The Sundering Flood - Chapter 22
OSBERNE TAKES LEAVE OF ELFHILD
So they rose on the morrow and dight them in their armour; and Osberne did on him Hardcastle's long byrny and gilded basnet, and girded Boardcleaver to him, and took his spear in hand and hung his shield at his back. But his bow and wonder-shafts he gave to Stephen to bear with him; and Stephen and the other men were fairly well bedight; and the captain said that if there was any lack of weapons or armour to any of them it mattered but little, as they had good stores of gear at the cheaping.
So they ate a morsel and drank one cup and then rode their ways down the Dale. And the longest tale that need be told of them is that, by the furtherance of Osberne, they sped their errand well at most of the steads of the mid and lower Dales. And they made stay for the night at a stead hight Woodneb, which was some little way up the river from the place where the East and West Dales held the Cloven Mote, and by consequence not over far from the trysting-place of those twain.
At the said house that evening they were of one mind to gather a mote there the next morning, and they sent folk that same night to bear the war-arrow to the steads above and below, and all seemed like to go well; and ever Osberne spake his mind without fear or favour to the boldest and wisest that were there. But as he was laying himself down to sleep a pang shot into his heart, for he called to mind that the morrow was the very day of tryst at the Bight of the Cloven Knoll, and longer it was ere he got to sleep that night than was his wont. But when day came he was awake and few were stirring. So he arose and clad him in his war-gear, and went out of the house and out of the garth when it was not yet sunrise, and came down to the river and went up it till he and the sunbeams came together to his place over against the ness, and there he abided. But he had been there a scant half hour ere he saw Elfhild coming up the slope, and she clad in all that fair weed he had given her, wherein this time of spring and early summer she mostly came to the trysting-place, and about her shoulders was a garland of white May blossom. And when she saw him in his shifting grey hawberk and gleaming helm, and Boardcleaver girt to his side and the spear in his hand, she stretched out her hands to him and cried out: "O if thou mightest but be here and thine arms about me! for now I see that some evil hath befallen, and that thou art arrayed to go away from me out of the Dale. And O thy war-coat and thine helm! thou art going into peril of death, and thou so young! But I had an inkling hereof, for there were two carles in our house last night, and they said that there were weaponed men riding amidst the Eastdalers. Tell me, what is it? Will ye fight in the Dale or go far from it? and then how long dost thou look to be away?"
He spake, and his face was writhen with the coming tears, so sore his heart was stung by her sorrow: "It is indeed true that I am come to bid thee farewell for a while, and this is the manner of it." And therewith he told her all as it was, and said withal: "Now I can do nought save to bid thee gather thy valiance to thee and not to wound my heart with the wildness of thy grief. And look thou, my dear; e'en now thou wert saying thy yearning that mine arms were round about thy body: now we are no longer altogether children, and I will tell thee that it is many a day since I have longed for this; and now I know that thou longest that our bodies might meet. Belike thou wilt deem me hard and self-seeking if I tell thee that there is more joy in me for the gain of that knowledge than there is sorrow in my heart for thy pain."
"Nay, nay," she said, "but for that I deem thee the dearer and the dearer."
"See then, sweetheart," said he, "how might it ever come about that we might meed bodily if I abode ever at Wethermel and the Dale in peace and quietness, while thou dwelt still with thy carlines on the other side of this fierce stream? Must I not take chancehap and war by the hand and follow where they lead, that I may learn the wideness of the world, and compass earth and sea till I have gone about the Sundering Flood and found thy little body somewhere in the said wide world? And maybe this is the beginning thereof."
Now was the maiden a little comforted, and she said, smiling as well as she might: "And belike thou art for the cheaping again? Dost thou remember what a joy it was to thee to bring me those things and shoot and cast them over the water unto me? Now this time when thou comest back to the Dale I will ask thee to bring me one thing more, and then I shall be satisfied."
"Yea, sweetheart, and what shall that be?" And sooth to say it went against the grain with him that at the very moment of their parting she should crave something, like a very child, for a fairing. But she said: "O my dear, and what should it be but thou thyself?" And therewith she could refrain her passion no longer, but brake out a-weeping sorely again, so that her eyes could no longer behold him. But she heard many caressing words come across the water, and many farewells and words of grief, and yet she could not master her tears so that she could see him clearly, neither could she speak one word in answer. But at last she looked up and saw that he was gone from before her, and dimly she saw him yet a little way gone down the water, and he turned toward her and raised his hand and waved it to her. And nought else she saw of him for that time save the gleam of his scarlet surcoat and a flash of his helm in the May sunlight.
But for Osberne, sick at heart at first he was, and he strode hurrying along if that might ease him a little, and after a while he took some deal of courage, but still hastened on leaving the waterside; and then in a while himseemed to hear the voice of a great horn afar off, and he called to mind that the Mote had been summoned; and his mind turned toward what was to do.