William Morris Archive


The next day at even, when all the folk were gathered before the porch of the hall at Wethermel, making the most of that fair time, Osberne craved silence a while, and when men were hushed he spake: "Kinsmen and friends, I make it known to you that I must needs depart from you tomorrow morning, though wheresoever I may be I shall ever hold in my heart the hope of coming back to Wethermel; for it will be well enough known to most of you that I love the Dale with great love, and this stead in especial. But now I may not abide here longer, to such a pass are things come with me.

"The story of the wherefore of this were long to tell if I had the heart to tell it, which I have not. But this much may I say, that I go to seek a life which will lead me back to Wethermel, it may be in joy, it may be in sorrow, but in either case with such a heart in me as I may live the rest of my days in the Dale, doing all that is due to the kindred and the folk. Now it will be of no avail for any to strive to put me from this mind, or to hinder me in my purpose, for go I must and will. But this even, as we sit amidst the summer, and our hearts are softened by beholding the peace and abundance of the Dale, and thinking of all days that have been, and our fathers that have lived and died here, I will ask you all and each one of you to say straightway if in any wise I have wronged or hurt you; and if I have, then will I make atonement to my power: so that since I may not bear away with me Wethermel and its folk, I may at least bear away the love of it."

When they heard these words of his they were mostly exceeding downcast, for in sooth to every one of them his fellowship seemed both a joy and a safeguard; and of the women, some were moved to tears, let alone his grandam and his foster-mother. Albeit he had told his mind beforehand to Stephen the Eater, who had dight him all things ready for departure.

Now there was neither carle nor quean amongst them all who had a word to say against him, or might call to mind aught but kindness at his hands; and one after another they all said so much. But when they were done, and there was silence again, Osberne spake: "Thou, grandsire, art the master of Wethermel, but of late years hast thou suffered me to share in thy mastership; nay, thou hast laid many charges on me which I have taken, and done with them according to my might. Now therefore meseemeth that thou wouldst scarce have it otherwise but that somewhat of my redes and my will and my might should be left after me when I am gone; but if I err in this my thought, I pray thee say as much, and I will leave the matter where it stands, and thou to be sole and only master of Wethermel whiles I am away."

Spake Nicholas thereat, and said that freely would he grant it that Osberne's redes and well-doing should still be felt at Wethermel, and that for his own part the governance of an house so great and lordly as Wethermel had now become was overmuch of a burden to him, and that gladly would he take to any man whom Osberne would put in his place; and in good sooth he deemed he wotted who it would be.

Then turned Osberne to Stephen and said: "Thou, Stephen, art more in the heart of my redes than any man else, and thou art both a wise man as I deem, and a proven champion: so if I leave thee here in my skin, wilt thou do the best for me, and be debonnaire with Master Nicholas here and with my grandam, and kind to all the folk?" Said Stephen: "I will do my best thereto, and will pray this of the folk, that they will not hate me because I am not thou." At that word all they gave him a welcome cheer, whereas their hearts burned within them for love of Osberne and for praise of his words and for sorrow of losing him and hope of his return; so that at that point of time themseemed they might promise anything.

But Osberne said: "Stephen, my friend and fellow, reach out thine hand that I give thee hansel before all of these of what mastership there is in me." Even so did Stephen, and they clasped hands thereon.

After this Osberne looked about him and said: "Lo friends, how the dusk has been creeping in on us amidst all this talk. So now do ye women dight the board and light the candles within the hall, that we may eat and drink together this last time for a long while."

Even so it was done, and all folk sat to meat, and thereafter was the drink brought in, and they drank all a cup to Osberne, and he to them; and then was the cup filled for Wethermel, and then again for the Dale; and the last cup was for Osberne's luck.

Then came a word into his mouth, and he stood up and sang:

          From the Wethermel reek
          I set me to seek
          The world-ways unkenned
          And the first of the end.
          For when out there I be
          Each way unto me
          Shall seem nought save it lead
          Back to Wethermel's need,
And many a twilight twixt dawning and day
Shall the feet of the waker dream wending the way.

          When the war-gale speeds
          Point-bitter reeds,
          And the edges flash
          O'er the war-board's clash,
          Through the battle's rent
          Shall I see the bent,
          And the gable's peace
          Midst the Dale's increase,
And the victory-whooping shall seem to me oft
As the Dale shepherd's cry where the reek wends aloft.

          When to right and left
          The ranks are cleft,
          And the edges wan
          Mate master and man,
          It shall be as the fall
          Of a hindering wall
          Twixt my blade and me
          And the garth on the lea;
So shall day unto day tell the hope of the year,
And season on season shall draw the Dale near.

This they deemed kindly sung and well; and now so high rose their hearts, that it was to them as if they saw the day of his returning and the gladness of fellowship renewed.