The Sundering Flood - Chapter 8
THE GOODMAN GETS A NEW HIRED MAN
Now when he came home to Wethermel he found tidings there, for the goodman had gotten a new hired man, and he showed him to Osberne, who greeted him well: he was a tall man, mild of aspect and speech, flaxen-haired and blue-eyed, and seemed a stark carle. He had come to the stead that morning while the goodman was away, and had craved guesting of the women, who made him welcome and set him down to meat. He told them that his name was Stephen, that he had been born in the country-side, but had gone thence in his early youth to Eastcheaping, which was the market town whither that folk had resort; and that he had grown up there and there wedded a wife; but that when she died in childing with her first bairn, and the bairn had not lived, he loathed the place, and came back again into the Dale.
So when the goodman came home this Stephen offered himself to him, and said that he deemed he could do as good a stroke of work as another, and that he was not for any great wage, but he must not be stinted of his meat, whereas he was a heavy feeder. The goodman liked the looks of him, and they struck the bargain betwixt them straightway, and Stephen had hansel of a second dinner, and ate well thereat; and henceforth is he called Stephen the Eater.
Now when the goodman saw Osberne bring in his new weapon, he asked him whence he had it, and the lad told him that he had been far in the waste, and had found it there. The goodman eyed him, but said nought. Forsooth, he misdoubted him that the bow was somewhat unked, and that the lad had had some new dealings with the Dwarf-kin or other strange wights. But then he bethought him of Osberne's luck, and withal it came to his mind that now he had gotten this victual-waster, it would not be ill if his lad should shoot them some venison or fowl now and again; and by the look of the bow he deemed it like to be a lucky one. But Stephen reached out for the bow, and handled it and turned it about, and spake: "This is a handy weapon, and they who made it were not without craft, and it pleases me to see it; for now when it brings home prey in the evening, the goodman will deem my maw the less burdensome to him. By my rede, goodman, ye will do well to make thy youngling the hunter to us all, for such bows as this may be shot in only by them that be fated thereto." And he nodded and smiled on Osberne, and the lad deemed that the new man would be friendly to him.
So then was supper brought in, and Stephen the Eater played as good a part as if he had eaten nought since sunrise.
But the next day, when Stephen was boun for driving the sheep to the bent, he said to Osberne: "Come thou with me, young master, to show me the way; and bring thy bow and arrows withal, and see if thou canst shoot us something toothsome, for both of feathers and fur their is foison on the hill-side." So they went together, and betwixt whiles of the shepherding Osberne shot a whole string of heathfowl and whimbrel; and ever he hit that which he shot at, so that the arrows were indeed easy to find, since they never failed to be in the quarry.
The goodman was well pleased with his catch, and Stephen licked his lips over the look of the larder. And the next day the lad let Stephen go alone to the hill, and he himself took a horse and went up the water a ten miles toward the mountain, and there he slew a hart of ten tines with one arrow, and brought the quarry home across the horse, to the joy of all the household, and the goodman was not rueing his bargain with Stephen the Eater. So it went on that every two or three days Osberne fared afield after catch, and but seldom came home empty-handed, and the other days he did as he would and went where he listed. And now he began to follow the rede of Steelhead, and went oftenest by the side of the Sundering Flood, but as yet he had gone up the water and not down.