The Sundering Flood - Chapter 40
OSBERNE RIDES WITH SIR GODRICK
Osberne tarried at Eastcheaping for half a month while Sir Godrick was doing his business, which was, in short, gathering good men for his fellowship; at the end of that time he had gotten him one score and five besides Osberne, of whom a half score were well known to Osberne from the war of Deepdale: and he was fain of them.
At last they departed, and Sir Medard took a kind leave of Osberne. And Sir Godrick rode oftenest beside the Red Lad and talked much with him. They had a let-pass through the lands of the Baron of Deepdale, but he would not suffer Sir Godrick to take any men from his country. So they came to Deepham, which was the Baron's chief town, in a very fair and fertile dale, well watered. And there was nought for it but that the Baron would see the Red Lad, for Sir Godrick must needs speak of him to the lord; and it must be said that there was now no enmity between the Baron and Eastcheaping. So the Baron feasted them well amongst his folk in his great hall; and when he saw Osberne he knew him, and had been told as aforesaid that the Red Lad had been at the carrying him away from the midst of his warriors; but the Baron hailed him merrily, and cried out to Sir Godrick: "Sir Knight, if thou wouldst have any man-stealing done thou art in the luck of it, for this youngling is a past-master in the craft." And before the feast was over, he sent for Osberne to talk to him, and asked many things concerning the war as Osberne saw it from his side; and he showed that he owed him no grudge for the stealing, for he gave Osberne gifts, a fair gown of crimson cloth of gold, and a ruby ring. So all went well: nevertheless Osberne was nought loth to leave Deepham, and thought it not ill that his life lay not overnigh to the lord thereof.
Now when they had left the lands of Deepdale they turned away toward the south, and rode two days through a fair country and peaceful, of much tillage, besprinkled with goodly thorps, where they had entertainment for their money and none seemed to fear them; and there they saw no men-at-arms, and but few carles that bore any weapons save whittle or boar-spear. At the end of that land they came to a good town walled and warded; and there none hindered them, for the Knight had acquaintance with the captain of the Porte, who had gathered him a half dozen of stout carles, and there they rested three days. Thence they rode one day amidst the same fair country, and they entered a forest through which was a way which led them a little west of south. The said forest gave out in three days, and then they came into a wide valley watered by a fair river running due west. The said valley was more for pasture than tillage, so that it was not thickly housed, albeit when they had crossed the river they came on to a big stead of many houses (and it was evening) much peopled, and the folk, who had seen their riding, were standing with weapons outside the houses.
But when Sir Godrick had ridden forward alone and given out his name and errand, to wit, that he was riding to Longshaw with some good fellows who were fain to be of his folk, they all cried out a fair welcome to him and his; for they knew of his deeds and his fame, and were well-willers to him, and were fain of seeing him this first time. Then stood forth an old long-hoary man, but tall and stark, and gave himself out for the master of the stead, which hight Riverlease, and he named him David and said: "Sir Knight, I am father of ten of these men and the grandsire of one score and five, and other good fellows I have with me to the tale of ten score and ten, and all these thou wilt make merry by thy presence here tonight."
So he brought the Knight and his into the hall, and fair greeting he gave them; and to Osberne, though the land were other and the houses far bigger, for this David was as it were a king of the meadows, it was almost as if he were back at Wethermel, so yeomanly and free seemed all about him. And the folk were a fair folk, the women goodly and the men free and bold. So all men were merry and thought but little of the morrow. But ere the feast was over the old David spake to the good Knight and said: "Sir Godrick, meseems thou shalt have many a foeman on thy back these coming seasons, wherefore if any of my grandsons or the swains here have a longing to ride with thee and become thy men, I will spare them to the number of a half score. How say ye lads," cried he down the hall, "be there any here who desire to see how the Lord of Longshaw arrayeth his battles, and would bring back some fair stories to the maidens' ears?"
Now it was soon seen that no few there were that would be fain to ride with the Knight, who soon had his choice of ten tall men, stout, and deft in weapons, and the end of the feast was merrier than the beginning.
Next morning they were away early, and the old man led them out over his meadows, which were exceeding rich of neat and sheep; and at parting he said: "Fair Knight of Longshaw, I have gone as far as I may this day, and must turn again; but this I say to thee, If ever the world goes amiss with thee, as it yet may for all thy valiancy, or forsooth because of it, come hither to me, or if I be dead, to my sons and my grandsons, and abide here as merrily as thou mayst. And spare not to bring whomso of thine thou wilt, as maybe this goodly youngling here," laying his hand on Osberne's shoulder, "of whom some of thy men were telling tales to some of mine last night. And now I bid farewell to thee and thine."
So Sir Godrick and his went their ways, and the new fellows led them by the shortest road, when they knew whither Sir Godrick will to wend. And when they were out of that valley they came up on to the down-country, which ran along the edge of the plain like a wall; and thereby they went due south for three days, seeing but few folk and no houses, save here and there the cot of a shepherd, and that often builded on a wain. The three days ended, they come on a dale in the downs where a little river cleft them, running about south-west, and by the rede of their shepherd-fellows they turned and followed it out of the down-country, and were presently in a land of mingled tillage and pasture, well builded, but more with single homesteads than thorps, though these were not lacking: albeit the folk of them were not very free with their guesting, but yet for money, and as if half compelled, they yielded up such good as the riders would have of them. The next day, riding the samelike country, they saw on a bent a fair town with white walls, and many goodly gables and slim spires rising above them. But when they drew nigh thereto, an hour before sunset, they found that the said walls were of other uses than to be looked at, to wit to keep them out of their night's lodging; for the gates were shut, and there were spears and basnets glittering over the battlements. So Sir Godrick rode forward toward the gate, taking Osberne and a trumpet with him, and there bade blow a point of peace and crave speech of the captain of the guard.
Then stood up a tall man on the gate, armed at all points in white armour, and by him were two or three men-at-arms and one with a cross-bow ready bent. Cried out the tall man: "Go ye, trumpet and all, and let us see the last of you! For we know you, outlaws of Longshaw. The better luck for you if we come not to your house speedily. Go ye, make ready for us!" Sir Godrick burst out a-laughing and turned his horses head; but even therewith Osberne, who was exceeding keen-sighted, saw the cross-bowman raise his engine; but the Red Lad had his dwarf-wrought bow bended in his hand, so that ere the cross-bow stock came to the man's shoulder he fell clattering down with a shaft through his throat, and Osberne rode back speedily after his lord with a half dozen shafts and quarrels whistling about him, but none touched him, and great was the cry and yell that came from the town gate.
Now when Osberne was with his captain again, that one spake to him and said: "Red Lad, Red Lad, a sharp shaft is somewhat of a fierce answer to a rough word. Next time let them shoot ere ye shoot."
"Nay, lord," said Osberne, "had I waited this time thou might'st have come by a knock from yonder carle's quarrel." And he told him what he had seen. Then said Sir Godrick: "Then I am wrong and thou right, and I thank thee for the shaft. I might have known that thou wouldst be wise."
So they fetched a compass about that surly town, and rode a two hours ere they took harbour in a little wood, and held good watch and ward all that night. But none meddled with them.
The day after, by the rede of the shepherd-folk, they turned up into the hills again, for they had no wish to raise the country against them; and to say sooth, Sir Godrick was somewhat pensive that he found enmity so far off his own land. So they rode the hills for five days, falling in with few folk, and going slowly because of the rough ways. Thereafter they needed victual, and had been fain of better lodging might they get it; and whereas they saw a fair plain well builded and tilled, with good roads through the same, and knew that this was the nighest way to the Wood Masterless, they turned down thither at all adventure, and found no evil haps there, but that the folk were well enough pleased to make their market of the riders, and had neither fear of them nor harboured enmity against them. Thus then they rode for two days, and at the end of the second day entered a good cheaping-town, unfenced save by timber pales. There they abode a whole day, yet warily, since, though there were not waged men-at-arms in the stead, there went about many stout carles, who all bore long whittles, and looked as if their bills and bows had not been far to seek. But no strife betid.