William Morris Archive


It was no later than the next night, and a many of what thralls were not with the host were about in the feast-hall with the elders and lads and weaklings of the House; for last night’s tidings had drawn them thither.  Gisli had gone back to his kindred and the wain-burg in the Upper-mark, and the women were sitting, most of them, in the Women’s-Chamber, some of them doing what little summer work needed doing about the looms, but more resting from their work in field and acre.

Then came the Hall-Sun forth from her room clad in glittering raiment, and summoned no one, but went straight to her place on the dais under her namesake the Lamp, and stood there a little without speaking.  Her face was pale now, her lips a little open, her eyes set and staring as if they saw nothing of all that was round about her.

Now went the word through the Hall and the Women’s-Chamber that the Hall-Sun would speak again, and that great tidings were toward; so all folk came flock-meal to the dais, both thralls and free; and scarce were all gathered there, ere the Hall-Sun began speaking, and said:

“The days of the world thrust onward, and men are born therein
A many and a many, and divers deeds they win
In the fashioning of stories for the kindreds of the earth,
A garland interwoven of sorrow and of mirth.
To the world a warrior cometh; from the world he passeth away,
And no man then may sunder his good from his evil day.
By the Gods hath he been tormented, and been smitten by the foe:
He hath seen his maiden perish, he hath seen his speech-friend go:
His heart hath conceived a joyance and hath brought it unto birth:
But he hath not carried with him his sorrow or his mirth.
He hath lived, and his life hath fashioned the outcome of the deed,
For the blossom of the people, and the coming kindreds’ seed.

“Thus-wise the world is fashioned, and the new sun of the morn
Where earth last night was desert beholds a kindred born,
That to-morrow and to-morrow blossoms all gloriously
With many a man and maiden for the kindreds yet to be,
And fair the Goth-folk groweth.  And yet the story saith
That the deeds that make the summer make too the winter’s death,
That summer-tides unceasing from out the grave may grow
And the spring rise up unblemished from the bosom of the snow.

“Thus as to every kindred the day comes once for all
When yesterday it was not, and to-day it builds the hall,
So every kindred bideth the night-tide of the day,
Whereof it knoweth nothing, e’en when noon is past away.
E’en thus the House of the Wolfings ’twixt dusk and dark doth stand,
And narrow is the pathway with the deep on either hand.
On the left are the days forgotten, on the right the days to come,
And another folk and their story in the stead of the Wolfing home.
Do the shadows darken about it, is the even here at last?
Or is this but a storm of the noon-tide that the wind is driving past?

“Unscathed as yet it standeth; it bears the stormy drift,
Nor bows to the lightening flashing adown from the cloudy lift.
I see the hail of battle and the onslaught of the strong,
And they go adown to the folk-mote that shall bide there over long.
I see the slain-heaps rising and the alien folk prevail,
And the Goths give back before them on the ridge o’er the treeless vale.
I see the ancient fallen, and the young man smitten dead,
And yet I see the War-duke shake Throng-plough o’er his head,
And stand unhelmed, unbyrnied before the alien host,
And the hurt men rise around him to win back battle lost;
And the wood yield up her warriors, and the whole host rushing on,
And the swaying lines of battle until the lost is won.
Then forth goes the cry of triumph, as they ring the captives round
And cheat the crow of her portion and heap the warriors’ mound.
There are faces gone from our feast-hall not the least beloved nor worst,
But the wane of the House of the Wolfings not yet the world hath cursed.
The sun shall rise to-morrow on our cold and dewy roof,
For they that longed for slaughter were slaughtered far aloof.”

She ceased for a little, but her countenance, which had not changed during her song, changed not at all now: so they all kept silence although they were rejoicing in this new tale of victory; for they deemed that she was not yet at the end of her speaking.  And in good sooth she spake again presently, and said:

“I wot not what hath befallen nor where my soul may be,
For confusion is within me and but dimly do I see,
As if the thing that I look on had happed a while ago.
They stand by the tofts of a war-garth, a captain of the foe,
And a man that is of the Goth-folk, and as friend and friend they speak,
But I hear no word they are saying, though for every word I seek.
And now the mist flows round me and blind I come aback
To the House-roof of the Wolfings and the hearth that hath no lack.”

Her voice grew weaker as she spake the last words, and she sank backward on to her chair: her clenched hands opened, the lids fell down over her bright eyes, her breast heaved no more as it had done, and presently she fell asleep.

The folk were doubtful and somewhat heavy-hearted because of those last words of hers; but they would not ask her more, or rouse her from her sleep, lest they should grieve her; so they departed to their beds and slept for what was yet left of the night.

Continue to Chapter 14

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