William Morris Archive


In the morning early Hallblithe arose from his bed, and when he came into the mid-hall, there was the Puny Fox and the Hostage with him; Hallblithe kissed her and embraced her, and she him; yet not like lovers long sundered, but as a man and maid betrothed are wont to do, for there were folk coming and going about the hall. Then spake the Puny Fox: “The Erne is abiding us out in the meadow yonder; for now nought will serve him but he must needs go under the earth-collar with us. How sayest thou, is he enough thy friend?”

Said Hallblithe, smiling on the Hostage: “What hast thou to say to it, beloved?”

“Nought at all,” she said, “if thou art friend to any of these men. I may deem that I have somewhat against the chieftain, whereof belike this big man may tell thee hereafter; but even so much meseemeth I have against this man himself, who is now become thy friend and scholar; for he also strove for my beguilement, and that not for himself, but for another.”

“True it is,” said the Fox, “that I did it for another; even as yesterday I took thy mate Hallblithe out of the trap whereinto he had strayed, and compassed his deliverance by means of the unfaithful battle; and even as I would have stolen thee for him, O Rose-maiden, if need had been; yea, even if I must have smitten into ruin the roof-tree of the Ravagers. And how could I tell that the Erne would give thee up unstolen? Yea, thou sayeth sooth, O noble and spotless maiden; all my deeds, both good and ill, have I done for others; and so I deem it shall be while my life lasteth.”

Then Hallblithe laughed and said: “Art thou nettled, fellow-in-arms, at the word of a woman who knoweth thee not? She shall yet be thy friend, O Fox. But tell me, beloved, I deemed that thou hadst not seen Fox before; how then can he have helped the Erne against thee?”

“Yet she sayeth sooth,” said Fox, “this was of my sleight: for when I had to come before her, I changed my skin, as I well know how; there are others in this land who can do so much as that. But what sayest thou concerning the brotherhood with the Erne?”

“Let it be so,” said Hallblithe, “he is manly and true, though masterful, and is meet for this land of his. I shall not fall out with him; for seldom meseemeth shall I see the Isle of Ransom.”

“And I never again,” said the Puny Fox.

“Dost thou loathe it, then,” said the Hostage, “because of the evil thou hast done therein?”

“Nay,” said he, “what is the evil, when henceforth I shall do but good? Nay, I love the land. Belike thou deemest it but dreary with its black rocks and black sand, and treeless wind-swept dales; but I know it in summer and winter, and sun and shade, in storm and calm. And I know where the fathers dwelt and the sons of their sons’ sons have long lain in the earth. I have sailed its windiest firths, and climbed its steepest crags; and ye may well wot that it hath a friendly face to me; and the land-wights of the mountains will be sorry for my departure.”

So he spake, and Hallblithe would have answered him, but by now were they come to a grassy hollow amidst the dale, where the Erne had already made the earth-yoke ready. To wit, he had loosened a strip of turf all save the two ends, and had propped it up with two ancient dwarf-wrought spears, so that amidmost there was a lintel to go under.

So when he saw those others coming, he gave them the sele of the day, and said to Hallblithe: “What is it to be? shall I be less than thy brother-in-arms henceforward?”

Said Hallblithe: “Not a whit less. It is good to have brothers in other lands than one.”

So they made no delay, but clad in all their war-gear, they went under the earth-yoke one after the other; thereafter they stood together, and each let blood in his arm, so that the blood of all three mingled together fell down on the grass of the ancient earth; and they swore friendship and brotherhood each to each.

But when all was done the Erne spake: “Brother Hallblithe, as I lay awake in bed this morning I deemed that I would take ship with thee to Cleveland by the Sea, that I might dwell there a while. But when I came out of the hall, and saw the dale lying green betwixt hill-side and hill-side, and the glittering river running down amidmost, and the sheep and kine and horses feeding up and down on either side the water: and I looked up at the fells and saw how deep blue they stood up against the snowy peaks, and I thought of all our deeds on the deep sea, and the merry nights, in yonder abode of men: then I thought that I would not leave the kindred, were it but for a while, unless war and lifting called me. So now I will ride with thee to the ship, and then farewell to thee.”

“It is good,” said Hallblithe, “though not as good as it might be. Glad had we been with thee in the hall of the Ravens.”

As he spoke drew anigh the carles leading the horses, and with them came six of those damsels whom the Erne had given to Hallblithe the night before; two of whom asked to be brought to their kindred over sea; but the other four were fain to go with Hallblithe and the Hostage, and become their sisters at Cleveland by the Sea.

So then they got to horse and rode down the dale toward the haven, and the carles rode with them, so that of weaponed men they were a score in company. But when they were half-way to the haven they saw where hard by three knolls on the way-side were men standing with their weapons and war-gear glittering in the sun. So the Erne laughed and said: “Shall we have a word with War-brand then?”

But they rode steadily on their way, and when they came up to the knolls they saw that it was War-brand indeed with a score of men at his back; but they stirred not when they saw Erne’s company that it was great. Then Erne laughed aloud and cried out in a big voice, “What, lads! ye ride early this morning; are there foemen abroad in the Isle?”

They shrank back before him, but a carle of those who was hindermost cried out: “Art thou coming back to us, Erne, or have thy new friends bought thee to lead them in battle?”

“Fear it nought,” quoth Erne, “I shall be back before the shepherd’s noon.”

So they went their ways and came to the haven, and there lay the Flaming Sword, and beside her a trim bark, not right great, all ready for sea: and Hallblithe’s skiff was made fast to her for an after-boat.

Then the Hostage and Hallblithe and the six damsels went aboard her, and when the Erne had bidden them farewell, they cast off the hawsers and thrust her out through the haven-mouth; but ere they had got midmost of the haven, they saw the Erne, that he had turned about, and was riding up the dale with his house-carles, and each man’s weapon was shining in his hand: and they wondered if he were riding to battle with War-brand; and Fox said: “Meseemeth our brother-in-arms hath in his mind to give those waylayers an evil minute, and verily he is the man to do the same.”

So they gat them out of the haven, and the ebb-tide drave out seaward strongly, and the wind was fair for Cleveland by the Sea; and they ran speedily past the black cliffs of the Isle of Ransom, and soon were they hull down behind them. But on the afternoon of the next day they hove up the land of the kindreds, and by sunset they beached their ship on the sand by the Rollers of the Raven, and went ashore without more ado. And the strand was empty of all men, even as on the day when Hallblithe first met the Puny Fox. So then in the cool of the evening they went up toward the House of the Raven. Those damsels went together hand in hand two by two, and Hallblithe held the Hostage by the hand; but the Puny Fox went along beside them, gleeful and of many words; telling them tales of his wiles and his craft, and his skin-changing.

“But now,” quoth he, “I have left all that behind me in the Isle of Ransom, and have but one shape, and I would for your behoof that it were a goodlier one: and but one wisdom have I, even that which dwelleth in mine own head-bone. Yet it may be that this may avail you one time or other. But lo you! though I am thy thrall, have I not the look of a thrall-huckster from over sea leading up my wares to the cheaping-stead?” They laughed at his words and were merry, and much love there was amongst them as they went up to the House of the Raven.

But when they came thither they went into the garth, and there was no man therein, for it was now dusk, and the windows of the long hall were yellow with candle-light. Then said Fox: “Abide ye here a little; for I would go into the hall alone and see the conditions of thy people, O Hallblithe.”

“Go thou, then,” said Hallblithe, “but be not rash. I counsel thee; for our folk are not over-patient when they deem they have a foe before them.”

The Puny Fox laughed, and said: “So it is then the world over, that happy men are wilful and masterful.”

Then he drew his sword and smote on the door with the pommel, and the door opened to him and in he went: and he found that fair hall full of folk and bright with candles; and he stood amidst the floor; all men looked on him, and many knew him at once to be a man of the Ravagers, and silence fell upon the hall, but no man stirred hand against him. Then he said: “Will ye hearken to the word of an evil man, a robber of the folks?”

Spake the chieftain from the dais: “Words will not hurt us, sea-warrior; and thou art but one among many; wherefore thy might this eve is but as the might of a new-born baby. Speak, and afterwards eat and drink, and depart safe from amongst us!”

Spake the Puny Fox: “What is gone with Hallblithe, a fair young man of your kindred, and with the Hostage of the Rose, his troth-plight maiden?”

Then was the hush yet greater in the hall, so that you might have heard a pin drop; and the chieftain said: “It is a grief of ours that they are gone, and that none hath brought us back their dead bodies that we might lay them in the Acre of the Fathers.”

Then leapt up a man from the end-long table nigh to Fox, and cried out: “Yea, folk! they are gone, and we deem that runagates of thy kindred, O new-come man, have stolen them from us; wherefor they shall one day pay us.”

Then laughed the Puny Fox and said: “Some would say that stealing Hallblithe was like stealing a lion, and that he might take care of himself; though he was not as big as I am.”

Said the last speaker: “Did thy kin or didst thou steal him, O evil man?”

“Yea, I stole him,” quoth Fox, “but by sleight, and not by might.”

Then uprose great uproar in the hall, but the chieftain on the high-seat cried out: “Peace, peace!” and the noise abated, and the chieftain said: “Dost thou mean that thou comest hither to give us thine head for making away with Hallblithe and the Hostage?”

“I mean to ask rather,” said the Fox, “what thou wilt give me for the bodies of these twain?”

Said the chieftain: “A boat-load of gold were not too much if thou shouldst live a little longer.”

Quoth the Puny Fox: “Well, in anywise I will go and bring in the bodies aforesaid, and leave my reward to the goodwill of the Ravens.”

Therewith he turned about to go, but lo! there already in the door stood Hallblithe holding the Hostage by the hand; and many in the hall saw them, for the door was wide. Then they came in and stood by the side of the Puny Fox, and all men in the hall arose and shouted for joy. But when the tumult was a little abated, the Puny Fox cried out: “O chieftain, and all ye folk! if a boat-load of gold were not too much reward for the bringing back the dead bodies of your friends, what reward shall he have who hath brought back their bodies and the souls therein?”

Said the chieftain: “The man shall choose his own reward.” And the men in the hall shouted their yeasay.

Then said the Puny Fox: “Well, then, this I choose, that ye make me one of your kindred before the fathers of old time.”

They all cried out that he had chosen wisely and manfully; but Hallblithe said: “I bid you do for him no less than this; and ye shall wot that he is already my sworn brother-in-arms.”

Now the chieftain cried out: “O Wanderers from over the sea, come up hither and sit with us and be merry at last!”

So they went up to the dais, Hallblithe and the Hostage, and the Puny Fox and the six maidens withal. And since the night was yet young, the supper of the men of the Ravens was turned into the wedding-feast of Hallblithe and the Hostage, and that very night she became a wife of the Ravens, that she might bear to the House the best of men and the fairest of women.

But on the morrow they brought the Puny Fox to the mote-stead of the kindreds that he might stand before the fathers and be made a son of the kindred; and this they did because of the word of Hallblithe, and because they believed in the tale which he told them of the Glittering Plain and the Acre of the Undying. The four maidens also were made sisters of the House; and the other twain were sent home to their own kindred in all honour.

Of the Puny Fox it is said that he soon lost and forgot all the lore which he had learned of the ancient men, living and dead; and became as other men and was no wizard. Yet he was exceeding valiant and doughty; and he ceased not to go with Hallblithe wheresoever he went; and many deeds they did together, whereof the memory of men hath failed: but neither they nor any man of the Ravens came any more to the Glittering Plain, or heard any tidings of the folk that dwell there.




Text courtesy of the University of Adelaide.

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