THE SUNDERING FLOOD
The Collected Works of William Morris Volume XXI The Sundering Flood Unfinished Romances Longmans Green and Company Paternoster Row London New York Bombay Calcutta MDCCCCXIV
Chapter I. Of a River Called the Sundering Flood, and of the Folk that Dwelt Thereby
Chapter II. Of Wethermel and the Child Osberne
Chapter III. Wolves Harry the Flock
Chapter IV. Surly John Falls Out with the Goodman
Chapter V. Osberne Slays the Wolves
Chapter VI. They Fare to the Cloven Mote
Chapter VII. Of a Newcomer, and His Gift to Osberne
Chapter VIII. The Goodman Gets a New Hired Man
Chapter IX. The Bight of the Cloven Knoll
Chapter X. Osberne and Elfhild Hold Converse Together
Chapter XI. Osberne Shoots a Gift Across the Flood
Chapter XII. Of a Guest Called Waywearer
Chapter XIII. Steelhead Gives Osberne the Sword Boardcleaver
Chapter XIV. The Gifts of Steelhead
Chapter XV. Surly John Brings a Guest to Wethermel
Chapter XVI. Hardcastle Would Seize Wethermel
Chapter XVII. The Slaying of Hardcastle
Chapter XVIII. Elfhild Hears of the Slaying
Chapter XIX. The Winter Passes and Elfhild Tells of the Death of Her Kinswoman
Chapter XX. Osberne Fares to Eastcheaping and Brings Gifts for Elfhild
Chapter XXI. Warriors from Eastcheaping Ride into the Dale
Chapter XXII. Osberne Takes Leave of Elfhild
Chapter XXIII. Osberne Is Chosen Captain of the Dalesmen
Chapter XXIV. A Skirmish with the Baron of Deepdale in the Marshes
Chapter XXV. Stephen Tells of an Adventure in the Camp of the Foemen
Chapter XXVI. They Bring the Baron into Eastcheaping
Chapter XXVII. They Parley from the Walls
Chapter XXVIII. The Baron of Deepdale Makes Peace
Chapter XXIX. Osberne and His Men Return to Wethermel
Chapter XXX. Osberne Goes to the Trysting-Place
Chapter XXXI. They Meet Through Autumn and Winter
Chapter XXXII. Foemen Among the West Dalers
Chapter XXXIII. Osberne Seeks Tidings of Elfhild
Chapter XXXIV. Osberne Sorrows for the Loss of Elfhild
Chapter XXXV. Osberne Seeks Counsel of Steelhead
Chapter XXXVI. The Staves which Osberne Taught to the Dalesmen
Chapter XXXVII. Osberne Takes Leave of Wethermel
Chapter XXXVIII. Osberne Parts from Stephen the Eater
Chapter XXXIX. Osberne Gets Him a New Master
Chapter XL. Osberne Rides with Sir Godrick
Chapter XLI. They Joust with the Knight of the Fish
Chapter XLII. They Deliver the Thorp-Dwellers from the Black Skinners
Chapter XLIII. They Come to the Edge of the Wood Masterless
Chapter XLIV. They Reach Longshaw and Osberne Gets Him a New Name
Chapter XLV. The Red Lad Scatters the Host of the Barons
Chapter XLVI. Osberne Enters the City of the Sundering Flood
Chapter XLVII. The Battle in the Square
Chapter XLVIII. Sir Godrick Is Chosen Burgreve of the City
Chapter XLIX. Of the City King and the Outland King
Chapter L. The Red Lad Speaks Privily with Sir Godrick
Chapter LI. Osberne is Beguiled by Felons
Chapter LII. The Meeting of Osberne and Elfhild
Chapter LIII. Strangers Come to Wethermel
Chapter LIV. The Carline Beginneth Her Tale
Chapter LV. The Blue Knight Buys the Maiden of the Chapman
Chapter LVI. The Blue Knight Talks with the Maiden by the Way
Chapter LVII. They Come to Brookside
Chapter LVIII. Peaceful Days in the Castle of Brookside
Chapter LIX. Tidings of Longshaw and of the Hosting of the Barons' League
Chapter LX. The Blue Knight Gathers Men and Departs from Brookside
Chapter LXI. The Maiden and the Carline Flee to the Grey Sisters
Chapter LXII. They Fall in with Three Chapmen
Chapter LXIII. They Escape from the Chapmen by the Carline's Wizardry
Chapter LXIV. The Carline Endeth Her Tale
Chapter LXV. Osberne and Elfhild Make Themselves Known to Their People
Chapter LXVI. The Lip of the Sundering Flood
Chapter LXVII. A Friend at Need
Chapter LXVIII. The Knight of Longshaw Gathereth Force
Map of the country of the Sundering Flood
THE SUNDERING FLOOD
Chapter I. Of a River Called the Sundering Flood, and of the Folk that Dwelt Thereby
It is told that there was once a mighty river which ran south into the sea, and at the mouth thereof was a great and rich city, which had been builded and had waxed and thriven because of the great and most excellent haven which the river aforesaid made where it fell into the sea. And now it was like looking at a huge wood of barked and smoothened fir-trees when one saw the masts of the ships that lay in the said haven.
But up in this river ran the flood of tide a long way, so that the biggest of dromonds and round-ships might fare up it, and oft they lay amid pleasant up-country places, with their yards all but touching the windows of the husbandman's stead, and their bowsprits thrusting forth amongst the middens, and the routing swine, and querulous hens. And the uneasy lads and lasses sitting at high-mass of the Sunday in the grey church would see the tall masts amidst the painted saints of the aisle windows, and their minds would wander from the mass-hackled priest and the words and the gestures of him, and see visions of far countries and outlandish folk, and some would be heart-smitten with that desire of wandering and looking on new things which so oft the sea-beat board and the wind-strained pine bear with them to the dwellings of the stay-at-homes: and to some it seemed as if, when they went from out the church, they should fall in with St. Thomas of India stepping over the gangway, and come to visit their uplandish Christmas and the Yule-feast of the field-abiders of midwinter frost. And moreover, when the tide failed, and there was no longer a flood to bear the sea-going keels up-stream (and that was hard on an hundred of miles from the sea), yet was this great river a noble and wide-spreading water, and the downlong stream thereof not so heavy nor so fierce but that the barges and lesser keels might well spread their sails when the south-west blew, and fare on without beating; or if the wind were fouler for them, they that were loth to reach from shore to shore might be tracked up by the draught of horses and bullocks, and bear the wares of the merchants to many a cheaping.
Other rivers moreover not a few fell into this main flood, and of the some were no lesser than the Thames is at Abingdon, where I, who gathered this tale, dwell in the House of the Black Canons; blessed be St. William, and St. Richard, and the Holy Austin our candle in the dark! Yea and some were even bigger, so that the land was well furnished both of fisheries and water-ways.
Now the name of this river was the Sundering Flood, and the city at the mouth thereof was called the City of the Sundering Flood. And it is no wonder, considering all that I have told concerning the wares and chaffer that it bore up-country, though the folk of the City and its lands (and the city-folk in special) knew no cause for this name. Nay, oft they jested and gibed and gabbed, for they loved their river much and were proud of it; wherefore they said it was no sunderer but a uniter; that it joined land to land and shore to shore; that it had peopled the wilderness and made the waste places blossom, and that no highway for wheels and beasts in all the land was so full of blessings and joys as was their own wet Highway of the Flood. Nevertheless, as meseemeth that no name is given to any town or mountain or river causeless, but that men are moved to name all steads for a remembrance of deeds that have been done and tidings that have befallen, or some due cause, even so might it well be with the Sundering Flood, and whereas also I wot something of that cause I shall now presently show you the same.
For ye must know that all this welfare of the said mighty river was during that while that it flowed through the plain country anigh the city, or the fertile pastures and acres of hill and dale and down further to the north. But one who should follow it up further and further would reach at last the place where it came forth from the mountains. There, though it be far smaller than lower down, yet is it still a mighty great water, and it is then well two hundred miles from the main sea. Now from the mountains it cometh in three great forces, and many smaller ones, and perilous and awful it is to behold; for betwixt those forces it filleth all the mountain ghyll, and there is no foothold for man, nay for goat, save at a hundred foot or more above the water, and that evil and perilous; and is the running of a winter millstream to the beetles and shrew-mice that haunt the greensward beside it, so is the running of that flood to the sons of Adam and the beasts that serve them: and none has been so bold as to strive to cast a bridge across it.
But when ye have journeyed with much toil and no little peril over the mountain-necks (for by the gorge of the river, as aforesaid, no man may go) and have come out of the mountains once more, then again ye have the flood before you, cleaving a great waste of rocks mingled with sand, where groweth neither tree nor bush nor grass; and now the flood floweth wide and shallow but swift, so that no words may tell of its swiftness, and on either side the water are great wastes of tumbled stones that the spates have borne down from the higher ground. And ye shall know that from this place upward to its very wells in the higher mountains, the flood decreaseth not much in body or might, though it be wider or narrower as it is shallower or deeper, for nought but mere trickles of water fall into it in the space of this sandy waste, and what feeding it hath is from the bents and hills on either side as you wend toward the mountains to the north, where, as aforesaid, are its chiefest wells.
Now when ye have journeyed over this waste for some sixty miles, the land begins to better, and there is grass again, yet no trees, and it rises into bents, which go back on each side, east and west, from the Flood, and the said bents are grass also up to the tops, where they are crested with sheer rocks black of colour. As for the Flood itself, it is now gathered into straiter compass, and is deep, and exceeding strong; high banks it hath on either side thereof of twenty foot and upward of black rock going down sheer to the water; and thus it is for a long way, save that the banks be higher and higher as the great valley of the river rises toward the northern mountains.
But as it rises the land betters yet, and is well grassed, and in divers nooks and crannies groweth small wood of birch and whiles of quicken tree; but ever the best of the grass waxeth nigh unto the lips of the Sundering Flood, where it rises a little from the Dale to the water; and what little acre-land there is, and it is but little, is up on knolls that lie nearer to the bent, and be turned somewhat southward; or on the east side of the Flood (which runneth here nigh due north to south), on the bent-side itself, where, as it windeth and turneth, certain slopes lie turned to southwest. And in these places be a few garths, fenced against the deer, wherein grow rye, and some little barley whereof to make malt for beer and ale, whereas the folk of this high-up windy valley may have no comfort of wine. And it is to be said that ever is that land better and the getting more on the east side of the Sundering Flood than on the west.
As to the folk of this land, they are but few even now, and belike were fewer yet in the time of my tale. There was no great man amongst them, neither King, nor Earl, nor Alderman, and it had been hard living for a strong-thief in the Dale. Yet folk there were both on the east side and the west of the Flood. On neither side were they utterly cut off from the world outside the Dale; for though it were toilsome, it was not perilous to climb the bents and so wend over the necks east and west, where some forty miles from the west bank and fifty from the east you might come down into a valley fairly well peopled, wherein were two or three cheaping-towns: and to these towns the dalesmen had some resort, that they might sell such of their wool as they needed not to weave for themselves, and other small chaffer, so that they might buy wrought wares such as cutlery and pots, and above all boards and timber, whereof they had nought at home.
But this you must wot and understand, that howsoever the Sundering Flood might be misnamed down below, up in the Dale and down away to the southern mountains it was such that better named it might not be, and that nought might cross its waters undrowned save the fowl flying. Nay, and if one went up-stream to where it welled forth from the great mountains, he were no nearer to passing from one side to the other, for there would be nought before him but a wall of sheer rock, and above that rent and tumbled crags, the safe strong-houses of erne and osprey and gerfalcon. Wherefore all the dealings which the folk on the east Dale and the west might have with each other was but shouting and crying across the swirling and gurgling eddies of the black water, which themselves the while seemed to be talking together in some dread and unknown tongue.
True it is that on certain feast days and above all on Midsummer night, the folk would pluck up a heart, and gather together as gaily clad as might be where the Flood was the narrowest (save at one place, whereof more hereafter), and there on each side would trundle the fire-wheel, and do other Midsummer games, and make music of string-play and horns, and sing songs of old time and drink to each other, and depart at last to their own homes blessing each other. But never might any man on the east touch the hand of any on the west, save it were that by some strange wandering from the cheaping-towns aforesaid they might meet at last, far and far off from the Dale of the Sundering Flood.
Chapter II. Of Wethermel and the Child Osberne
Draw we nigher now to the heart of our tale, and tell how on the east side of the Sundering Flood was erewhile a stead hight Wethermel: a stead more lonely than most even in that Dale, the last house but one, and that was but a cot, toward the mountains at the head of the Dale. It was not ill set down, for its houses stood beneath a low spreading knoll, the broader side whereof was turned to the south-west, and where by consequence was good increase of corn year by year. The said knoll of Wethermel was amidst of the plain of the Dale a mile from the waterside, and all round about it the pasture was good for kine and horses and sheep all to the water's lip on the west and half way up the bent on the east; while towards the crown of the bent was a wood of bushes good for firewood and charcoal, and even beyond the crown of the bent was good sheep-land a long way.
Nevertheless, though its land was fruitful as for that country, yet had Wethermel no great name for luck, and folk who had the choice would liever dwell otherwhere, so that it was hard for the goodman to get men to work there for hire. Many folk deemed that this ill-luck came because the knoll had been of old time a dwelling of the Dwarfs or the Land-wights, and that they grudged it that the children of Adam had supplanted them, and that corn grew on the very roof of their ancient house. But however that might be, there was little thriving there for the most part: and at least it was noted by some, that if there were any good hap, it ever missed one generation, and went not from father to son, but from grandsire to grandson: and even so it was now at the beginning of this tale.
For he who had been master of Wethermel had died a young man, and his wife followed him in a month or two, and there was left in the house but the father and mother of these twain, hale and stout folk, he of fifty winters, she of forty-five; an old woman of seventy, a kinswoman of the house who had fostered the late goodman; and a little lad who had to name Osberne, now twelve winters old, a child strong and bold, tall, bright and beauteous. These four were all the folk of Wethermel, save now and then a hired man who was hard pressed for livelihood would be got to abide there some six months or so. It must be told further that there was no house within ten miles either up or down the water on that side, save the little cot abovesaid nigher to the mountains, and that was four miles up-stream; it hight Burcot, and was somewhat kenspeckle. Withal as to those Cloven Motes, as they were called, which were between the folk on either side, they were holden at a stead seven miles below Wethermel. So that in all wise was it a lonely and scantly-manned abode: and because of this every man on the stead must work somewhat hard and long day by day, and even Osberne the little lad must do his share; and up to this time we tell of, his work was chiefly about the houses, or else it was on the knoll, or round about it, scaring fowl from the corn; weeding the acre-ground, or tending the old horses that fed near the garth; or goose-herding at whiles. Forsooth, the two elders, who loved and treasured the little carle exceedingly, were loth to trust him far out of sight because of his bold heart and wilful spirit; and there were perils in the Dale, and in special at that rough and wild end of thereof, though they came not from weaponed reivers for the more part, though now and again some desperate outcast from the thicker peopled lands had strayed into it; and there was talk from time to time of outlaws who lay out over the mountain-necks, and might not always do to lack a sheep or a neat or a horse. Other perils more of every-day there were for a young child, as the deep and hurrying stream of the Sundering Flood, and the wolves which haunted the bent and the foothills of the mountains; and ever moreover there was the peril from creatures seldom seen, Dwarfs and Land-wights to wit, who, as all tales told, might be well pleased to have away into their realm so fair a child of the sons of Adam as was this Osberne.
Forsooth for the most part the lad kept within bounds, for love's sake rather than fear, though he wotted well that beating abode bound-breaking; but ye may well wot that this quietness might not always be. And one while amongst others he was missing for long, and when his grandsire sought him he found him at last half way between grass and water above the fierce swirling stream of the river; for he had clomb down the sheer rock of the bank, which all along the water is fashioned into staves, as it were organ-pipes, but here and there broken by I wot not what mighty power. There then was my lad in an ingle-nook of the rock, and not able either to go down or come up, till the goodman let a rope down to him and hauled him on to the grass.
Belike he was a little cowed by the peril, and the beating he got for putting his folk in such fear; but though he was somewhat moved by his grandam's tears and lamentations over him, and no less by the old carline's bewailing for his days that he would so surely shorten, yet this was not by a many the last time he strayed from the stead away into peril. On a time he was missing again nightlong, but in the morning came into the house blithe and merry, but exceeding hungry, and when the good man asked him where he had been and bade him whipping-cheer, he said that he cared little if beaten were he, so merry a time he had had; for he had gone a long way up the Dale, and about twilight (this was in mid-May) had fallen in with a merry lad somewhat bigger than himself, who had shown him many merry plays, and at last had brought him to his house, "which is not builded of stone and turf, like to ours," saith he, "but is in a hole in the rock; and there we wore away the night, and there was no one there but we two, and again he showed me more strange plays, which were wondrous; but some did frighten me."
Then his grandsire asked him what like those plays were. Said Osberne: "He took a stone and stroked it, and mumbled, and it turned into a mouse, and played with us nought afraid a while; but presently it grew much bigger, till it was bigger than a hare; and great game meseemed that was, till on a sudden it stood on its hind-legs, and lo it was become a little child, and O, but so much littler than I; and then it ran away from us into the dark, squealing the while like a mouse behind the panel, only louder. Well, thereafter, my playmate took a big knife, and said: 'Now, drudgling, I shall show thee a good game indeed.' And so he did, for he set the edge of the said knife against his neck, and off came his head; but there came no blood, nor did he tumble down, but took up his head and stuck it on again, and then he stood crowing like our big red cock. Then he said: 'Poultry, cockerel, now I will do the like by thee.' And he came to me with the knife; but I was afraid, and gat hold of his hand and had the knife from him; and then I wrestled with him and gave him a fall; but I must needs let him get up again presently, whereas he grew stronger under my hand; then he thrust me from him and laughed exceeding much, and said: 'Here is a champion come into my house forsooth! Well, I will leave thine head on thy shoulders, for belike I might not be able to stick it on again, which were a pity of thee, for a champion shalt thou verily be in the days to come.' After this all his play with me was to sit down and bid me hearken; and then he took out a little pipe, and put it to his mouth, and made music out of it, which was both sweet and merry. And then he left that, and fell to telling me tales about the woods where big trees grow, and how his kindred had used to dwell therein, and fashioned most fair things in smith's work of gold and silver and iron; and all this liked me well; and he said: 'I tell thee that one day thou shalt have a sword of my father's father's fashioning, and that will be an old one, for they both were long-lived.' And as he spake I deemed that he was not like a child any more, but a little, little old man, white-haired and wrinkle-faced, but without a beard, and his hair shone like glass. And then—I went to sleep, and when I woke up again it was morning, and I looked around and there was no one with me. So I arose and came home to you, and I am safe and sound if thou beat me not, kinsman."
Now ye may judge if his fore-elders were not scared by the lad's tale, for they knew that he had fallen in with one of the Dwarf-kin, and his grandam caught him up and hugged him and kissed him well favouredly; and the carline, whose name was Bridget, followed on the like road; and then she said: "See you, kinsmen, if it be not my doing that the blessed bairn has come back to us. Tell us, sweetheart, what thou hast round thy neck under thy shirt." Osberne laughed. Said he: "Thou didst hang on me a morsel of parchment with signs drawn thereon, and it is done in a silk bag. Fear not, foster-mother, but that I will wear it yet, since thou makest such to-do over it."
"Ah! the kind lad thou art, my dear," said the carline. "I will tell you, kinsmen, that I had that said parchment from our priest, and it is strong neckguard against all evil things, for on it is scored the Holy Rood, and thereon are the names of the three Holy Kings, and other writing withal which I may not read, for it is clerks' Latin." And again the two women made much of the little lad, while the goodman stood by grumbling and grunting; but this time did Osberne escape his beating, though he was promised a drubbing which should give him much to think on if he went that way again; and the women prayed and besought him to be obedient to the goodman herein.
But one thing he had not told his kinsfolk, to wit, that the Dwarf had given him for a gift that same knife wherewith he had played the game of heads-off, and a fair sheath went with it, and he had done him to wit that most like luck would go with it. Wherefore little Osberne had the said knife hidden under his raiment, along with the parchment whereon was scored the Holy Rood and the good words of wisdom written.
Chapter III. Wolves Harry the Flock
Now these matters, and other strayings and misdoings of the youngling, befel before the time whereof I now tell, when he was, as aforesaid, passed of twelve years; and it was in latter autumn, when the nights are lengthening. At this time there was a hired man dwelling with them, whose work it was to drive the sheep afield, either up on to the eastern bents or away off down to the water, so as they might not eat the grass of the kine from them. But Osberne, both of his own will and at the bidding of the goodman, went off afield with this man John and helped him to keep the sheep from straying over-far. Now one day at evening, somewhat later than he was wont, when, as it chanced, Osberne had not fared with him, back comes John from the bents, and he looked scared and pale, and he tells the tale that as the light began to fail up there, three huge wolves fell upon the sheep, and slew sundry of them, and it was easy to be seen of him that he had held no very close battle with the wolves, but had stood aloof till they had done their supper, and then gathered what he could of the sheep without going over-near the field of deed. The goodman berated him for his cowardice, and seemed to begrudge him his victuals somewhat that night, whereas, what with them who the wolves had slain, and them who had perchance fled away, the flock was seventeen wethers short. John excused himself what he might, and said that he had no weapon, nought save his shepherd's staff, and that the wolves had slain his dog in the first stour: but while he spake, Osberne, who sat by, deemed him somewhat stark and tall to be so little-hearted.
However, the next day the goodman and John must needs go up to the bent to see if they might find aught alive of the sheep that were missing, and each of them bore a shield and short spear, that they might make head against the wolves if that host should fall on them in the middle of the [day]. Meantime Osberne, by the goodman's bidding, drives the flock down toward the water, nothing loth, for ever the wondrous stream seemed to draw the lad to it. And a fair day he had of it, wandering amidst the sheep and being friendly with them, whiles drawing out his knife to look thereon, as oft he did when he was alone; and forsooth it was a goodly weapon, carven with quaintnesses about the heft, the blade inlaid with runes done in gold, and the sheath of silver. Whiles also he stood on the river's lip and looked across the water which was there in most places as big as the Thames is at Reading, but sometimes narrower. But there was nought stirring within eyeshot on the further bank that day, save the fowl, and a bull that came running along and lowing as he went on some errand, whatever it might be, for he was not followed of any men. So he came back with the flock before dark all safe; neither had he gone far from the stead, for so he was bidden of by his grandsire.
A little after comes in the goodman with John, neither of them in very sweet temper; they had seen nought of the sheep save the hide and bones of a half score, but the wolves they had not failed to see; they had come to the same place as the last night, and seemed by no means afraid of the man-host with its spears and shields, wherefore these last had turned their backs and run from them stoutly, and now sat together glowering on each other, and casting now and again a gibe each at each. But they were at one in this, that the wolves were huge and fierce beyond measure, and such as any man might fear. But at last John spake and said: "Well, master, it is as they say down the Dale, that this no lucky house; meseems ye are beset with no common wolves, but with skin-changers who have taken the shape of wolves, whether they be Land-wights or Dwarfs, or ride-a-nights of the outlaws."
At that word waxed the master wood-wrath, as was his wont if any spake of the luck of Wethermel; and he forgot his fear in his anger, and said: "Hearken the fool-talk of him! Thou hadst not the heart for all thine inches to go forward before thy master, and a man on the downward side of years; and now thou must needs make up fairy tales to cover they cowardice." Said John, grinning, "Keep thy head, master; for sooth it is that thou wert the first to run, and wert the first through the door."
"Thou liest," said the goodman; "but this I tell thee, that whosoever was afraid then, thou shalt be afraid now." And he rose up and smote his man upon the face so that he fell to the ground, and John leapt up and would have smitten his master again; but even therewith comes in the goodwife, and Bridget with her, bearing in the supper smoking hot, and something seemed to hold John back from his blow, and he sat down, surly enough but silent. Then said the goodwife: "What is to do here? Hast thou run against the settle-end, John, that thy cheek is red and blue?"
Laughed the youngling thereat, and a word came into his mouth, and he sang:
All grey on the bent There the sheep-greedy went: The big spear and shield Met the foes of the field, But nought the white teeth In the warriors gat sheath, For master and man Full meetly they ran. But now in this hall The fear off doth fall From one of the twain, And his hand getteth gain, But the other sits there, And new groweth his fear Both of man and of grey. So the meat on board lay, Thou on whom gold doth ride, Meat-goddess grey-eyed, Let the loaf-warden eat, And the man whom he beat, And the lad that doth lie In wall-nook hereby, And thou Gold-tree the fair, And the milk-mother dear, Lest the meat wax a-cold Both for bold and unbold.
Hereat all laughed, but the two men somewhat from one side of their mouths. And the goodman said: "See thou to it, kinsman, lest stripes be thy song-pay." But Osberne laughed from a fair and merry face and sang again:
O lord of the land, To the staff lay no hand Till the grey ones thou face In the wind-weary place.
And therewith he fell to his meat and ate stoutly, and to the women it seemed that their little kinsman had the makings of a champion in him, and his staves they loved dearly in their hearts, and they smiled upon him kindly; and he looked from one to the other and quoth he:
Three mothers had I, And one is gone by, But two are left here, Leal, buxom, and dear.
As for the goodman, now that the meat was getting into him, the wrath was running off, and he thought within himself that presently he should have good avail of his grandson.
Chapter IV. Surly John Falls Out with the Goodman
On the morrow comes John to the goodman, and quoth he: "Master, there is small doubt that I shall one day pay thee for the pudding in the pot which thou gavest me yestereen, and after that I shall have to take my soles out of this straightway; so meseemeth I had best go hence today."
"Well," said the goodman, "if thou must go, go, and the devil go with thee. But as to the knock on thy cheekbone, I will boot thee therefor, if thou wilt take boot and abide, for though thou be no hard worker, nor very deft of thy hands, yet the winter is lonely here, and thou wilt be missed somewhat."
Quoth John: "Yea, goodman, but there is this in it withal, that Wethermel liketh me not, though I say nought against thee for a master. I love not thy were-wolves, that are big and gruesome enough to frighten two stout armed men; and I love not thy Dwarfs, who cut off their own heads and stick them on again, and give guesting to little lads, doing them no hurt; for meseems that means that the said Dwarf will be carving guest-quarters here one day, and who knows how soon; and I care not for such an one as a fellow at board. And then there is thy grandson, and a fair boy he is and a good scald, though that be come upon him somewhat suddenly. But he is over bigwordy for me, and I see clearly that soon there shall be two masters in this house, and one is well enough for me. And lastly as to thy kinswomen; I wot well I shall have no good word from them year in year out. So take this for my last word, that I shall turn my back upon thee so soon as thou hast paid me my hire, and shall go seek quarters down the Dale, at some merrier stead than this."
The goodman looked on him sourly, and then turned about and took a bag from the chest, and drew silver from it, and told over certain pieces and laid them before John (who is henceforth called Surly John) and said: "Here is thine hire in good silver. And now I shall not say one more word to thee for good or bad, save this, that thou hadst best look to it that thy silver melt not before many months are over. Take thy soles out of this straightway." So John took up his silver, and stowed it in his pouch, and then he said: "Well, goodman, now that I am paid I think that I had best pay thee for the cheek-knock of last night."
He was a tall man and strong of thirty winters, and the goodman somewhat on in years and not over strong, wherefore the battle seemed like to go all one way. But lo, as he rushed on the goodman, of a sudden he felt his feet pulled away from under him, and fell noseling to the ground; and when he would rise, lo there was on one side of him the goodman with a cudgel in his hand, and Osberne on the other, with his whittle drawn; and the lad laughed and said: "Thou has been a long while and used many words about going, so belike thou wert best tarry no longer; or wert thou thinking thou wouldst go to bed? Nay, thou hast talked long, but nought so long that it is night yet."
So therewith Surly John arose and shook the dust of the floor off him, shouldered his bag, which he had ready by, and went out-of-doors and down the Dale afoot, for he was too shamefaced to crave the loan of a horse, to which forsooth the kinsmen would have made him welcome.
So the day wore amidst divers matters, and the sheep pastured anigh to the Mel; but ever the goodman said that wolves or no wolves he must drive them up the bent next day. But he said this so often, that it seemed as if he were not over willing thereto; and in the evening he took forth an old sword which he had, a good one, and sat whetting it with a hone. So they fared to bed.
But in the morning ere it was light the goodman deemed he heard goings-on in the house, and he sat up and hearkened. Next then he heard a hand amongst the three shields which hung on the panel the other side of his shut-bed, and thereafter he heard one going to the door; and he smiled thereat and lay down again, and presently there came the sound of the bleating of many sheep. So the carle stands up therewith and does on his raiment and takes his spear and shield and girds his sword to him, and goeth forth and out of the garth, and turns his face up toward the bent, but goes very slow; and day was now just beginning to dawn though the stars yet shone; clear was the morning. Now in the grey light the carle could just see what he looked to see, to wit, the whole flock going together toward the bent, and a little figure of a son of Adam going after them, on whom a red scarlet hue was even dimly to be seen.
The carle smiled, and said to himself, Forsooth, yonder ruffler must needs clothe him in holiday raiment to do his doughty deed! Now will I not follow him to mar his championship, but will leave him alone to his luck, which I see to be great.
So he abode a little in an ingle of the garth wall, while the sheep lessened but grew clearer before him, and the scarlet raiment of his grandson grew brighter; and then he went swiftly, skirting the knoll till he had it betwixt him and the stead, and thereafter he went more leisurely toward the north. And he said to himself, The lad will do well enough; and as to the women, they will make the less outcry, that when they find me and my weapons gone they will think I have fared with him up the bent. So therewith he betook himself well out of the way, keeping near to the bank of the river.
Chapter V. Osberne Slays the Wolves
As to Osberne, I will say nought of him till he comes back in the even, driving all his sheep before him, not one lacking, and two of the lost ones found. He bears with him shield and spear, and has the Dwarf-wrought whittle in his girdle. Over his shoulder to boot he carries a biggish bag, well-nigh big enough for so little a carle; of white linen it is, it hath something heavy in it, and is much stained with blood. So he folds the sheep straightway, and then comes into the hall, he and his bag, and throws the same into the ingle of the hearth fire. Then he casts a sack over his shoulders and sits before the bag, so that it may not be lightly seen. By this time, it was dusking outside, and inside the hall it was pretty much dark save for the fire, where little flames leapt up now and again as some piece of the firing tumbled over. In the hall was no one, for the women were bringing in the kine, and the goodman was not yet come in from the field.
There he sits quietly, stirring little. And the next tidings is, the goodman comes home alone; he hears the sheep a-bleating, and goes glad at heart to the fold; and there is his joy eked, for by the light of the moon, which is now rising, he can see well enough to tell over the sheep, and finds two more than there were yesterday. So he goes speedily toward the hall, and the women now come up after him, having gotten the kine into the byre; so they all three go into the hall together.
Then cries out the goodman: "Is there aught in the hall now?" Osberne answers from where he sat: "There is but little, for I am little." Then they turn and see him hugging himself up in the sack, and something at his back, they cannot see what; and the goodman says: "What hast thou been about all day, kinsman? Thou art forever foolhardy and a truant; of right, stripes should pay the for thy straying." Said Osberne: "I have been shepherding sheep; may it not buy me off the stripes that I have found two of the lost ones, and brought back all safe?" "Maybe," says the master; "but did aught else befal thee?" Says the lad: "Will it not buy me off beating that I have also brought home good catch?"
"Yea, if the catch be good," says the goodman. "It is but a leash of snipes, which I got me in a corner of the bog up yonder," says Osberne. "Snipes!" says Bridget; "deft art thou, fosterling, to take them without either springe or stonebow, and they all flittering like butterflies on a March day."
"Yea, auntie," saith he, "but a stone or two might avail without the bow, were one deft enough. Yet with no such weapon did I slay them; ask me what weapons I bore against them." Therewith he stirs and shakes himself, and off tumbles the sack from his shoulders, and therewith his grandam lights up the candles, and they all see the scarlet and gold of his holiday raiment; and Bridget says: "This also will I ask thee, fosterling, do men go out to take snipes in their holiday raiment?"
"I will tell thee," says the little lad: "the weapons I bore against the catch were the shield to ward, and the spear to thrust, and the knife for the shearing of the heads: and I tell thee that when men go to battle they use to wend in their fair-dyed raiment."
Then he stood up in the hall, the little one, but trim and goodly, with gleaming eyes and bright hair, and a word came into his mouth:
On the wind-weary bent The grey ones they went, Growled the greedy and glared On the sheep-kin afeared; Low looked the bright sun On the battle begun, For they saw how the swain Stood betwixt them and gain. 'Twas the spear in the belly, the spear in the mouth, And a warp of the shield from the north to the south, The spear in the throat, and the eyes of the sun Scarce shut as the last of the battle was done.
"Well sung, kinsman!" said the goodman: "now shalt thou show us the snipes." But ere the lad might stoop to his bag the two women were upon him, clipping and kissing him as if they would never have enough thereof. He made a shift to thrust them off at last, and stooping to his bag he drew out something and cast it on the board, and lo the sheared-off head of a great grey wolf with gaping jaws and glistening white fangs, and the women shrank before it. But Osberne said: "Lo the first of the catch, and here is the second." And again he drew out a head from the bag and cast it on the board; and so with the third in due course.
"Now," said he, "the bag is empty, and deemest thou, grandsire, that I have bought off my beating? And thou, grandam, I pray thee, give me my meat, for I am anhungered." So now they had nought but praises and caresses for him and they made as it were a new feast of the November day, and were as merry as if they were feasting the best days of Yule.
Chapter VI. They Fare to the Cloven Mote
And now the days wore away to winter, and ever thereafter might Osberne do what he would, and go where he would, for as little a lad as he was; but he worked with a good will if he were uncompelled, and if he were suffered to wander at whiles as his will drave him. Forsooth, since he had no fellows of a like age to him, it was whiles that he found the open field or the waste gave him better fellowship than the older folk, yea even than the women.
Winter came, and the snow and the frost, which was not very hard in that land, as many would have been glad if it were, for then might the Sundering Flood have been laid with ice, which never betid. On the morning of Yule day, Osberne and his grandsire and grandam got under way long before daylight, that they might go to the Cloven Mote, and hear the Christmass in the church of Allhallows, which had been builded on the east side of the water to be the church of the Mote; but on the other side of the water was another church like to it in all ways, and under the same invocation, for the Western folk. This was the first time that Osberne had been boun to the Mote, and withal both the women were wont to stay at home: but this time nought would serve the goodwife but she must wend with her man, that she might show her darling and her champion to the neighbours. It was a matter of seven miles down the water to the Mote-stead, and they went aslant over the snow-covered fields, and hit the riverbank about half way, and went thence along the very lip of the water. And by then it was pretty much daylight; and Osberne looked over the water and saw about a half mile off (for the day was clear) two little knolls rising from the field, and betwixt them and about them a shaw of small wood; and he asked his grandsire what that might be, for hitherto he had never been so far down the water; whereas before he slew the wolves, down the water was banned to him, and after that he had been busy about the houses and folds, or driving the sheep to the bents day by day.
So his grandsire answered him: "That is hight Hartshaw, and we are told that on the other side of the shaw and the knolls looking west is a stead with houses inhabited, and the whole place is hight Hartshaw Knolls." Said Osberne: "I would we were there a while, for as I look at the stead it seemeth friendly to me, and I fare to feel that the folk thereof shall come into my life some day." Answered the goodman: "We hear that little dwelleth there save a widow-woman and her one child, a little maiden. And as to thy one day, it shall be a long while coming; for long and long shall it be for any one to encompass the Sundering Flood, save the Winter of Fear come upon us, and all the land be overlaid with ice, and the waters of the Flood be stayed; which may God and Allhallows forfend."
The lad said nought for a while; and then he said: "Goodman, I would we had gone down to riverbank from out our own door, and gone all along the Flood-side to the Mote; for it were pleasant to have looked across the Flood, thinking of all there is on the other side, and wondering if we shall ever get there. Why did we not this, for on the very bank the going is better?" Said the carle: "We have come the shortest way this bitter morning; that is all."
Herein he lied; for they had gone that slant-way to give the go-by to a certain place of the Flood-bank which the Dale-dwellers deemed perilous; but thereof he would not tell the little carle, now that he was become so masterful, deeming that if he heard of any peril toward he would be all agog to try the adventure thereof, as forsooth was true. Of this place, which lay now but just behind them, shall more be told hereafter.
Now they come to the Mote in good time when the sun was but just arisen, and there was already a throng; and at their coming the folk on the western side raised a shout, as the folk on either side were wont to welcome newcomers; but the very first man they hit upon was Surly John; and the goodwife, a soft, kind woman, hailed him friendly, and was fain to have some one whom she knew unto whom to tell her tale of the champion and the wolves. For indeed it needs must out to the very first comer, and out it came now, many worded, and folk, both men and women, gathered about the twain to hearken; for the goodwife told it all well and without hitch.
Surly John must needs abide the telling of it, but when it was done he said: "Well, dame, so it is that I always deemed the lad kenspeckle; and it has moreover turned out as I warned you, that you have got a new master over you." And therewith he turned away; but of those others who heard the tale there were more than one or two who praised it much, and deemed it marvellous as might well be that a child should have faced and slain those three monsters who had put two stout men to flight. And one man made up this stave, which was presently sung all about the Eastern Mote, and went over the water with the tale to the Western one:
To run and to fight Are deeds free to the wight, And John tried in battle Had heard the boards rattle, But needed to prove The race back to the stove; So his wightness he showed In way-wearing the road. While Osberne, who knew How the foot-race to do, Must try the new game Where the battle-beasts came. Bairn for fight, but for running the strong man and tall, And all folk for the laughter when both are in hall.
When Surly John heard this stave he cursed between his teeth, but said nought.
But now on either side, the churches fell to ringing to mass, and all folk fared to service. And Osberne sat in a good place amongst the carles, and forsooth he had both ears and eyes open, both then and all day. Mass over, the cooking-fires were lighted and tents were pitched on either side the water, and in a while they went to dinner; and thereafter, when they had sung a while, came the time of drinking, and folk were paired, men and women so far as might be, for more men there were than women. But whereas all men save Surly John were well with Osberne, there was gotten for his mate a fair young damsel of but seventeen winters, and Osberne, who had looked hard on all the women who were well-liking (for he had seen but very seldom any women save those two of his kinfolk), was amazed with joy when the dear maid pulled down her hood and pulled off her gloves. And whereas she was shy of him because of his doughtiness, for all that he was but a child, it was not until they had drunk a cup or two that he took heart to set his hand to her neck and kiss her cheeks and her mouth, whereat she blushed rosy red, and all they that were in the tent laughed and cheered. But thereafter they fell to sweet speech and talked much, and he held her hand when the end of the feast was done; which was after this wise, that folk stood on the the very lip of the river in one long row, hand in hand, and the loving-cup went down each row, and they cried healths to each other, and then lifted up their voices and shouted all together, and so undid the Mote and parted. And this time (and it was dark save for the fires flaring behind them) it was the maid that kissed Osberne; neither needed she, a tall damsel though she was, to stoop much thereto, for right big and tall he was of his years.
So then all went back each to his own home. And the winter wore away at Wethermel with nought to tell of.
Chapter VII. Of a Newcomer, and His Gift to Osberne
Now when spring came again, needs must Osberne drive the sheep up to the bents, though he had liefer haunted the riverside, for sore he desired to cross the Flood and find out tidings there. And though he were a child, yet he would by his own choice have fared to seek out the pretty maiden whose hand he had held on the edge of the river that even, but livelihood drave him to look to the sheep now that the spring grass was growing.
So on a certain day when March was wearing towards April he drave his sheep up over the crown of the bent; and there he went with them a way where, the land still rising, the ground was hard and rocky but clean, and the grass sweet for as scanty as it was, growing in little hollows and shelters round about the rocks. Wherefore the sheep were nimble in their feeding, and led him on long, till they and he were come into a little grassy dale with a stream running through it. There they were neither to hold nor to bind, but strayed all up and down the dale and over the crest of the bent thereof, and would not come to his call; and his dog was young and not very wise, and could do little to help him. So he began to think he had best gather what of the sheep he could, and drive them home and fold them, and then come back and hunt for the rest, perhaps with the help of his grandsire; but as the ones he could get at were all close anigh, and he was hot and weary with running hither and thither and holloaing to sheep and dog, he would go down to the stream and drink and rest awhile first. And even so he did, and lay down by the water and drank a long draught; but while he was about it he thought he heard footsteps coming down the hill-side over the greensward.
Howsoever, he had his drink out, and then rose to his knees and looked up, and therewith sprang hastily to his feet, for a tall man was coming on toward him not ten yards from the stream. He was not to say afeard by the sight, yet somewhat startled, for the man was not his grandsire, nor forsooth did he seem to be one of the Dale-dwellers. For he was so clad that he had a grey hawberk on him of fine ringmail, and a scarlet coat thereunder embroidered goodly; a big gold ring was on his left arm, a bright basnet on his head; he was girt with a sword, and bare a bow in his hand, and a quiver hung at his back. He was a goodly man, young by seeming, bright-faced and grey-eyed; his hair was yellow and as fine as silk, and it hung down over his shoulders.
Now Osberne put as good a face on the meeting as he might, and gave the newcomer the sele of the day, and he hailed him again in a clear loud voice, and they stood looking on each other across the stream a while. Then the newcomer laughed pleasantly and said: "Hast thou any name that I may call thee by?"
"I am Osberne of Wethermel," said the youngling. "Aha," said the man, "art thou he that slew the leash of great grey wolves last autumn, who had put two armed men to flight the day before?" Said Osberne, reddening: "Well, what was I to do? There fell a leash of hill-dogs on our sheep, and I made them forbear. Was it a scathe to thee, lord?" The newcomer laughed again: "Nay, my lad," said he, "I love them no more than ye do; they were no dogs of mine. But what doest thou here?"
"Thou seest," said the youngling, "that I am shepherding our sheep; and a many have run from me, and I cannot bring them back to me. So I was going home with those that be left."
"Well," says the man, "we can soon mend that. Rest thou here and abide my coming back again, and I will fetch them for thee."
"With a good will," says Osberne, "and I shall can thee many thanks therefor."
So the man strode on and through the stream, and went his ways up the further bent, and Osberne sat down on a stone and abode him in no little wonder. The man was gone somewhat more than an hour, and then Osberne sees the sheep topping the crest of the bent, and pouring down into the dale, and the newcomer came next driving them down; and when they came to the stream they stood there and moved no more than if they were penned.
Then the newcomer came through them up to Osberne, and said in a kind voice, though it was loud: "What, art thou here yet? I deemed that thou wouldst have run home."
"Why should I have run?" said the lad. "For fear of me," said the other. Said Osberne: "I was somewhat afeard when I first saw thee, and thou with the grey byrny and the gleaming helm; but then I saw that thou wert no ill man, and I feared thee no longer. Withal I was fain to see thee again; for thou art goodly and fair to behold, and I am fain to remember thee."
Said the man: "Even so have others said ere now." "Were they women?" said Osberne. "Thou art brisk and keen, youngling," said the man. "Yes, they were women: but it was long ago." "Yet thou lookest no old man," said Osberne. "I have seen old men: they be nought like to thee."
"Heed thou not that," said the helmed man; "but tell me, how old a man art thou?" Said Osberne: "When this April is three days old I shall be thirteen years old."
Said the man of the waste: "Well, thou art stalwarth for thy years, and that liketh me well, and meseems that we shall be friends hereafter: and when thou art a grown man I shall seem no older to thee; nay we shall be as brothers. Belike I shall see thee again before long; meanwhile, I give the this rede: when thou mayest, seek thou to the side of the Sundering Flood, for meseemeth that there lieth thy weird. Now there is this last word to be said, that I came hither today to see thee, and in token thereof I have brought thee a gift. Canst thou shoot in the bow aught?" Said Osberne: "There is one at home, and my grandsire hath bent it for me at whiles, and taught me how to shoot somewhat; but I am little deft therein."
Then the man betook him the bow which he had in his hand and said: "Here is one that shall make thee deft; for whoso hath this as a gift from me shall hit what he shooteth at if he use my shafts withal, and here be three which I will give thee; and if thou take heed, thou shalt not find them easy to lose, since ever they shall go home. But if ever thou lose two of them, then take the third and go into some waste place where there is neither meadow nor acre, and turn to the north-east and shoot upward toward the heavens, and say this rhyme:
A shaft to the north, Come ye three, come ye forth; A shaft to the east, Come three at the least; A shaft to the sky, Come swift, come anigh! Come one, one and one, And the tale is all done.
And then shalt thou find the arrows lying at thy feet. Now take the bow and arrows, and drive me thy sheep betwixt us to the top of the bent that looks down on Wethermel."
Then Osberne took the bow and shafts, and he all quivering with joy and delight, and then the two of them together went back across the waste with the sheep before them, and as they went side by side the man said many things, and this at last: "Now that I know thy name, it is like that those wouldst know mine and who I am; but my very name I may not tell thee, for thy tongue has no word for it, but now and when we meet again thou mayst call me Steelhead: and thou shalt know that when we next meet I shall be arrayed all otherwise than now. In that array I deem thou wilt know me, but look to it that thou show no sign thereof before other men; and as to the bow, thou wilt not be eager belike to say of whom thou hadst it. Lo now! we have opened up Wethermel; fare thou well, bold bairn, and forget not my redes."
And therewith he turned about and gat him gone into the waste again, striding hugely; and the lad was sorry to lack him, for he deemed him the goodliest and best man that he had ever met.
Chapter VIII. 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.
Chapter IX. The Bight of the Cloven Knoll
And now it was mid-April, and the goodman dight him to ride to a mote of the neighbours at a stead hight Bullmeads, where the Dalesmen were wont to gather in the spring, that they might ride thence all together to the town of Eastcheaping and sell the autumn clip of wool and do other chaffer. So the carle goes his ways alone, and will be one night at Bullmeads and two at Eastcheaping, and then another at Bullmeads, and be back on the fifth day. And when he was gone comes Stephen to Osberne, and says: "Young master, I am going presently to the hill with the sheep, and thou needest neither to go with me nor fare a-hunting today, since the house is full of meat; so thou art free, and were I in thy shoes I would go straight from this door down to the water-side, and see if thou mayst not happen on something fair or seldom seen. But hearken to my rede, if thou comest on aught such, thou hast no need to tell of it to any one, not even to me. [And it were not amiss to do on they coat of scarlet.]"
Osberne thanks him, and takes his bow of arrows and goes his way and comes to the riverside and turns his face south, and goes slowly along the very edge of the water; and the water itself drew his eyes down to gaze on the dark green deeps and fierce downlong swirl of the stream, with its sharp clean lines as if they were carven in steel, and the curling and upheaval and sudden changing of the talking eddies: so that he scarce might see the familiar greensward of the further shore.
At last, when he had gone thus more than two miles from where he first hit the water, a long straight reach lay before him, and as he looked down it, it seemed as if the river came presently to an end; but in sooth there was a sharp turn to the east by which the water ran, but narrowing much; and this narrowing was made by the thrusting forth of the western bank into a sharp ness, which, from where Osberne now stood, showed a wide flank facing, as it seemed, the whole hurrying stream of the Flood. But the stream turned ere it smote the cliff, and striving for the narrow outgate made a prodigious eddy or whirlpool ere it might clear itself of the under-water foot of the ness and make eastward so as to rush on toward the sea. But in the face of the wall, in the bight where the whirlpool turned from it, was a cave the height of a tall man, and some four feet athwart, and below it a ledge thrust out from the sheer rock and hanging over the terrible water, and it was but a yard wide or so. It was but ten feet above the water, and from it to the grass above must have been a matter of forty foot. But the ness as it thrust forth into the river rose also, so that its crest was a score of feet higher where it went down into the water than its base amidst the green grass. Then came the strait passage of the water, some thirty feet across, and then the bank of the eastern side, which, though it thrust out not, but rather was as it were driven back by the stream, yet it rose toward the water, though not so much as the ness over against it. It was as if some one had cast down a knoll across the Sundering Flood, and the stream had washed away the sloped side thereof, and then had sheared its way through by the east side where the ground was the softest. Forsooth so it seemed to the Dalesmen, for on either side they called it the Bight of the Cloven Knoll.
Osberne stood amazed right over against the cave in the cliff-side, and stared at the boiling waters beneath him, that seemed mighty enough to have made a hole in the ship of the world and sunk it in the deep. And he wondered at the cave, whether it was there by chance hap, or that some hands had wrought it for an habitation.
And as he stood gazing there, on a sudden there came out of the cave a shape as of man, and stood upon the ledge above the water, and the lad saw at once that it was a little maiden of about his own age, with ruddy golden hair streaming down from her head, and she was clad in a short coat of dark blue stuff and no more raiment, as far as he could see. Now as aforesaid Osberne was in his holiday raiment of red-scarlet by the bidding of Stephen. Now the maiden looks up and sees the lad standing on the eastern shore, and starts back astonished. Then she came forward again and looked under the sharp of her hand, for the sun shone from the south and was cast back dazzling from the water. There was but some thirty feet of water between them, but all gurgling and rushing and talking, so the child raised a shrill and clear voice as she clapped her hands together and cried: "O thou beauteous creature, what art thou?" Osberne laughed, and said in a loud voice: "I am a man but young of years, so that they call me a boy, and a bairn, and a lad. But what art thou?"
"Nay, nay," she said, "I must be nigher to thee; it is over-wide here amidst the waters' speech. Fare up to the top on thy side, and so will I." And therewith she turned about and fell to climbing up the side of the cliff by the broken black staves and the shaly slips. And though Osberne were a boy, yea and a tough one in some ways, he trembled and his heart beat quick to see the little creature wending that perilous upright road, and he might not take his eyes off her till she had landed safely on the greensward; then he turned and went swiftly up the eastern knoll, and reached the edge of the sheer rock just as the maiden came running up the ness on her side.
He spake not, for he was eyeing her closely, and she might not speak for a while for lack of breath. At last she said: "Now are we as near to each other as we may be today; yea for many days, or it may be for all our lives long: so now let us talk." She set her two feet together and held her hands in front of her, and so stood as if she looked for him to begin. But the words came not speedily to his mouth, and at last she said: "I wonder why thou wilt not speak again; for thy laugh was as the voice of a dear bird; and thy voice is beauteous, so loud and clear."
He laughed, and said: "Well then, I will speak. Tell me what thou art. Art thou of the Faery? for thou art too well shapen to be of the Dwarfkin." She clapped her hands together and laughed; then she said: "I laughed not as mocking thy question, but for joy to hear thy voice again. Nay, nay, I am no faery, but of the children of men. But thou, art thou not of the sons of the Land-wights?"
"No more than thou art," said he. "I am also a goodman's son, but my father is dead, and my mother also, and I live at home at Wethermel up the water, with my grandsire and grandam."
Said she: "Are they kind to thee?" The lad drew himself up: "I am kind to them," said he. "How goodly thou art!" she said; "that was why I dreamed thou must be of the Land-wights, because I have seen divers men, some old, some young like to thee, but none half so goodly." He smiled, and said: "Well, I thought thou wert of the Faery because thou art goodly and little. I have seen a pretty maid not long since, but she was older than thou, I deem, and far taller. But tell me, how old art thou?" She said: "When May is half worn I shall be of thirteen winters."
"Lo now," said he, "we be nigh of an age; I was thirteen in early April. But thou hast not told me where thou dwellest, and how." She said: "I dwell at Hartshaw Knolls hard by. I am the daughter of a goodman, as thou art, and my father and mother are dead, so that my father I never saw, and now I dwell with my two aunts and they be both older than was my mother."
"Are they kind to thee?" said the lad, laughing that he must cast back her question. "Whiles," said she, laughing also, "and whiles not: maybe that is because I am not always kind to them, as thou art to thy folk." He answered nought, and she was silent a while; then he said: "What is in thy mind, maiden?" "This," she said, "that I am thinking how fair a chance it was that I should have seen thee, for thou hast made me so glad." Said he: "We can see each other again belike and make it less of a chance." "O yea," she said, and was silent a while. Said he: "I wot not why it was that thou wert in the cave: and tell me, is it not exceeding perilous, the climbing up and down? Why wilt thou do that? Also, I must tell thee, that this was another cause why I thought thou wert of the Faery, that thou camest out of the cave."
Said she: "I will tell thee all about the cave; but first as to the peril of going thither and coming hence: wouldst thou be very sorry if I were lost on the way?" "Yea," said he, "exceeding sorry." "Well," said she, "then fear it not, for it is so much a wont of mine that to me there is no peril therein: yet I am glad that thou wert afraid for me." "I was sore afraid," said Osberne.
"Now as to the cave," said the maiden. "I found it out two years ago, when I was very little, and the women had been less than kind to me. And thither may I go whenas I would that they should seek me not; because folk say that it is a dwelling of the Dwarfs, and they fear to enter it. Besides, when I think of my kinswomen coming down the rock to find me therein, and they be tall, and one stiff, as if she were cut out of timber, and the other exceeding fat, that makes me merry!"
And therewith she sat down on the very edge of the cliff with her little legs hanging over the water, and laughed, rocking to and fro in her laughter, and Osberne laughed also. But he said: "But art thou not afraid of the Dwarfs?" She said: "Dear bairn or boy, I had been there many times before I heard tell of the Dwarfs, and I gat no harm, and after I had heard the tale I went still, and still gat no harm; nay I will tell thee somewhat: I gat gifts, or such they seemed unto me. First I had to herd the sheep and take them to the best grass, and whiles they strayed and were wearisome to me, and I came home with divers missing, and then would I be wyted or even whipped for what was no fault of mine. And one such time I betook me to the cave and sat therein and wept, and complained to myself of my harm, and when I went out of the cave I saw on the ledge close to my foot a thing lying, and I took it up, and saw that it was a pipe with seven holes therein, and when I blew into it, it made sweet and merry little music. So I thought it great prize, and went away home with it, with all my sorrows well healed. But the next day I drave my sheep to grass, as my business was, and as oft happened, they strayed, and I followed them and gat nothing done; so I was weary, and afraid of what would betide at home in the stead. So I sat down on a stone, and when I had wept a little I thought I would comfort myself with the music of the pipe. But lo a wonder, for no sooner had a note or two sounded than all the sheep came running up to me, bleating and mowing, and would rub against my sides as I sat piping, and home I brought every head in all glee. And even so has it befallen ever since; and that was hard on a year agone. Fair boy, what dost thou think I am doing now?" Osberne laughed. "Disporting thee in speech with a friend," said he. "Nay," said she, "but I am shepherding sheep."
And she drew forth the pipe from her bosom and fell to playing it, and a ravishing sweet melody came thence, and so merry that the lad himself began to shift his feet as one moving to measure, and straightway he heard a sound of bleating, and sheep came running toward the maiden from all about. Then she arose and ran to them, lest they should shove each other into the water; and she danced before them, lifting up her scanty blue skirts and twinkling her bare feet and legs, while her hair danced about her, and the sheep, they too capered and danced about as if she had bidden them. And the boy looked on and laughed without stint, and he deemed it the best of games to behold. But when she was weary she came back to the head of the ness and sat down again as before, and let the sheep go where they would.
Chapter X. Osberne and Elfhild Hold Converse Together
So when she was rested she fell to speech again: "Dear lad, this was the first gift, and I could not but deem that some one had heard me make my moan unseen and had given me that good gift. So what must I do but try it again, and one day I went down into the cave and fell to bewailing me that I had nought to deck me with, neither of gold nor silver, as other maidens had, for in sooth I had seen them with such things. And when I had done, I went forth on to the ledge, and this time I trod cautiously lest I should kick the dainty thing into the water, and lo, there lay this pretty thing." And she drew forth from her bosom a necklace of gold and gems; gold and emerald, gold and sapphire, gold and ruby; and it flashed in the sun, and Osberne thought it a fair toy indeed, but knew not that scarce a queen had got aught so fair in her treasure. "Ye may wot well that I dare not show either this or the pipe to my aunts, who would have taken them away from me and cried horror at them; for oft would they cry out at the evil things that dwelt in the ness and all the ills they brought on the children of men. So I play on the pipe when none are by, and I deck myself sitting in the sun with this fair necklace. Look thou, lad, for it is a joy to show me unto thee so decked." And she did back her raiment from her thin neck, and it was white as snow under the woolen, and she did on the necklace, and Osberne thought indeed that it sat well there, and that her head and neck looked grand and graithly.
Then she said: "One other gift I gat from these cave-folk, if there be such in the cave. On a day I was ailing, and could scarce hold up my head for weariness and sickness; so I stole down hither and clomb with all trouble and peril down to the cave, and fell to bewailing my sickness, and scarce had I done ere I felt exceeding drowsy, and so laid me down on the floor of the cave and fell asleep there, feeling sick no longer even then. And when I awoke, after some three hours as I deemed, there was nought amiss with me, and I climbed up to grass again strong and merry, and making nought of the climb. And even so have I done once and again, and never have the good folk failed me herein. Hast thou ever had dealings with such-like creatures?"
Osberne answered, and told her of his meeting with the Dwarf that time, and held up to her the whittle he had got, and flashed it in the sun; and then he was about to tell her of Steelhead. But he remembered that he was scarce free to tell any one of him, so he held his peace thereof; but he said: "Meseemeth, maiden, that thou art not without might, such friends as thou hast. But tell me, what canst thou do beside the shepherding?" She said: "I can spin and weave, and bake the bread and make the butter, and grind meal at the quern; but the last is hard work, and I would not do it uncompelled, nor forsooth the indoor work either, for nought but the shepherding is to my mind. But now tell me, what canst thou do?" He said: "Meseems I cannot keep my sheep together so well as thou; but last autumn I learned how to slay wolves that would tear the sheep."
She rose up as if to look at him the better, and strained her hands together hard, and gazed eagerly at him. He saw that she was wondering at him and praising him, so he said lightly: "It is no so great a matter as some think; what is most needed is a good heart and a quick eye. Thus I slew the three of them."
"O," she said, "now I know that thou art that fair child and champion of whom I have heard tell, that thy deed was a wonder; and now thou art so kind that thou wilt wear the day talking to a poor and feeble maiden."
Said he: "I do that because it is my will and it pleases me to see thee and talk to thee, for thou art good to look at and dear."
Then she said: "But what else canst thou do, Champion?" Said he: "Of late I am thought to be somewhat deft at shooting in the bow, so that whatso I aim at, that I hit. Thus I am not like to lack for meat." "Yea," she said, "but that is wonderful; and besides, now canst thou shoot at the wolves from afar without their being able to come at thee to bite thee. But now it is hard to get thee to tell of thy prowess, and I must ask after every deal. Tell me of something else." Quoth he: "At home they deem me somewhat of a scald, so that I can smithy out staves." She clapped her hands together and cried: "Now that is good indeed, since thou canst also slay wolves. But how sweet it would be for me to have thee making a stave before me now. Wouldst thou?"
"I wot not," he said, laughing; "but let me try." So he sat down and fell to conning his rhymes, while she stood looking on from across the water. At last he stood up and sang:
Now the grass groweth free And the lily's on lea, And the April-tide green Is full goodly beseen, And far behind Lies the winter blind, And the lord of the Gale Is shadowy pale; And thou, linden be-blossomed, with bed of the worm Camest forth from the dark house as spring from the storm.
O barm-cloth tree, The light is in thee, And as spring-tide shines Through the lily lines, So forth from thine heart Through thy red lips apart Came words and love To wolf-bane's grove, And the shaker of battle-board blesseth the Earth For the love and the longing, kind craving and mirth.
May I forget The grass spring-wet And the quivering stem On the brooklet's hem, And the brake thrust up And the saffron's cup, Each fashioned thing From the heart of Spring, Long ere I forget it, the house of thy word And the doors of thy learning, the roof of speech-hoard.
When thou art away In the winter grey, Through the hall-reek then And the din of men Shall I yet behold Sif's hair of gold And Hild's bright feet, The battle-fleet, And from threshold to hearthstone, like as songs of the South, To and fro shall be fleeting the words of thy mouth.
Then his song dropped down, and they stood looking silently at each other, and tears ran over the little maiden's cheeks. But she spake first and said: "Most lovely is thy lay, and there is this in it, that I see thou hast made it while thou wert sitting there, for it is all about thee and me, and how thou lovest me and I thee. And full surely I know that thou wilt one day be a great and mighty man. Yet this I find strange in thy song almost to foolishness, that thou speakest in it as I were a woman grown, and thou a grown man, whereas we be both children. And look, heed it, what sunders us, this mighty Flood, which hath been from the beginning and shall be to the end."
He answered not a while, and then he said: "I might not help it; the words came into my mouth, and meseems they be better said than unsaid. Look to it if I do not soon some deed such as bairns be not used to doing." "That I deem is like to be," she said, "yet it shall be a long time ere folk shall call us man and woman. But now, fair child, I must needs go homeward, and thou must let me go or I shall be called in question." "Yea," said Osberne, "yet I would give thee a gift if I might, but I know not what to give thee save it were my Dwarf-wrought whittle." She laughed and said: "That were a gift for a man but not for me; keep it, dear and kind lad. I for my part were fain of giving thee somewhat: but as for my pipe, I fear me that I could never throw it across the water. I would I might reach thee with my gold and gem necklace, but I fear for it lest the Sundering Flood devour it. What shall I do then?"
"Nought at all, dear maiden," said the lad, "I would no wise take thy pipe from thee, which saveth thee from blame and beating; and as to thy necklace, that is woman's gear even as the whittle is man's. Keep it safe till thou art become a great lady."
"Well," she said, "now, let me go; it almost seems to me as I might not till thou hast given me leave."
"Yea," said he; "but first, when shall I come to see thee again, and thou me? Shall it be tomorrow?" "O nay," she said, "it may not be, lest they take note of me if I come down here over often. Let it be after three days first: and then the next time it must be longer." Quoth Osberne: "Let the next time take care of itself; but I will come in three days. Now I bid thee depart, and I will go home; but I would kiss thee were it not for the Sundering Flood." "That is kind and dear of thee," said the maiden. "Farewell, and forget me not in three days, since thou hast sung that song to me." "I shall not forget so soon," said he. "Farewell!"
She turned about and ran down the ness with the pipe in her hand, and Osberne heard the sweet voice of the pipe thereafter, and the bleating of the sheep and the paddling of their hoofs as they all ran toward her, and he went his ways home with all that in his ears, and was well content with his day's work; and he deemed that he understood the rede which Steelhead had given him. Withal he had an inkling that Stephen the Eater was somehow his friend in more special way than he was to the rest of the household; so he came home to Wethermel in good case.
Chapter XI. Osberne Shoots a Gift Across the Flood
Now when the three days were over he went his ways to the Bight of the Cloven Knoll, and Stephen smiled and nodded to him friendly as he went out of the door, and once more he was clad in his red-scarlet raiment. He had his bow in his hand, and besides the three arrows which the hillman had given, he had two others out of the goodman's quiver. Moreover he had thought over from time to time what he might give to the maiden, and now he had in his pouch a fair gold piece which his mother had given him when he was yet very young, and he thought that this were a fair gift might he but get it over to the other side of the Sundering Flood.
Now when he was within eyeshot of the ness, he looked thither, and saw a little figure on the crest thereof, and knew that the maiden had prevented him and was there already, so he hastened all he might to his own vantage ground, and straightway he gave her the sele of the day, and she greeted him kindly. Then he looks and sees that she is somewhat decked out for this meeting, for not only did the Dwarfs' gift, the necklace, gleam and glitter on her little flat child's bosom, but also she had made her a wreath for her head of the spring flowers, and another had she done about her loins. She stood there saying nothing a while, and it seemed to him that she was waiting for him to praise this new-wrought adornment. So he said: "Thou art in fairer guise than when first I saw thee; is there any high-tide toward at thy stead?"
"Nay," she said; "I did this because I looked to see thee today, whereas the other time we happed on each other unawares. But hast thou done any more great deeds?"
He laughed and said: "Nay, nay, let me grow a few days older yet. Nevertheless there is this new thing, that this morning I have brought thee a gift which I deem I may to flit to thee, and I shall give it to thee with a good will if thou wilt promise that thou wilt not part with it ever."
"With all my heart will I promise that," she said; "but tell me what it is; show it to me."
He drew it forth and held it up between his finger and thumb, and said: "It is a golden penny, very fair, and I deem it comes from some far country. My mother gave it to me when I was very young; yet I remember that she bade me part not with it, save I should give it to one unto whom I wished all luck, for that she deemed that luck went with it. Now thou art so fair and so dear, and my only fellow of like age, that I wish luck to thee as much as luck can be found: so I will flit it to thee this wise, that I will do it up in a piece of cloth and tie it to the head of this arrow (which is of no account), and shoot it over to thee." And therewith he knelt down and fell to wrapping it up in the rag.
As for the maiden, she was all eager, and quivering with joy at the getting of such a gift; yet she spake and said: "O how good thou art to me: yet I deem not that thou shouldst give me thy mother's gift. And moreover why shouldst thou shoot away thy luck? It may be that I am not doomed to be lucky, as surely thou art; and it may well be that thou mayst give me thy luck and make thee less lucky, without eking mine, if unluck be my weird."
Now though he had set his heart on giving the gold to the fair child, yet her words seemed wise to him, and he said: "What then shall we do?" She said: "Abide a while till I think of it."
So they were silent a while, both of them, till the little maid looked up and said: "Is it a round thing?" "Yea," said he. "What is there upon it?" she said. Quoth Osberne: "On one side be two warriors, and on the other the Rood and certain letters."
She thought again and said: "How much were it marred if it were halved, one warrior and half a cross?" He said: "That hangs upon this, who has one half and who the other." She said "How would it be, since I can see that thou wishest that I should share thy gift, and belike thy luck also, if thou wert to do it into two halves, and keep one thyself and shoot me the other over the flood?" He leapt up and fell a-dancing for joy as she spake, and cried out: "O, but thou art wise! Now I can see that this is what my mother meant me to do, to share the gold and the luck."
Therewith he took the penny out of its wrapping and drew forth his whittle, and gat a big stone and set the gold on the steel and smote it, deftly enough; for he was no ill smith for his years. Then he stood up and cried out: "There, it is done, and neither of the warriors is scathed, for there was a waste place betwixt them. Now then for the shaft and the bow!" The maiden looked eagerly with knitted brows, and soon saw Osberne take up the shaft and nock it on the bowstring.
Then he said: "Take heed and stand still and the halfling shall be thine. Look now, I will send the shaft so that it shall go in the grass-grown cleft betwixt the two big stones behind thee to thy right hand." He raised his bow therewith, and saw how she gathered her skirts about her, as if she would not have them hinder the shaft. Then he loosed, and the shaft flew, but she abode still a little; and he laughed and said: "Go, maiden, and find the shaft and the gold." Then she turned and ran to the cleft, and took out the arrow, and did off the wrapping with trembling fingers, and gat the gold and looked on it, and cried out: "O the fair warrior! such like shalt thou be on a penny, dear child."
Then she came forward again and said: "Now this is strange, that neither last time nor now have we told each other our names: now I will tell thee that my name is Elfhild, of Hartshaw Knolls. What is thine?"
"Elfhild my child," said he, "my name is Osberne Wulfgrim's son, and I am of Wethermel, as I told thee. Yet belike it is not so strange that we have not told our names hitherto, and I hope no ill-luck will go with our telling them, for I suppose that people give each other names when there are many of them, and they would know one from another. But as to us, there be only two of us, so that if I call thee Maiden, and thou call me Swain, it had been enough. Nevertheless I am fain of calling thee Elfhild."
"And I am full fain of calling thee Osberne," she said. "Besides, if at any time both thou and I were to depart from this country-side we might chance to meet amongst folk of many names, and thus we might the better know each other—But O!" she said, growing exceeding eager, "dost thou know how good a gift thou has given me? For the halves of the penny, we shall both keep them for ever, as thou knowest, and by our having them we shall know each other if we meet in the world without and our faces have become changed."
Said Osberne: "I deem not that my face will change very much, at least not till I grow old—nor do I think that thine will either." She laughed merrily: "O, bairn Osberne, when thou art become a man and a great man, and art called maybe Earl Osberne Wulfgrimsson, will not thy face have changed, and thou with the beard and the fierce eyes, and the mouth that hath shouted in the battle? As for me, Allhallows grant it that my face may change: look at me, a kind of red crow now, all skinny and spindle-legged, and yet I may grow to be a fair woman; and then indeed I should be fain for thee to see me. For somehow it seems to be shown to me that thou wilt be loved of women & love them somewhat over-much."
"For my part," said Osberne, "I seem to see of myself that I shall have much to do slaying wolves and evil things, and standing before kings and getting gifts of them, so that there will be little time for me to go about loving women—yet thee I shall ever love, Elfhild." And he reddened as he spake this, as though he were a youth before his time. But Elfhild said: "In all ways thou art kind to me, and thee shall I ever love. But now tell me, Osberne, what wouldst thou have me do today to make game and play for thee?" Said he: "Call up the sheep again to thee with the sweet little pipe, for therein is much game." She nodded her head merrily, and drew forth her pipe and played, and the sheep came bundling up as the day before; and she danced and played a long while, and Osberne clapped his hands and laughed and egged her on, and was full fain of her dancing, and forsooth it was a wonder and delight to see her.
At last she was wearied out, and cast herself on the grass at the very edge of the cliff, and said that she could no more. And Osberne thanked her kindly.
So when she had gotten her breath again, she asked him what next she should do for his disport. And he bade tell him of how she lived with those two women, her aunts, and what she did from day to day. So she sat down as on the other day, with her legs hanging down over the grisly flood, and told him full sweetly of her joys and her work and her troubles. And some of the tale was piteous enough, for the two kinswomen, who were by no means old, for the eldest was only of thirty summers, were somewhat hard with the child and right careless of her, as shall be shown afterwards.
But after a little she broke off and said: "But Osberne, dear, these be no fair tales for thee, though thou art kind to hearken to them. I have better tales than that, of champions to wit, and ladies and castles and dragons and the like, that I have heard; some of my kinswomen, some of folk that come to our house at a pinch, for it is a poor house; and some, yea and most and the best, from an old woman who dwelleth in a cot not far from us. And she loveth me and hath learned me much lore; and I will tell thee thereof if thou wilt hearken."
"I will well," said he, "and thanks thou shalt have of me; I would I might give thee some other gift." She said: "My tale reward will be that thou shalt tell me over and over the staves thou madest last time we met, till I have them by heart. And other staves shalt thou make for me if thou wilt." "Thus is the bargain struck," said the lad, "now get thee to the work."
So the little maiden fell to telling him a tale of the Faery, and when it was done he asked for another; but this was a long one, and wore the day down, so that Elfhild must needs depart ere it was done. Then was a talk of when the next meeting should be, and to Osberne nought was near enough save tomorrow. But Elfhild said that it was nought safe, lest aught should wake up her kinswomen to asking of her whereabouts, and again the meeting was appointed for three days hence; but had it not been for the tale, for which something must be risked, Elfhild said that the time between must be a week. So each of the children departed to their houses well pleased.
Chapter XII. Of a Guest Called Waywearer
Now hereafter all went the same way, that from time to time they met on either side the Sundering Flood, save that Osberne came not ever in his fair-dyed raiment, but was mostly clad in russet; but on Elfhild's birthday he was clad in his best. Otherwise nought befel to tell of. Whiles either of the children were ailing, whiles Elfhild was kept at home by her kinswomen, and so they failed each other, but never by their own will. The one who came to the trysting-place and missed the other was sore grieved, and in special Osberne, whose child's heart swelled nigh to bursting with sorrow mingled with wrath, and at such times the Sundering Flood seemed to him like the coils of a deadly serpent which was strangling the life out of him, and he would wend home in all despair.
So wore the days through spring and summer and early autumn, and at Wethermel all went smoothly, and the goodman there was better pleased than ever with his new man, who, if he ate two men's victuals, did three men's work; as for Osberne, he loved Stephen dearly, and Stephen for his part was for ever doing something for his disport, and in two ways in special. For first he was, like Elfhild, stuffed with all kinds of tales and histories, and oft when they were out a-shepherding he would tell these to Osberne day-long; and not unseldom when the tale was underway the lad would cry out: "Fair is thy tale, but I have heard it before, only it is different thus and thus." And in sooth, he had heard it from Elfhild. The other matter was that Stephen was a smith exceeding deft, and learned the craft to Osberne, so that by the end of the year he bade fair to be a good smith himself. Moreover, whiles would Stephen take a scrap of iron and a little deal of silver, as a silver penny or florin, from out of his hoard, and would fashion it into an ouch or chain or arm-ring, so quaintly and finely that it was a joy to look on. And every one of those things would Stephen give to Osberne with a friendly grin, and Osberne took them with a joyful heart because now he had a new thing to give to Elfhild, and each one he shot across the river unto her the soonest that he might. But whiles, when his heart was full, Osberne would say to the smith: "Thou givest me so much, and doest so well by me, that I know not how ever I am to make it good to thee." And Stephen would say: "Fear not, master, the time will come when thou mayst do such good to me as shall pay for all at once."