there, for haste was in his feet. He left Red-wolf to the tending of the women, and clomb the bent hastily, and when he deemed he was high enough, he looked about him; and somewhat more than half an hour had worn since Bow-may had sped the first shaft against the Dusky Men.
He looked down into the Market-stead, and deemed he could see that nigh the Mote-house the Dusky Men were gathering into some better order; but they were no longer drifting toward the southern bents, but were standing round about the altar as men abiding somewhat; and he deemed that they had gotten more bowshot than before, and that most of them bare bows. Though so many had been slain in the battles of the southern bents, yet was the Market-stead full of them, so to say, for others had come thereto in place of those that had fallen.
But now as he looked arose mighty clamour amongst them; and a little west of the Altar was a stir and a hurrying onward and around as in the eddies of a swift stream. Face-of-god wotted not what was betiding there, but he deemed that they were now ware of the onfall of Folk-might and Hall-face and the men of Burgdale, for their faces were all turned to where that was to be looked for.
So he turned and looked on the road to the east of him, where had been the battle of the Steer, but now it was all gone down toward the Market-place, and he could but hear the clamour of it; but nought he saw thereof, because of the houses that hid it.
Then he cast his eyes on the road that entered the Market-stead from the north, and he saw thereon many men gathered; and he wotted not what they were; for though there were weapons amongst them, yet were they not all weaponed, as far as he could see.
Now as he looked this way and that, and deemed that he must tarry no longer, but must enter into the courts of the houses before him and make his way into the Market-stead, lo! a change in the throng of Dusky Warriors nigh the Mote-house, and the ordered bands about the Altar fell to drifting toward the western way with one accord, with great noise and hurry and fierce cries of wrath. Then made Face-of-god no delay, but ran down the bent at once, and at the break of it came upon Bow-may standing upright and sword in hand; and as he passed, she joined herself to him, and said: ‘What new tidings now, Gold-mane?’
‘Tidings of battle!’ he cried; ‘tidings of victory! Folk-might hath fallen on, and the Dusky Men run hastily to meet him. Hark, hark!’
For as he spoke came a great noise of horns, and Bow-may said: ‘What horn is that blowing?’
He stayed not, but shouted aloud: ‘For the Face, for the Face! Now will we fall upon their backs!’
Therewith was he come to his company, and he cried out to them: ‘Heard ye the horn, heard ye the horn? Now follow me into the Market-place; much is yet to do!’
Even therewith came the sound of other horns, and all men were silent a moment, and then shouted all together, for the Wood-landers knew it for the horn of the Shepherds coming on by the eastward way.
But Face-of-god waved his sword aloft and set on at once, and they followed and gat them through the courts of the houses and their passages into the Market-place. There they found more room than they looked to find; for the foemen had drawn away on the left hand toward the battle of Folk-might, and on the right hand toward the battle of the Steer; and great was the noise and cry that came thence.
Now stood Face-of-god under the two banners of the Wolf in the Market-place of Silver-stead, and scarce had he time to be high-hearted, for needs must he ponder in his mind what thing were best to do. For on the left hand he deemed the foe was the strongest and best ordered; but there also were the kindreds the doughtiest, and it was little like that the felons should overcome the spear-casters of the Face and the glaive-bearers of the Sickle, and the bowmen of the Vine: there also were the wisest leaders, as the stark elder Stone-face, and the tall Hall-face, and his father of the unshaken heart, and above all Folk-might, fierce in his wrath, but his anger burning steady and clear, like the oaken butt on the hearth of the hall.
Then as his mind pictured him amongst the foe, it made therewith another picture of the slender warrior Sun-beam caught in the tangle of battle, and longing for him and calling for him amidst the hard hand-play. And thereat his face flushed, and all his body waxed hot, and he was on the very point of leading the onset against the foe on the left. But therewith he bethought him of the bold men of the Steer and the Bridge and the Bull weary with much fighting; and he remembered also that the Bride was amongst them and fighting, it might be, amidst the foremost, and if she were slain how should he ever hold up his head again. He bethought him also that the Shepherds, who had fallen on by the eastern road, valiant as they were, were scarce so well armed or so well led as the others. Therewithal he bethought him (and again it came like a picture into his mind) of falling on the foemen by whom the southern battle was beset, and then the twain of them meeting the Shepherds, and lastly, all those three companies joined together clearing the Market-place, and meeting the men under Folk-might in the midst thereof.
Therefore, scant had he been pondering these things in his mind for a minute ere he cried out: ‘Blow up horns, blow up! forward banners, and follow me, O valiant men! to the helping of the Steer, the Bridge, and the Bull; deep have they thrust into the Dusky Throng, and belike are hard pressed. Hark how the clamour ariseth from their besetters! On now, on!’
Therewith hung a star of sunlight on his sword as he raised it aloft, and the Wolf-whoop rang out terribly in the Market-place, for now had the Woodlanders also learned it, and the hearts of the foemen sank as they heard the might and the mass thereof. Then the battle of the Woodlanders swept round and fell upon the flank of them who were besetting the kindreds, as an iron bar smiteth the soft fir-wood; and they of the kindreds heard their cry, but faintly and confusedly, so great was the turmoil of battle about them.
Now once more was Bow-may by the side of Face-of-god; and if she had not the might of the mightiest, yet had she the deftness of the deftest. And now was she calm and cool, shielding herself with a copper-bossed target, and driving home the point of her sharp sword; white was her face, and her eyes glittered amidst it, and she seemed to men like to those on whose heads the Warrior hath laid the Holy Bread.
As to Wood-wise, he had given the Banner of the red-jawed Wolf to Stone-wolf, a huge and dreadful warrior some forty winters old, who had fought in the Great Overthrow, and now hewed down the Dusky Men, wielding a heavy short-sword left-handed. But Wood-wise himself fought with a great sword, giving great strokes to the right hand and the left, and was no more hasty than is the hewer in the winter wood.
Face-of-god fought wisely and coldly now, and looked more to warding his friends than destroying his foes, and both to Bow-may and Wood-wise his sword was a shield; for oft he took the life from the edge of the upraised axe, and stayed the point of the foeman in mid-air.
Even so wisely fought the whole band of the Woodlanders and the Wolves, who got within smiting space of the foe; for they had no will to cast away their lives when assured victory was so nigh to them. Sooth to say, the hand-play was not so hard to them as it had been betwixt the bent and the houses; for the Dusky Men were intent on dealing with the men of the kindreds from the southern road, who stood war-wearied before them; and they were hewing and casting at them, and baying and yelling like dogs; and though they turned about to meet the storm of the Woodlanders, yet their hearts failed them withal, and they strove to edge away from betwixt those two fearful scythes of war, fighting as men fleeing, not as men in onset. But still the Woodlanders and the Wolves came on, hewing and thrusting, smiting down the foemen in heaps, till the Dusky Throng grew thin, and the staves of the Dalesmen and their bright banners in the morning sun were clear to see, and at last their very faces, kindly and familiar, worn and strained with the stress of battle, or laughing wildly, or pale with the fury of the fight. Then rose up to the heavens the blended shout of the Woodlanders and the Dalesmen, and now there was nought of foemen betwixt them save the dead and the wounded.
Then Face-of-god thrust his sword into its sheath all bloody as it was, and strode over the dead men to where Hall-ward stood under the banner of the Steer, and cast his arms about the old carle, and kissed him for joy of the victory. But Hall-ward thrust him aback and looked him in the face, and his cheeks were pale and his lips clenched, and his eyes haggard and staring, and he said in a harsh voice:
‘O young man, she is dead! I saw her fall. The Bride is dead, and thou hast lost thy troth-plight maiden. O death, death to the Dusky Men!’
Then grew Face-of-god as pale as a linen sleeve, and all the new-comers groaned and cried out. But a bystander said: ‘Nay, nay, it is nought so bad as that; she is hurt, and sorely; but she liveth yet.’
Face-of-god heard him not. He forgot Dale-warden lying in his sheath, and he saw that the last speaker had a great wood-axe broad and heavy in his hand, so he cried: ‘Man, man, thine axe!’ and snatched it from him, and turned about to the foe again, and thrust through the ranks, suffering none to stay him till all his friends were behind and all his foes before him. And as he burst forth from the ranks waving his axe aloft, bare-headed now, his yellow hair flying abroad, his mouth crying out, ‘Death, death, death to the Dusky Men!’ fear of him smote their hearts, and they howled and fled before him as they might; for they said that the Dalesmen had prayed their Gods into the battle. But not so fast could they flee but he was presently amidst them, smiting down all about him, and they so terror-stricken that scarce might they raise a hand against him. All that blended host followed him mad with wrath and victory, and as they pressed on, they heard behind them the horns and war-cries of the Shepherds falling on from the east. Nought they heeded that now, but drave on a fearful storm of war, and terrible was the slaughter of the Felons.
It was but a few minutes ere they had driven them up against that great stack of faggots that had been dight for the burnt-offering of men, and many of the felons had mounted up on to it, and now in their anguish of fear were shooting arrows and casting spears on all about them, heeding little if they were friend or foe. Now were the men of the kindreds at point to climb this twiggen burg; but by this time the fury of Face-of-god had run clear, and he knew where he was and what he was doing; so he stayed his folk, and cried out to them: ‘Forbear, climb not! let the torch help the sword!’ And therewith he looked about and saw the fire-pot which had been set down there for the kindling of the bale-fire, and the coals were yet red in it; so he snatched up a dry brand and lighted it thereat, and so did divers others, and they thrust them among the faggots, and the fire caught at once, and the tongues of flame began to leap from faggot to faggot till all was in a light low; for the wood had been laid for that very end, and smeared with grease and oil so that the burning to the god might be speedy.
But the fierceness of the kindreds heeded not the fire, nor overmuch the men who leapt down from the stack before it, but they left all behind them, faring straight toward the western outgate from the Market-stead; and Face-of-god still led them on; though by now he was wholly come to his right mind again, albeit the burden of sorrow yet lay heavy on his heart. He had broken his axe, and had once more drawn Dale-warden from his sheath, and many felt his point and edge.
But now, as they chased, came a rush of men upon them again, as though a new onset were at hand. That saw Face-of-god and Hall-ward and War-well, and other wise leaders of men, and they bade their folk forbear the chase, and lock their ranks to meet the onfall of this new wave of foemen. And they did so, and stood fast as a wall; but lo! the onrush that drave up against them was but a fleeing shrieking throng, and no longer an array of warriors, for many had cast away their weapons, and were rushing they knew not whither; for they were being thrust on the bitter edges of Face-of-god’s companies by the terror of the fleers from the onset of the men of the Face, the Sickle, and the Vine, whom Hall-face and Stone-face were leading, along with Folk-might. Then once again the men of Face-of-god gave forth the whoop of victory, and pressed forward again, hewing their way through the throng of fleers, but turning not to chase to the right or the left; while at their backs came on the Shepherd-folk, who had swept down all that withstood them; for now indeed was the Market-stead getting thinner of living men.
So led the War-leader his ordered ranks, till at last over the tangled crowd of runaways he saw the banners of the Burg and the Face flashing against the sun, and heard the roar of the kindreds as they drave the chase towards them. Then he lifted up his sword, and stood still, and all the host behind him stayed and cast a huge shout up to the heavens, and there they abode the coming of the other Dalesmen.
But the War-leader sent a message to Hound-under-Greenbury, bidding him lead the Shepherds to the chase of the Dusky Men, who were now all fleeing toward the northern outgate of the Market. Howbeit he called to mind the throng he had seen on the northern road before they were come into the Market-stead, and deemed that way also death awaited the foemen, even if the men of the kindreds forbore them.
But presently the space betwixt the Woodlanders and the men of the Face was clear of all but the dead, so that friend saw the face of friend; and it could be seen that the warriors of the Face were ruddy and smiling for joy, because the battle had been easy to them, and but few of them had fallen; for the Dusky Men who had left the Market-stead to fall on them, had had room for fleeing behind them, and had speedily turned their backs before the spear-casting of the men of the Face and the onrush of the swordsmen.
There then stood these victorious men facing one another, and the banner-bearers on either side came through the throng, and brought the banners together between the two hosts; and the Wolf kissed the Face, and the Sickle and the Vine met the Steer and the Bridge and the Bull: but the Shepherds were yet chasing the fleers.
There in the forefront stood Hall-face the tall, with the joy of battle in his eyes. And Stone-face, the wise carle in war, stood solemn and stark beside him; and there was the goodly body and the fair and kindly visage of the Alderman smiling on the faces of his friends. But as for Folk-might, his face was yet white and aweful with anger, and he looked restlessly up and down the front of the kindreds, though he spake no word.
Then Face-of-god could no longer forbear, but he thrust Dale-warden into his sheath, and ran forward and cast his arms about his father’s neck and kissed him; and the blood of himself and of the foemen was on him, for he had been hurt in divers places, but not sorely, because of the good hammer-work of the Alderman.
Then he kissed his brother and Stone-face, and he took Folk-might by the hand, and was on the point of speaking some word to him, when the ranks of the Face opened, and lo! the Sun-beam in her bright war-gear, and the sword girt to her side, and she unhurt and unsullied.
Then was it to him as when he met her first in Shadowy Vale, and he thought of little else than her; but she stepped lightly up to him, and unashamed before the whole host she kissed him on the mouth, and he cast his mailed arms about her, and joy made him forget many things and what was next to do, though even at that moment came afresh a great clamour of shrieks and cries from the northern outgate of the Market-stead: and the burning pile behind them cast a great wavering flame into the air, contending with the bright sun of that fair day, now come hard on noontide. But ere he drew away his face from the Sun-beam’s, came memory to him, and a sharp pang shot through his heart, as he heard Folk-might say: ‘Where then is the Shield-may of Burgstead? where is the Bride?’
And Face-of-god said under his breath: ‘She is dead, she is dead!’ And then he stared out straight before him and waited till someone else should say it aloud. But Bow-may stepped forward and said: ‘Chief of the Wolf, be of good cheer; our kinswoman is hurt, but not deadly.’
The Alderman’s face changed, and he said: ‘Hast thou seen her, Bow-may?’
‘Nay,’ she said. ‘How should I leave the battle? but others have told me who have seen her.’
Folk-might stared into the ranks of men before him, but said nothing. Said the Alderman: ‘Is she well tended?’
‘Yea, surely,’ said Bow-may, ‘since she is amongst friends, and there are no foemen behind us.’
Then came a voice from Folk-might which said: ‘Now were it best to send good men and deft in arms, and who know Silver-dale, from house to house, to search for foemen who may be lurking there.’
The Alderman looked kindly and sadly on him and said:
‘Kinsman Stone-face, and Hall-face my son, the brunt of the battle is now over, and I am but a simple man amongst you; therefore, if ye will give me leave, I will go see this poor kinswoman of ours, and comfort her.’
They bade him go: so he sheathed his sword, and went through the press with two men of the Steer toward the southern road; for the Bride had been brought into a house nigh the corner of the Market-place.
But Face-of-god looked after his father as he went, and remembrance of past days came upon him, and such a storm of grief swept over him, as he thought of the Bride lying pale and bleeding and brought anigh to her death, that he put his hands to his face and wept as a child that will not be comforted; nor had he any shame of all those bystanders, who in sooth were men good and kindly, and had no shame of his grief or marvelled at it, for indeed their own hearts were sore for their lovely kinswoman, and many of them also wept with Face-of-god. But the Sun-beam stood by and looked on her betrothed, and she thought many things of the Bride, and was sorry, albeit no tears came into her eyes; then she looked askance at Folk-might and trembled; but he said coldly, and in a loud voice:
‘Needs must we search the houses for the lurking felons, or many a man will yet be murdered. Let Wood-wicked lead a band of men at once from house to house.’
Then said a man of the Wolf hight Hardgrip: ‘Wood-wicked was slain betwixt the bent and the houses.’
Said Folk-might: ‘Let it be Wood-wise then.’
But Bow-may said: ‘Wood-wise is even now hurt in the leg by a wounded felon, and may not go afoot.’
Then said Folk-might: ‘Is Crow the Shaft-speeder anigh?’
‘Yea, here am I,’ quoth a tall man of fifty winters, coming from out the ranks where stood the Wolves.
Said Folk-might: ‘Kinsman Crow, do thou take two score and ten of doughty men who are not too hot-headed, and search every house about the Market-place; but if ye come on any house that makes a stout defence, send ye word thereof to the Mote-house, where we will presently be, and we shall send you help. Slay every felon that ye fall in with; but if ye find in the houses any of the poor folk crouching and afraid, comfort their hearts all ye may, and tell them that now is life come to them.’
So Crow fell to getting his band together, and presently departed with them on his errand.