The Roots of the Mountain - Chapter 53
OF THE WORD WHICH HALL-WARD OF THE STEER HAD FOR FOLK-MIGHT
But of the time then passing, it is to be said that the whole host abode in Silver-dale in great mirth and good liking, till they should hear tidings of Dallach and his company, who had followed hot-foot on the fleers of the Dusky Men. And on the tenth day after the battle, Iron-face and his two sons and Stone-face were sitting about sunset under a great oak-tree by that stream-side which ran through the Mote-stead; there also was Folk-might, somewhat distraught because of his love for the Bride, who was now mending of her hurts. As they sat there in all content they saw folk coming toward them, three in number, and as they drew nigher they saw that it was old Hall-ward of the Steer, and the Sun-beam and Bow-may following him hand in hand.
When they came to the brook Bow-may ran up to the elder to help him over the stepping-stones; which she did as one who loved him, as the old man was stark enough to have waded the water waist-deep. She was no longer in her war-gear, but was clad after her wont of Shadowy Vale, in nought but a white woollen kirtle. So she stood in the stream beside the stones, and let the swift water ripple up over her ankles, while the elder leaned on her shoulder and looked down upon her kindly. The Sun-beam followed after them, stepping daintily from stone to stone, so that she was a fair sight to see; her face was smiling and happy, and as she stepped forth on to the green grass the colour flushed up in it, but she cast her eyes adown as one somewhat shamefaced.
So the chieftains rose up before the leader of the Steer, and Folk-might went up to him, and greeted him, and took his hand and kissed him on the cheek. And Hall-ward said:
‘Hail to the chiefs of the kindred, and my earthly friends!’
Then Folk-might bade him sit down by him, and all the men sat down again; but the Sun-beam leaned her back against a sapling ash hard by, her feet set close together; and Bow-may went to and fro in short turns, keeping well within ear-shot.
Then said Hall-ward: ‘Folk-might, I have prayed thy kinswoman Bow-may to lead me to thee, that I might speak with thee; and it is good that I find my kinsmen of the Face in thy company; for I would say a word to thee that concerns them somewhat.’
Said Folk-might: ‘Guest, and warrior of the Steer, thy words are ever good; and if this time thou comest to ask aught of me, then shall they be better than good.’
Said Hall-ward: ‘Tell me, Folk-might, hast thou seen my daughter the Bride to-day?’
‘Yea,’ said Folk-might, reddening.
‘What didst thou deem of her state?’ said Hall-ward.
Said Folk-might: ‘Thou knowest thyself that the fever hath left her, and that she is mending.’
Hall-ward said: ‘In a few days belike we shall be wending home to Burgdale: when deemest thou that the Bride may travel, if it were but on a litter?’
Folk-might was silent, and Hall-ward smiled on him and said:
‘Wouldst thou have her tarry, O chief of the Wolf?’
‘So it is,’ said Folk-might, ‘that it might be labour lost for her to journey to Burgdale at present.’
‘Thinkest thou?’ said Hall-ward; ‘hast thou a mind then that if she goeth she shall speedily come back hither?’
‘It has been in my mind,’ said Folk-might, ‘that I should wed her. Wilt thou gainsay it? I pray thee, Iron-face my friend, and ye Stone-face and Hall-face, and thou, Face-of-god, my brother, to lay thy words to mine in this matter.’
Then said Hall-ward stroking his beard: ‘There will be a seat missing in the Hall of the Steer, and a sore lack in the heart of many a man in Burgdale if the Bride come back to us no more. We looked not to lose the maiden by her wedding; for it is no long way betwixt the House of the Steer and the House of the Face. But now, when I arise in the morning and miss her, I shall take my staff and walk down the street of Burgstead; for I shall say, The Maiden hath gone to see Iron-face my friend; she is well in the House of the Face. And then shall I remember how that the wood and the wastes lie between us. How sayest thou, Alderman?’
‘A sore lack it will be,’ said Iron-face; ‘but all good go with her! Though whiles shall I go hatless down Burgstead street, and say, Now will I go fetch my daughter the Bride from the House of the Steer; while many a day’s journey shall lie betwixt us.’
Said Hall-ward: ‘I will not beat about the bush, Folk-might; what gift wilt thou give us for the maiden?’
Said Folk-might: ‘Whatever is mine shall be thine; and whatsoever of the Dale the kindred and the poor folk begrudge thee not, that shalt thou have; and deemest thou that they will begrudge thee aught? Is it enough?’
Hall-ward said: ‘I wot not, chieftain; see thou to it! Bow-may, my friend, bring hither that which I would have from Silver-dale for the House of the Steer in payment for our maiden.’
Then Bow-may came forward speedily, and went up to the Sun-beam, and led her by the hand in front of Folk-might and Hall-ward and the other chieftains. Then Folk-might started, and leapt up from the ground; for, sooth to say, he had been thinking so wholly of the Bride, that his sister was not in his mind, and he had had no deeming of whither Hall-ward was coming, though the others guessed well enough, and now smiled on him merrily, when they saw how wild Folk-might stared. As for the Sun-beam, she stood there blushing like a rose in June, but looking her brother straight in the face, as Hall-ward said:
‘Folk-might, chief of the Wolf, since thou wouldst take our maiden the Bride away from us, I ask thee to make good her place with this maiden; so that the House of the Steer may not lack, when they who are wont to wed therein come to us and pray us for a bedfellow for the best of their kindred.’
Then became Folk-might smiling and merry like unto the others, and he said: ‘Chief of the Steer, this gift is thine, together with aught else which thou mayst desire of us.’
Then he kissed the Sun-beam, and said: ‘Sister, we looked for this to befall in some fashion. Yet we deemed that he that should lead thee away might abide with us for a moon or two. But now let all this be, since if thou art not to bear children to the kindreds of Silver-dale, yet shalt thou bear them to their friends and fellows. And now choose what gift thou wilt have of us to keep us in thy memory.’
She said: ‘The memory of my people shall not fade from me; yet indeed I ask thee for a gift, to wit, Bow-may, and the two sons of Wood-father that are left since Wood-wicked was slain; and belike the elder and his wife will be fain to go with their sons, and ye will not hinder them.’
‘Even so shall it be done,’ said Folk-might, and he was silent a while, pondering; and then he said:
‘Lo you, friends! doth it not seem strange to you that peace sundereth as well as war? Indeed I deem it grievous that ye shall have to miss your well-beloved kinswoman. And for me, I am now grown so used to this woman my sister, though at whiles she hath been masterful with me, that I shall often turn about and think to speak to her, when there lie long days of wood and waste betwixt her voice and mine.
The Sun-beam laughed in his face, though the tears stood in her eyes, as she said: ‘Keep up thine heart, brother; for at least the way is shorter betwixt Burgdale and Silver-dale than betwixt life and death; and the road we shall learn belike.’
Said Hall-face: ‘So it is that my brother is no ill woodman, as ye learned last autumn.’
Iron-face smiled, but somewhat sadly; for he beheld Face-of-god, who had no eyes for anyone save the Sun-beam; and no marvel was that, for never had she looked fairer. And forsooth the War-leader was not utterly well-pleased; for he was deeming that there would be delaying of his wedding, now that the Sun-beam was to become a maid of the Steer; and in his mind he half deemed that it would be better if he were to take her by the hand and lead her home through the wild-wood, he and she alone; and she looked on him shyly, as though she had a deeming of his thought. Albeit he knew it might not be, that he, the chosen War-leader, should trouble the peace of the kindred; for he wotted that all this was done for peace’ sake.
So Hall-ward stood forth and took the Sun-beam’s right hand in his, and said:
‘Now do I take this maiden, Sun-beam of the kindred of the Wolf, and lead her into the House of the Steer, to be in all ways one of the maidens of our House, and to wed in the blood wherein we have been wont to wed. Neither from henceforth let anyone say that this woman is not of the blood of the Steer; for we have given her our blood, and she is of us duly and truly.’
Thereafter they talked together merrily for a little, and then turned toward the houses, for the sun was now down; and as they went Iron-face spake to his son, and said:
‘Gold-mane, wilt thou verily keep thine oath to wed the fairest woman in the world? By how much is this one fairer than my dear daughter who shall no more dwell in mine house?’
Said Face-of-god: ‘Yea, father, I shall keep mine oath; for the Gods, who know much, know that when I swore last Yule I was thinking of the fair woman going yonder beside Hall-ward, and of none other.’
‘Ah, son!’ said Iron-face, ‘why didst thou beguile us? Hadst thou but told us the truth then!’
‘Yea, Alderman,’ said Face-of-god smiling, ‘and how thou wouldest have raged against me then, when thou hast scarce forgiven me now! In sooth, father, I feared to tell you all: I was young; I was one against the world. Yea, yea; and even that was sweet to me, so sorely as I loved her—Hast thou forgotten, father?’
Iron-face smiled, and answered not; and so came they to the house wherein they were guested.