William Morris Archive


There still hung the more part of the stay-at-homes round about the Roof.  But on the plain beneath the tofts were all the wains of the host drawn up round about a square like the streets about a market-place; all these now had their tilts rigged over them, some white, some black, some red, some tawny of hue; and some, which were of the Beamings, green like the leafy tree.

The warriors of the host went down into this wain-town, which they had not fenced in any way, since they in no wise looked for any onset there; and there were their thralls dighting the feast for them, and a many of the Dayling kindred, both men and women, went with them; but some men did the Daylings bring into their Roof, for there was room for a good many besides their own folk.  So they went over the Bridge of turf into the garth and into the Great Roof of the Daylings; and amongst these were the two War-dukes.

So when they came to the dais it was as fair all round about there as might well be; and there sat elders and ancient warriors to welcome the guests; and among them was the old carle who had sat on the edge of the burg to watch the faring of the host, and had shuddered back at the sight of the Wolfing Banner.

And when the old carle saw the guests, he fixed his eyes on Thiodolf, and presently came up and stood before him; and Thiodolf looked on the old man, and greeted him kindly and smiled on him; but the carle spake not till he had looked on him a while; and at last he fell a-trembling, and reached his hands out to Thiodolf’s bare head, and handled his curls and caressed them, as a mother does with her son, even if he be a grizzled-haired man, when there is none by: and at last he said:

“How dear is the head of the mighty, and the apple of the tree
That blooms with the life of the people which is and yet shall be!
It is helmed with ancient wisdom, and the long remembered thought,
That liveth when dead is the iron, and its very rust but nought.
Ah! were I but young as aforetime, I would fare to the battle-stead
And stand amidst of the spear-hail for the praise of the hand and the head!”

Then his hands left Thiodolf’s head, and strayed down to his shoulders and his breast, and he felt the cold rings of the hauberk, and let his hands fall down to his side again; and the tears gushed out of his old eyes and again he spake:

“O house of the heart of the mighty, O breast of the battle-lord
Why art thou coldly hidden from the flickering flame of the sword?
I know thee not, nor see thee; thou art as the fells afar
Where the Fathers have their dwelling, and the halls of Godhome are:
The wind blows wild betwixt us, and the cloud-rack flies along,
And high aloft enfoldeth the dwelling of the strong;
They are, as of old they have been, but their hearths flame not for me;
And the kindness of their feast-halls mine eyes shall never see.”

Thiodolf’s lips still smiled on the old man, but a shadow had come over his eyes and his brow; and the chief of the Daylings and their mighty guests stood by listening intently with the knit brows of anxious men; nor did any speak till the ancient man again betook him to words:

“I came to the house of the foeman when hunger made me a fool;
And the foeman said, ‘Thou art weary, lo, set thy foot on the stool;’
And I stretched out my feet,—and was shackled: and he spake with a dastard’s smile,
‘O guest, thine hands are heavy; now rest them for a while!’
So I stretched out my hands, and the hand-gyves lay cold on either wrist:
And the wood of the wolf had been better than that feast-hall, had I wist
That this was the ancient pit-fall, and the long expected trap,
And that now for my heart’s desire I had sold the world’s goodhap.”

Therewith the ancient man turned slowly away from Thiodolf, and departed sadly to his own place.  Thiodolf changed countenance but little, albeit those about him looked strangely on him, as though if they durst they would ask him what these words might be, and if he from his hidden knowledge might fit a meaning to them.  For to many there was a word of warning in them, and to some an evil omen of the days soon to be; and scarce anyone heard those words but he had a misgiving in his heart, for the ancient man was known to be foreseeing, and wild and strange his words seemed to them.

But Agni would make light of it, and he said: “Asmund the Old is of good will, and wise he is; but he hath great longings for the deeds of men, when he hath tidings of battle; for a great warrior and a red-hand hewer he hath been in times past; he loves the Kindred, and deems it ill if he may not fare afield with them; for the thought of dying in the straw is hateful to him.”

“Yea,” said another, “and moreover he hath seen sons whom he loved slain in battle; and when he seeth a warrior in his prime he becometh dear to him, and he feareth for him.”

“Yet,” said a third, “Asmund is foreseeing; and may be, Thiodolf, thou wilt wot of the drift of these words, and tell us thereof.”

But Thiodolf spake nought of the matter, though in his heart he pondered it.

So the guests were led to table, and the feast began, within the hall and without it, and wide about the plain; and the Dayling maidens went in bands trimly decked out throughout all the host and served the warriors with meat and drink, and sang the overword to their lays, and smote the harp, and drew the bow over the fiddle till it laughed and wailed and chuckled, and were blithe and merry with all, and great was the glee on the eve of battle.  And if Thiodolf’s heart were overcast, his face showed it not, but he passed from hall to wain-burg and from wain-burg to hall again blithe and joyous with all men.  And thereby he raised the hearts of men, and they deemed it good that they had gotten such a War-duke, meet to uphold all hearts of men both at the feast and in the fray.

Continue to Chapter 10

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