The House of the Wolfings - Chapter 26
CHAPTER XXVI—THIODOLF TALKETH WITH THE WOOD-SUN
Now were Thiodolf and the Hall-Sun left alone together standing by the Speech-Hill; and the moon was risen high in the heavens above the tree-tops of the wild-wood. Thiodolf scarce stirred, and he still held his head bent down as one lost in thought.
Then said the Hall-Sun, speaking softly amidst the hush of the camp:
“I have said that the minutes of this night are dear, and they are passing swiftly; and it may be that thou wilt have much to say and to do before the host is astir with the dawning. So come thou with me a little way, that thou mayst hear of new tidings, and think what were best to do amidst them.”
And without more ado she took him by the hand and led him forth, and he went as he was led, not saying a word. They passed out of the camp into the wood, none hindering, and went a long way where under the beech-leaves there was but a glimmer of the moonlight, and presently Thiodolf’s feet went as it were of themselves; for they had hit a path that he knew well and over-well.
So came they to that little wood-lawn where first in this tale Thiodolf met the Wood-Sun; and the stone seat there was not empty now any more than it was then; for thereon sat the Wood-Sun, clad once more in her glittering raiment. Her head was sunken down, her face hidden by her hands; neither did she look up when she heard their feet on the grass, for she knew who they were.
Thiodolf lingered not; for a moment it was to him as if all that past time had never been, and its battles and hurry and hopes and fears but mere shows, and the unspoken words of a dream. He went straight up to her and sat down by her side and put his arm about her shoulders, and strove to take her hand to caress it; but she moved but little, and it was as if she heeded him not. And the Hall-Sun stood before them and looked at them for a little while; and then she fell to speech; but at the first sound of her voice, it seemed that the Wood-Sun trembled, but still she hid her face. Said the Hall-Sun:
Ere she had ended, the Wood-Sun let her hands fall down, and showed her face, which for all its unpaled beauty looked wearied and anxious; and she took Thiodolf’s hand in hers, while she looked with eyes of love upon the Hall-Sun, and Thiodolf laid his cheek to her cheek, and though he smiled not, yet he seemed as one who is happy. At last the Wood-Sun spoke and said:
Then came the Hall-Sun close to her, and knelt down by her, and laid her head upon her knees and wept for love of her mother, who kissed her oft and caressed her; and Thiodolf’s hand strayed, as it were, on to his daughter’s head, and he looked kindly on her, though scarce now as if he knew her. Then she arose when she had kissed her mother once more, and went her ways from that wood-lawn into the woods again, and so to the Folk-mote of her people.
But when those twain were all alone again, the Wood-Sun spoke: “O Thiodolf canst thou hear me and understand?”
“Yea,” he said, “when thou speakest of certain matters, as of our love together, and of our daughter that came of our love.”
“Thiodolf,” she said, “How long shall our love last?”
“As long as our life,” he said.
“And if thou diest to-day, where then shall our love be?” said the Wood-Sun.
He said, “I must now say, I wot not; though time was I had said, It shall abide with the soul of the Wolfing Kindred.”
She said: “And when that soul dieth, and the kindred is no more?”
“Time agone,” quoth he, “I had said, it shall abide with the Kindreds of the Earth; but now again I say, I wot not.”
“Will the Earth hide it,” said she, “when thou diest and art borne to mound?”
“Even so didst thou say when we spake together that other night,” said he; “and now I may say nought against thy word.”
“Art thou happy, O Folk-Wolf?” she said.
“Why dost thou ask me?” said he; “I know not; we were sundered and I longed for thee; thou art here; it is enough.”
“And the people of thy Kindred?” she said, “dost thou not long for them?”
He said; “Didst thou not say that I was not of them? Yet were they my friends, and needed me, and I loved them: but by this evening they will need me no more, or but little; for they will be victorious over their foes: so hath the Hall-Sun foretold. What then! shall I take all from thee to give little to them?”
“Thou art wise,” she said; “Wilt thou go to battle to-day?”
“So it seemeth,” said he.
She said: “And wilt thou bear the Dwarf-wrought Hauberk? for if thou dost, thou wilt live, and if thou dost not, thou wilt die.”
“I will bear it,” said he, “that I may live to love thee.”
“Thinkest thou that any evil goes with it?” said she.
There came into his face a flash of his ancient boldness as he answered: “So it seemed to me yesterday, when I fought clad in it the first time; and I fell unsmitten on the meadow, and was shamed, and would have slain myself but for thee. And yet it is not so that any evil goes with it; for thou thyself didst say that past night that there was no evil weird in it.”
She said: “How then if I lied that night?”
Said he; “It is the wont of the Gods to lie, and be unashamed, and men-folk must bear with it.”
“Ah! how wise thou art!” she said; and was silent for a while, and drew away from him a little, and clasped her hands together and wrung them for grief and anger. Then she grew calm again, and said:
“Wouldest thou die at my bidding?”
“Yea,” said he, “not because thou art of the Gods, but because thou hast become a woman to me, and I love thee.”
Then was she silent some while, and at last she said, “Thiodolf, wilt thou do off the Hauberk if I bid thee?”
“Yea, yea,” said he, “and let us depart from the Wolfings, and their strife, for they need us not.”
She was silent once more for a longer while still, and at last she said in a cold voice; “Thiodolf, I bid thee arise, and put off the Hauberk from thee.”
He looked at her wondering, not at her words, but at the voice wherewith she spake them; but he arose from the stone nevertheless, and stood stark in the moonlight; he set his hand to the collar of the war-coat, and undid its clasps, which were of gold and blue stones, and presently he did the coat from off him and let it slide to the ground where it lay in a little grey heap that looked but a handful. Then he sat down on the stone again, and took her hand and kissed her and caressed her fondly, and she him again, and they spake no word for a while: but at the last he spake in measure and rhyme in a low voice, but so sweet and clear that it might have been heard far in the hush of the last hour of the night:
Therewith he clipped her and caressed her, and she spake nothing for a while; and he said; “Thy face is fair and bright; art thou not joyous of these minutes?”
She said: “Thy words are sweet; but they pierce my heart like a sharp knife; for they tell me of thy death and the ending of our love.”
Said he; “I tell thee nothing, beloved, that thou hast not known: is it not for this that we have met here once more?”
She answered after a while; “Yea, yea; yet mightest thou have lived.”
He laughed, but not scornfully or bitterly and said:
“So thought I in time past: but hearken, beloved; If I fall to-day, shall there not yet be a minute after the stroke hath fallen on me, wherein I shall know that the day is won and see the foemen fleeing, and wherein I shall once again deem I shall never die, whatever may betide afterwards, and though the sword lieth deep in my breast? And shall I not see then and know that our love hath no end?”
Bitter grief was in her face as she heard him. But she spake and said: “Lo here the Hauberk which thou hast done off thee, that thy breast might be the nearer to mine! Wilt thou not wear it in the fight for my sake?”
He knit his brows somewhat, and said:
“Nay, it may not be: true it is that thou saidest that no evil weird went with it, but hearken! Yesterday I bore it in the fight, and ere I mingled with the foe, before I might give the token of onset, a cloud came before my eyes and thick darkness wrapped me around, and I fell to the earth unsmitten; and so was I borne out of the fight, and evil dreams beset me of evil things, and the dwarfs that hate mankind. Then I came to myself, and the Hauberk was off me, and I rose up and beheld the battle, that the kindreds were pressing on the foe, and I thought not then of any past time, but of the minutes that were passing; and I ran into the fight straightway: but one followed me with that Hauberk, and I did it on, thinking of nought but the battle. Fierce then was the fray, yet I faltered in it; till the fresh men of the Romans came in upon us and broke up our array. Then my heart almost broke within me, and I faltered no more, but rushed on as of old, and smote great strokes all round about: no hurt I got, but once more came that ugly mist over my eyes, and again I fell unsmitten, and they bore me out of battle: then the men of our folk gave back and were overcome; and when I awoke from my evil dreams, we had gotten away from the fight and the Wolfing dwellings, and were on the mounds above the ford cowering down like beaten men. There then I sat shamed among the men who had chosen me for their best man at the Holy Thing, and lo I was their worst! Then befell that which never till then had befallen me, that life seemed empty and worthless and I longed to die and be done with it, and but for the thought of thy love I had slain myself then and there.
“Thereafter I went with the host to the assembly of the stay-at-homes and fleers, and sat before the Hall-Sun our daughter, and said the words which were put into my mouth. But now must I tell thee a hard and evil thing; that I loved them not, and was not of them, and outside myself there was nothing: within me was the world and nought without me. Nay, as for thee, I was not sundered from thee, but thou wert a part of me; whereas for the others, yea, even for our daughter, thine and mine, they were but images and shows of men, and I longed to depart from them, and to see thy body and to feel thine heart beating. And by then so evil was I grown that my very shame had fallen from me, and my will to die: nay, I longed to live, thou and I, and death seemed hateful to me, and the deeds before death vain and foolish.
“Where then was my glory and my happy life, and the hope of the days fresh born every day, though never dying? Where then was life, and Thiodolf that once had lived?
“But now all is changed once more; I loved thee never so well as now, and great is my grief that we must sunder, and the pain of farewell wrings my heart. Yet since I am once more Thiodolf the Mighty, in my heart there is room for joy also. Look at me, O Wood-Sun, look at me, O beloved! tell me, am I not fair with the fairness of the warrior and the helper of the folk? Is not my voice kind, do not my lips smile, and mine eyes shine? See how steady is mine hand, the friend of the folk! For mine eyes are cleared again, and I can see the kindreds as they are, and their desire of life and scorn of death, and this is what they have made me myself. Now therefore shall they and I together earn the merry days to come, the winter hunting and the spring sowing, the summer haysel, the ingathering of harvest, the happy rest of midwinter, and Yuletide with the memory of the Fathers, wedded to the hope of the days to be. Well may they bid me help them who have holpen me! Well may they bid me die who have made me live!
“For whereas thou sayest that I am not of their blood, nor of their adoption, once more I heed it not. For I have lived with them, and eaten and drunken with them, and toiled with them, and led them in battle and the place of wounds and slaughter; they are mine and I am theirs; and through them am I of the whole earth, and all the kindreds of it; yea, even of the foemen, whom this day the edges in mine hand shall smite.
“Therefore I will bear the Hauberk no more in battle; and belike my body but once more: so shall I have lived and death shall not have undone me.
“Lo thou, is not this the Thiodolf whom thou hast loved? no changeling of the Gods, but the man in whom men have trusted, the friend of Earth, the giver of life, the vanquisher of death?”
And he cast himself upon her, and strained her to his bosom and kissed her, and caressed her, and awoke the bitter-sweet joy within her, as he cried out:
“O remember this, and this, when at last I am gone from thee!”
But when they sundered her face was bright, but the tears were on it, and she said: “O Thiodolf, thou wert fain hadst thou done a wrong to me so that I might forgive thee; now wilt thou forgive me the wrong I have done thee?”
“Yea,” he said, “Even so would I do, were we both to live, and how much more if this be the dawn of our sundering day! What hast thou done?”
She said: “I lied to thee concerning the Hauberk when I said that no evil weird went with it: and this I did for the saving of thy life.”
He laid his hand fondly on her head, and spake smiling: “Such is the wont of the God-kin, because they know not the hearts of men. Tell me all the truth of it now at last.”
He turned round to her and clasped her strongly in his arms again, and kissed her many times and said:
Therewith he arose and lingered no minute longer, but departed, going as straight towards the Thing-stead and the Folk-mote of his kindred as the swallow goes to her nest in the hall-porch. He looked not once behind him, though a bitter wailing rang through the woods and filled his heart with the bitterness of her woe and the anguish of the hour of sundering.