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The House of the Wolfings - A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and All the Kindreds of the Mark Written in Prose and in Verse
by William Morris
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Transcribed from the 1904 Longmans, Green, and Co. edition by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk



THE HOUSE OF THE WOLFINGS A TALE OF THE HOUSE OF THE WOLFINGS AND ALL THE KINDREDS OF THE MARK WRITTEN IN PROSE AND IN VERSE by William Morris

Whiles in the early Winter eve We pass amid the gathering night Some homestead that we had to leave Years past; and see its candles bright Shine in the room beside the door Where we were merry years agone But now must never enter more, As still the dark road drives us on. E'en so the world of men may turn At even of some hurried day And see the ancient glimmer burn Across the waste that hath no way; Then with that faint light in its eyes A while I bid it linger near And nurse in wavering memories The bitter-sweet of days that were.



CHAPTER I—THE DWELLINGS OF MID-MARK

The tale tells that in times long past there was a dwelling of men beside a great wood. Before it lay a plain, not very great, but which was, as it were, an isle in the sea of woodland, since even when you stood on the flat ground, you could see trees everywhere in the offing, though as for hills, you could scarce say that there were any; only swellings-up of the earth here and there, like the upheavings of the water that one sees at whiles going on amidst the eddies of a swift but deep stream.

On either side, to right and left the tree-girdle reached out toward the blue distance, thick close and unsundered, save where it and the plain which it begirdled was cleft amidmost by a river about as wide as the Thames at Sheene when the flood-tide is at its highest, but so swift and full of eddies, that it gave token of mountains not so far distant, though they were hidden. On each side moreover of the stream of this river was a wide space of stones, great and little, and in most places above this stony waste were banks of a few feet high, showing where the yearly winter flood was most commonly stayed.

You must know that this great clearing in the woodland was not a matter of haphazard; though the river had driven a road whereby men might fare on each side of its hurrying stream. It was men who had made that Isle in the woodland.

For many generations the folk that now dwelt there had learned the craft of iron-founding, so that they had no lack of wares of iron and steel, whether they were tools of handicraft or weapons for hunting and for war. It was the men of the Folk, who coming adown by the river-side had made that clearing. The tale tells not whence they came, but belike from the dales of the distant mountains, and from dales and mountains and plains further aloof and yet further.

Anyhow they came adown the river; on its waters on rafts, by its shores in wains or bestriding their horses or their kine, or afoot, till they had a mind to abide; and there as it fell they stayed their travel, and spread from each side of the river, and fought with the wood and its wild things, that they might make to themselves a dwelling-place on the face of the earth.

So they cut down the trees, and burned their stumps that the grass might grow sweet for their kine and sheep and horses; and they diked the river where need was all through the plain, and far up into the wild-wood to bridle the winter floods: and they made them boats to ferry them over, and to float down stream and track up-stream: they fished the river's eddies also with net and with line; and drew drift from out of it of far- travelled wood and other matters; and the gravel of its shallows they washed for gold; and it became their friend, and they loved it, and gave it a name, and called it the Dusky, and the Glassy, and the Mirkwood-water; for the names of it changed with the generations of man.

There then in the clearing of the wood that for many years grew greater yearly they drave their beasts to pasture in the new-made meadows, where year by year the grass grew sweeter as the sun shone on it and the standing waters went from it; and now in the year whereof the tale telleth it was a fair and smiling plain, and no folk might have a better meadow.

But long before that had they learned the craft of tillage and taken heed to the acres and begun to grow wheat and rye thereon round about their roofs; the spade came into their hands, and they bethought them of the plough-share, and the tillage spread and grew, and there was no lack of bread.

In such wise that Folk had made an island amidst of the Mirkwood, and established a home there, and upheld it with manifold toil too long to tell of. And from the beginning this clearing in the wood they called the Mid-mark: for you shall know that men might journey up and down the Mirkwood-water, and half a day's ride up or down they would come on another clearing or island in the woods, and these were the Upper-mark and the Nether-mark: and all these three were inhabited by men of one folk and one kindred, which was called the Mark-men, though of many branches was that stem of folk, who bore divers signs in battle and at the council whereby they might be known.

Now in the Mid-mark itself were many Houses of men; for by that word had they called for generations those who dwelt together under one token of kinship. The river ran from South to North, and both on the East side and on the West were there Houses of the Folk, and their habitations were shouldered up nigh unto the wood, so that ever betwixt them and the river was there a space of tillage and pasture.

Tells the tale of one such House, whose habitations were on the west side of the water, on a gentle slope of land, so that no flood higher than common might reach them. It was straight down to the river mostly that the land fell off, and on its downward-reaching slopes was the tillage, "the Acres," as the men of that time always called tilled land; and beyond that was the meadow going fair and smooth, though with here and there a rising in it, down to the lips of the stony waste of the winter river.

Now the name of this House was the Wolfings, and they bore a Wolf on their banners, and their warriors were marked on the breast with the image of the Wolf, that they might be known for what they were if they fell in battle, and were stripped.

The house, that is to say the Roof, of the Wolfings of the Mid-mark stood on the topmost of the slope aforesaid with its back to the wild-wood and its face to the acres and the water. But you must know that in those days the men of one branch of kindred dwelt under one roof together, and had therein their place and dignity; nor were there many degrees amongst them as hath befallen afterwards, but all they of one blood were brethren and of equal dignity. Howbeit they had servants or thralls, men taken in battle, men of alien blood, though true it is that from time to time were some of such men taken into the House, and hailed as brethren of the blood.

Also (to make an end at once of these matters of kinship and affinity) the men of one House might not wed the women of their own House: to the Wolfing men all Wolfing women were as sisters: they must needs wed with the Hartings or the Elkings or the Bearings, or other such Houses of the Mark as were not so close akin to the blood of the Wolf; and this was a law that none dreamed of breaking. Thus then dwelt this Folk and such was their Custom.

As to the Roof of the Wolfings, it was a great hall and goodly, after the fashion of their folk and their day; not built of stone and lime, but framed of the goodliest trees of the wild-wood squared with the adze, and betwixt the framing filled with clay wattled with reeds. Long was that house, and at one end anigh the gable was the Man's-door, not so high that a man might stand on the threshold and his helmcrest clear the lintel; for such was the custom, that a tall man must bow himself as he came into the hall; which custom maybe was a memory of the days of onslaught when the foemen were mostly wont to beset the hall; whereas in the days whereof the tale tells they drew out into the fields and fought unfenced; unless at whiles when the odds were over great, and then they drew their wains about them and were fenced by the wain-burg. At least it was from no niggardry that the door was made thus low, as might be seen by the fair and manifold carving of knots and dragons that was wrought above the lintel of the door for some three foot's space. But a like door was there anigh the other gable-end, whereby the women entered, and it was called the Woman's-door.

Near to the house on all sides except toward the wood were there many bowers and cots round about the penfolds and the byres: and these were booths for the stowage of wares, and for crafts and smithying that were unhandy to do in the house; and withal they were the dwelling-places of the thralls. And the lads and young men often abode there many days and were cherished there of the thralls that loved them, since at whiles they shunned the Great Roof that they might be the freer to come and go at their pleasure, and deal as they would. Thus was there a clustering on the slopes and bents betwixt the acres of the Wolfings and the wild-wood wherein dwelt the wolves.

As to the house within, two rows of pillars went down it endlong, fashioned of the mightiest trees that might be found, and each one fairly wrought with base and chapiter, and wreaths and knots, and fighting men and dragons; so that it was like a church of later days that has a nave and aisles: windows there were above the aisles, and a passage underneath the said windows in their roofs. In the aisles were the sleeping-places of the Folk, and down the nave under the crown of the roof were three hearths for the fires, and above each hearth a luffer or smoke-bearer to draw the smoke up when the fires were lighted. Forsooth on a bright winter afternoon it was strange to see the three columns of smoke going wavering up to the dimness of the mighty roof, and one maybe smitten athwart by the sunbeams. As for the timber of the roof itself and its framing, so exceeding great and high it was, that the tale tells how that none might see the fashion of it from the hall-floor unless he were to raise aloft a blazing faggot on a long pole: since no lack of timber was there among the men of the Mark.

At the end of the hall anigh the Man's-door was the dais, and a table thereon set thwartwise of the hall; and in front of the dais was the noblest and greatest of the hearths; (but of the others one was in the very midmost, and another in the Woman's-Chamber) and round about the dais, along the gable-wall, and hung from pillar to pillar were woven cloths pictured with images of ancient tales and the deeds of the Wolfings, and the deeds of the Gods from whence they came. And this was the fairest place of all the house and the best-beloved of the Folk, and especially of the older and the mightier men: and there were tales told, and songs sung, especially if they were new: and thereto also were messengers brought if any tidings were abroad: there also would the elders talk together about matters concerning the House or the Mid-mark or the whole Folk of the Markmen.

Yet you must not think that their solemn councils were held there, the folk-motes whereat it must be determined what to do and what to forbear doing; for according as such councils, (which they called Things) were of the House or of the Mid-mark or of the whole Folk, were they held each at the due Thing-steads in the Wood aloof from either acre or meadow, (as was the custom of our forefathers for long after) and at such Things would all the men of the House or the Mid-mark or the Folk be present man by man. And in each of these steads was there a Doomring wherein Doom was given by the neighbours chosen, (whom now we call the Jury) in matters between man and man; and no such doom of neighbours was given, and no such voice of the Folk proclaimed in any house or under any roof, nor even as aforesaid on the tilled acres or the depastured meadows. This was the custom of our forefathers, in memory, belike, of the days when as yet there was neither house nor tillage, nor flocks and herds, but the Earth's face only and what freely grew thereon.

But over the dais there hung by chains and pulleys fastened to a tie-beam of the roof high aloft a wondrous lamp fashioned of glass; yet of no such glass as the folk made then and there, but of a fair and clear green like an emerald, and all done with figures and knots in gold, and strange beasts, and a warrior slaying a dragon, and the sun rising on the earth: nor did any tale tell whence this lamp came, but it was held as an ancient and holy thing by all the Markmen, and the kindred of the Wolf had it in charge to keep a light burning in it night and day for ever; and they appointed a maiden of their own kindred to that office; which damsel must needs be unwedded, since no wedded woman dwelling under that roof could be a Wolfing woman, but would needs be of the houses wherein the Wolfings wedded.

This lamp which burned ever was called the Hall-Sun, and the woman who had charge of it, and who was the fairest that might be found was called after it the Hall-Sun also.

At the other end of the hall was the Woman's-Chamber, and therein were the looms and other gear for the carding and spinning of wool and the weaving of cloth.

Such was the Roof under which dwelt the kindred of the Wolfings; and the other kindreds of the Mid-mark had roofs like to it; and of these the chiefest were the Elkings, the Vallings, the Alftings, the Beamings, the Galtings, and the Bearings; who bore on their banners the Elk, the Falcon, the Swan, the Tree, the Boar, and the Bear. But other lesser and newer kindreds there were than these: as for the Hartings above named, they were a kindred of the Upper-mark.



CHAPTER II—THE FLITTING OF THE WAR-ARROW

Tells the tale that it was an evening of summer, when the wheat was in the ear, but yet green; and the neat-herds were done driving the milch- kine to the byre, and the horseherds and the shepherds had made the night- shift, and the out-goers were riding two by two and one by one through the lanes between the wheat and the rye towards the meadow. Round the cots of the thralls were gathered knots of men and women both thralls and freemen, some talking together, some hearkening a song or a tale, some singing and some dancing together; and the children gambolling about from group to group with their shrill and tuneless voices, like young throstles who have not yet learned the song of their race. With these were mingled dogs, dun of colour, long of limb, sharp-nosed, gaunt and great; they took little heed of the children as they pulled them about in their play, but lay down, or loitered about, as though they had forgotten the chase and the wild-wood.

Merry was the folk with that fair tide, and the promise of the harvest, and the joy of life, and there was no weapon among them so close to the houses, save here and there the boar-spear of some herdman or herd-woman late come from the meadow.

Tall and for the most part comely were both men and women; the most of them light-haired and grey-eyed, with cheek-bones somewhat high; white of skin but for the sun's burning, and the wind's parching, and whereas they were tanned of a very ruddy and cheerful hue. But the thralls were some of them of a shorter and darker breed, black-haired also and dark-eyed, lighter of limb; sometimes better knit, but sometimes crookeder of leg and knottier of arm. But some also were of build and hue not much unlike to the freemen; and these doubtless came of some other Folk of the Goths which had given way in battle before the Men of the Mark, either they or their fathers.

Moreover some of the freemen were unlike their fellows and kindred, being slenderer and closer-knit, and black-haired, but grey-eyed withal; and amongst these were one or two who exceeded in beauty all others of the House.

Now the sun was set and the glooming was at point to begin and the shadowless twilight lay upon the earth. The nightingales on the borders of the wood sang ceaselessly from the scattered hazel-trees above the greensward where the grass was cropped down close by the nibbling of the rabbits; but in spite of their song and the divers voices of the men-folk about the houses, it was an evening on which sounds from aloof can be well heard, since noises carry far at such tides.

Suddenly they who were on the edges of those throngs and were the less noisy, held themselves as if to listen; and a group that had gathered about a minstrel to hear his story fell hearkening also round about the silenced and hearkening tale-teller: some of the dancers and singers noted them and in their turn stayed the dance and kept silence to hearken; and so from group to group spread the change, till all were straining their ears to hearken the tidings. Already the men of the night-shift had heard it, and the shepherds of them had turned about, and were trotting smartly back through the lanes of the tall wheat: but the horse-herds were now scarce seen on the darkening meadow, as they galloped on fast toward their herds to drive home the stallions. For what they had heard was the tidings of war.

There was a sound in the air as of a humble-bee close to the ear of one lying on a grassy bank; or whiles as of a cow afar in the meadow lowing in the afternoon when milking-time draws nigh: but it was ever shriller than the one, and fuller than the other; for it changed at whiles, though after the first sound of it, it did not rise or fall, because the eve was windless. You might hear at once that for all it was afar, it was a great and mighty sound; nor did any that hearkened doubt what it was, but all knew it for the blast of the great war-horn of the Elkings, whose Roof lay up Mirkwood-water next to the Roof of the Wolfings.

So those little throngs broke up at once; and all the freemen, and of the thralls a good many, flocked, both men and women, to the Man's-door of the hall, and streamed in quietly and with little talk, as men knowing that they should hear all in due season.

Within under the Hall-Sun, amidst the woven stories of time past, sat the elders and chief warriors on the dais, and amidst of all a big strong man of forty winters, his dark beard a little grizzled, his eyes big and grey. Before him on the board lay the great War-horn of the Wolfings carved out of the tusk of a sea-whale of the North and with many devices on it and the Wolf amidst them all; its golden mouth-piece and rim wrought finely with flowers. There it abode the blowing, until the spoken word of some messenger should set forth the tidings borne on the air by the horn of the Elkings.

But the name of the dark-haired chief was Thiodolf (to wit Folk-wolf) and he was deemed the wisest man of the Wolfings, and the best man of his hands, and of heart most dauntless. Beside him sat the fair woman called the Hall-Sun; for she was his foster-daughter before men's eyes; and she was black-haired and grey-eyed like to her fosterer, and never was woman fashioned fairer: she was young of years, scarce twenty winters old.

There sat the chiefs and elders on the dais, and round about stood the kindred intermingled with the thralls, and no man spake, for they were awaiting sure and certain tidings: and when all were come in who had a mind to, there was so great a silence in the hall, that the song of the nightingales on the wood-edge sounded clear and loud therein, and even the chink of the bats about the upper windows could be heard. Then amidst the hush of men-folk, and the sounds of the life of the earth came another sound that made all turn their eyes toward the door; and this was the pad-pad of one running on the trodden and summer-dried ground anigh the hall: it stopped for a moment at the Man's-door, and the door opened, and the throng parted, making way for the man that entered and came hastily up to the midst of the table that stood on the dais athwart the hall, and stood there panting, holding forth in his outstretched hand something which not all could see in the dimness of the hall-twilight, but which all knew nevertheless. The man was young, lithe and slender, and had no raiment but linen breeches round his middle, and skin shoes on his feet. As he stood there gathering his breath for speech, Thiodolf stood up, and poured mead into a drinking horn and held it out towards the new-comer, and spake, but in rhyme and measure:

"Welcome, thou evening-farer, and holy be thine head, Since thou hast sought unto us in the heart of the Wolfings' stead; Drink now of the horn of the mighty, and call a health if thou wilt O'er the eddies of the mead-horn to the washing out of guilt. For thou com'st to the peace of the Wolfings, and our very guest thou art, And meseems as I behold thee, that I look on a child of the Hart."

But the man put the horn from him with a hasty hand, and none said another word to him until he had gotten his breath again; and then he said:

"All hail ye Wood-Wolfs' children! nought may I drink the wine, For the mouth and the maw that I carry this eve are nought of mine; And my feet are the feet of the people, since the word went forth that tide, 'O Elf here of the Hartings, no longer shalt thou bide In any house of the Markmen than to speak the word and wend, Till all men know the tidings and thine errand hath an end.' Behold, O Wolves, the token and say if it be true! I bear the shaft of battle that is four-wise cloven through, And its each end dipped in the blood-stream, both the iron and the horn, And its midmost scathed with the fire; and the word that I have borne Along with this war-token is, 'Wolfings of the Mark Whenso ye see the war-shaft, by the daylight or the dark, Busk ye to battle faring, and leave all work undone Save the gathering for the handplay at the rising of the sun. Three days hence is the hosting, and thither bear along Your wains and your kine for the slaughter lest the journey should be long. For great is the Folk, saith the tidings, that against the Markmen come; In a far off land is their dwelling, whenso they sit at home, And Welsh {1} is their tongue, and we wot not of the word that is in their mouth, As they march a many together from the cities of the South.'"

Therewith he held up yet for a minute the token of the war-arrow ragged and burnt and bloody; and turning about with it in his hand went his ways through the open door, none hindering; and when he was gone, it was as if the token were still in the air there against the heads of the living men, and the heads of the woven warriors, so intently had all gazed at it; and none doubted the tidings or the token. Then said Thiodolf:

"Forth will we Wolfing children, and cast a sound abroad: The mouth of the sea-beast's weapon shall speak the battle-word; And ye warriors hearken and hasten, and dight the weed of war, And then to acre and meadow wend ye adown no more, For this work shall be for the women to drive our neat from the mead, And to yoke the wains, and to load them as the men of war have need."

Out then they streamed from the hall, and no man was left therein save the fair Hall-Sun sitting under the lamp whose name she bore. But to the highest of the slope they went, where was a mound made higher by man's handiwork; thereon stood Thiodolf and handled the horn, turning his face toward the downward course of Mirkwood-water; and he set the horn to his lips, and blew a long blast, and then again, and yet again the third time; and all the sounds of the gathering night were hushed under the sound of the roaring of the war-horn of the Wolfings; and the Kin of the Beamings heard it as they sat in their hall, and they gat them ready to hearken to the bearer of the tidings who should follow on the sound of the war-blast.

But when the last sound of the horn had died away, then said Thiodolf:

"Now Wolfing children hearken, what the splintered War-shaft saith, The fire scathed blood-stained aspen! we shall ride for life or death, We warriors, a long journey with the herd and with the wain; But unto this our homestead shall we wend us back again, All the gleanings of the battle; and here for them that live Shall stand the Roof of the Wolfings, and for them shall the meadow thrive, And the acres give their increase in the harvest of the year; Now is no long departing since the Hall-Sun bideth here 'Neath the holy Roof of the Fathers, and the place of the Wolfing kin, And the feast of our glad returning shall yet be held therein. Hear the bidding of the War-shaft! All men, both thralls and free, 'Twixt twenty winters and sixty, beneath the shield shall be, And the hosting is at the Thing-stead, the Upper-mark anigh; And we wend away to-morrow ere the Sun is noon-tide high."

Therewith he stepped down from the mound, and went his way back to the hall; and manifold talk arose among the folk; and of the warriors some were already dight for the journey, but most not, and a many went their ways to see to their weapons and horses, and the rest back again into the hall.

By this time night had fallen, and between then and the dawning would be no darker hour, for the moon was just rising; a many of the horse-herds had done their business, and were now making their way back again through the lanes of the wheat, driving the stallions before them, who played together kicking, biting and squealing, paying but little heed to the standing corn on either side. Lights began to glitter now in the cots of the thralls, and brighter still in the stithies where already you might hear the hammers clinking on the anvils, as men fell to looking to their battle gear.

But the chief men and the women sat under their Roof on the eve of departure: and the tuns of mead were broached, and the horns filled and borne round by young maidens, and men ate and drank and were merry; and from time to time as some one of the warriors had done with giving heed to his weapons, he entered into the hall and fell into the company of those whom he loved most and by whom he was best beloved; and whiles they talked, and whiles they sang to the harp up and down that long house; and the moon risen high shone in at the windows, and there was much laughter and merriment, and talk of deeds of arms of the old days on the eve of that departure: till little by little weariness fell on them, and they went their ways to slumber, and the hall was fallen silent.



CHAPTER III—THIODOLF TALKETH WITH THE WOOD-SUN

But yet sat Thiodolf under the Hall-Sun for a while as one in deep thought; till at last as he stirred, his sword clattered on him; and then he lifted up his eyes and looked down the hall and saw no man stirring, so he stood up and settled his raiment on him, and went forth, and so took his ways through the hall-door, as one who hath an errand.

The moonlight lay in a great flood on the grass without, and the dew was falling in the coldest hour of the night, and the earth smelled sweetly: the whole habitation was asleep now, and there was no sound to be known as the sound of any creature, save that from the distant meadow came the lowing of a cow that had lost her calf, and that a white owl was flitting about near the eaves of the Roof with her wild cry that sounded like the mocking of merriment now silent.

Thiodolf turned toward the wood, and walked steadily through the scattered hazel-trees, and thereby into the thick of the beech-trees, whose boles grew smooth and silver-grey, high and close-set: and so on and on he went as one going by a well-known path, though there was no path, till all the moonlight was quenched under the close roof of the beech-leaves, though yet for all the darkness, no man could go there and not feel that the roof was green above him. Still he went on in despite of the darkness, till at last there was a glimmer before him, that grew greater till he came unto a small wood-lawn whereon the turf grew again, though the grass was but thin, because little sunlight got to it, so close and thick were the tall trees round about it. In the heavens above it by now there was a light that was not all of the moon, though it might scarce be told whether that light were the memory of yesterday or the promise of to-morrow, since little of the heavens could be seen thence, save the crown of them, because of the tall tree-tops.

Nought looked Thiodolf either at the heavens above, or the trees, as he strode from off the husk-strewn floor of the beech wood on to the scanty grass of the lawn, but his eyes looked straight before him at that which was amidmost of the lawn: and little wonder was that; for there on a stone chair sat a woman exceeding fair, clad in glittering raiment, her hair lying as pale in the moonlight on the grey stone as the barley acres in the August night before the reaping-hook goes in amongst them. She sat there as though she were awaiting someone, and he made no stop nor stay, but went straight up to her, and took her in his arms, and kissed her mouth and her eyes, and she him again; and then he sat himself down beside her. But her eyes looked kindly on him as she said:

"O Thiodolf, hardy art thou, that thou hast no fear to take me in thine arms and to kiss me, as though thou hadst met in the meadow with a maiden of the Elkings: and I, who am a daughter of the Gods of thy kindred, and a Chooser of the Slain! Yea, and that upon the eve of battle and the dawn of thy departure to the stricken field!"

"O Wood-Sun," he said "thou art the treasure of life that I found when I was young, and the love of life that I hold, now that my beard is grizzling. Since when did I fear thee, Wood-Sun? Did I fear thee when first I saw thee, and we stood amidst the hazelled field, we twain living amongst the slain? But my sword was red with the blood of the foe, and my raiment with mine own blood; and I was a-weary with the day's work, and sick with many strokes, and methought I was fainting into death. And there thou wert before me, full of life and ruddy and smiling both lips and eyes; thy raiment clean and clear, thine hands stained with blood: then didst thou take me by my bloody and weary hand, and didst kiss my lips grown ashen pale, and thou saidst 'Come with me.' And I strove to go, and might not; so many and sore were my hurts. Then amidst my sickness and my weariness was I merry; for I said to myself, This is the death of the warrior, and it is exceeding sweet. What meaneth it? Folk said of me; he is over young to meet the foeman; yet am I not over young to die?"

Therewith he laughed out amid the wild-wood, and his speech became song, and he said:

"We wrought in the ring of the hazels, and the wine of war we drank: From the tide when the sun stood highest to the hour wherein she sank: And three kings came against me, the mightiest of the Huns, The evil-eyed in battle, the swift-foot wily ones; And they gnashed their teeth against me, and they gnawed on the shield- rims there, On that afternoon of summer, in the high-tide of the year. Keen-eyed I gazed about me, and I saw the clouds draw up Till the heavens were dark as the hollow of a wine-stained iron cup, And the wild-deer lay unfeeding on the grass of the forest glades, And all earth was scared with the thunder above our clashing blades.

"Then sank a King before me, and on fell the other twain, And I tossed up the reddened sword-blade in the gathered rush of the rain And the blood and the water blended, and fragrant grew the earth.

"There long I turned and twisted within the battle-girth Before those bears of onset: while out from the grey world streamed The broad red lash of the lightening and in our byrnies gleamed. And long I leapt and laboured in that garland of the fight 'Mid the blue blades and the lightening; but ere the sky grew light The second of the Hun-kings on the rain-drenched daisies lay; And we twain with the battle blinded a little while made stay, And leaning on our sword-hilts each on the other gazed.

"Then the rain grew less, and one corner of the veil of clouds was raised, And as from the broidered covering gleams out the shoulder white Of the bed-mate of the warrior when on his wedding night He layeth his hand to the linen; so, down there in the west Gleamed out the naked heaven: but the wrath rose up in my breast, And the sword in my hand rose with it, and I leaped and hewed at the Hun; And from him too flared the war-flame, and the blades danced bright in the sun Come back to the earth for a little before the ending of day.

"There then with all that was in him did the Hun play out the play, Till he fell, and left me tottering, and I turned my feet to wend To the place of the mound of the mighty, the gate of the way without end. And there thou wert. How was it, thou Chooser of the Slain, Did I die in thine arms, and thereafter did thy mouth-kiss wake me again?"

Ere the last sound of his voice was done she turned and kissed him; and then she said; "Never hadst thou a fear and thine heart is full of hardihood."

Then he said:

"'Tis the hardy heart, beloved, that keepeth me alive, As the king-leek in the garden by the rain and the sun doth thrive, So I thrive by the praise of the people; it is blent with my drink and my meat; As I slumber in the night-tide it laps me soft and sweet; And through the chamber window when I waken in the morn With the wind of the sun's arising from the meadow is it borne And biddeth me remember that yet I live on earth: Then I rise and my might is with me, and fills my heart with mirth, As I think of the praise of the people; and all this joy I win By the deeds that my heart commandeth and the hope that lieth therein."

"Yea," she said, "but day runneth ever on the heels of day, and there are many and many days; and betwixt them do they carry eld."

"Yet art thou no older than in days bygone," said he. "Is it so, O Daughter of the Gods, that thou wert never born, but wert from before the framing of the mountains, from the beginning of all things?"

But she said:

"Nay, nay; I began, I was born; although it may be indeed That not on the hills of the earth I sprang from the godhead's seed. And e'en as my birth and my waxing shall be my waning and end. But thou on many an errand, to many a field dost wend Where the bow at adventure bended, or the fleeing dastard's spear Oft lulleth the mirth of the mighty. Now me thou dost not fear, Yet fear with me, beloved, for the mighty Maid I fear; And Doom is her name, and full often she maketh me afraid And even now meseemeth on my life her hand is laid."

But he laughed and said:

"In what land is she abiding? Is she near or far away? Will she draw up close beside me in the press of the battle play? And if then I may not smite her 'midst the warriors of the field With the pale blade of my fathers, will she bide the shove of my shield?"

But sadly she sang in answer:

"In many a stead Doom dwelleth, nor sleepeth day nor night: The rim of the bowl she kisseth, and beareth the chambering light When the kings of men wend happy to the bride-bed from the board. It is little to say that she wendeth the edge of the grinded sword, When about the house half builded she hangeth many a day; The ship from the strand she shoveth, and on his wonted way By the mountain-hunter fareth where his foot ne'er failed before: She is where the high bank crumbles at last on the river's shore: The mower's scythe she whetteth; and lulleth the shepherd to sleep Where the deadly ling-worm wakeneth in the desert of the sheep. Now we that come of the God-kin of her redes for ourselves we wot, But her will with the lives of men-folk and their ending know we not. So therefore I bid thee not fear for thyself of Doom and her deed, But for me: and I bid thee hearken to the helping of my need. Or else—Art thou happy in life, or lusteth thou to die In the flower of thy days, when thy glory and thy longing bloom on high?"

But Thiodolf answered her:

"I have deemed, and long have I deemed that this is my second life, That my first one waned with my wounding when thou cam'st to the ring of strife. For when in thine arms I wakened on the hazelled field of yore, Meseemed I had newly arisen to a world I knew no more, So much had all things brightened on that dewy dawn of day. It was dark dull death that I looked for when my thought had died away. It was lovely life that I woke to; and from that day henceforth My joy of the life of man-folk was manifolded of worth. Far fairer the fields of the morning than I had known them erst, And the acres where I wended, and the corn with its half-slaked thirst; And the noble Roof of the Wolfings, and the hawks that sat thereon; And the bodies of my kindred whose deliverance I had won; And the glimmering of the Hall-Sun in the dusky house of old; And my name in the mouth of the maidens, and the praises of the bold, As I sat in my battle-raiment, and the ruddy spear well steeled Leaned 'gainst my side war-battered, and the wounds thine hand had healed. Yea, from that morn thenceforward has my life been good indeed, The gain of to-day was goodly, and good to-morrow's need, And good the whirl of the battle, and the broil I wielded there, Till I fashioned the ordered onset, and the unhoped victory fair. And good were the days thereafter of utter deedless rest And the prattle of thy daughter, and her hands on my unmailed breast. Ah good is the life thou hast given, the life that mine hands have won. And where shall be the ending till the world is all undone? Here sit we twain together, and both we in Godhead clad, We twain of the Wolfing kindred, and each of the other glad."

But she answered, and her face grew darker withal:

"O mighty man and joyous, art thou of the Wolfing kin? 'Twas no evil deed when we mingled, nor lieth doom therein. Thou lovely man, thou black-haired, thou shalt die and have done no ill. Fame-crowned are the deeds of thy doing, and the mouths of men they fill. Thou betterer of the Godfolk, enduring is thy fame: Yet as a painted image of a dream is thy dreaded name. Of an alien folk thou comest, that we twain might be one indeed. Thou shalt die one day. So hearken, to help me at my need."

His face grew troubled and he said: "What is this word that I am no chief of the Wolfings?"

"Nay," she said, "but better than they. Look thou on the face of our daughter the Hall-Sun, thy daughter and mine: favoureth she at all of me?"

He laughed: "Yea, whereas she is fair, but not otherwise. This is a hard saying, that I dwell among an alien kindred, and it wotteth not thereof. Why hast thou not told me hereof before?"

She said: "It needed not to tell thee because thy day was waxing, as now it waneth. Once more I bid thee hearken and do my bidding though it be hard to thee."

He answered: "Even so will I as much as I may; and thus wise must thou look upon it, that I love life, and fear not death."

Then she spake, and again her words fell into rhyme:

"In forty fights hast thou foughten, and been worsted but in four; And I looked on and was merry; and ever more and more Wert thou dear to the heart of the Wood-Sun, and the Chooser of the Slain. But now whereas ye are wending with slaughter-herd and wain To meet a folk that ye know not, a wonder, a peerless foe, I fear for thy glory's waning, and I see thee lying alow."

Then he brake in: "Herein is little shame to be worsted by the might of the mightiest: if this so mighty folk sheareth a limb off the tree of my fame, yet shall it wax again."

But she sang:

"In forty fights hast thou foughten, and beside thee who but I Beheld the wind-tossed banners, and saw the aspen fly? But to-day to thy war I wend not, for Weird withholdeth me And sore my heart forebodeth for the battle that shall be. To-day with thee I wend not; so I feared, and lo my feet, That are wont to the woodland girdle of the acres of the wheat, For thee among strange people and the foeman's throng have trod, And I tell thee their banner of battle is a wise and a mighty God. For these are the folk of the cities, and in wondrous wise they dwell 'Mid confusion of heaped houses, dim and black as the face of hell; Though therefrom rise roofs most goodly, where their captains and their kings Dwell amidst the walls of marble in abundance of fair things; And 'mid these, nor worser nor better, but builded otherwise Stand the Houses of the Fathers, and the hidden mysteries. And as close as are the tree-trunks that within the beech-wood thrive E'en so many are their pillars; and therein like men alive Stand the images of god-folk in such raiment as they wore In the years before the cities and the hidden days of yore. Ah for the gold that I gazed on! and their store of battle gear, And strange engines that I knew not, or the end for which they were. Ah for the ordered wisdom of the war-array of these, And the folks that are sitting about them in dumb down-trodden peace! So I thought now fareth war-ward my well-beloved friend, And the weird of the Gods hath doomed it that no more with him may I wend! Woe's me for the war of the Wolfings wherefrom I am sundered apart, And the fruitless death of the war-wise, and the doom of the hardy heart!"

Then he answered, and his eyes grew kind as he looked on her:

"For thy fair love I thank thee, and thy faithful word, O friend! But how might it otherwise happen but we twain must meet in the end, The God of this mighty people and the Markmen and their kin? Lo, this is the weird of the world, and what may we do herein?"

Then mirth came into her face again as she said:

"Who wotteth of Weird, and what she is till the weird is accomplished? Long hath it been my weird to love thee and to fashion deeds for thee as I may; nor will I depart from it now." And she sang:

"Keen-edged is the sword of the city, and bitter is its spear, But thy breast in the battle, beloved, hath a wall of the stithy's gear. What now is thy wont in the handplay with the helm and the hauberk of rings? Farest thou as the thrall and the cot-carle, or clad in the raiment of kings?"

He started, and his face reddened as he answered:

"O Wood-Sun thou wottest our battle and the way wherein we fare: That oft at the battle's beginning the helm and the hauberk we bear; Lest the shaft of the fleeing coward or the bow at adventure bent Should slay us ere the need be, ere our might be given and spent. Yet oft ere the fight is over, and Doom hath scattered the foe, No leader of the people by his war-gear shall ye know, But by his hurts the rather, from the cot-carle and the thrall: For when all is done that a man may, 'tis the hour for a man to fall."

She yet smiled as she said in answer:

"O Folk-wolf, heed and hearken; for when shall thy life be spent And the Folk wherein thou dwellest with thy death be well content? Whenso folk need the fire, do they hew the apple-tree, And burn the Mother of Blossom and the fruit that is to be? Or me wilt thou bid to thy grave-mound because thy battle-wrath May nothing more be bridled than the whirl wind on his path? So hearken and do my bidding, for the hauberk shalt thou bear E'en when the other warriors cast off their battle-gear. So come thou, come unwounded from the war-field of the south, And sit with me in the beech-wood, and kiss me, eyes and mouth."

And she kissed him in very deed, and made much of him, and fawned on him, and laid her hand on his breast, and he was soft and blithe with her, but at last he laughed and said:

"God's Daughter, long hast thou lived, and many a matter seen, And men full often grieving for the deed that might have been; But here my heart thou wheedlest as a maid of tender years When first in the arms of her darling the horn of war she hears. Thou knowest the axe to be heavy, and the sword, how keen it is; But that Doom of which thou hast spoken, wilt thou not tell of this, God's Daughter, how it sheareth, and how it breaketh through Each wall that the warrior buildeth, yea all deeds that he may do? What might in the hammer's leavings, in the fire's thrall shall abide To turn that Folks' o'erwhelmer from the fated warrior's side?"

Then she laughed in her turn, and loudly; but so sweetly that the sound of her voice mingled with the first song of a newly awakened wood-thrush sitting on a rowan twig on the edge of the Wood-lawn. But she said:

"Yea, I that am God's Daughter may tell thee never a whit From what land cometh the hauberk nor what smith smithied it, That thou shalt wear in the handplay from the first stroke to the last; But this thereof I tell thee, that it holdeth firm and fast The life of the body it lappeth, if the gift of the Godfolk it be. Lo this is the yoke-mate of doom, and the gift of me unto thee."

Then she leaned down from the stone whereon they sat, and her hand was in the dewy grass for a little, and then it lifted up a dark grey rippling coat of rings; and she straightened herself in the seat again, and laid that hauberk on the knees of Thiodolf, and he put his hand to it, and turned it about, while he pondered long: then at last he said:

"What evil thing abideth with this warder of the strife, This burg and treasure chamber for the hoarding of my life? For this is the work of the dwarfs, and no kindly kin of the earth; And all we fear the dwarf-kin and their anger and sorrow and mirth."

She cast her arms about him and fondled him, and her voice grew sweeter than the voice of any mortal thing as she answered:

"No ill for thee, beloved, or for me in the hauberk lies; No sundering grief is in it, no lonely miseries. But we shall abide together, and that new life I gave, For a long while yet henceforward we twain its joy shall have. Yea, if thou dost my bidding to wear my gift in the fight No hunter of the wild-wood at the changing of the night Shall see my shape on thy grave-mound or my tears in the morning find With the dew of the morning mingled; nor with the evening wind Shall my body pass the shepherd as he wandereth in the mead And fill him with forebodings on the eve of the Wolfings' need. Nor the horse-herd wake in the midnight and hear my fateful cry; Nor yet shall the Wolfing women hear words on the wind go by As they weave and spin the night down when the House is gone to the war, And weep for the swains they wedded and the children that they bore. Yea do my bidding, O Folk-wolf, lest a grief of the Gods should weigh On the ancient House of the Wolfings and my death o'ercloud its day."

And still she clung about him, while he spake no word of yea or nay: but at the last he let himself glide wholly into her arms, and the dwarf-wrought hauberk fell from his knees and lay on the grass.

So they abode together in that wood-lawn till the twilight was long gone, and the sun arisen for some while. And when Thiodolf stepped out of the beech-wood into the broad sunshine dappled with the shadow of the leaves of the hazels moving gently in the fresh morning air, he was covered from the neck to the knee by a hauberk of rings dark and grey and gleaming, fashioned by the dwarfs of ancient days.



CHAPTER IV—THE HOUSE FARETH TO THE WAR

Now when Thiodolf came back to the habitations of the kindred the whole House was astir, both thrall-men and women, and free women hurrying from cot to stithy, and from stithy to hall bearing the last of the war-gear or raiment for the fighting-men. But they for their part were some standing about anigh the Man's-door, some sitting gravely within the hall, some watching the hurry of the thralls and women from the midmost of the open space amidst of the habitations, whereon there stood yet certain wains which were belated: for the most of the wains were now standing with the oxen already yoked to them down in the meadow past the acres, encircled by a confused throng of kine and horses and thrall-folk, for thither had all the beasts for the slaughter, and the horses for the warriors been brought; and there were the horses tethered or held by the thralls; some indeed were already saddled and bridled, and on others were the thralls doing the harness.

But as for the wains of the Markmen, they were stoutly framed of ash-tree with panels of aspen, and they were broad-wheeled so that they might go over rough and smooth. They had high tilts over them well framed of willow-poles covered over with squares of black felt over-lapping like shingles; which felt they made of the rough of their fleeces, for they had many sheep. And these wains were to them for houses upon the way if need were, and therein as now were stored their meal and their war-store and after fight they would flit their wounded men in them, such as were too sorely hurt to back a horse: nor must it be hidden that whiles they looked to bring back with them the treasure of the south. Moreover the folk if they were worsted in any battle, instead of fleeing without more done, would often draw back fighting into a garth made by these wains, and guarded by some of their thralls; and there would abide the onset of those who had thrust them back in the field. And this garth they called the Wain-burg.

So now stood three of these wains aforesaid belated amidst of the habitations of the House, their yoke-beasts standing or lying down unharnessed as yet to them: but in the very midst of that place was a wain unlike to them; smaller than they but higher; square of shape as to the floor of it; built lighter than they, yet far stronger; as the warrior is stronger than the big carle and trencher-licker that loiters about the hall; and from the midst of this wain arose a mast made of a tall straight fir-tree, and thereon hung the banner of the Wolfings, wherein was wrought the image of the Wolf, but red of hue as a token of war, and with his mouth open and gaping upon the foemen. Also whereas the other wains were drawn by mere oxen, and those of divers colours, as chance would have it, the wain of the banner was drawn by ten black bulls of the mightiest of the herd, deep-dewlapped, high-crested and curly-browed; and their harness was decked with gold, and so was the wain itself, and the woodwork of it painted red with vermilion. There then stood the Banner of the House of the Wolfings awaiting the departure of the warriors to the hosting.

So Thiodolf stood on the top of the bent beside that same mound wherefrom he had blown the War-horn yester-eve, and which was called the Hill of Speech, and he shaded his eyes with his hand and looked around him; and even therewith the carles fell to yoking the beasts to the belated wains, and the warriors gathered together from out of the mixed throngs, and came from the Roof and the Man's-door and all set their faces toward the Hill of Speech.

So Thiodolf knew that all was ready for departure, and it wanted but an hour of high-noon; so he turned about and went into the Hall, and there found his shield and his spear hanging in his sleeping place beside the hauberk he was wont to wear; then he looked, as one striving with thought, at his empty hauberk and his own body covered with the dwarf- wrought rings; nor did his face change as he took his shield and his spear and turned away. Then he went to the dais and there sat his foster- daughter (as men deemed her) sitting amidst of it as yester-eve, and now arrayed in a garment of fine white wool, on the breast whereof were wrought in gold two beasts ramping up against a fire-altar whereon a flame flickered; and on the skirts and the hems were other devices, of wolves chasing deer, and men shooting with the bow; and that garment was an ancient treasure; but she had a broad girdle of gold and gems about her middle, and on her arms and neck she wore great gold rings wrought delicately. By then there were few save the Hall-Sun under the Roof, and they but the oldest of the women, or a few very old men, and some who were ailing and might not go abroad. But before her on the thwart table lay the Great War-horn awaiting the coming of Thiodolf to give signal of departure.

Then went Thiodolf to the Hall-Sun and kissed and embraced her fondly, and she gave the horn into his hands, and he went forth and up on to the Hill of Speech, and blew thence a short blast on the horn, and then came all the Warriors flocking to the Hill of Speech, each man stark in his harness, alert and joyous.

Then presently through the Man's-door came the Hall-Sun in that ancient garment, which fell straight and stiff down to her ancles as she stepped lightly and slowly along, her head crowned with a garland of eglantine. In her right hand also she held a great torch of wax lighted, whose flame amidst the bright sunlight looked like a wavering leaf of vermilion.

The warriors saw her, and made a lane for her, and she made her way through it up to the Hill of Speech, and she went up to the top of it and stood there holding the lighted candle in her hand, so that all might see it. Then suddenly was there as great a silence as there may be on a forenoon of summer; for even the thralls down in the meadow had noted what was toward, and ceased their talking and shouting, for as far off as they were, since they could see that the Hall-Sun stood on the Hill of Speech, for the wood was dark behind her; so they knew the Farewell Flame was lighted, and that the maiden would speak; and to all men her speech was a boding of good or of ill.

So she began in a sweet voice yet clear and far-reaching:

"O Warriors of the Wolfings by the token of the flame That here in my right hand flickers, come aback to the House of the Name! For there yet burneth the Hall-Sun beneath the Wolfing roof, And this flame is litten from it, nor as now shall it fare aloof Till again it seeth the mighty and the men to be gleaned from the fight. So wend ye as weird willeth and let your hearts be light; For through your days of battle all the deeds of our days shall be fair. To-morrow beginneth the haysel, as if every carle were here; And who knoweth ere your returning but the hook shall smite the corn? But the kine shall go down to the meadow as their wont is every morn, And each eve shall come back to the byre; and the mares and foals afield Shall ever be heeded duly; and all things shall their increase yield. And if it shall befal us that hither cometh a foe Here have we swains of the shepherds good players with the bow, And old men battle-crafty whose might is nowise spent, And women fell and fearless well wont to tread the bent Amid the sheep and the oxen; and their hands are hard with the spear And their arms are strong and stalwart the battle shield to bear; And store of weapons have we and the mighty walls of the stead; And the Roof shall abide you steadfast with the Hall-Sun overhead. Lo here I quench this candle that is lit from the Hall-Sun's flame Which unto the Wild-wood clearing with the kin of the Wolfings came And shall wend with their departure to the limits of the earth; Nor again shall the torch be lighted till in sorrow or in mirth, Overthrown or overthrowing, ye come aback once more, And bid me bear the candle before the Wolf of War."

As she spake the word she turned the candle downward, and thrust it against the grass and quenched it indeed; but the whole throng of warriors turned about, for the bulls of the banner-wain lowered their heads in the yokes and began to draw, lowing mightily; and the wain creaked and moved on, and all the men-at-arms followed after, and down they went through the lanes of the corn, and a many women and children and old men went down into the mead with them.

In their hearts they all wondered what the Hall-Sun's words might signify; for she had told them nought about the battles to be, saving that some should come back to the Mid-mark; whereas aforetime somewhat would she foretell to them concerning the fortune of the fight, and now had she said to them nothing but what their own hearts told them. Nevertheless they bore their crests high as they followed the Wolf down into the meadow, where all was now ready for departure. There they arrayed themselves and went down to the lip of Mirkwood-water; and such was their array that the banner went first, save that a band of fully armed men went before it; and behind it and about were the others as well arrayed as they. Then went the wains that bore their munition, with armed carles of the thrall-folk about them, who were ever the guard of the wains, and should never leave them night or day; and lastly went the great band of the warriors and the rest of the thralls with them.

As to their war-gear, all the freemen had helms of some kind, but not all of iron or steel; for some bore helms fashioned of horse-hide and bull- hide covered over with the similitude of a Wolf's muzzle; nor were these ill-defence against a sword-stroke. Shields they all had, and all these had the image of the Wolf marked on them, but for many their thralls bore them on the journey. As to their body-armour some carried long byrnies of ring-mail, some coats of leather covered with splinters of horn laid like the shingles of a roof, and some skin-coats only: whereof indeed there were some of which tales went that they were better than the smith's hammer-work, because they had had spells sung over them to keep out steel or iron.

But for their weapons, they bore spears with shafts not very long, some eight feet of our measure; and axes heavy and long-shafted; and bills with great and broad heads; and some few, but not many of the kindred were bowmen, and every freeman was girt with a sword; but of the swords some were long and two-edged, some short and heavy, cutting on one edge, and these were of the kind which they and our forefathers long after called 'sax.' Thus were the freemen arrayed.

But for the thralls, there were many bows among them, especially among those who were of blood alien from the Goths; the others bore short spears, and feathered broad arrows, and clubs bound with iron, and knives and axes, but not every man of them had a sword. Few iron helms they had and no ringed byrnies, but most had a buckler at their backs with no sign or symbol on it.

Thus then set forth the fighting men of the House of the Wolf toward the Thing-stead of the Upper-mark where the hosting was to be, and by then they were moving up along the side of Mirkwood-water it was somewhat past high-noon.

But the stay-at-home people who had come down with them to the meadow lingered long in that place; and much foreboding there was among them of evil to come; and of the old folk, some remembered tales of the past days of the Markmen, and how they had come from the ends of the earth, and the mountains where none dwell now but the Gods of their kindreds; and many of these tales told of their woes and their wars as they went from river to river and from wild-wood to wild-wood before they had established their Houses in the Mark, and fallen to dwelling there season by season and year by year whether the days were good or ill. And it fell into their hearts that now at last mayhappen was their abiding wearing out to an end, and that the day should soon be when they should have to bear the Hall-Sun through the wild-wood, and seek a new dwelling-place afar from the troubling of these newly arisen Welsh foemen.

And so those of them who could not rid themselves of this foreboding were somewhat heavier of heart than their wont was when the House went to the War. For long had they abided there in the Mark, and the life was sweet to them which they knew, and the life which they knew not was bitter to them: and Mirkwood-water was become as a God to them no less than to their fathers of old time; nor lesser was the mead where fed the horses that they loved and the kine that they had reared, and the sheep that they guarded from the Wolf of the Wild-wood: and they worshipped the kind acres which they themselves and their fathers had made fruitful, wedding them to the seasons of seed-time and harvest, that the birth that came from them might become a part of the kindred of the Wolf, and the joy and might of past springs and summers might run in the blood of the Wolfing children. And a dear God indeed to them was the Roof of the Kindred, that their fathers had built and that they yet warded against the fire and the lightening and the wind and the snow, and the passing of the days that devour and the years that heap the dust over the work of men. They thought of how it had stood, and seen so many generations of men come and go; how often it had welcomed the new-born babe, and given farewell to the old man: how many secrets of the past it knew; how many tales which men of the present had forgotten, but which yet mayhap men of times to come should learn of it; for to them yet living it had spoken time and again, and had told them what their fathers had not told them, and it held the memories of the generations and the very life of the Wolfings and their hopes for the days to be.

Thus these poor people thought of the Gods whom they worshipped, and the friends whom they loved, and could not choose but be heavy-hearted when they thought that the wild-wood was awaiting them to swallow all up, and take away from them their Gods and their friends and the mirth of their life, and burden them with hunger and thirst and weariness, that their children might begin once more to build the House and establish the dwelling, and call new places by old names, and worship new Gods with the ancient worship.

Such imaginations of trouble then were in the hearts of the stay-at-homes of the Wolfings; the tale tells not indeed that all had such forebodings, but chiefly the old folk who were nursing the end of their life-days amidst the cherishing Kindred of the House.

But now they were beginning to turn them back again to the habitations, and a thin stream was flowing through the acres, when they heard a confused sound drawing near blended of horns and the lowing of beasts and the shouting of men; and they looked and saw a throng of brightly clad men coming up stream alongside of Mirkwood-water; and they were not afraid, for they knew that it must be some other company of the Markmen journeying to the hosting of the Folk: and presently they saw that it was the House of the Beamings following their banner on the way to the Thing- stead. But when the new-comers saw the throng out in the meads, some of their young men pricked on their horses and galloped on past the women and old men, to whom they threw a greeting, as they ran past to catch up with the bands of the Wolfings; for between the two houses was there affinity, and much good liking lay between them; and the stay-at-homes, many of them, lingered yet till the main body of the Beamings came with their banner: and their array was much like to that of the Wolfings, but gayer; for whereas it pleased the latter to darken all their war-gear to the colour of the grey Wolf, the Beamings polished all their gear as bright as might be, and their raiment also was mostly bright green of hue and much beflowered; and the sign on their banner was a green leafy tree, and the wain was drawn by great white bulls.

So when their company drew anear to the throng of the stay-at-homes they went to meet and greet each other, and tell tidings to each other; but their banner held steadily onward amidst their converse, and in a little while they followed it, for the way was long to the Thing-stead of the Upper-mark.

So passed away the fighting men by the side of Mirkwood-water, and the throng of the stay-at-homes melted slowly from the meadow and trickled along through the acres to the habitations of the Wolfings, and there they fell to doing whatso of work or play came to their hands.



CHAPTER V—CONCERNING THE HALL-SUN

When the warriors and the others had gone down to the mead, the Hall-Sun was left standing on the Hill of Speech, and she stood there till she saw the host in due array going on its ways dark and bright and beautiful; then she made as if to turn aback to the Great Roof; but all at once it seemed to her as if something held her back, as if her will to move had departed from her, and that she could not put one foot before the other. So she lingered on the Hill, and the quenched candle fell from her hand, and presently she sank adown on the grass and sat there with the face of one thinking intently. Yet was it with her that a thousand thoughts were in her mind at once and no one of them uppermost, and images of what had been and what then was flickered about in her brain, and betwixt them were engendered images of things to be, but unstable and not to be trowed in. So sat the Hall-Sun on the Hill of Speech lost in a dream of the day, whose stories were as little clear as those of a night-dream.

But as she sat musing thus, came to her a woman exceeding old to look on, whom she knew not as one of the kindred or a thrall; and this carline greeted her by the name of Hall-Sun and said:

"Hail, Hall-Sun of the Markmen! how fares it now with thee When the whelps of the Woodbeast wander with the Leafage of the Tree All up the Mirkwood-water to seek what they shall find, The oak-boles of the battle and the war-wood stark and blind?"

Then answered the maiden:

"It fares with me, O mother, that my soul would fain go forth To behold the ways of the battle, and the praise of the warriors' worth. But yet is it held entangled in a maze of many a thing, As the low-grown bramble holdeth the brake-shoots of the Spring. I think of the thing that hath been, but no shape is in my thought; I think of the day that passeth, and its story comes to nought. I think of the days that shall be, nor shape I any tale. I will hearken thee, O mother, if hearkening may avail."

The Carline gazed at her with dark eyes that shone brightly from amidst her brown wrinkled face: then she sat herself down beside her and spake:

"From a far folk have I wandered and I come of an alien blood, But I know all tales of the Wolfings and their evil and their good; And when I heard of thy fairness, thereof I heard it said, That for thee should be never a bridal nor a place in the warrior's bed."

The maiden neither reddened nor paled, but looking with calm steady eyes into the Carline's face she answered:

"Yea true it is, I am wedded to the mighty ones of old, And the fathers of the Wolfings ere the days of field and fold."

Then a smile came into the eyes of the old woman and she said.

"How glad shall be thy mother of thy worship and thy worth, And the father that begat thee if yet they dwell on earth!"

But the Hall-Sun answered in the same steady manner as before:

"None knoweth who is my mother, nor my very father's name; But when to the House of the Wolfings a wild-wood waif I came, They gave me a foster-mother an ancient dame and good, And a glorious foster-father the best of all the blood."

Spake the Carline.

"Yea, I have heard the story, but scarce therein might I trow That thou with all thy beauty wert born 'neath the oaken bough, And hast crawled a naked baby o'er the rain-drenched autumn-grass; Wilt thou tell the wandering woman what wise it cometh to pass That thou art the Mid-mark's Hall-Sun, and the sign of the Wolfings' gain? Thou shalt pleasure me much by the telling, and there of shalt thou be fain."

Then answered the Hall-Sun.

"Yea; thus much I remember for the first of my memories; That I lay on the grass in the morning and above were the boughs of the trees. But nought naked was I as the wood-whelp, but clad in linen white, And adown the glades of the oakwood the morning sun lay bright. Then a hind came out of the thicket and stood on the sunlit glade, And turned her head toward the oak tree and a step on toward me made. Then stopped, and bounded aback, and away as if in fear, That I saw her no more; then I wondered, though sitting close anear Was a she-wolf great and grisly. But with her was I wont to play, And pull her ears, and belabour her rugged sides and grey, And hold her jaws together, while she whimpered, slobbering For the love of my love; and nowise I deemed her a fearsome thing. There she sat as though she were watching, and o'er head a blue-winged jay Shrieked out from the topmost oak-twigs, and a squirrel ran his way Two tree-trunks off. But the she-wolf arose up suddenly And growled with her neck-fell bristling, as if danger drew anigh; And therewith I heard a footstep, for nice was my ear to catch All the noises of the wild-wood; so there did we sit at watch While the sound of feet grew nigher: then I clapped hand on hand And crowed for joy and gladness, for there out in the sun did stand A man, a glorious creature with a gleaming helm on his head, And gold rings on his arms, in raiment gold-broidered crimson-red. Straightway he strode up toward us nor heeded the wolf of the wood But sang as he went in the oak-glade, as a man whose thought is good, And nought she heeded the warrior, but tame as a sheep was grown, And trotted away through the wild-wood with her crest all laid adown. Then came the man and sat down by the oak-bole close unto me And took me up nought fearful and set me on his knee. And his face was kind and lovely, so my cheek to his cheek I laid And touched his cold bright war-helm and with his gold rings played, And hearkened his words, though I knew not what tale they had to tell, Yet fain was my heart of their music, and meseemed I loved him well. So we fared for a while and were fain, till he set down my feet on the grass, And kissed me and stood up himself, and away through the wood did he pass. And then came back the she-wolf and with her I played and was fain. Lo the first thing I remember: wilt thou have me babble again?"

Spake the Carline and her face was soft and kind:

"Nay damsel, long would I hearken to thy voice this summer day. But how didst thou leave the wild-wood, what people brought thee away?"

Then said the Hall-Sun:

"I awoke on a time in the even, and voices I heard as I woke; And there was I in the wild-wood by the bole of the ancient oak, And a ring of men was around me, and glad was I indeed As I looked upon their faces and the fashion of their weed. For I gazed on the red and the scarlet and the beaten silver and gold, And blithe were their noble faces and kindly to behold, And nought had I seen of such-like since that hour of the other day When that warrior came to the oak glade with the little child to play. And forth now he came, with the face that my hands had fondled before, And a battle shield wrought fairly upon his arm he bore, And thereon the wood-wolf's image in ruddy gold was done. Then I stretched out my little arms towards the glorious shining one And he took me up and set me on his shoulder for a while And turned about to his fellows with a blithe and joyous smile; And they shouted aloud about me and drew forth gleaming swords And clashed them on their bucklers; but nought I knew of the words Of their shouting and rejoicing. So thereafter was I laid And borne forth on the warrior's warshield, and our way through the wood we made 'Midst the mirth and great contentment of those fair-clad shielded men.

"But no tale of the wolf and the wild-wood abides with me since then, And the next thing I remember is a huge and dusky hall, A world for my little body from ancient wall to wall; A world of many doings, and nought for me to do, A world of many noises, and known to me were few.

"Time wore, and I spoke with the Wolfings and knew the speech of the kin, And was strange 'neath the roof no longer, as a lonely waif therein; And I wrought as a child with my playmates and every hour looked on Unto the next hour's joyance till the happy day was done. And going and coming amidst us was a woman tall and thin With hair like the hoary barley and silver streaks therein. And kind and sad of visage, as now I remember me, And she sat and told us stories when we were aweary with glee, And many of us she fondled, but me the most of all. And once from my sleep she waked me and bore me down the hall, In the hush of the very midnight, and I was feared thereat. But she brought me unto the dais, and there the warrior sat, Who took me up and kissed me, as erst within the wood; And meseems in his arms I slumbered: but I wakened again and stood Alone with the kindly woman, and gone was the goodly man, And athwart the hush of the Folk-hall the moon shone bright and wan, And the woman dealt with a lamp hung up by a chain aloft, And she trimmed it and fed it with oil, while she chanted sweet and soft A song whose words I knew not: then she ran it up again, And up in the darkness above us died the length of its wavering chain."

"Yea," said the carline, "this woman will have been the Hall-Sun that came before thee. What next dost thou remember?"

Said the maiden:

"Next I mind me of the hazels behind the People's Roof, And the children running thither and the magpie flitting aloof, And my hand in the hand of the Hall-Sun, as after the others we went, And she soberly hearkening my prattle and the words of my intent. And now would I call her 'Mother,' and indeed I loved her well.

"So I waxed; and now of my memories the tale were long to tell; But as the days passed over, and I fared to field and wood, Alone or with my playmates, still the days were fair and good. But the sad and kindly Hall-Sun for my fosterer now I knew, And the great and glorious warrior that my heart clung sorely to Was but my foster-father; and I knew that I had no kin In the ancient House of the Wolfings, though love was warm therein."

Then smiled the carline and said: "Yea, he is thy foster-father, and yet a fond one."

"Sooth is that," said the Hall-Sun. "But wise art thou by seeming. Hast thou come to tell me of what kindred I am, and who is my father and who is my mother?"

Said the carline: "Art thou not also wise? Is it not so that the Hall- Sun of the Wolfings seeth things that are to come?"

"Yea," she said, "yet have I seen waking or sleeping no other father save my foster-father; yet my very mother I have seen, as one who should meet her in the flesh one day."

"And good is that," said the carline; and as she spoke her face waxed kinder, and she said:

"Tell us more of thy days in the House of the Wolfings and how thou faredst there."

Said the Hall-Sun:

"I waxed 'neath the Roof of the Wolfings, till now to look upon I was of sixteen winters, and the love of the Folk I won, And in lovely weed they clad me like the image of a God: And lonely now full often the wild-wood ways I trod, And I feared no wild-wood creature, and my presence scared them nought; And I fell to know of wisdom, and within me stirred my thought, So that oft anights would I wander through the mead and far away, And swim the Mirkwood-water, and amidst his eddies play When earth was dark in the dawn-tide; and over all the folk I knew of the beasts' desires, as though in words they spoke.

"So I saw of things that should be, were they mighty things or small, And upon a day as it happened came the war-word to the hall, And the House must wend to the warfield, and as they sang, and played With the strings of the harp that even, and the mirth of the war-eve made, Came the sight of the field to my eyes, and the words waxed hot in me, And I needs must show the picture of the end of the fight to be. Then I showed them the Red Wolf bristling o'er the broken fleeing foe; And the war-gear of the fleers, and their banner did I show, To wit the Ling-worm's image with the maiden in his mouth; There I saw my foster-father 'mid the pale blades of the South, Till aloof swept all the handplay and the hurry of the chase, And he lay along by an ash-tree, no helm about his face, No byrny on his body; and an arrow in his thigh, And a broken spear in his shoulder. Then I saw myself draw nigh To sing the song blood-staying. Then saw I how we twain Went 'midst of the host triumphant in the Wolfings' banner-wain, The black bulls lowing before us athwart the warriors' song, As up from Mirkwood-water we went our ways along To the Great Roof of the Wolfings, whence streamed the women out And the sound of their rejoicing blent with the warriors' shout.

"They heard me and saw the picture, and they wotted how wise I was grown, And they loved me, and glad were their hearts at the tale my lips had shown; And my body clad as an image of a God to the field they bore, And I held by the mast of the banner as I looked upon their war, And endured to see unblenching on the wind-swept sunny plain All the picture of my vision by the men-folk done again. And over my Foster-father I sang the staunching-song, Till the life-blood that was ebbing flowed back to his heart the strong, And we wended back in the war-wain 'midst the gleanings of the fight Unto the ancient dwelling and the Hall-Sun's glimmering light.

"So from that day henceforward folk hung upon my words, For the battle of the autumn, and the harvest of the swords; And e'en more was I loved than aforetime. So wore a year away, And heavy was the burden of the lore that on me lay.

"But my fosterer the Hall-Sun took sick at the birth of the year, And changed her life as the year changed, as summer drew anear. But she knew that her life was waning, and lying in her bed She taught me the lore of the Hall-Sun, and every word to be said At the trimming in the midnight and the feeding in the morn, And she laid her hands upon me ere unto the howe she was borne With the kindred gathered about us; and they wotted her weird and her will, And hailed me for the Hall-Sun when at last she lay there still. And they did on me the garment, the holy cloth of old, And the neck-chain wrought for the goddess, and the rings of the hallowed gold. So here am I abiding, and of things to be I tell, Yet know not what shall befall me nor why with the Wolfings I dwell."

Then said the carline:

"What seest thou, O daughter, of the journey of to-day? And why wendest thou not with the war-host on the battle-echoing way?"

Said the Hall-Sun.

"O mother, here dwelleth the Hall-Sun while the kin hath a dwelling- place, Nor ever again shall I look on the onset or the chase, Till the day when the Roof of the Wolfings looketh down on the girdle of foes, And the arrow singeth over the grass of the kindred's close; Till the pillars shake with the shouting and quivers the roof-tree dear, When the Hall of the Wolfings garners the harvest of the spear."

Therewith she stood on her feet and turned her face to the Great Roof, and gazed long at it, not heeding the crone by her side; and she muttered words of whose signification the other knew not, though she listened intently, and gazed ever at her as closely as might be.

Then fell the Hall-Sun utterly silent, and the lids closed over her eyes, and her hands were clenched, and her feet pressed hard on the daisies: her bosom heaved with sore sighs, and great tear-drops oozed from under her eyelids and fell on to her raiment and her feet and on to the flowery summer grass; and at the last her mouth opened and she spake, but in a voice that was marvellously changed from that she spake in before:

"Why went ye forth, O Wolfings, from the garth your fathers built, And the House where sorrow dieth, and all unloosed is guilt? Turn back, turn back, and behold it! lest your feet be over slow When your shields are heavy-burdened with the arrows of the foe; How ye totter, how ye stumble on the rough and corpse-strewn way! And lo, how the eve is eating the afternoon of day! O why are ye abiding till the sun is sunk in night And the forest trees are ruddy with the battle-kindled light? O rest not yet, ye Wolfings, lest void be your resting-place, And into lands that ye know not the Wolf must turn his face, And ye wander and ye wander till the land in the ocean cease, And your battle bring no safety and your labour no increase."

Then was she silent for a while, and her tears ceased to flow; but presently her eyes opened once more, and she lifted up her voice and cried aloud—

"I see, I see! O Godfolk behold it from aloof, How the little flames steal flickering along the ridge of the Roof! They are small and red 'gainst the heavens in the summer afternoon; But when the day is dusking, white, high shall they wave to the moon. Lo, the fire plays now on the windows like strips of scarlet cloth Wind-waved! but look in the night-tide on the onset of its wrath, How it wraps round the ancient timbers and hides the mighty roof But lighteth little crannies, so lost and far aloof, That no man yet of the kindred hath seen them ere to-night, Since first the builder builded in loving and delight!"

Then again she stayed her speech with weeping and sobbing, but after a while was still again, and then she spoke pointing toward the roof with her right hand.

"I see the fire-raisers and iron-helmed they are, Brown-faced about the banners that their hands have borne afar. And who in the garth of the kindred shall bear adown their shield Since the onrush of the Wolfings they caught in the open field, As the might of the mountain lion falls dead in the hempen net? O Wolfings, long have ye tarried, but the hour abideth yet. What life for the life of the people shall be given once for all, What sorrow shall stay sorrow in the half-burnt Wolfing Hall? There is nought shall quench the fire save the tears of the Godfolk's kin, And the heart of the life-delighter, and the life-blood cast therein."

Then once again she fell silent, and her eyes closed again, and the slow tears gushed out from them, and she sank down sobbing on the grass, and little by little the storm of grief sank and her head fell back, and she was as one quietly asleep. Then the carline hung over her and kissed her and embraced her; and then through her closed eyes and her slumber did the Hall-Sun see a marvel; for she who was kissing her was young in semblance and unwrinkled, and lovely to look on, with plenteous long hair of the hue of ripe barley, and clad in glistening raiment such as has been woven in no loom on earth.

And indeed it was the Wood-Sun in the semblance of a crone, who had come to gather wisdom of the coming time from the foreseeing of the Hall-Sun; since now at last she herself foresaw nothing of it, though she was of the kindred of the Gods and the Fathers of the Goths. So when she had heard the Hall-Sun she deemed that she knew but too well what her words meant, and what for love, what for sorrow, she grew sick at heart as she heard them.

So at last she arose and turned to look at the Great Roof; and strong and straight, and cool and dark grey showed its ridge against the pale sky of the summer afternoon all quivering with the heat of many hours' sun: dark showed its windows as she gazed on it, and stark and stiff she knew were its pillars within.

Then she said aloud, but to herself: "What then if a merry and mighty life be given for it, and the sorrow of the people be redeemed; yet will not I give the life which is his; nay rather let him give the bliss which is mine. But oh! how may it be that he shall die joyous and I shall live unhappy!"

Then she went slowly down from the Hill of Speech, and whoso saw her deemed her but a gangrel carline. So she went her ways and let the wood cover her.

But in a little while the Hall-Sun awoke alone, and sat up with a sigh, and she remembered nothing concerning her sight of the flickering flame along the hall-roof, and the fire-tongues like strips of scarlet cloth blown by the wind, nor had she any memory of her words concerning the coming day. But the rest of her talk with the carline she remembered, and also the vision of the beautiful woman who had kissed and embraced her; and she knew that it was her very mother. Also she perceived that she had been weeping, therefore she knew that she had uttered words of wisdom. For so it fared with her at whiles, that she knew not her own words of foretelling, but spoke them out as if in a dream.

So now she went down from the Hill of Speech soberly, and turned toward the Woman's door of the hall, and on her way she met the women and old men and youths coming back from the meadow with little mirth: and there were many of them who looked shyly at her as though they would gladly have asked her somewhat, and yet durst not. But for her, her sadness passed away when she came among them, and she looked kindly on this and that one of them, and entered with them into the Woman's Chamber, and did what came to her hand to do.



CHAPTER VI—THEY TALK ON THE WAY TO THE FOLK-THING

All day long one standing on the Speech-hill of the Wolfings might have seen men in their war-array streaming along the side of Mirkwood-water, on both sides thereof; and the last comers from the Nether-mark came hastening all they might; for they would not be late at the trysting-place. But these were of a kindred called the Laxings, who bore a salmon on their banner; and they were somewhat few in number, for they had but of late years become a House of the Markmen. Their banner-wain was drawn by white horses, fleet and strong, and they were no great band, for they had but few thralls with them, and all, free men and thralls, were a-horseback; so they rode by hastily with their banner-wain, their few munition-wains following as they might.

Now tells the tale of the men-at-arms of the Wolfings and the Beamings, that soon they fell in with the Elking host, which was journeying but leisurely, so that the Wolfings might catch up with them: they were a very great kindred, the most numerous of all Mid-mark, and at this time they had affinity with the Wolfings. But old men of the House remembered how they had heard their grandsires and very old men tell that there had been a time when the Elking House had been established by men from out of the Wolfing kindred, and how they had wandered away from the Mark in the days when it had been first settled, and had abided aloof for many generations of men; and so at last had come back again to the Mark, and had taken up their habitation at a place in Mid-mark where was dwelling but a remnant of a House called the Thyrings, who had once been exceeding mighty, but had by that time almost utterly perished in a great sickness which befel in those days. So then these two Houses, the wanderers come back and the remnant left by the sickness of the Gods, made one House together, and increased and throve after their coming together, and wedded with the Wolfings, and became a very great House.

Gallant and glorious was their array now, as they marched along with their banner of the Elk, which was drawn by the very beasts themselves tamed to draught to that end through many generations; they were fatter and sleeker than their wild-wood brethren, but not so mighty.

So were the men of the three kindreds somewhat mingled together on the way. The Wolfings were the tallest and the biggest made; but of those dark-haired men aforesaid, were there fewest amongst the Beamings, and most among the Elkings, as though they had drawn to them more men of alien blood during their wanderings aforesaid. So they talked together and made each other good cheer, as is the wont of companions in arms on the eve of battle; and the talk ran, as may be deemed, on that journey and what was likely to come of it: and spake an Elking warrior to a Wolfing by whom he rode:

"O Wolfkettle, hath the Hall-Sun had any foresight of the day of battle?"

"Nay," said the other, "when she lighted the farewell candle, she bade us come back again, and spoke of the day of our return; but that methinks, as thou and I would talk of it, thinking what would be likely to befal. Since we are a great host of valiant men, and these Welshmen {2} most valiant, and as the rumour runneth bigger-bodied men than the Hun-folk, and so well ordered as never folk have been. So then if we overthrow them we shall come back again; and if they overthrow us, the remnant of us shall fall back before them till we come to our habitations; for it is not to be looked for that they will fall in upon our rear and prevent us, since we have the thicket of the wild-wood on our flanks."

"Sooth is that," said the Elking; "and as to the mightiness of this folk and their customs, ye may gather somewhat from the songs which our House yet singeth, and which ye have heard wide about in the Mark; for this is the same folk of which a many of them tell, making up that story-lay which is called the South-Welsh Lay; which telleth how we have met this folk in times past when we were in fellowship with a folk of the Welsh of like customs to ourselves: for we of the Elkings were then but a feeble folk. So we marched with this folk of the Kymry and met the men of the cities, and whiles we overthrew and whiles were overthrown, but at last in a great battle were overthrown with so great a slaughter, that the red blood rose over the wheels of the wains, and the city-folk fainted with the work of the slaughter, as men who mow a match in the meadows when the swathes are dry and heavy and the afternoon of midsummer is hot; and there they stood and stared on the field of the slain, and knew not whether they were in Home or Hell, so fierce the fight had been."

Therewith a man of the Beamings, who was riding on the other side of the Elking, reached out over his horse's neck and said:

"Yea friend, but is there not some telling of a tale concerning how ye and your fellowship took the great city of the Welshmen of the South, and dwelt there long."

"Yea," said the Elking, "Hearken how it is told in the South-Welsh Lay:

"'Have ye not heard Of the ways of Weird? How the folk fared forth Far away from the North? And as light as one wendeth Whereas the wood endeth, When of nought is our need, And none telleth our deed, So Rodgeir unwearied and Reidfari wan The town where none tarried the shield-shaking man. All lonely the street there, and void was the way And nought hindered our feet but the dead men that lay Under shield in the lanes of the houses heavens-high, All the ring-bearing swains that abode there to die.'

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