William Morris Archive


Now it must be told that early in the morning, after the night when Gisli had brought to the Wolfing Stead the tidings of the Battle in the Wood, a man came riding from the south to the Dayling abode.  It was just before sunrise, and but few folk were stirring about the dwellings.  He rode up to the Hall and got off his black horse, and tied it to a ring in the wall by the Man’s-door, and went in clashing, for he was in his battle-gear, and had a great wide-rimmed helm on his head.

Folk were but just astir in the Hall, and there came an old woman to him, and looked on him and saw by his attire that he was a man of the Goths and of the Wolfing kindred; so she greeted him kindly: but he said:

“Mother, I am come hither on an errand, and time presses.”

Said she: “Yea, my son, or what tidings bearest thou from the south? for by seeming thou art new-come from the host.”

Said he: “The tidings are as yesterday, save that Thiodolf will lead the host through the wild-wood to look for the Romans beyond it: therefore will there soon be battle again.  See ye, Mother, hast thou here one that knoweth this ring of Thiodolf’s, if perchance men doubt me when I say that I am sent on my errand by him?”

“Yea,” she said, “Agni will know it; since he knoweth all the chief men of the Mark; but what is thine errand, and what is thy name?”

“It is soon told,” said he, “I am a Wolfing hight Thorkettle, and I come to have away for Thiodolf the treasure of the world, the Dwarf-wrought Hauberk, which he left with you when we fared hence to the south three days ago.  Now let Agni come, that I may have it, for time presses sorely.”

There were three or four gathered about them now, and a maiden of them said: “Shall I bring Agni hither, mother?”

“What needeth it?” said the carline, “he sleepeth, and shall be hard to awaken; and he is old, so let him sleep.  I shall go fetch the hauberk, for I know where it is, and my hand may come on it as easily as on mine own girdle.”

So she went her ways to the treasury where were the precious things of the kindred; the woven cloths were put away in fair coffers to keep them clean from the whirl of the Hall-dust and the reek; and the vessels of gold and some of silver were standing on the shelves of a cupboard before which hung a veil of needlework: but the weapons and war-gear hung upon pins along the wall, and many of them had much fair work on them, and were dight with gold and gems: but amidst them all was the wondrous hauberk clear to see, dark grey and thin, for it was so wondrously wrought that it hung in small compass.  So the carline took it down from the pin, and handled it, and marvelled at it, and said:

“Strange are the hands that have passed over thee, sword-rampart, and in strange places of the earth have they dwelt!  For no smith of the kindreds hath fashioned thee, unless he had for his friend either a God or a foe of the Gods.  Well shalt thou wot of the tale of sword and spear ere thou comest back hither!  For Thiodolf shall bring thee where the work is wild.”

Then she went with the hauberk to the new-come warrior, and made no delay, but gave it to him, and said:

“When Agni awaketh, I shall tell him that Thorkettle of the Wolfings hath borne aback to Thiodolf the Treasure of the World, the Dwarf-wrought Hauberk.”

Then Thorkettle took it and turned to go; but even therewith came old Asmund from out of his sleeping-place, and gazed around the Hall, and his eyes fell on the shape of the Wolfing as he was going out of the door, and he asked the carline.

“What doeth he here?  What tidings is there from the host?  For my soul was nought unquiet last night.”

“It is a little matter,” she said; “the War-duke hath sent for the wondrous Byrny that he left in our treasury when he departed to meet the Romans.  Belike there shall be a perilous battle, and few hearts need a stout sword-wall more than Thiodolf’s.”

As she spoke, Thorkettle had passed the door, and got into his saddle, and sat his black horse like a mighty man as he slowly rode down the turf bridge that led into the plain.  And Asmund went to the door and stood watching him till he set spurs to his horse, and departed a great gallop to the south.  Then said Asmund:

“What then are the Gods devising, what wonders do they will?
What mighty need is on them to work the kindreds ill,
That the seed of the Ancient Fathers and a woman of their kin
With her all unfading beauty must blend herself therein?
Are they fearing lest the kindreds should grow too fair and great,
And climb the stairs of God-home, and fashion all their fate,
And make all earth so merry that it never wax the worse,
Nor need a gift from any, nor prayers to quench the curse?
Fear they that the Folk-wolf, growing as the fire from out the spark
Into a very folk-god, shall lead the weaponed Mark
From wood to field and mountain, to stand between the earth
And the wrights that forge its thraldom and the sword to slay its mirth?
Fear they that the sons of the wild-wood the Loathly Folk shall quell,
And grow into Gods thereafter, and aloof in God-home dwell?”

Therewith he turned back into the Hall, and was heavy-hearted and dreary of aspect; for he was somewhat foreseeing; and it may not be hidden that this seeming Thorkettle was no warrior of the Wolfings, but the Wood-Sun in his likeness; for she had the power and craft of shape-changing.

Continue to Chapter 17

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