The House of the Wolfings - Chapter 27
CHAPTER XXVII—THEY WEND TO THE MORNING BATTLE
Now when Thiodolf came back to the camp the signs of dawn were plain in the sky, the moon was low and sinking behind the trees, and he saw at once that the men were stirring and getting ready for departure. He looked gladly and blithely at the men he fell in with, and they at him, and scarce could they refrain a shout when they beheld his face and the brightness of it. He went straight up to where the Hall-Sun was yet sitting under her namesake, with Arinbiorn standing before her amidst of a ring of leaders of hundreds and scores: but old Sorli sat by her side clad in all his war-gear.
When Thiodolf first came into that ring of men they looked doubtfully at him, as if they dreaded somewhat, but when they had well beheld him their faces cleared, and they became joyous.
He went straight up to Arinbiorn and kissed the old warrior, and said to him, “I give thee good morrow, O leader of the Bearings! Here now is come the War-duke! and meseems that we should get to work as speedily as may be, for lo the dawning!”
“Hail to thine hand, War-duke!” said Arinbiorn joyously; “there is no more to do but to take thy word concerning the order wherein we shall wend; for all men are armed and ready.”
Said Thiodolf; “Lo ye, I lack war-gear and weapons! Is there a good sword hereby, a helm, a byrny and a shield? For hard will be the battle, and we must fence ourselves all we may.”
“Hard by,” said Arinbiorn, “is the war-gear of Ivar of our House, who is dead in the night of his hurts gotten in yesterday’s battle: thou and he are alike in stature, and with a good will doth he give them to thee, and they are goodly things, for he comes of smithying blood. Yet is it a pity of Throng-plough that he lieth on the field of the slain.”
But Thiodolf smiled and said: “Nay, Ivar’s blade shall serve my turn to-day; and thereafter shall it be seen to, for then will be time for many things.”
So they went to fetch him the weapons; but he said to Arinbiorn, “Hast thou numbered the host? What are the gleanings of the Roman sword?”
Said Arinbiorn: “Here have we more than three thousand three hundred warriors of the host fit for battle: and besides this here are gathered eighteen hundred of the Wolfings and the Bearings, and of the other Houses, mostly from over the water, and of these nigh upon seven hundred may bear sword or shoot shaft; neither shall ye hinder them from so doing if the battle be joined.”
Then said Thiodolf: “We shall order us into three battles; the Wolfings and the Bearings to lead the first, for this is our business; but others of the smaller Houses this side the water to be with us; and the Elkings and Galtings and the other Houses of the Mid-mark on the further side of the water to be in the second, and with them the more part of the Nether-mark; but the men of Up-mark to be in the third, and the stay-at-homes to follow on with them: and this third battle to let the wood cover them till they be needed, which may not be till the day of fight draws to an end, when all shall be needed: for no Roman man must be left alive or untaken by this even, or else must we all go to the Gods together. Hearken, Arinbiorn. I am not called fore-sighted, and yet meseems I see somewhat how this day shall go; and it is not to be hidden that I shall not see another battle until the last of all battles is at hand. But be of good cheer, for I shall not die till the end of the fight, and once more I shall be a man’s help unto you. Now the first of the Romans we meet shall not be able to stand before us, for they shall be unready, and when their men are gotten ready and are fighting with us grimly, ye of the second battle shall hear the war-token, and shall fall on, and they shall be dismayed when they see so many fresh men come into the fight; yet shall they stand stoutly; for they are valiant men, and shall not all be taken unawares. Then, if they withstand us long enough, shall the third battle come forth from the wood, and fall on either flank of them, and the day shall be won. But I think not that they shall withstand us so long, but that the men of Up-mark and the stay-at-homes shall have the chasing of them. Now get me my war-gear, and let the first battle get them to the outgate of the garth.”
So they brought him his arms; and meanwhile the Hall-Sun spake to one of the Captains, and he turned and went away a little space, and then came back, having with him three strong warriors of the Wolfings, and he brought them before the Hall-Sun, who said to them:
“Ye three, Steinulf, Athalulf, and Grani the Grey, I have sent for you because ye are men both mighty in battle and deft wood-wrights and house-smiths; ye shall follow Thiodolf closely, when he winneth into the Roman garth, yet shall ye fight wisely, so that ye be not slain, or at least not all; ye shall enter the Hall with Thiodolf, and when ye are therein, if need be, ye shall run down the Hall at your swiftest, and mount up into the loft betwixt the Middle-hearth and the Women’s-Chamber, and there shall ye find good store of water in vats and tubs, and this ye shall use for quenching the fire of the Hall if the foemen fire it, as is not unlike to be.”
Then Grani spoke for the others and said he would pay all heed to her words, and they departed to join their company.
Now was Thiodolf armed; and Arinbiorn, turning about before he went to his place, beheld him and knit his brow, and said: “What is this, Thiodolf? Didst thou not swear to the Gods not to bear helm or shield in the battles of this strife? yet hast thou Ivar’s helm on thine head and his shield ready beside thee: wilt thou forswear thyself? so doing shalt thou bring woe upon the House.”
“Arinbiorn,” said Thiodolf, “where didst thou hear tell of me that I had made myself the thrall of the Gods? The oath that I sware was sworn when mine heart was not whole towards our people; and now will I break it that I may keep what of good intent there was in it, and cast away the rest. Long is the story; but if we journey together to-night I will tell it thee. Likewise I will tell it to the Gods if they look sourly upon me when I see them, and all shall be well.”
He smiled as he spoke, and Arinbiorn smiled on him in turn and went his ways to array the host. But when he was gone Thiodolf was alone in that place with the Hall-Sun, and he turned to her, and kissed her, and caressed her fondly, and spake and said:
She looked up at him and smiled, though the tears were on her face; then she said:
Then she wept outright for a brief space, and thereafter she said:
Then the bitterness of tears stayed her speech, and he spake no word more, but took her in his arms a while and soothed her and fondled her, and then they parted, and he went with great strides towards the outgoing of the Thing-stead.
There he found the warriors of his House and of the Bearings and the lesser Houses of Mid-mark, all duly ordered for wending through the wood. The dawn was coming on apace, but the wood was yet dark. But whereas the Wolfings led, and each man of them knew the wood like his own hand, there was no straying or disarray, and in less than a half-hour’s space Thiodolf and the first battle were come to the wood behind the hazel-trees at the back of the hall, and before them was the dawning round about the Roof of the Kindred; the eastern heavens were brightening, and they could see all things clear without the wood.