CHAPTER III—THIODOLF TALKETH WITH THE WOOD-SUN
But yet sat Thiodolf under the Hall-Sun for a while as one in deep thought; till at last as he stirred, his sword clattered on him; and then he lifted up his eyes and looked down the hall and saw no man stirring, so he stood up and settled his raiment on him, and went forth, and so took his ways through the hall-door, as one who hath an errand.
The moonlight lay in a great flood on the grass without, and the dew was falling in the coldest hour of the night, and the earth smelled sweetly: the whole habitation was asleep now, and there was no sound to be known as the sound of any creature, save that from the distant meadow came the lowing of a cow that had lost her calf, and that a white owl was flitting about near the eaves of the Roof with her wild cry that sounded like the mocking of merriment now silent.
Thiodolf turned toward the wood, and walked steadily through the scattered hazel-trees, and thereby into the thick of the beech-trees, whose boles grew smooth and silver-grey, high and close-set: and so on and on he went as one going by a well-known path, though there was no path, till all the moonlight was quenched under the close roof of the beech-leaves, though yet for all the darkness, no man could go there and not feel that the roof was green above him. Still he went on in despite of the darkness, till at last there was a glimmer before him, that grew greater till he came unto a small wood-lawn whereon the turf grew again, though the grass was but thin, because little sunlight got to it, so close and thick were the tall trees round about it. In the heavens above it by now there was a light that was not all of the moon, though it might scarce be told whether that light were the memory of yesterday or the promise of to-morrow, since little of the heavens could be seen thence, save the crown of them, because of the tall tree-tops.
Nought looked Thiodolf either at the heavens above, or the trees, as he strode from off the husk-strewn floor of the beech wood on to the scanty grass of the lawn, but his eyes looked straight before him at that which was amidmost of the lawn: and little wonder was that; for there on a stone chair sat a woman exceeding fair, clad in glittering raiment, her hair lying as pale in the moonlight on the grey stone as the barley acres in the August night before the reaping-hook goes in amongst them. She sat there as though she were awaiting someone, and he made no stop nor stay, but went straight up to her, and took her in his arms, and kissed her mouth and her eyes, and she him again; and then he sat himself down beside her. But her eyes looked kindly on him as she said:
“O Thiodolf, hardy art thou, that thou hast no fear to take me in thine arms and to kiss me, as though thou hadst met in the meadow with a maiden of the Elkings: and I, who am a daughter of the Gods of thy kindred, and a Chooser of the Slain! Yea, and that upon the eve of battle and the dawn of thy departure to the stricken field!”
“O Wood-Sun,” he said “thou art the treasure of life that I found when I was young, and the love of life that I hold, now that my beard is grizzling. Since when did I fear thee, Wood-Sun? Did I fear thee when first I saw thee, and we stood amidst the hazelled field, we twain living amongst the slain? But my sword was red with the blood of the foe, and my raiment with mine own blood; and I was a-weary with the day’s work, and sick with many strokes, and methought I was fainting into death. And there thou wert before me, full of life and ruddy and smiling both lips and eyes; thy raiment clean and clear, thine hands stained with blood: then didst thou take me by my bloody and weary hand, and didst kiss my lips grown ashen pale, and thou saidst ‘Come with me.’ And I strove to go, and might not; so many and sore were my hurts. Then amidst my sickness and my weariness was I merry; for I said to myself, This is the death of the warrior, and it is exceeding sweet. What meaneth it? Folk said of me; he is over young to meet the foeman; yet am I not over young to die?”
Therewith he laughed out amid the wild-wood, and his speech became song, and he said:
“We wrought in the ring of the hazels, and the wine of war we drank:
From the tide when the sun stood highest to the hour wherein she sank:
And three kings came against me, the mightiest of the Huns,
The evil-eyed in battle, the swift-foot wily ones;
And they gnashed their teeth against me, and they gnawed on the shield-rims there,
On that afternoon of summer, in the high-tide of the year.
Keen-eyed I gazed about me, and I saw the clouds draw up
Till the heavens were dark as the hollow of a wine-stained iron cup,
And the wild-deer lay unfeeding on the grass of the forest glades,
And all earth was scared with the thunder above our clashing blades.
“Then sank a King before me, and on fell the other twain,
And I tossed up the reddened sword-blade in the gathered rush of the rain
And the blood and the water blended, and fragrant grew the earth.
“There long I turned and twisted within the battle-girth
Before those bears of onset: while out from the grey world streamed
The broad red lash of the lightening and in our byrnies gleamed.
And long I leapt and laboured in that garland of the fight
’Mid the blue blades and the lightening; but ere the sky grew light
The second of the Hun-kings on the rain-drenched daisies lay;
And we twain with the battle blinded a little while made stay,
And leaning on our sword-hilts each on the other gazed.
“Then the rain grew less, and one corner of the veil of clouds was raised,
And as from the broidered covering gleams out the shoulder white
Of the bed-mate of the warrior when on his wedding night
He layeth his hand to the linen; so, down there in the west
Gleamed out the naked heaven: but the wrath rose up in my breast,
And the sword in my hand rose with it, and I leaped and hewed at the Hun;
And from him too flared the war-flame, and the blades danced bright in the sun
Come back to the earth for a little before the ending of day.
“There then with all that was in him did the Hun play out the play,
Till he fell, and left me tottering, and I turned my feet to wend
To the place of the mound of the mighty, the gate of the way without end.
And there thou wert. How was it, thou Chooser of the Slain,
Did I die in thine arms, and thereafter did thy mouth-kiss wake me again?”
Ere the last sound of his voice was done she turned and kissed him; and then she said; “Never hadst thou a fear and thine heart is full of hardihood.”
Then he said:
“’Tis the hardy heart, beloved, that keepeth me alive,
As the king-leek in the garden by the rain and the sun doth thrive,
So I thrive by the praise of the people; it is blent with my drink and my meat;
As I slumber in the night-tide it laps me soft and sweet;
And through the chamber window when I waken in the morn
With the wind of the sun’s arising from the meadow is it borne
And biddeth me remember that yet I live on earth:
Then I rise and my might is with me, and fills my heart with mirth,
As I think of the praise of the people; and all this joy I win
By the deeds that my heart commandeth and the hope that lieth therein.”
“Yea,” she said, “but day runneth ever on the heels of day, and there are many and many days; and betwixt them do they carry eld.”
“Yet art thou no older than in days bygone,” said he. “Is it so, O Daughter of the Gods, that thou wert never born, but wert from before the framing of the mountains, from the beginning of all things?”
But she said:
“Nay, nay; I began, I was born; although it may be indeed
That not on the hills of the earth I sprang from the godhead’s seed.
And e’en as my birth and my waxing shall be my waning and end.
But thou on many an errand, to many a field dost wend
Where the bow at adventure bended, or the fleeing dastard’s spear
Oft lulleth the mirth of the mighty. Now me thou dost not fear,
Yet fear with me, beloved, for the mighty Maid I fear;
And Doom is her name, and full often she maketh me afraid
And even now meseemeth on my life her hand is laid.”
But he laughed and said:
“In what land is she abiding? Is she near or far away?
Will she draw up close beside me in the press of the battle play?
And if then I may not smite her ’midst the warriors of the field
With the pale blade of my fathers, will she bide the shove of my shield?”
But sadly she sang in answer:
“In many a stead Doom dwelleth, nor sleepeth day nor night:
The rim of the bowl she kisseth, and beareth the chambering light
When the kings of men wend happy to the bride-bed from the board.
It is little to say that she wendeth the edge of the grinded sword,
When about the house half builded she hangeth many a day;
The ship from the strand she shoveth, and on his wonted way
By the mountain-hunter fareth where his foot ne’er failed before:
She is where the high bank crumbles at last on the river’s shore:
The mower’s scythe she whetteth; and lulleth the shepherd to sleep
Where the deadly ling-worm wakeneth in the desert of the sheep.
Now we that come of the God-kin of her redes for ourselves we wot,
But her will with the lives of men-folk and their ending know we not.
So therefore I bid thee not fear for thyself of Doom and her deed,
But for me: and I bid thee hearken to the helping of my need.
Or else—Art thou happy in life, or lusteth thou to die
In the flower of thy days, when thy glory and thy longing bloom on high?”
But Thiodolf answered her:
“I have deemed, and long have I deemed that this is my second life,
That my first one waned with my wounding when thou cam’st to the ring of strife.
For when in thine arms I wakened on the hazelled field of yore,
Meseemed I had newly arisen to a world I knew no more,
So much had all things brightened on that dewy dawn of day.
It was dark dull death that I looked for when my thought had died away.
It was lovely life that I woke to; and from that day henceforth
My joy of the life of man-folk was manifolded of worth.
Far fairer the fields of the morning than I had known them erst,
And the acres where I wended, and the corn with its half-slaked thirst;
And the noble Roof of the Wolfings, and the hawks that sat thereon;
And the bodies of my kindred whose deliverance I had won;
And the glimmering of the Hall-Sun in the dusky house of old;
And my name in the mouth of the maidens, and the praises of the bold,
As I sat in my battle-raiment, and the ruddy spear well steeled
Leaned ’gainst my side war-battered, and the wounds thine hand had healed.
Yea, from that morn thenceforward has my life been good indeed,
The gain of to-day was goodly, and good to-morrow’s need,
And good the whirl of the battle, and the broil I wielded there,
Till I fashioned the ordered onset, and the unhoped victory fair.
And good were the days thereafter of utter deedless rest
And the prattle of thy daughter, and her hands on my unmailed breast.
Ah good is the life thou hast given, the life that mine hands have won.
And where shall be the ending till the world is all undone?
Here sit we twain together, and both we in Godhead clad,
We twain of the Wolfing kindred, and each of the other glad.”
But she answered, and her face grew darker withal:
“O mighty man and joyous, art thou of the Wolfing kin?
’Twas no evil deed when we mingled, nor lieth doom therein.
Thou lovely man, thou black-haired, thou shalt die and have done no ill.
Fame-crowned are the deeds of thy doing, and the mouths of men they fill.
Thou betterer of the Godfolk, enduring is thy fame:
Yet as a painted image of a dream is thy dreaded name.
Of an alien folk thou comest, that we twain might be one indeed.
Thou shalt die one day. So hearken, to help me at my need.”
His face grew troubled and he said: “What is this word that I am no chief of the Wolfings?”
“Nay,” she said, “but better than they. Look thou on the face of our daughter the Hall-Sun, thy daughter and mine: favoureth she at all of me?”
He laughed: “Yea, whereas she is fair, but not otherwise. This is a hard saying, that I dwell among an alien kindred, and it wotteth not thereof. Why hast thou not told me hereof before?”
She said: “It needed not to tell thee because thy day was waxing, as now it waneth. Once more I bid thee hearken and do my bidding though it be hard to thee.”
He answered: “Even so will I as much as I may; and thus wise must thou look upon it, that I love life, and fear not death.”
Then she spake, and again her words fell into rhyme:
“In forty fights hast thou foughten, and been worsted but in four;
And I looked on and was merry; and ever more and more
Wert thou dear to the heart of the Wood-Sun, and the Chooser of the Slain.
But now whereas ye are wending with slaughter-herd and wain
To meet a folk that ye know not, a wonder, a peerless foe,
I fear for thy glory’s waning, and I see thee lying alow.”
Then he brake in: “Herein is little shame to be worsted by the might of the mightiest: if this so mighty folk sheareth a limb off the tree of my fame, yet shall it wax again.”
But she sang:
“In forty fights hast thou foughten, and beside thee who but I
Beheld the wind-tossed banners, and saw the aspen fly?
But to-day to thy war I wend not, for Weird withholdeth me
And sore my heart forebodeth for the battle that shall be.
To-day with thee I wend not; so I feared, and lo my feet,
That are wont to the woodland girdle of the acres of the wheat,
For thee among strange people and the foeman’s throng have trod,
And I tell thee their banner of battle is a wise and a mighty God.
For these are the folk of the cities, and in wondrous wise they dwell
’Mid confusion of heaped houses, dim and black as the face of hell;
Though therefrom rise roofs most goodly, where their captains and their kings
Dwell amidst the walls of marble in abundance of fair things;
And ’mid these, nor worser nor better, but builded otherwise
Stand the Houses of the Fathers, and the hidden mysteries.
And as close as are the tree-trunks that within the beech-wood thrive
E’en so many are their pillars; and therein like men alive
Stand the images of god-folk in such raiment as they wore
In the years before the cities and the hidden days of yore.
Ah for the gold that I gazed on! and their store of battle gear,
And strange engines that I knew not, or the end for which they were.
Ah for the ordered wisdom of the war-array of these,
And the folks that are sitting about them in dumb down-trodden peace!
So I thought now fareth war-ward my well-beloved friend,
And the weird of the Gods hath doomed it that no more with him may I wend!
Woe’s me for the war of the Wolfings wherefrom I am sundered apart,
And the fruitless death of the war-wise, and the doom of the hardy heart!”
Then he answered, and his eyes grew kind as he looked on her:
“For thy fair love I thank thee, and thy faithful word, O friend!
But how might it otherwise happen but we twain must meet in the end,
The God of this mighty people and the Markmen and their kin?
Lo, this is the weird of the world, and what may we do herein?”
Then mirth came into her face again as she said:
“Who wotteth of Weird, and what she is till the weird is accomplished? Long hath it been my weird to love thee and to fashion deeds for thee as I may; nor will I depart from it now.” And she sang:
“Keen-edged is the sword of the city, and bitter is its spear,
But thy breast in the battle, beloved, hath a wall of the stithy’s gear.
What now is thy wont in the handplay with the helm and the hauberk of rings?
Farest thou as the thrall and the cot-carle, or clad in the raiment of kings?”
He started, and his face reddened as he answered:
“O Wood-Sun thou wottest our battle and the way wherein we fare:
That oft at the battle’s beginning the helm and the hauberk we bear;
Lest the shaft of the fleeing coward or the bow at adventure bent
Should slay us ere the need be, ere our might be given and spent.
Yet oft ere the fight is over, and Doom hath scattered the foe,
No leader of the people by his war-gear shall ye know,
But by his hurts the rather, from the cot-carle and the thrall:
For when all is done that a man may, ’tis the hour for a man to fall.”
She yet smiled as she said in answer:
“O Folk-wolf, heed and hearken; for when shall thy life be spent
And the Folk wherein thou dwellest with thy death be well content?
Whenso folk need the fire, do they hew the apple-tree,
And burn the Mother of Blossom and the fruit that is to be?
Or me wilt thou bid to thy grave-mound because thy battle-wrath
May nothing more be bridled than the whirl wind on his path?
So hearken and do my bidding, for the hauberk shalt thou bear
E’en when the other warriors cast off their battle-gear.
So come thou, come unwounded from the war-field of the south,
And sit with me in the beech-wood, and kiss me, eyes and mouth.”
And she kissed him in very deed, and made much of him, and fawned on him, and laid her hand on his breast, and he was soft and blithe with her, but at last he laughed and said:
“God’s Daughter, long hast thou lived, and many a matter seen,
And men full often grieving for the deed that might have been;
But here my heart thou wheedlest as a maid of tender years
When first in the arms of her darling the horn of war she hears.
Thou knowest the axe to be heavy, and the sword, how keen it is;
But that Doom of which thou hast spoken, wilt thou not tell of this,
God’s Daughter, how it sheareth, and how it breaketh through
Each wall that the warrior buildeth, yea all deeds that he may do?
What might in the hammer’s leavings, in the fire’s thrall shall abide
To turn that Folks’ o’erwhelmer from the fated warrior’s side?”
Then she laughed in her turn, and loudly; but so sweetly that the sound of her voice mingled with the first song of a newly awakened wood-thrush sitting on a rowan twig on the edge of the Wood-lawn. But she said:
“Yea, I that am God’s Daughter may tell thee never a whit
From what land cometh the hauberk nor what smith smithied it,
That thou shalt wear in the handplay from the first stroke to the last;
But this thereof I tell thee, that it holdeth firm and fast
The life of the body it lappeth, if the gift of the Godfolk it be.
Lo this is the yoke-mate of doom, and the gift of me unto thee.”
Then she leaned down from the stone whereon they sat, and her hand was in the dewy grass for a little, and then it lifted up a dark grey rippling coat of rings; and she straightened herself in the seat again, and laid that hauberk on the knees of Thiodolf, and he put his hand to it, and turned it about, while he pondered long: then at last he said:
“What evil thing abideth with this warder of the strife,
This burg and treasure chamber for the hoarding of my life?
For this is the work of the dwarfs, and no kindly kin of the earth;
And all we fear the dwarf-kin and their anger and sorrow and mirth.”
She cast her arms about him and fondled him, and her voice grew sweeter than the voice of any mortal thing as she answered:
“No ill for thee, beloved, or for me in the hauberk lies;
No sundering grief is in it, no lonely miseries.
But we shall abide together, and that new life I gave,
For a long while yet henceforward we twain its joy shall have.
Yea, if thou dost my bidding to wear my gift in the fight
No hunter of the wild-wood at the changing of the night
Shall see my shape on thy grave-mound or my tears in the morning find
With the dew of the morning mingled; nor with the evening wind
Shall my body pass the shepherd as he wandereth in the mead
And fill him with forebodings on the eve of the Wolfings’ need.
Nor the horse-herd wake in the midnight and hear my fateful cry;
Nor yet shall the Wolfing women hear words on the wind go by
As they weave and spin the night down when the House is gone to the war,
And weep for the swains they wedded and the children that they bore.
Yea do my bidding, O Folk-wolf, lest a grief of the Gods should weigh
On the ancient House of the Wolfings and my death o’ercloud its day.”
And still she clung about him, while he spake no word of yea or nay: but at the last he let himself glide wholly into her arms, and the dwarf-wrought hauberk fell from his knees and lay on the grass.
So they abode together in that wood-lawn till the twilight was long gone, and the sun arisen for some while. And when Thiodolf stepped out of the beech-wood into the broad sunshine dappled with the shadow of the leaves of the hazels moving gently in the fresh morning air, he was covered from the neck to the knee by a hauberk of rings dark and grey and gleaming, fashioned by the dwarfs of ancient days.