The Story of the Glittering Plain - Chapter 8
HALLBLITHE TAKETH SHIP AGAIN AWAY FROM THE ISLE OF RANSOM
When he awoke, the sun shone into the hall by the windows above the buttery, and there were but few folk left therein. But so soon as Hallblithe was clad, the old woman came to him, and took him by the hand, and led him to the board, and signed to him to eat of what was thereon; and he did so; and by then he was done, came folk who went into the shut-bed where lay the Long-hoary, and they brought him forth bed and all and bare him out a-doors. Then the crone brought Hallblithe his arms and he did on byrny and helm, girt his sword to his side, took his spear in his hand and went out a-doors; and there close by the porch lay the Long-hoary upon a horse-litter. So Hallblithe came up to him and gave him the sele of the day: and the elder said: “Good morrow, son, I am glad to see thee. Did they try thee hard last night?”
And Hallblithe saw two of the carles that had borne out the elder, that they were talking together, and they looked on him and laughed mockingly; so he said to the elder: “Even fools may try a wise man, and so it befell last night. Yet, as thou seest, mumming hath not slain me.”
Said the old man: “What thou sawest was not all mumming; it was done according to our customs; and well nigh all of it had been done, even hadst thou not been there. Nay, I will tell thee; at some of our feasts it is not lawful to eat either for the chieftains or the carles, till a champion hath given forth a challenge, and been answered and met, and the battle fought to an end. But ye men, what hindereth you to go to the horses’ heads and speed on the road the chieftain who is no longer way-worthy?”
So they ran to the horses and set down the dale by the riverside, and just as Hallblithe was going to follow afoot, there came a swain from behind the house leading a red horse which he brought to Hallblithe as one who bids mount. So Hallblithe leapt into the saddle and at once caught up with the litter of the Long-hoary down along the river. They passed by no other house, save here and there a cot beside some fold or byre; they went easily, for the way was smooth by the river-side; so in less than two hours they came where the said river ran into the sea. There was no beach there, for the water was ten fathom deep close up to the lip of the land; but there was a great haven land-locked all but a narrow outgate betwixt the sheer black cliffs. Many a great ship might have lain in that haven; but as now there was but one lying there, a round-ship not very great, but exceeding trim and meet for the sea.
There without more ado the carles took the elder from the litter and bore him aboard, and Hallblithe followed him as if he had been so appointed. They laid the old man adown on the poop under a tilt of precious web, and so went aback by the way that they had come; and Hallblithe went and sat down beside the Long-hoary, who spake to him and said: “Seest thou, son, how easy it is for us twain to be shipped for the land whither we would go? But as easy as it is for thee to go thither whereas we are going, just so hard had it been for thee to go elsewhere. Moreover I must tell thee that though many an one of the Isle of Ransom desireth to go this voyage, there shall none else go, till the world is a year older, and he who shall go then shall be likest to me in all ways, both in eld and in feebleness, and in gibing speech, and all else; and now that I am gone, his name shall be the same as that whereby ye may call me to-day, and that is Grandfather. Art thou glad or sorry, Hallblithe?”
“Grandfather,” said Hallblithe, “I can scarce tell thee: I move as one who hath no will to wend one way or other. Meseems I am drawn to go thither whereas we are going; therefore I deem that I shall find my beloved on the Glittering Plain: and whatever befalleth afterward, let it be as it will!”
“Tell me, my son,” said the Grandfather, “how many women are there in the world?”
“How may I tell thee?” said Hallblithe.
“Well, then,” said the elder, “how many exceeding fair women are there?”
Said Hallblithe, “Indeed I wot not.”
“How many of such hast thou seen?” said the Grandfather.
“Many,” said Hallblithe; “the daughters of my folk are fair, and there will be many other such amongst the aliens.”
Then laughed the elder, and said: “Yet, my son, he who had been thy fellow since thy sundering from thy beloved, would have said that in thy deeming there is but one woman in the world; or at least one fair woman: is it not so?”
Then Hallblithe reddened at first, as though he were angry; then he said: “Yea, it is so.”
Said the Grandfather in a musing way: “I wonder if before long I shall think of it as thou dost.”
Then Hallblithe gazed at him marvelling, and studied to see wherein lay the gibe against himself; and the Grandfather beheld him, and laughed as well as he might, and said: “Son, son; didst thou not wish me youth?”
“Yea,” said Hallblithe, “but what ails thee to laugh so? What is it I have said or done?”
“Nought, nought,” said the elder, laughing still more, “only thou lookest so mazed. And who knoweth what thy wish may bring forth?”
Thereat was Hallblithe sore puzzled; but while he set himself to consider what the old carle might mean, uprose the hale and how of the mariners; they cast off the hawsers from the shore, ran out the sweeps, and drave the ship through the haven-gates. It was a bright sunny day; within, the green water was oily-smooth, without the rippling waves danced merrily under a light breeze, and Hallblithe deemed the wind to be fair; for the mariners shouted joyously and made all sail on the ship; and she lay over and sped through the waves, casting off the seas from her black bows. Soon were they clear of those swart cliffs, and it was but a little afterwards that the Isle of Ransom was grown deep blue behind them and far away.