The Sundering Flood - Chapter 29
OSBERNE AND HIS MEN RETURN TO WETHERMEL
Now on a fair evening a little ere sunset of the beginning of October, came those Dalesmen amongst the black rocks and rough places that crowned the bent which looked down west over the Dale. And now, though they had been talking merrily and loud for the last three hours, their hearts were so full within them that scarce a word might they say one to another. And when at last they had won through that rocky tangle and had opened Wethermel, and nought lay before them but the grassy slopes and the wide-spread valley cleft by the line of the Sundering Flood; now, when they saw in the clear air the grey houses of Wethermel lying together, and the smoke of the evening cooking fires going up to the heavens, and the sheep wending on, thick and huddling before the driving of three tall men, and the kine moving toward the byre and the women amongst them, then this befel: that whereas they had been all of one mind that when they came to the crown of the bent, they would spur on and race merrily toward Wethermel, yet now when it lay before them, and there was so little a way betwixt them and its hearth, they all of them with one consent drew rein and sat still on their horses, as if they had suddenly come face to face with the host of the foemen. Yea, some there were, and they rather of the oldest than the youngest, who might not refrain them, but fell a-weeping and sobbing, whether it were for joy or sorrow, or a blending of both, may scarce be said.
Osberne wept not: sooth to say, the turmoil of hope and fear within his heart ate up somewhat the softness that might else have mastered him at this new sight of his fathers' house. He rode forth before the others, and lifted up his voice and loudly and clearly cried a blessing on the Dale and the dwellers therein, and then rode soberly down the bent, and the others followed him still silently. But when they were drawn anigh, and every soul, man, woman and child, ran forth from the garth to meet and welcome them, then at last their joy brake forth, and they gat off their horses and gave themselves up to the caresses of the women and the embracing of the carles, and loud was the speech and the laughter amongst them.
Osberne was first met by Nicholas his grandsire, who kissed and embraced him, and then gave him up to his grandam and the fostermother, and one or other of these twain would scarce let go of him a long while.
But now was riding and running after victual for so big a company of men; for nought would serve the folk of Wethermel but that the whole fellowship must abide there that night. But all was got ready in a while, and meanwhile the stay-at-homes might not have enough of praising and caressing the folk returned, and everything they said or did was a wonder.
At last the feast was arrayed, and the hall was thronged as much as might be, and folk fell to meat, and now they were all exceeding merry; and when they had done eating, the boards were drawn to make more room, and they fell to the drink, and after the first cup to Christ, and the second to Allhallows, the third was drunk to the home-comers from the war. Yet were not the stay-at-homes to be put off with so little, and they called a cup for Osberne the Captain of the warriors; and when it had been drunk, then all folk looked toward the captain to see what he would do; but he rose up and stood in his place, his cheek flushed and his eyes sparkling: and the word came into his mouth and he sang:
Loud was the glee and the shouting at his song, and all men said that every whit thereof was sooth, and that this was the best day that had ever dawned on Wethermel; and great joy and bliss was on the hall till they must needs go to their rest. So changed was Wethermel, the niggard once, and that, it might be deemed, was but one youngling's doing.