The Sundering Flood - Chapter 44
THEY REACH LONGSHAW AND OSBERNE GETS HIM A NEW NAME
But the seven days over, they departed on their ways to the house of Longshaw, which well they knew; and they rode first for two days through rough land pretty much as it had been before Woodneb, and they saw all that way but three little houses of hunters or fowlers; and this, they told Osberne, right on from Woodneb was the beginning of the Wood Masterless. Thereafter they came amongst great timber-trees with wood lawns betwixt, and but little underwood, and a goodly piece of the world that seemed unto Osberne. Three days it held so, and then came broken ground, whiles with much tangled thicket and whiles treeless, and this was a two days' ride; and many were the wild deer therein, so that their cheer was greatly amended. Thereafter was the wood thinner and more plain, and there was a clear road through it; and on the first day of their riding this way they came upon a sort of folk who were sitting on the greensward eating their dinner. They were fifteen all told, all of them with weapons, but Sir Godrick and his came upon them so suddenly that they had no time to rise and flee, so sat still abiding haps. They had a good few of sumpter-horses with them, and it as soon clear to see that, though they were weaponed, they were not men-at-arms, but chapmen. Sir Godrick entreated them courteously, and asked them whence and whither, and prayed them of tidings. They said they were come from the City of the Sundering Flood, and had ridden the Wood instead of taking ship on the river, which was far safer, because they were bound for some of the cheaping towns to which Sir Godrick and his had given the go-by. They said that all was at peace in the City and the Frank thereof, and there was little of strife anywhere anigh. In the end they bade the Knight and his men sit with them and share their feast under the green-wood tree. Sir Godrick yeasaid that with a good will, and they were presently all very merry. Sooth to say, though they made as if they knew him not, and never named his name, they knew him well enough, and were a little afeard of him, and only too well content if he named himself not, for they were of the gilds who were scarce good friends with Longshaw: so that it had been little more than a fair deed of war if he had made them unbuckle and open.
When dinner was over and they were drinking a cup, he called three of the wisest of them apart along with Osberne, and asked them straightway if they knew of any fair maid who had been bought of late by any chapman from the Red Skinners, and he bade Osberne tell closely what like was Elfhild: even so he did, sore abashed the while. But when he was done, the chapmen laid their heads together, and asked one or two others of their company, but could give no tidings of any such.
So therewith they parted, and Sir Godrick and his rode the wood, which was diverse of kind, for six days more; and at last, on a bright sunny afternoon, when after riding a plain not much be-timbered they had made their way through a thick and close wood for some five hours, they came out of the said wood on to a plain of greensward cleft by a fair river, which winded about the foot of a long low ridge where were orchards and gardens a many, and all above them so many buildings and towers and walls of stone, that to Osberne it seemed as if they had before them a very fair town. But even therewith all the company by Sir Godrick's bidding stayed, and drew up in a line, and the banner of the Hart impaled was displayed; and Sir Godrick spake to Osberne and said: "Lo, Red Lad, my House of Longshaw, and this is the Shaw which we have come through: now how likest thou the house?"
"Well, and exceeding well," said Osberne; "it is as a town."
"Yea," said Sir Godrick; "and therefore if I can but keep it well victualled, and have with me a host big enough of stout men, it shall never be taken."
Now Osberne looked again, and he saw that midmost of the towers and walls was a very great hall exceeding fair, with lovely pinnacles and spires and windows like to carven ivory, and beside it a church fairer yet; and then before it and lower down the hill and on either side were huge towers, stern and stout, all without fretwork or ornament; and there were many of these and one to help the other, all about the hill, and down by the river-side a baily such as never was a stronger or a wiser. And Sir Godrick said: "See thou, lad, those fair and beauteous buildings were the work of peace, when we sat well beloved on our own lands: it is an hundred of years ago since they were done. Then came the beginning of strife, and needs must we build yonder stark and grim towers and walls in little leisure by the labour of many hands. Now may peace come again, and give us time to cast wreaths and garlands of fretwork round the sternness of the war-walls, or let them abide and crumble in their due time. But little avails to talk of peace as now. Come thou, Red Lad, and join the host of war that dwelleth within those walls even as peaceful craftsmen and chapmen dwell in a good town. Lo thou, they fling abroad the White Hart from the topmost tower: Blow, music, and salute it."
Then all their horns blew up, and they set forward toward the baily of the castle. And it is said indeed that five thousand men-at-arms, besides the women and other folk that waited on them, dwelt for the most part in the House of Longshaw.
So that even was high feast holden in the great hall of Longshaw, where by Osberne's deeming all was fairer and daintier within even than without. There was the Red Lad shown to a good place and all honour done to him, and his lord looked to it that the tales of his valiancy should be known, so that all thought well of him.
There was but little doing in those months which followed the home-coming of Sir Godrick, as he was at peace with his neighbours so to say. But he made Osberne captain over a band of good men, and sent him on divers errands wherein was some little peril; and in all of these he did wisely and sped well. Amongst others he went down with ten tens of men through the Wood and right down to a certain haven on the Sundering Flood, with the errand of warding chapmen and others who were bringing many loads of wares for the service of the house. There then he beheld the great water for the first time since he had left the Dale, and wondered at its hugeness and majesty; and the sorrow of his heart stirred within him when he thought how far they two had come from the Bight of the Cloven Knoll, he and the Sundering Flood. But he had no leisure to grieve overmuch, and his grief was but as the pain of a hurt which a man feels even amidst of his deep sleep. Of those chapmen and others he asked much concerning Elfhild; and they could tell him many tales of the Red Skinners and their misdeeds, but nought that seemed to have aught to do with his love. On the way back with the train of goods, which was great and long-spun-out, a band of the waylayers laid an ambushment against it, hearing that the leader of its guard was but a young man new to war. But they were best to have left it alone, for Osberne was well aware of them; and to be short, he so ambushed the ambushers that he had them in the trap, and slew them every one: small harm it was of the death of them. Now this was the first time in his warfare that his men fell on with the name of him in their mouths, and cried, The Red Lad! the Red Lad! Terrible indeed became that cry in no very long time.