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The House of the Wolfings by William Morris

Part 3 out of 5

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them already. Taken one with another we deemed them to be more than
we were; but their hauberked footmen with the heavy cast-spears not
so many as we by a good deal.

"Now we were of mind to fall on them ere they should fall on us; so
all such of us as had shot-weapons spread out from our company and
went forth a little; and of the others Heriulf stood foremost along
with the leaders of the Beamings and the Elkings; but as yet Thiodolf
held aback and led the midmost company, as his wont was, and the more
part of the Wolfings were with him.

"Thus we ordered ourselves, and awaited a little while yet what the
aliens should do; and presently a war-horn blew amongst them, and
from each flank of their mailed footmen came forth a many bowmen and
slingers and a band of horsemen; and drew within bowshot, the
shooters in open array yet wisely, and so fell to on us, and the
horsemen hung aback a little as yet.

"Their arrow-shot was of little avail, their bowmen fell fast before
ours; but deadly was their sling-shot, and hurt and slew many and
some even in our main battle; for they slung round leaden balls and
not stones, and they aimed true and shot quick; and the men withal
were so light and lithe, never still, but crouching and creeping and
bounding here and there, that they were no easier to hit than coneys
amidst of the fern, unless they were very nigh.

"Howbeit when this storm had endured a while, and we moved but
little, and not an inch aback, and gave them shot for shot, then was
another horn winded from amongst the aliens; and thereat the bowmen
cast down their bows, and the slingers wound their slings about their
heads, and they all came on with swords and short spears and
feathered darts, running and leaping lustily, making for our flanks,
and the horsemen set spurs to their horses and fell on in the very
front of our folk like good and valiant men-at-arms.

"That saw Heriulf and his men, and they set up the war-whoop, and ran
forth to meet them, axe and sword aloft, terribly yet maybe somewhat
unwarily. The archers and slingers never came within sword-stroke of
them, but fell away before them on all sides; but the slingers fled
not far, but began again with their shot, and slew a many. Then was
a horn winded, as if to call back the horsemen, who, if they heard,
heeded not, but rode hard on our kindred like valiant warriors who
feared not death. Sooth to say, neither were the horses big or good,
nor the men fit for the work, saving for their hardihood; and their
spears were short withal and their bucklers unhandy to wield.

"Now could it be seen how the Goths gave way before them to let them
into the trap, and then closed around again, and the axes and edge
weapons went awork hewing as in a wood; and Heriulf towered over all
the press, and the Wolf's-sister flashed over his head in the summer
morning.

"Soon was that storm over, and we saw the Goths tossing up their
spears over the slain, and horses running loose and masterless adown
over the westward-lying slopes, and a few with their riders still
clinging to them. Yet some, sore hurt by seeming, galloping toward
the main battle of the Romans.

"Unwarily then fared the children of Tyr that were with Heriulf; for
by this time they were well nigh within shot of the spears of those
mighty footmen of the Romans: and on their flanks were the slingers,
and the bowmen, who had now gotten their bows again; and our bowmen,
though they shot well and strong, were too few to quell them; and
indeed some of them had cast by their bows to join in Heriulf's
storm. Also the lie of the ground was against us, for it sloped up
toward the Roman array at first very gently, but afterwards steeply
enough to breathe a short-winded man. Also behind them were we of
the other kindreds, whom Thiodolf had ordered into the wedge-array;
and we were all ready to move forward, so that had they abided
somewhat, all had been well and better.

"So did they not, but straightway set up the Victory-whoop and ran
forward on the Roman host. And these were so ordered that, as
aforesaid, they had before them sharp piles stuck into the earth and
pointed against us, as we found afterwards to our cost; and within
these piles stood the men some way apart from each other, so as to
handle their casting spears, and in three ranks were they ordered and
many spears could be cast at once, and if any in the front were
slain, his fellow behind him took his place.

"So now the storm of war fell at once upon our folk, and swift and
fierce as was their onslaught yet were a many slain and hurt or ever
they came to the piles aforesaid. Then saw they death before them
and heeded it nought, but tore up the piles and dashed through them,
and fell in on those valiant footmen. Short is the tale to tell:
wheresoever a sword or spear of the Goths was upraised there were
three upon him, and saith Toti of the Beamings, who was hurt and
crawled away and yet lives, that on Heriulf there were six at first
and then more; and he took no thought of shielding himself, but
raised up the Wolf's-sister and hewed as the woodman in the thicket,
when night cometh and hunger is on him. There fell Heriulf the
Ancient and many a man of the Beamings and the Elkings with him, and
many a Roman.

"But amidst the slain and the hurt our wedge-array moved forward
slowly now, warily shielded against the plummets and shafts on either
side; and when the Romans saw our unbroken array, and Thiodolf the
first with Throng-plough naked in his hand, they chased not such men
of ours unhurt or little hurt, as drew aback from before them: so
these we took amongst us, and when we had gotten all we might, and
held a grim face to the foe, we drew aback little by little, still
facing them till we were out of shot of their spears, though the shot
of the arrows and the sling-plummets ceased not wholly from us. Thus
ended Heriulf's Storm."

Then he rested from his speaking for a while, and none said aught,
but they gazed on him as if he bore with him a picture of the battle,
and many of the women wept silently for Heriulf, and yet more of the
younger ones were wounded to the heart when they thought of the young
men of the Elkings, and the Beamings, since with both those houses
they had affinity; and they lamented the loves that they had lost,
and would have asked concerning their own speech-friends had they
durst. But they held their peace till the tale was told out to an
end.

Then Egil spake again:

"No long while had worn by in Heriulf's Storm, and though men's
hearts were nothing daunted, but rather angered by what had befallen,
yet would Thiodolf wear away the time somewhat more, since he hoped
for succour from the Wain-burg and the Wood; and he would not that
any of these Romans should escape us, but would give them all to Tyr,
and to be a following to Heriulf the Old and the Great.

"So there we abided a while moving nought, and Thiodolf stood with
Throng-plough on his shoulder, unhelmed, unbyrnied, as though he
trusted to the kindred for all defence. Nor for their part did the
Romans dare to leave their vantage-ground, when they beheld what grim
countenance we made them.

"Albeit, when we had thrice made as if we would fall on, and yet they
moved not, whereas it trieth a man sorely to stand long before the
foeman, and do nought but endure, and whereas many of our bowmen were
slain or hurt, and the rest too few to make head against the shot-
weapons of the aliens, then at last we began to draw nearer and a
little nearer, not breaking the wedge-array; and at last, just before
we were within shot of the cast-spears of their main battle, loud
roared our war-horn: then indeed we broke the wedge-array, but
orderly as we knew how, spreading out from right and left of the War-
duke till we were facing them in a long line: one minute we abode
thus, and then ran forth through the spear-storm: and even therewith
we heard, as it were, the echo of our own horn, and whoso had time to
think betwixt the first of the storm and the handstrokes of the
Romans deemed that now would be coming fresh kindreds for our
helping.

"Not long endured the spear-rain, so swift we were, neither were we
in one throng as betid in Heriulf's Storm, but spread abroad, each
trusting in the other that none thought of the backward way.

"Though we had the ground against us we dashed like fresh men at
their pales, and were under the weapons at once. Then was the battle
grim; they could not thrust us back, nor did we break their array
with our first storm; man hewed at man as if there were no foes in
the world but they two: sword met sword, and sax met sax; it was
thrusting and hewing with point and edge, and no long-shafted weapons
were of any avail; there we fought hand to hand and no man knew by
eyesight how the battle went two yards from where he fought, and each
one put all his heart in the stroke he was then striking, and thought
of nothing else.

"Yet at the last we felt that they were faltering and that our work
was easier and our hope higher; then we cried our cries and pressed
on harder, and in that very nick of time there arose close behind us
the roar of the Markmen's horn and the cries of the kindreds
answering ours. Then such of the Romans as were not in the very act
of smiting, or thrusting, or clinging or shielding, turned and fled,
and the whoop of victory rang around us, and the earth shook, and
past the place of the slaughter rushed the riders of the Goths; for
they had sent horsemen to us, and the paths were grown easier for our
much treading of them. Then I beheld Thiodolf, that he had just
slain a foe, and clear was the space around him, and he rushed
sideways and caught hold of the stirrup of Angantyr of the Bearings,
and ran ten strides beside him, and then bounded on afoot swifter
than the red horses of the Bearings, urging on the chase, as his wont
was.

"But we who were wearier, when we had done our work, stood still
between the living and the dead, between the freemen of the Mark and
their war-thralls. And in no long while there came back to us
Thiodolf and the chasers, and we made a great ring on the field of
the slain, and sang the Song of Triumph; and it was the Wolfing Song
that we sang.

"Thus then ended Thiodolf's Storm."

When he held his peace there was but little noise among the stay-at-
homes, for still were they thinking about the deaths of their kindred
and their lovers. But Egil spoke again.

"Yet within that ring lay the sorrow of our hearts; for Odin had
called a many home, and there lay their bodies; and the mightiest was
Heriulf; and the Romans had taken him up from where he fell, and cast
him down out of the way, but they had not stripped him, and his hand
still gripped the Wolf's-sister. His shield was full of shafts of
arrows and spears; his byrny was rent in many places, his helm
battered out of form. He had been grievously hurt in the side and in
the thigh by cast-spears or ever he came to hand-blows with the
Romans, but moreover he had three great wounds from the point of the
sax, in the throat, in the side, in the belly, each enough for his
bane. His face was yet fair to look on, and we deemed that he had
died smiling.

"At his feet lay a young man of the Beamings in a gay green coat, and
beside him was the head of another of his House, but his green-clad
body lay some yards aloof. There lay of the Elkings a many. Well
may ye weep, maidens, for them that loved you. Now fare they to the
Gods a goodly company, but a goodly company is with them.

"Seventy and seven of the Sons of the Goths lay dead within the Roman
battle, and fifty-four on the slope before it; and to boot there were
twenty-four of us slain by the arrows and plummets of the shooters,
and a many hurt withal.

"But there were no hurt men inside the Roman array or before it. All
were slain outright, for the hurt men either dragged themselves back
to our folk, or onward to the Roman ranks, that they might die with
one more stroke smitten.

"Now of the aliens the dead lay in heaps in that place, for grim was
the slaughter when the riders of the Bearings and the Wormings fell
on the aliens; and a many of the foemen scorned to flee, but died
where they stood, craving no peace; and to few of them was peace
given. There fell of the Roman footmen five hundred and eighty and
five, and the remnant that fled was but little: but of the slingers
and bowmen but eighty and six were slain, for they were there to
shoot and not to stand; and they were nimble and fleet of foot, men
round of limb, very dark-skinned, but not foul of favour."

Then he said:

"There are men through the dusk a-faring, our speech-fiends and our
kin,
No more shall they crave our helping, nor ask what work to win;
They have done their deeds and departed when they had holpen the
House,
So high their heads are holden, and their hurts are glorious
With the story of strokes stricken, and new weapons to be met,
And new scowling of foes' faces, and new curses unknown yet.
Lo, they dight the feast in Godhome, and fair are the tables spread,
Late come, but well-beloved is every war-worn head,
And the God-folk and the Fathers, as these cross the tinkling bridge,
Crowd round and crave for stories of the Battle on the Ridge."

Therewith he came down from the Speech-Hill and the women-folk came
round about him, and they brought him to the Hall, and washed him,
and gave him meat and drink; and then would he sleep, for he was
weary.

Howbeit some of the women could not refrain themselves, but must
needs ask after their speech-friends who had been in the battle; and
he answered as he could, and some he made glad, and some sorry; and
as to some, he could not tell them whether their friends were alive
or dead. So he went to his place and fell asleep and slept long,
while the women went down to acre and meadow, or saw to the baking of
bread or the sewing of garments, or went far afield to tend the neat
and the sheep.

Howbeit the Hall-Sun went not with them; but she talked with that old
warrior, Sorli, who was now halt and grown unmeet for the road, but
was a wise man; and she and he together with some old carlines and a
few young lads fell to work, and saw to many matters about the Hall
and the garth that day; and they got together what weapons there were
both for shot and for the hand-play, and laid them where they were
handy to come at, and they saw to the meal in the hall that there was
provision for many days; and they carried up to a loft above the
Women's-Chamber many great vessels of water, lest the fire should
take the Hall; and they looked everywhere to the entrances and
windows and had fastenings and bolts and bars fashioned and fitted to
them; and saw that all things were trim and stout. And so they
abided the issue.

CHAPTER XVI--HOW THE DWARF-WROUGHT HAUBERK WAS BROUGHT AWAY FROM THE
HALL OF THE DAYLINGS

Now it must be told that early in the morning, after the night when
Gisli had brought to the Wolfing Stead the tidings of the Battle in
the Wood, a man came riding from the south to the Dayling abode. It
was just before sunrise, and but few folk were stirring about the
dwellings. He rode up to the Hall and got off his black horse, and
tied it to a ring in the wall by the Man's-door, and went in
clashing, for he was in his battle-gear, and had a great wide-rimmed
helm on his head.

Folk were but just astir in the Hall, and there came an old woman to
him, and looked on him and saw by his attire that he was a man of the
Goths and of the Wolfing kindred; so she greeted him kindly: but he
said:

"Mother, I am come hither on an errand, and time presses."

Said she: "Yea, my son, or what tidings bearest thou from the south?
for by seeming thou art new-come from the host."

Said he: "The tidings are as yesterday, save that Thiodolf will lead
the host through the wild-wood to look for the Romans beyond it:
therefore will there soon be battle again. See ye, Mother, hast thou
here one that knoweth this ring of Thiodolf's, if perchance men doubt
me when I say that I am sent on my errand by him?"

"Yea," she said, "Agni will know it; since he knoweth all the chief
men of the Mark; but what is thine errand, and what is thy name?"

"It is soon told," said he, "I am a Wolfing hight Thorkettle, and I
come to have away for Thiodolf the treasure of the world, the Dwarf-
wrought Hauberk, which he left with you when we fared hence to the
south three days ago. Now let Agni come, that I may have it, for
time presses sorely."

There were three or four gathered about them now, and a maiden of
them said: "Shall I bring Agni hither, mother?"

"What needeth it?" said the carline, "he sleepeth, and shall be hard
to awaken; and he is old, so let him sleep. I shall go fetch the
hauberk, for I know where it is, and my hand may come on it as easily
as on mine own girdle."

So she went her ways to the treasury where were the precious things
of the kindred; the woven cloths were put away in fair coffers to
keep them clean from the whirl of the Hall-dust and the reek; and the
vessels of gold and some of silver were standing on the shelves of a
cupboard before which hung a veil of needlework: but the weapons and
war-gear hung upon pins along the wall, and many of them had much
fair work on them, and were dight with gold and gems: but amidst
them all was the wondrous hauberk clear to see, dark grey and thin,
for it was so wondrously wrought that it hung in small compass. So
the carline took it down from the pin, and handled it, and marvelled
at it, and said:

"Strange are the hands that have passed over thee, sword-rampart, and
in strange places of the earth have they dwelt! For no smith of the
kindreds hath fashioned thee, unless he had for his friend either a
God or a foe of the Gods. Well shalt thou wot of the tale of sword
and spear ere thou comest back hither! For Thiodolf shall bring thee
where the work is wild."

Then she went with the hauberk to the new-come warrior, and made no
delay, but gave it to him, and said:

"When Agni awaketh, I shall tell him that Thorkettle of the Wolfings
hath borne aback to Thiodolf the Treasure of the World, the Dwarf-
wrought Hauberk."

Then Thorkettle took it and turned to go; but even therewith came old
Asmund from out of his sleeping-place, and gazed around the Hall, and
his eyes fell on the shape of the Wolfing as he was going out of the
door, and he asked the carline.

"What doeth he here? What tidings is there from the host? For my
soul was nought unquiet last night."

"It is a little matter," she said; "the War-duke hath sent for the
wondrous Byrny that he left in our treasury when he departed to meet
the Romans. Belike there shall be a perilous battle, and few hearts
need a stout sword-wall more than Thiodolf's."

As she spoke, Thorkettle had passed the door, and got into his
saddle, and sat his black horse like a mighty man as he slowly rode
down the turf bridge that led into the plain. And Asmund went to the
door and stood watching him till he set spurs to his horse, and
departed a great gallop to the south. Then said Asmund:

"What then are the Gods devising, what wonders do they will?
What mighty need is on them to work the kindreds ill,
That the seed of the Ancient Fathers and a woman of their kin
With her all unfading beauty must blend herself therein?
Are they fearing lest the kindreds should grow too fair and great,
And climb the stairs of God-home, and fashion all their fate,
And make all earth so merry that it never wax the worse,
Nor need a gift from any, nor prayers to quench the curse?
Fear they that the Folk-wolf, growing as the fire from out the spark
Into a very folk-god, shall lead the weaponed Mark
From wood to field and mountain, to stand between the earth
And the wrights that forge its thraldom and the sword to slay its
mirth?
Fear they that the sons of the wild-wood the Loathly Folk shall
quell,
And grow into Gods thereafter, and aloof in God-home dwell?

Therewith he turned back into the Hall, and was heavy-hearted and
dreary of aspect; for he was somewhat foreseeing; and it may not be
hidden that this seeming Thorkettle was no warrior of the Wolfings,
but the Wood-Sun in his likeness; for she had the power and craft of
shape-changing.

CHAPTER XVII--THE WOOD-SUN SPEAKETH WITH THIODOLF

Now the Markmen laid Heriulf in howe on the ridge-crest where he had
fallen, and heaped a mighty howe over him that could be seen from
far, and round about him they laid the other warriors of the
kindreds. For they deemed it was fittest that they should lie on the
place whose story they had fashioned. But they cast earth on the
foemen lower down on the westward-lying bents.

The sun set amidst their work, and night came on; and Thiodolf was
weary and would fain rest him and sleep: but he had many thoughts,
and pondered whitherward he should lead the folk, so as to smite the
Romans once again, and he had a mind to go apart and be alone for
rest and slumber; so he spoke to a man of the kindred named Solvi in
whom he put all trust, and then he went down from the ridge, and into
a little dale on the southwest side thereof, a furlong from the place
of the battle. A beck ran down that dale, and the further end of it
was closed by a little wood of yew trees, low, but growing thick
together, and great grey stones were scattered up and down on the
short grass of the dale. Thiodolf went down to the brook-side, and
to a place where it trickled into a pool, whence it ran again in a
thin thread down the dale, turning aside before it reached the yew-
wood to run its ways under low ledges of rock into a wider dale. He
looked at the pool and smiled to himself as if he had thought of
something that pleased him; then he drew a broad knife from his side,
and fell to cutting up turfs till he had what he wanted; and then he
brought stones to the place, and built a dam across the mouth of the
pool, and sat by on a great stone to watch it filling.

As he sat he strove to think about the Roman host and how he should
deal with it; but despite himself his thoughts wandered, and made for
him pictures of his life that should be when this time of battle was
over; so that he saw nothing of the troubles that were upon his hands
that night, but rather he saw himself partaking in the deeds of the
life of man. There he was between the plough-stilts in the acres of
the kindred when the west wind was blowing over the promise of early
spring; or smiting down the ripe wheat in the hot afternoon amidst
the laughter and merry talk of man and maid; or far away over
Mirkwood-water watching the edges of the wood against the prowling
wolf and lynx, the stars just beginning to shine over his head, as
now they were; or wending the windless woods in the first frosts
before the snow came, the hunter's bow or javelin in hand: or coming
back from the wood with the quarry on the sledge across the snow,
when winter was deep, through the biting icy wind and the whirl of
the drifting snow, to the lights and music of the Great Roof, and the
merry talk therein and the smiling of the faces glad to see the
hunting-carles come back; and the full draughts of mead, and the
sweet rest a night-tide when the north wind was moaning round the
ancient home.

All seemed good and fair to him, and whiles he looked around him, and
saw the long dale lying on his left hand and the dark yews in its
jaws pressing up against the rock-ledges of the brook, and on his
right its windings as the ground rose up to the buttresses of the
great ridge. The moon was rising over it, and he heard the voice of
the brook as it tinkled over the stones above him; and the whistle of
the plover and the laugh of the whimbrel came down the dale sharp and
clear in the calm evening; and sounding far away, because the great
hill muffled them, were the voices of his fellows on the ridge, and
the songs of the warriors and the high-pitched cries of the watch.
And this also was a part of the sweet life which was, and was to be;
and he smiled and was happy and loved the days that were coming, and
longed for them, as the young man longs for the feet of his maiden at
the try sting-place.

So as he sat there, the dreams wrapping him up from troublous
thoughts, at last slumber overtook him, and the great warrior of the
Wolfings sat nodding like an old carle in the chimney ingle, and he
fell asleep, his dreams going with him, but all changed and turned to
folly and emptiness.

He woke with a start in no long time; the night was deep, the wind
had fallen utterly, and all sounds were stilled save the voice of the
brook, and now and again the cry of the watchers of the Goths. The
moon was high and bright, and the little pool beside him glittered
with it in all its ripples; for it was full now and trickling over
the lip of his dam. So he arose from the stone and did off his war-
gear, casting Throng-plough down into the grass beside him, for he
had been minded to bathe him, but the slumber was still on him, and
he stood musing while the stream grew stronger and pushed off first
one of his turfs and then another, and rolled two or three of the
stones over, and then softly thrust all away and ran with a gush down
the dale, filling all the little bights by the way for a minute or
two; he laughed softly thereat, and stayed the undoing of his kirtle,
and so laid himself down on the grass beside the stone looking down
the dale, and fell at once into a dreamless sleep.

When he awoke again, it was yet night, but the moon was getting lower
and the first beginnings of dawn were showing in the sky over the
ridge; he lay still a moment gathering his thoughts and striving to
remember where he was, as is the wont of men waking from deep sleep;
then he leapt to his feet, and lo, he was face to face with a woman,
and she who but the Wood-Sun? and he wondered not, but reached out
his hand to touch her, though he had not yet wholly cast off the
heaviness of slumber or remembered the tidings of yesterday.

She drew aback a little from him, and his eyes cleared of the
slumber, and he saw her that she was scantily clad in black raiment,
barefoot, with no gold ring on her arms or necklace on her neck, or
crown about her head. But she looked so fair and lovely even in that
end of the night-tide, that he remembered all her beauty of the day
and the sunshine, and he laughed aloud for joy of the sight of her,
and said:

"What aileth thee, O Wood-Sun, and is this a new custom of thy
kindred and the folk of God-home that their brides array themselves
like thralls new-taken, and as women who have lost their kindred and
are outcast? Who then hath won the Burg of the Anses, and clomb the
rampart of God-home?"

But she spoke from where she stood in a voice so sweet, that it
thrilled to the very marrow of his bones.

"I have dwelt a while with sorrow since we met, we twain, in the
wood:
I have mourned, while thou hast been merry, who deemest the war-play
good.
For I know the heart of the wilful and how thou wouldst cast away
The rampart of thy life-days, and the wall of my happy day.
Yea I am the thrall of Sorrow; she hath stripped my raiment off
And laid sore stripes upon me with many a bitter scoff.
Still bidding me remember that I come of the God-folk's kin,
And yet for all my godhead no love of thee may win."

Then she looked longingly at him a while and at last could no longer
refrain her, but drew nigh him and took his hands in hers, and kissed
his mouth, and said as she caressed him:

"O where are thy wounds, beloved? how turned the spear from thy
breast,
When the storm of war blew strongest, and the best men met the best?
Lo, this is the tale of to-day: but what shall to-morrow tell?
That Thiodolf the Mighty in the fight's beginning fell;
That there came a stroke ill-stricken, there came an aimless thrust,
And the life of the people's helper lay quenched in the summer dust."

He answered nothing, but smiled as though the sound of her voice and
the touch of her hand were pleasant to him, for so much love there
was in her, that her very grief was scarcely grievous. But she said
again:

"Thou sayest it: I am outcast; for a God that lacketh mirth
Hath no more place in God-home and never a place on earth.
A man grieves, and he gladdens, or he dies and his grief is gone;
But what of the grief of the Gods, and the sorrow never undone?
Yea verily I am the outcast. When first in thine arms I lay
On the blossoms of the woodland my godhead passed away;
Thenceforth unto thee was I looking for the light and the glory of
life
And the Gods' doors shut behind me till the day of the uttermost
strife.
And now thou hast taken my soul, thou wilt cast it into the night,
And cover thine head with the darkness, and turn thine eyes from the
light.
Thou wouldst go to the empty country where never a seed is sown
And never a deed is fashioned, and the place where each is alone;
But I thy thrall shall follow, I shall come where thou seemest to
lie,
I shall sit on the howe that hides thee, and thou so dear and nigh!
A few bones white in their war-gear that have no help or thought,
Shall be Thiodolf the Mighty, so nigh, so dear--and nought."

His hands strayed over her shoulders and arms, caressing them, and he
said softly and lovingly:

"I am Thiodolf the Mighty: but as wise as I may be
No story of that grave-night mine eyes can ever see,
But rather the tale of the Wolfings through the coming days of earth,
And the young men in their triumph and the maidens in their mirth;
And morn's promise every evening, and each day the promised morn,
And I amidst it ever reborn and yet reborn.
This tale I know, who have seen it, who have felt the joy and pain,
Each fleeing, each pursuing, like the links of the draw-well's chain:
But that deedless tide of the grave-mound, and the dayless nightless
day,
E'en as I strive to see it, its image wanes away.
What say'st thou of the grave-mound? shall I be there at all
When they lift the Horn of Remembrance, and the shout goes down the
hall,
And they drink the Mighty War-duke and Thiodolf the old?
Nay rather; there where the youngling that longeth to be bold
Sits gazing through the hall-reek and sees across the board
A vision of the reaping of the harvest of the sword,
There shall Thiodolf be sitting; e'en there shall the youngling be
That once in the ring of the hazels gave up his life to thee."

She laughed as he ended, and her voice was sweet, but bitter was her
laugh. Then she said:

"Nay thou shalt be dead, O warrior, thou shalt not see the Hall
Nor the children of thy people 'twixt the dais and the wall.
And I, and I shall be living; still on thee shall waste my thought:
I shall long and lack thy longing; I shall pine for what is nought."

But he smiled again, and said:

"Not on earth shall I learn this wisdom; and how shall I learn it
then
When I lie alone in the grave-mound, and have no speech with men?
But for thee,--O doubt it nothing that my life shall live in thee,
And so shall we twain be loving in the days that yet shall be."

It was as if she heard him not; and she fell aback from him a little
and stood silently for a while as one in deep thought; and then
turned and went a few paces from him, and stooped down and came back
again with something in her arms (and it was the hauberk once more),
and said suddenly:

"O Thiodolf, now tell me for what cause thou wouldst not bear
This grey wall of the hammer in the tempest of the spear?
Didst thou doubt my faith, O Folk-wolf, or the counsel of the Gods,
That thou needs must cast thee naked midst the flashing battle-rods,
Or is thy pride so mighty that it seemed to thee indeed
That death was a better guerdon than the love of the God-head's
seed?"

But Thiodolf said: "O Wood-Sun, this thou hast a right to ask of me,
why I have not worn in the battle thy gift, the Treasure of the
World, the Dwarf-wrought Hauberk! And what is this that thou sayest?
I doubt not thy faith towards me and thine abundant love: and as for
the rede of the Gods, I know it not, nor may I know it, nor turn it
this way nor that: and as for thy love and that I would choose death
sooner, I know not what thou meanest; I will not say that I love thy
love better than life itself; for these two, my life and my love, are
blended together and may not be sundered.

"Hearken therefore as to the Hauberk: I wot well that it is for no
light matter that thou wouldst have me bear thy gift, the wondrous
hauberk, into battle; I deem that some doom is wrapped up in it;
maybe that I shall fall before the foe if I wear it not; and that if
I wear it, somewhat may betide me which is unmeet to betide a warrior
of the Wolfings. Therefore will I tell thee why I have fought in two
battles with the Romans with unmailed body, and why I left the
hauberk, (which I see that thou bearest in thine arms) in the Roof of
the Daylings. For when I entered therein, clad in the hauberk, there
came to meet me an ancient man, one of the very valiant of days past,
and he looked on me with the eyes of love, as though he had been the
very father of our folk, and I the man that was to come after him to
carry on the life thereof. But when he saw the hauberk and touched
it, then was his love smitten cold with sadness and he spoke words of
evil omen; so that putting this together with thy words about the
gift, and that thou didst in a manner compel me to wear it, I could
not but deem that this mail is for the ransom of a man and the ruin
of a folk.

"Wilt thou say that it is not so? then will I wear the hauberk, and
live and die happy. But if thou sayest that I have deemed aright,
and that a curse goeth with the hauberk, then either for the sake of
the folk I will not wear the gift and the curse, and I shall die in
great glory, and because of me the House shall live; or else for thy
sake I shall bear it and live, and the House shall live or die as may
be, but I not helping, nay I no longer of the House nor in it. How
sayest thou?"

Then she said:

"Hail be thy mouth, beloved, for that last word of thine,
And the hope that thine heart conceiveth and the hope that is born in
mine.
Yea, for a man's delivrance was the hauberk born indeed
That once more the mighty warrior might help the folk at need.
And where is the curse's dwelling if thy life be saved to dwell
Amidst the Wolfing warriors and the folk that loves thee well
And the house where the high Gods left thee to be cherished well
therein?

"Yea more: I have told thee, beloved, that thou art not of the kin;
The blood in thy body is blended of the wandering Elking race,
And one that I may not tell of, who in God-home hath his place,
And who changed his shape to beget thee in the wild-wood's leafy
roof.
How then shall the doom of the Wolfings be woven in the woof
Which the Norns for thee have shuttled? or shall one man of war
Cast down the tree of the Wolfings on the roots that spread so far?
O friend, thou art wise and mighty, but other men have lived
Beneath the Wolfing roof-tree whereby the folk has thrived."

He reddened at her word; but his eyes looked eagerly on her. She
cast down the hauberk, and drew one step nigher to him. She knitted
her brows, her face waxed terrible, and her stature seemed to grow
greater, as she lifted up her gleaming right arm, and cried out in a
great voice.

"Thou Thiodolf the Mighty! Hadst thou will to cast the net
And tangle the House in thy trouble, it is I would slay thee yet;
For 'tis I and I that love them, and my sorrow would I give,
And thy life, thou God of battle, that the Wolfing House might live."

Therewith she rushed forward, and cast herself upon him, and threw
her arms about him, and strained him to her bosom, and kissed his
face, and he her in likewise, for there was none to behold them, and
nought but the naked heaven was the roof above their heads.

And now it was as if the touch of her face and her body, and the
murmuring of her voice changed and soft close to his ear, as she
murmured mere words of love to him, drew him away from the life of
deeds and doubts and made a new world for him, wherein he beheld all
those fair pictures of the happy days that had been in his musings
when first he left the field of the dead.

So they sat down on the grey stone together hand in hand, her head
laid upon his shoulder, no otherwise than if they had been two
lovers, young and without renown in days of deep peace.

So as they sat, her foot smote on the cold hilts of the sword, which
Thiodolf had laid down in the grass; and she stooped and took it up,
and laid it across her knees and his as they sat there; and she
looked on Throng-plough as he lay still in the sheath, and smiled on
him, and saw that the peace-strings were not yet wound about his
hilts. So she drew him forth and raised him up in her hand, and he
gleamed white and fearful in the growing dawn, for all things had now
gotten their colours again, whereas amidst their talking had the
night worn, and the moon low down was grown white and pale.

But she leaned aside, and laid her cheek against Thiodolf's, and he
took the sword out of her hand and set it on his knees again, and
laid his right hand on it, and said:

"Two things by these blue edges in the face of the dawning I swear;
And first this warrior's ransom in the coming fight to bear,
And evermore to love thee who hast given me second birth.
And by the sword I swear it, and by the Holy Earth,
To live for the House of the Wolfings, and at last to die for their
need.
For though I trow thy saying that I am not one of their seed,
Nor yet by the hand have been taken and unto the Father shown
As a very son of the Fathers, yet mid them hath my body grown;
And I am the guest of their Folk-Hall, and each one there is my
friend.
So with them is my joy and sorrow, and my life, and my death in the
end.
Now whatso doom hereafter my coming days shall bide,
Thou speech-friend, thou deliverer, thine is this dawning-tide."

She spoke no word to him; but they rose up and went hand in hand down
the dale, he still bearing his naked sword over his shoulder, and
thus they went together into the yew-copse at the dale's end. There
they abode till after the rising of the sun, and each to each spake
many loving words at their departure; and the Wood-Sun went her ways
at her will.

But Thiodolf went up the dale again, and set Throng-plough in his
sheath, and wound the peace-strings round him. Then he took up the
hauberk from the grass whereas the Wood-Sun had cast it, and did it
on him, as it were of the attire he was wont to carry daily. So he
girt Throng-plough to him, and went soberly up to the ridge-top to
the folk, who were just stirring in the early morning.

CHAPTER XVIII--TIDINGS BROUGHT TO THE WAIN-BURG

Now it must be told of Otter and they of the Wain-burg how they had
the tidings of the overthrow of the Romans on the Ridge, and that
Egil had left them on his way to Wolf-stead. They were joyful of the
tale, as was like to be, but eager also to strike their stroke at the
foe-men, and in that mood they abode fresh tidings.

It has been told how Otter had sent the Bearings and the Wormings to
the aid of Thiodolf and his folk, and these two were great kindreds,
and they being gone, there abode with Otter, one man with another,
thralls and freemen, scant three thousand men: of these many were
bowmen good to fight from behind a wall or fence, or some such cover,
but scarce meet to withstand a shock in the open field. However it
was deemed at this time in the Wain-burg that Thiodolf and his men
would soon return to them; and in any case, they said, he lay between
the Romans and the Mark, so that they had but little doubt; or rather
they feared that the Romans might draw aback from the Mark before
they could be met in battle again, for as aforesaid they were eager
for the fray.

Now it was in the cool of the evening two days after the Battle on
the Ridge, that the men, both freemen and thralls, had been
disporting themselves in the plain ground without the Burg in casting
the spear and putting the stone, and running races a-foot and a-
horseback, and now close on sunset three young men, two of the
Laxings and one of the Shieldings, and a grey old thrall of that same
House, were shooting a match with the bow, driving their shafts at a
rushen roundel hung on a pole which the old thrall had dight. Men
were peaceful and happy, for the time was fair and calm, and, as
aforesaid, they dreaded not the Roman Host any more than if they were
Gods dwelling in God-home. The shooters were deft men, and they of
the Burg were curious to note their deftness, and many were breathed
with the games wherein they had striven, and thought it good to rest,
and look on the new sport: so they sat and stood on the grass about
the shooters on three sides, and the mead-horn went briskly from man
to man; for there was no lack of meat and drink in the Burg, whereas
the kindreds that lay nighest to it had brought in abundant
provision, and women of the kindreds had come to them, and not a few
were there scattered up and down among the carles.

Now the Shielding man, Geirbald by name, had just loosed at the mark,
and had shot straight and smitten the roundel in the midst, and a
shout went up from the onlookers thereat; but that shout was, as it
were, lined with another, and a cry that a messenger was riding
toward the Burg: thereat most men looked round toward the wood,
because their minds were set on fresh tidings from Thiodolf's
company, but as it happened it was from the north and the side toward
Mid-mark that they on the outside of the throng had seen the rider
coming; and presently the word went from man to man that so it was,
and that the new comer was a young man on a grey horse, and would
speedily be amongst them; so they wondered what the tidings might be,
but yet they did not break up the throng, but abode in their places
that they might receive the messenger more orderly; and as the rider
drew near, those who were nighest to him perceived that it was a
woman.

So men made way before the grey horse, and its rider, and the horse
was much spent and travel-worn. So the woman rode right into the
ring of warriors, and drew rein there, and lighted down slowly and
painfully, and when she was on the ground could scarce stand for
stiffness; and two or three of the swains drew near her to help her,
and knew her at once for Hrosshild of the Wolfings, for she was well-
known as a doughty woman.

Then she said: "Bring me to Otter the War-duke; or bring him hither
to me, which were best, since so many men are gathered together; and
meanwhile give me to drink; for I am thirsty and weary."

So while one went for Otter, another reached to her the mead-horn,
and she had scarce done her draught, ere Otter was there, for they
had found him at the gate of the Burg. He had many a time been in
the Wolfing Hall, so he knew her at once and said:

"Hail, Hrosshild! how farest thou?"

She said: "I fare as the bearer of evil tidings. Bid thy folk do on
their war-gear and saddle their horses, and make no delay; for now
presently shall the Roman host be in Mid-mark!"

Then cried Otter: "Blow up the war-horn! get ye all to your weapons
and be ready to leap on your horses, and come ye to the Thing in good
order kindred by kindred: later on ye shall hear Hrosshild's story
as she shall tell it to me!"

Therewith he led her to a grassy knoll that was hard by, and set her
down thereon and himself beside her, and said:

"Speak now, damsel, and fear not! For now shall one fate go over us
all, either to live together or die together as the free children of
Tyr, and friends of the Almighty God of the Earth. How camest thou
to meet the Romans and know of their ways and to live thereafter?"

She said: "Thus it was: the Hall-Sun bethought her how that the
eastern ways into Mid-mark that bring a man to the thicket behind the
Roof of the Bearings are nowise hard, even for an host; so she sent
ten women, and me the eleventh to the Bearing dwelling and the road
through the thicket aforesaid; and we were to take of the Bearing
stay-at-homes whomso we would that were handy, and then all we to
watch the ways for fear of the Romans. And methinks she has had some
vision of their ways, though mayhap not altogether clear.

"Anyhow we came to the Bearing dwellings, and they gave us of their
folk eight doughty women and two light-foot lads, and so we were
twenty and one in all.

"So then we did as the Hall-Sun bade us, and ordained a chain of
watchers far up into the waste; and these were to sound a point of
war upon their horns each to each till the sound thereof should come
to us who lay with our horses hoppled ready beside us in the fair
plain of the Mark outside the thicket.

"To be short, the horns waked us up in the midst of yesternight, and
of the watches also came to us the last, which had heard the sound
amidst the thicket, and said that it was certainly the sound of the
Goths' horn, and the note agreed on. Therefore I sent a messenger at
once to the Wolfing Roof to say what was toward; but to thee I would
not ride until I had made surer of the tidings; so I waited awhile,
and then rode into the wild-wood; and a long tale I might make both
of the waiting and the riding, had I time thereto; but this is the
end of it; that going warily a little past where the thicket thinneth
and the road endeth, I came on three of those watches or links in the
chain we had made, and half of another watch or link; that is to say
six women, who were come together after having blown their horns and
fled (though they should rather have abided in some lurking-place to
espy whatever might come that way) and one other woman, who had been
one of the watch much further off, and had spoken with the furthest
of all, which one had seen the faring of the Roman Host, and that it
was very great, and no mere band of pillagers or of scouts. And,
said this fleer (who was indeed half wild with fear), that while they
were talking together, came the Romans upon them, and saw them; and a
band of Romans beat the wood for them when they fled, and she, the
fleer, was at point to be taken, and saw two taken indeed, and haled
off by the Roman scourers of the wood. But she escaped and so came
to the others on the skirts of the thicket, having left of her skin
and blood on many a thornbush and rock by the way.

"Now when I heard this, I bade this fleer get her home to the
Bearings as swiftly as she might, and tell her tale; and she went
away trembling, and scarce knowing whether her feet were on earth or
on water or on fire; but belike failed not to come there, as no
Romans were before her.

"But for the others, I sent one to go straight to Wolf-stead on the
heels of the first messenger, to tell the Hall-Sun what had befallen,
and other five I set to lurk in the thicket, whereas none could
lightly lay hands on them, and when they had new tidings, to flee to
Wolf-stead as occasion might serve them; and for myself I tarried
not, but rode on the spur to tell thee hereof.

"But my last word to thee, Otter, is that by the Hall-sun's bidding
the Bearings will not abide fire and steel at their own stead, but
when they hear true tidings of the Romans being hard at hand, will
take with them all that is not too hot or too heavy to carry, and go
their ways unto Wolf-stead: and the tidings will go up and down the
Mark on both sides of the water, so that whatever is of avail for
defence will gather there at our dwelling, and if we fall, goodly
shall be the howe heaped over us, even if ye come not in time.

"Now have I told thee what I needs must and there is no need to
question me more, for thou hast it all--do thou what thou hast to
do!"

With that word she cast herself down on the grass by the mound-side,
and was presently asleep, for she was very weary.

But all the time she had been telling her tale had the horn been
sounding, and there were now a many warriors gathered and more coming
in every moment: so Otter stood up on the mound after he had bidden
a man of his House to bring him his horse and war-gear, and abided a
little, till, as might be said, the whole host was gathered: then he
bade cry silence, and spake:

"Sons of Tyr, now hath an Host of the Romans gotten into the Mark; a
mighty host, but not so mighty that it may not be met. Few words are
best: let the Steerings, who are not many, but are men well-tried in
war and wisdom abide in the Burg along with the fighting thralls:
but let the Burg be broken up and moved from the place, and let its
warders wend towards Mid-mark, but warily and without haste, and each
night let them make the wain-garth and keep good watch.

"But know ye that the Romans shall fall with all their power on the
Wolfing dwellings, deeming that when they have that, they shall have
all that is ours with ourselves also. For there is the Hall-Sun
under the Great Roof, and there hath Thiodolf, our War-duke, his
dwelling-place; therefore shall all of us, save those that abide with
the wains, take horse, and ride without delay, and cross the water at
Battleford, so that we may fall upon the foe before they come west of
the water; for as ye know there is but one ford whereby a man wending
straight from the Bearings may cross Mirkwood-water, and it is like
that the foe will tarry at the Bearing stead long enough to burn and
pillage it.

"So do ye order yourselves according to your kindreds, and let the
Shieldings lead. Make no more delay! But for me I will now send a
messenger to Thiodolf to tell him of the tidings, and then speedily
shall he be with us. Geirbald, I see thee; come hither!"

Now Geirbald stood amidst the Shieldings, and when Otter had spoken,
he came forth bestriding a white horse, and with his bow slung at his
back. Said Otter: "Geirbald, thou shalt ride at once through the
wood, and find Thiodolf; and tell him the tidings, and that in nowise
he follow the Roman fleers away from the Mark, nor to heed anything
but the trail of the foemen through the south-eastern heaths of
Mirkwood, whether other Romans follow him or not: whatever happens
let him lead the Goths by that road, which for him is the shortest,
towards the defence of the Wolfing dwellings. Lo thou, my ring for a
token! Take it and depart in haste. Yet first take thy fellow
Viglund the Woodman with thee, lest if perchance one fall, the other
may bear the message. Tarry not, nor rest till thy word be said!"

Then turned Geirbald to find Viglund who was anigh to him, and he
took the ring, and the twain went their ways without more ado, and
rode into the wild-wood.

But about the wain-burg was there plenteous stir of men till all was
ordered for the departure of the host, which was no long while, for
there was nothing to do but on with the war-gear and up on to the
horse.

Forth then they went duly ordered in their kindreds towards the head
of the Upper-mark, riding as swiftly as they might without breaking
their array.

CHAPTER XIX--THOSE MESSENGERS COME TO THIODOLF

Of Geirbald and Viglund the tale tells that they rode the woodland
paths as speedily as they might. They had not gone far, and were
winding through a path amidst of a thicket mingled of the hornbeam
and holly, betwixt the openings of which the bracken grew exceeding
tall, when Viglund, who was very fine-eared, deemed that he heard a
horse coming to meet them: so they lay as close as they might, and
drew back their horses behind a great holly-bush lest it should be
some one or more of the foes who had fled into the wood when the
Romans were scattered in that first fight. But as the sound drew
nearer, and it was clearly the footsteps of a great horse, they
deemed it would be some messenger from Thiodolf, as indeed it turned
out: for as the new-comer fared on, somewhat unwarily, they saw a
bright helm after the fashion of the Goths amidst of the trees, and
then presently they knew by his attire that he was of the Bearings,
and so at last they knew him to be Asbiorn of the said House, a
doughty man; so they came forth to meet him and he drew rein when he
saw armed men, but presently beholding their faces he knew them and
laughed on them, and said:

"Hail fellows! what tidings are toward?"

"These," said Viglund, "that thou art well met, since now shalt thou
turn back and bring us to Thiodolf as speedily as may be."

But Asbiorn laughed and said: "Nay rather turn about with me; or why
are ye so grim of countenance?"

"Our errand is no light one," said Geirbald, "but thou, why art thou
so merry?"

"I have seen the Romans fall," said he, "and belike shall soon see
more of that game: for I am on an errand to Otter from Thiodolf:
the War-duke, when he had questioned some of those whom we took on
the Day of the Ridge, began to have a deeming that the Romans had
beguiled us, and will fall on the Mark by the way of the south-east
heaths: so now is he hastening to fetch a compass and follow that
road either to overtake them or prevent them; and he biddeth Otter
tarry not, but ride hard along the water to meet them if he may, or
ever they have set their hands to the dwellings of my House. And
belike when I have done mine errand to Otter I shall ride with him to
look on these burners and slayers once more; therefore am I merry.
Now for your tidings, fellows."

Said Geirbald: "Our tidings are that both our errands are prevented,
and come to nought: for Otter hath not tarried, but hath ridden with
all his folk toward the stead of thine House. So shalt thou indeed
see these burners and slayers if thou ridest hard; since we have
tidings that the Romans will by now be in Mid-mark. And as for our
errand, it is to bid Thiodolf do even as he hath done. Hereby may we
see how good a pair of War-dukes we have gotten, since each thinketh
of the same wisdom. Now take we counsel together as to what we shall
do; whether we shall go back to Otter with thee, or thou go back to
Thiodolf with us; or else each go the road ordained for us."

Said Asbiorn: "To Otter will I ride as I was bidden, that I may look
on the burning of our roof, and avenge me of the Romans afterwards;
and I bid you, fellows, ride with me, since fewer men there are with
Otter, and he must be the first to bide the brunt of battle."

"Nay," said Geirbald, "as for me ye must even lose a man's aid; for
to Thiodolf was I sent, and to Thiodolf will I go: and bethink thee
if this be not best, since Thiodolf hath but a deeming of the ways of
the Romans and we wot surely of them. Our coming shall make him the
speedier, and the less like to turn back if any alien band shall
follow after him. What sayest thou, Viglund?"

Said Viglund: "Even as thou, Geirbald: but for myself I deem I may
well turn back with Asbiorn. For I would serve the House in battle
as soon as may be; and maybe we shall slaughter these kites of the
cities, so that Thiodolf shall have no work to do when he cometh."

Said Asbiorn; "Geirbald, knowest thou right well the ways through the
wood and on the other side thereof, to the place where Thiodolf
abideth? for ye see that night is at hand."

"Nay, not over well," said Geirbald.

Said Asbiorn: "Then I rede thee take Viglund with thee; for he
knoweth them yard by yard, and where they be hard and where they be
soft. Moreover it were best indeed that ye meet Thiodolf betimes;
for I deem not but that he wendeth leisurely, though always warily,
because he deemeth not that Otter will ride before to-morrow morning.
Hearken, Viglund! Thiodolf will rest to-night on the other side of
the water, nigh to where the hills break off into the sheer cliffs
that are called the Kites' Nest, and the water runneth under them,
coming from the east: and before him lieth the easy ground of the
eastern heaths where he is minded to wend to-morrow betimes in the
morning: and if ye do your best ye shall be there before he is upon
the road, and sure it is that your tidings shall hasten him."

"Thou sayest sooth," saith Geirbald, "tarry we no longer; here sunder
our ways; farewell!"

"Farewell," said he, "and thou, Viglund, take this word in parting,
that belike thou shalt yet see the Romans, and strike a stroke, and
maybe be smitten. For indeed they be most mighty warriors."

Then made they no delay but rode their ways either side. And
Geirbald and Viglund rode over rough and smooth all night, and were
out of the thick wood by day-dawn: and whereas they rode hard, and
Viglund knew the ways well, they came to Mirkwood-water before the
day was old, and saw that the host was stirring, but not yet on the
way. And or ever they came to the water's edge, they were met by
Wolfkettle of the Wolfings, and Hiarandi of the Elkings, and three
others who were but just come from the place where the hurt men lay
down in a dale near the Great Ridge; there had Wolfkettle and
Hiarandi been tending Toti of the Beamings, their fellow-in-arms, who
had been sorely hurt in the battle, but was doing well, and was like
to live. So when they saw the messengers, they came up to them and
hailed them, and asked them if the tidings were good or evil.

"That is as it may be," said Geirbald, "but they are short to tell;
the Romans are in Mid-mark, and Otter rideth on the spur to meet
them, and sendeth us to bid Thiodolf wend the heaths to fall in on
them also. Nor may we tarry one minute ere we have seen Thiodolf."

Said Wolfkettle, "We will lead you to him; he is on the east side of
the water, with all his host, and they are hard on departing."

So they went down the ford, which was not very deep; and Wolfkettle
rode the ford behind Geirbald, and another man behind Viglund; but
Hiarandi went afoot with the others beside the horses, for he was a
very tall man.

But as they rode amidst the clear water Wolfkettle lifted up his
voice and sang:

"White horse, with what are ye laden as ye wade the shallows warm,
But with tidings of the battle, and the fear of the fateful storm?
What loureth now behind us, what pileth clouds before,
On either hand what gathereth save the stormy tide of war?
Now grows midsummer mirky, and fallow falls the morn,
And dusketh the Moon's Sister, and the trees look overworn;
God's Ash tree shakes and shivers, and the sheer cliff standeth white
As the bones of the giants' father when the Gods first fared to
fight."

And indeed the morning had grown mirky and grey and threatening, and
from far away the thunder growled, and the face of the Kite's Nest
showed pale and awful against a dark steely cloud; and a few drops of
rain pattered into the smooth water before them from a rag of the
cloud-flock right over head. They were in mid stream now, for the
water was wide there; on the eastern bank were the warriors
gathering, for they had beheld the faring of those men, and the voice
of Wolfkettle came to them across the water, so they deemed that
great tidings were toward, and would fain know on what errand those
were come.

Then the waters of the ford deepened till Hiarandi was wading more
than waist-deep, and the water flowed over Geirbald's saddle; then
Wolfkettle laughed, and turning as he sat, dragged out his sword, and
waved it from east to west and sang:

"O sun, pale up in heaven, shrink from us if thou wilt,
And turn thy face from beholding the shock of guilt with guilt!
Stand still, O blood of summer! and let the harvest fade,
Till there be nought but fallow where once was bloom and blade!
O day, give out but a glimmer of all thy flood of light,
If it be but enough for our eyen to see the road of fight!
Forget all else and slumber, if still ye let us wake,
And our mouths shall make the thunder, and our swords shall the
lightening make,
And we shall be the storm-wind and drive the ruddy rain,
Till the joy of our hearts in battle bring back the day again."

As he spake that word they came up through the shallow water dripping
on to the bank, and they and the men who abode them on the bank
shouted together for joy of fellowship, and all tossed aloft their
weapons. The man who had ridden behind Viglund slipped off on to the
ground; but Wolfkettle abode in his place behind Geirbald.

So the messengers passed on, and the others closed up round about
them, and all the throng went up to where Thiodolf was sitting on a
rock beneath a sole ash-tree, the face of the Kite's Nest rising
behind him on the other side of a bight of the river. There he sat
unhelmed with the dwarf-wrought hauberk about him, holding Throng-
plough in its sheath across his knees, while he gave word to this and
that man concerning the order of the host.

So when they were come thither, the throng opened that the messengers
might come forward; for by this time had many more drawn near to
hearken what was toward. There they sat on their horses, the white
and the grey, and Wolfkettle stood by Geirbald's bridle rein, for he
had now lighted down; and a little behind him, his head towering over
the others, stood Hiarandi great and gaunt. The ragged cloud had
drifted down south-east now and the rain fell no more, but the sun
was still pale and clouded.

Then Thiodolf looked gravely on them, and spake:

"What do ye sons of the War-shield? what tale is there to tell?
Is the kindred fallen tangled in the grasp of the fallow Hell?
Crows the red cock over the homesteads, have we met the foe too late?
For meseems your brows are heavy with the shadowing o'er of fate."

But Geirbald answered:

"Still cold with dew in the morning the Shielding Roof-ridge stands,
Nor yet hath grey Hell bounden the Shielding warriors' hands;
But lo, the swords, O War-duke, how thick in the wind they shake,
Because we bear the message that the battle-road ye take,
Nor tarry for the thunder or the coming on of rain,
Or the windy cloudy night-tide, lest your battle be but vain.
And this is the word that Otter yestre'en hath set in my mouth;
Seek thou the trail of the Aliens of the Cities of the South,
And thou shalt find it leading o'er the heaths to the beechen-wood,
And thence to the stony places where the foxes find their food;
And thence to the tangled thicket where the folkway cleaves it
through,
To the eastern edge of Mid-mark where the Bearings deal and do."

Then said Thiodolf in a cold voice, "What then hath befallen Otter?"

Said Geirbald:

"When last I looked upon Otter, all armed he rode the plain,
With his whole host clattering round him like the rush of the summer
rain;
To the right or the left they looked not but they rode through the
dusk and the dark
Beholding nought before them but the dream of the foes in the Mark.
So he went; but his word fled from him and on my horse it rode,
And again it saith, O War-duke seek thou the Bear's abode,
And tarry never a moment for ought that seems of worth,
For there shall ye find the sword-edge and the flame of the foes of
the earth.

"Tarry not, Thiodolf, nor turn aback though a new foe followeth on
thine heels. No need to question me more; I have no more to tell,
save that a woman brought these tidings to us, whom the Hall-Sun had
sent with others to watch the ways: and some of them had seen the
Romans, who are a great host and no band stealing forth to lift the
herds."

Now all those round about him heard his words, for he spake with a
loud voice; and they knew what the bidding of the War-duke would be;
so they loitered not, but each man went about his business of looking
to his war-gear and gathering to the appointed place of his kindred.
And even while Geirbald had been speaking, had Hiarandi brought up
the man who bore the great horn, who when Thiodolf leapt to his feet
to find him, was close at hand. So he bade him blow the war-blast,
and all men knew the meaning of that voice of the horn, and every man
armed him in haste, and they who had horses (and these were but the
Bearings and the Warnings), saddled them, and mounted, and from mouth
to mouth went the word that the Romans were gotten into Mid-mark, and
were burning the Bearing abodes. So speedily was the whole host
ready for the way, the Wolfings at the head of all. Then came forth
Thiodolf from the midst of his kindred, and they raised him upon a
great war-shield upheld by many men, and he stood thereon and spake:

"O sons of Tyr, ye have vanquished, and sore hath been your pain;
But he that smiteth in battle must ever smite again;
And thus with you it fareth, and the day abideth yet
When ye shall hold the Aliens as the fishes in the net.
On the Ridge ye slew a many; but there came a many more
From their strongholds by the water to their new-built garth of war,
And all these have been led by dastards o'er the way our feet must
tread
Through the eastern heaths and the beechwood to the door of the
Bearing stead,
Now e'en yesterday I deemed it, but I durst not haste away
Ere the word was borne to Otter and 'tis he bids haste to-day;
So now by day and by night-tide it behoveth us to wend
And wind the reel of battle and weave its web to end.
Had ye deemed my eyes foreseeing, I would tell you of my sight,
How I see the folk delivered and the Aliens turned to flight,
While my own feet wend them onwards to the ancient Father's Home.
But belike these are but the visions that to many a man shall come
When he goeth adown to the battle, and before him riseth high
The wall of valiant foemen to hide all things anigh.
But indeed I know full surely that no work that we may win
To-morrow or the next day shall quench the Markmen's kin.
On many a day hereafter shall their warriors carry shield;
On many a day their maidens shall drive the kine afield,
On many a day their reapers bear sickle in the wheat
When the golden wind-wrought ripple stirs round the feast-hall's
feet.
Lo, now is the day's work easy--to live and overcome,
Or to die and yet to conquer on the threshold of the Home."

And therewith he gat him down and went a-foot to the head of the
Wolfing band, a great shout going with him, which was mingled with
the voice of the war-horn that bade away.

So fell the whole host into due array, and they were somewhat over
three thousand warriors, all good and tried men and meet to face the
uttermost of battle in the open field; so they went their ways with
all the speed that footmen may, and in fair order; and the sky
cleared above their heads, but the distant thunder still growled
about the world. Geirbald and Viglund joined themselves to the
Wolfings and went a-foot along with Wolfkettle; but Hiarandi went
with his kindred who were second in the array.

CHAPTER XX--OTTER AND HIS FOLK COME INTO MID-MARK

Otter and his folk rode their ways along Mirkwood-water, and made no
stay, except now and again to breathe their horses, till they came to
Battleford in the early morning; there they baited their horses, for
the grass was good in the meadow, and the water easy to come at.

So after they had rested there a short hour, and had eaten what was
easy for them to get, they crossed the ford, and wended along
Mirkwood-water between the wood and the river, but went slower than
before lest they should weary their horses; so that it was high-noon
before they had come out of the woodland way into Mid-mark; and at
once as soon as the whole plain of the Mark opened out before them,
they saw what most of them looked to see (since none doubted
Hrosshild's tale), and that was a column of smoke rising high and
straight up into the air, for the afternoon was hot and windless.
Great wrath rose in their hearts thereat, and many a strong man
trembled for anger, though none for fear, as Otter raised his right
hand and stretched it out towards that token of wrack and ruin; yet
they made no stay, nor did they quicken their pace much; because they
knew that they should come to Bearham before night-fall, and they
would not meet the Romans way-worn and haggard; but they rode on
steadily, a terrible company of wrathful men.

They passed by the dwellings of the kindreds, though save for the
Galtings the houses on the east side of the water between the
Bearings and the wild-wood road were but small; for the thicket came
somewhat near to the water and pinched the meadows. But the Galtings
were great hunters and trackers of the wild-wood, and they of the
Geddings, the Erings and the Withings, which were smaller Houses,
lived somewhat on the take of fish from Mirkwood-water (as did the
Laxings also of the Nether-mark), for thereabout were there goodly
pools and eddies, and sun-warmed shallows therewithal for the
spawning of the trouts; as there were eyots in the water, most of
which tailed off into a gravelly shallow at their lower ends.

Now as the riders of the Goths came over against the dwellings of the
Withings, they saw people, mostly women, driving up the beasts from
the meadow towards the garth; but upon the tofts about their
dwellings were gathered many folk, who had their eyes turned toward
the token of ravage that hung in the sky above the fair plain; but
when these beheld the riding of the host, they tossed up their arms
to them and whatever they bore in them, and the sound of their shrill
cry (for they were all women and young lads) came down the wind to
the ears of the riders. But down by the river on a swell of the
ground were some swains and a few thralls, and among them some men
armed and a-horseback; and these, when they perceived the host coming
on turned and rode to meet them; and as they drew near they shouted
as men overjoyed to meet their kindred; and indeed the fighting-men
of their own House were riding in the host. And the armed men were
three old men, and one very old with marvellous long white hair, and
four long lads of some fifteen winters, and four stout carles of the
thralls bearing bows and bucklers, and these rode behind the swains;
so they found their own kindred and rode amongst them.

But when they were all jingling and clashing on together, the dust
arising from the sun-dried turf, the earth shaking with the thunder
of the horse-hoofs, then the heart of the long-hoary one stirred
within him as he bethought him of the days of his youth, and to his
old nostrils came the smell of the horses and the savour of the sweat
of warriors riding close together knee to knee adown the meadow. So
he lifted up his voice and sang:

"Rideth lovely along
The strong by the strong;
Soft under his breath
Singeth sword in the sheath,
And shield babbleth oft
Unto helm-crest aloft;
How soon shall their words rise mid wrath of the battle
Into wrangle unheeded of clanging and rattle,
And no man shall note then the gold on the sword
When the runes have no meaning, the mouth-cry no word,
When all mingled together, the war-sea of men
Shall toss up the steel-spray round fourscore and ten.

"Now as maids burn the weed
Betwixt acre and mead,
So the Bearings' Roof
Burneth little aloof,
And red gloweth the hall
Betwixt wall and fair wall,
Where often the mead-sea we sipped in old days,
When our feet were a-weary with wending the ways;
When the love of the lovely at even was born,
And our hands felt fair hands as they fell on the horn.
There round about standeth the ring of the foe
Tossing babes on their spears like the weeds o'er the low.

"Ride, ride then! nor spare
The red steeds as ye fare!
Yet if daylight shall fail,
By the fire-light of bale
Shall we see the bleared eyes
Of the war-learned, the wise.
In the acre of battle the work is to win,
Let us live by the labour, sheaf-smiting therein;
And as oft o'er the sickle we sang in time past
When the crake that long mocked us fled light at the last,
So sing o'er the sword, and the sword-hardened hand
Bearing down to the reaping the wrath of the land."

So he sang; and a great shout went up from his kindred and those
around him, and it was taken up all along the host, though many knew
not why they shouted, and the whole host quickened its pace, and went
a great trot over the smooth meadow.

So in no long while were they come over against the stead of the
Erings, and thereabouts were no beasts a-field, and no women, for all
the neat were driven into the garth of the House; but all they who
were not war-fit were standing without doors looking down the Mark
towards the reek of the Bearing dwellings, and these also sent a cry
of welcome toward the host of their kindred. But along the river-
bank came to meet the host an armed band of two old men, two youths
who were their sons, and twelve thralls who were armed with long
spears; and all these were a-horseback: so they fell in with their
kindred and the host made no stay for them, but pressed on over-
running the meadow. And still went up that column of smoke, and
thicker and blacker it grew a-top, and ruddier amidmost.

So came they by the abode of the Geddings, and there also the neat
and sheep were close in the home-garth: but armed men were lying or
standing about the river bank, talking or singing merrily none
otherwise than though deep peace were on the land; and when they saw
the faring of the host they sprang to their feet with a shout and gat
to their horses at once: they were more than the other bands had
been, for the Geddings were a greater House; they were seven old men,
and ten swains, and ten thralls bearing long spears like to those of
the Erings; and no sooner had they fallen in with their kindred, than
the men of the host espied a greater company yet coming to meet them:
and these were of the folk of the Galtings; and amongst them were ten
warriors in their prime, because they had but of late come back from
the hunting in the wood and had been belated from the muster of the
kindreds; and with them were eight old men and fifteen lads, and
eighteen thralls; and the swains and thralls all bore bows besides
the swords that they were girt withal, and not all of them had
horses, but they who had none rode behind the others: so they joined
themselves to the host, shouting aloud; and they had with them a
great horn that they blew on till they had taken their place in the
array; and whereas their kindred was with Thiodolf, they followed
along with the hinder men of the Shieldings.

So now all the host went on together, and when they had passed the
Galting abodes, there was nothing between them and Bearham, nor need
they look for any further help of men; there were no beasts afield
nor any to herd them, and the stay-at-homes were within doors
dighting them for departure into the wild-wood if need should be:
but a little while after they had passed these dwellings came into
the host two swains of about twenty winters, and a doughty maid,
their sister, and they bare no weapons save short spears and knives;
they were wet and dripping with the water, for they had just swum
Mirkwood-water. They were of the Wolfing House, and had been
shepherding a few sheep on the west side of the water, when they saw
the host faring to battle, and might not refrain them, but swam their
horses across the swift deeps to join their kindred to live and die
with them. The tale tells that they three fought in the battles that
followed after, and were not slain there, though they entered them
unarmed, but lived long years afterwards: of them need no more be
said.

Now, when the host was but a little past the Galting dwellings men
began to see the flames mingled with the smoke of the burning, and
the smoke itself growing thinner, as though the fire had over-
mastered everything and was consuming itself with its own violence;
and somewhat afterwards, the ground rising, they could see the
Bearing meadow and the foemen thereon: yet a little further, and
from the height of another swelling of the earth they could see the
burning houses themselves and the array of the Romans; so there they
stayed and breathed their horses a while. And they beheld how of the
Romans a great company was gathered together in close array betwixt
the ford and the Bearing Hall, but nigher unto the ford, and these
were a short mile from them; but others they saw streaming out from
the burning dwellings, as if their work were done there, and they
could not see that they had any captives with them. Other Romans
there were, and amongst them men in the attire of the Goths, busied
about the river banks, as though they were going to try the ford.

But a little while abode Otter in that place, and then waved his arm
and rode on and all the host followed; and as they drew nigher,
Otter, who was wise in war, beheld the Romans and deemed them a great
host, and the very kernel and main body of them many more than all
his company; and moreover they were duly and well arrayed as men
waiting a foe; so he knew that he must be wary or he would lose
himself and all his men.

So he stayed his company when they were about two furlongs from them,
and the main body of the foe stirred not, but horsemen and slingers
came forth from its sides and made on toward the Goths, and in three
or four minutes were within bowshot of them. Then the bowmen of the
Goths slipped down from their horses and bent their bows and nocked
their arrows and let fly, and slew and hurt many of the horsemen, who
endured their shot but for a minute or two and then turned rein and
rode back slowly to their folk, and the slingers came not on very
eagerly whereas they were dealing with men a-horseback, and the
bowmen of the Goths also held them still.

Now turned Otter to his folk and made them a sign, which they knew
well, that they should get down from their horses; and when they were
afoot the leaders of tens and hundreds arrayed them, into the wedge-
array, with the bowmen on either flank: and Otter smiled as he
beheld this adoing and that the Romans meddled not with them, belike
because they looked to have them good cheap, since they were but a
few wild men.

But when they were all arrayed he sat still on his horse and spake to
them short and sharply, saying:

"Men of the Goths, will ye mount your horses again and ride into the
wood and let it cover you, or will ye fight these Romans?" They
answered him with a great shout and the clashing of their weapons on
their shields. "That is well," quoth Otter, "since we have come so
far; for I perceive that the foe will come to meet us, so that we
must either abide their shock or turn our backs. Yet must we fight
wisely or we are undone, and Thiodolf in risk of undoing; this have
we to do if we may, to thrust in between them and the ford, and if we
may do that, there let us fight it out, till we fall one over
another. But if we may not do it, then will we not throw our lives
away but do the foemen what hurt we may without mingling ourselves
amongst them, and so abide the coming of Thiodolf; for if we get not
betwixt them and the ford we may in no case hinder them from
crossing. And all this I tell you that ye may follow me wisely, and
refrain your wrath that ye may live yet to give it the rein when the
time comes."

So he spake and got down from his horse and drew his sword and went
to the head of the wedge-array and began slowly to lead forth; but
the thralls and swains had heed of the horses, and they drew aback
with them towards the wood which was but a little way from them.

But for Otter he led his men down towards the ford, and when the
Romans saw that, their main body began to move forward, faring slant-
wise, as a crab, down toward the ford; then Otter hastened somewhat,
as he well might, since his men were well learned in war and did not
break their array; but now by this time were those burners of the
Romans come up with the main battle, and the Roman captain sent them
at once against the Goths, and they advanced boldly enough, a great
cloud of men in loose array who fell to with arrows and slings on the
wedge-array and slew and hurt many: yet did not Otter stay his folk;
but it was ill going for them, for their unshielded sides were turned
to the Romans, nor durst Otter scatter his bowmen out from the wedge-
array, lest the Romans, who were more than they, should enter in
amongst them. Ever he gazed earnestly on the main battle of the
Romans, and what they were doing, and presently it became clear to
him that they would outgo him and come to the ford, and then he
wotted well that they would set on him just when their light-armed
were on his flank and his rearward, and then it would go hard but
they would break their array and all would be lost: therefore he
slacked his pace and went very slowly and the Romans went none the
slower for that; but their light-armed grew bolder and drew more
together as they came nigher to the Goths, as though they would give
them an onset; but just at that nick of time Otter passed the word
down the ranks, and, waving his sword, turned sharply to the right
and fell with all the wedge-array on the clustering throng of the
light-armed, and his bowmen spread out now from the right flank of
the wedge-array, and shot sharp and swift and the bowmen on the left
flank ran forward swiftly till they had cleared the wedge-array and
were on the flank of the light-armed Romans; and they, what between
the onset of the swordsmen and spearmen of the Goths, and their sharp
arrows, knew not which way to turn, and a great slaughter befell
amongst them, and they of them were the happiest who might save
themselves by their feet.

Now after this storm, and after these men had been thrust away, Otter
stayed not, but swept round about the field toward the horses; and
indeed he looked to it that the main-battle of the Romans should
follow him, but they did not, but stayed still to receive the fleers
of their light-armed. And this indeed was the goodhap of the Goths;
for they were somewhat disordered by their chase of the light-armed,
and they smote and spared not, their hearts being full of bitter
wrath, as might well be; for even as they turned on the Romans, they
beheld the great roof of the Bearings fall in over the burned hall,
and a great shower of sparks burst up from its fall, and there were
the ragged gables left standing, licked by little tongues of flame
which could not take hold of them because of the clay which filled
the spaces between the great timbers and was daubed over them. And
they saw that all the other houses were either alight or smouldering,
down to the smallest cot of a thrall, and even the barns and booths
both great and little.

Therefore, whereas the Markmen were far fewer in all than the Roman
main-battle, and whereas this same host was in very good array, no
doubt there was that the Markmen would have been grievously handled
had the Romans fallen on; but the Roman Captain would not have it so:
for though he was a bold man, yet was his boldness that of the wolf,
that falleth on when he is hungry and skulketh when he is full. He
was both young and very rich, and a mighty man among his townsmen,
and well had he learned that ginger is hot in the mouth, and though
he had come forth to the war for the increasing of his fame, he had
no will to die among the Markmen, either for the sake of the city of
Rome, or of any folk whatsoever, but was liefer to live for his own
sake. Therefore was he come out to vanquish easily, that by his fame
won he might win more riches and dominion in Rome; and he was well
content also to have for his own whatever was choice amongst the
plunder of these wild-men (as he deemed them), if it were but a fair
woman or two. So this man thought, It is my business to cross the
ford and come to Wolfstead, and there take the treasure of the tribe,
and have a stronghold there, whence we may slay so many of these
beasts with little loss to us that we may march away easily and with
our hands full, even if Maenius with his men come not to our aid, as
full surely he will: therefore as to these angry men, who be not
without might and conduct in battle, let us remember the old saw that
saith 'a bridge of gold to a fleeing foe,' and let them depart with
no more hurt of Romans, and seek us afterwards when we are fenced
into their stead, which shall then be our stronghold: even so spake
he to his Captains about him.

For it must be told that he had no tidings of the overthrow of the
Romans on the Ridge; nor did he know surely how many fighting-men the
Markmen might muster, except by the report of those dastards of the
Goths; and though he had taken those two women in the wastes, yet had
he got no word from them, for they did as the Hall-Sun bade them,
when they knew that they would be questioned with torments, and
smiting themselves each with a little sharp knife, so went their ways
to the Gods.

Thus then the Roman Captain let the Markmen go their ways, and turned
toward the ford, and the Markmen went slowly now toward their horses.
Howbeit there were many of them who murmured against Otter, saying
that it was ill done to have come so far and ridden so hard, and then
to have done so little, and that were to-morrow come, they would not
be led away so easily: but now they said it was ill; for the Romans
would cross the water, and make their ways to Wolfstead, none
hindering them, and would burn the dwellings and slay the old men and
thralls, and have away the women and children and the Hall-Sun the
treasure of the Markmen. In sooth, they knew not that a band of the
Roman light-armed had already crossed the water, and had fallen upon
the dwellings of the Wolfings; but that the old men and younglings
and thralls of the House had come upon them as they were entangled
amidst the tofts and the garths, and had overcome them and slain
many.

Thus went Otter and his men to their horses when it was now drawing
toward sunset (for all this was some while adoing), and betook them
to a rising ground not far from the wood-side, and there made what
sort of a garth they might, with their horses and the limbs of trees
and long-shafted spears; and they set a watch and abode in the garth
right warily, and lighted no fires when night fell, but ate what meat
they had with them, which was but little, and so sleeping and
watching abode the morning. But the main body of the Romans did not
cross the ford that night, for they feared lest they might go astray
therein, for it was an ill ford to those that knew not the water: so
they abode on the bank nigh to the water's edge, with the mind to
cross as soon as it was fairly daylight.

Now Otter had lost of his men some hundred and twenty slain or
grievously hurt, and they had away with them the hurt men and the
bodies of the slain. The tale tells not how many of the Romans were
slain, but a many of their light-armed had fallen, since the Markmen
had turned so hastily upon them, and they had with them many of the
best bowmen of the Mark.

CHAPTER XXI--THEY BICKER ABOUT THE FORD

In the grey of the morning was Otter afoot with the watchers, and
presently he got on his horse and peered over the plain, but the mist
yet hung low on it, so that he might see nought for a while; but at
last he seemed to note something coming toward the host from the
upper water above the ford, so he rode forward to meet it, and lo, it
was a lad of fifteen winters, naked save his breeches, and wet from
the river; and Otter drew rein, and the lad said to him: "Art thou
the Warduke?" "Yea," said Otter.

Said the lad, "I am Ali, the son of Grey, and the Hall-Sun hath sent
me to thee with this word: 'Are ye coming? Is Thiodolf at hand?
For I have seen the Roof-ridge red in the sunlight as if it were
painted with cinnabar.'"

Said Otter, "Art thou going back to Wolfstead, son?"

"Yea, at once, my father," said Ali.

"Then tell her," said Otter, "that Thiodolf is at hand, and when he
cometh we shall both together fall upon the Romans either in crossing
the ford or in the Wolfing meadow; but tell her also that I am not
strong enough to hinder the Romans from crossing."

"Father," said Ali, "the Hall-Sun saith: Thou art wise in war; now
tell us, shall we hold the Hall against the Romans that ye may find
us there? For we have discomfited their vanguard already, and we
have folk who can fight; but belike the main battle of the Romans
shall get the upper hand of us ere ye come to our helping: belike it
were better to leave the hall, and let the wood cover us."

"Now is this well asked," said Otter; "get thee back, my son, and bid
the Hall-Sun trust not to warding of the Hall, for the Romans are a
mighty host: and this day, even when Thiodolf cometh hither, shall
be hard for the Gothfolk: let her hasten lest these thieves come
upon her hastily; let her take the Hall-Sun her namesake, and the old
men and children and the women, and let those fighting folk she hath
be a guard to all this in the wood. And hearken moreover; it will,
maybe, be six hours ere Thiodolf cometh; tell her I will cast the
dice for life or death, and stir up these Romans now at once, that
they may have other things to think of than burning old men and women
and children in their dwellings; thus may she reach the wood
unhindered. Hast thou all this in thine head? Then go thy ways."

But the lad lingered, and he reddened and looked on the ground and
then he said: "My father, I swam the deeps, and when I reached this
bank, I crept along by the mist and the reeds toward where the Romans
are, and I came near to them, and noted what they were doing; and I
tell thee that they are already stirring to take the water at the
ford. Now then do what thou wilt."

Therewith he turned about, and went his way at once, running like a
colt which has never felt halter or bit.

But Otter rode back hastily and roused certain men in whom he
trusted, and bid them rouse the captains and all the host and bid men
get to horse speedily and with as little noise as might be. So did
they, and there was little delay, for men were sleeping with one eye
open, as folk say, and many were already astir. So in a little while
they were all in the saddle, and the mist yet stretched low over the
meadow; for the morning was cool and without wind. Then Otter bade
the word be carried down the ranks that they should ride as quietly
as may be and fare through the mist to do the Romans some hurt, but
in nowise to get entangled in their ranks, and all men to heed well
the signal of turning and drawing aback; and therewith they rode off
down the meadow led by men who could have led them through the dark
night.

But for the Romans, they were indeed getting ready to cross the ford
when the mist should have risen; and on the bank it was thinning
already and melting away; for a little air of wind was beginning to
breathe from the north-east and the sunrise, which was just at hand;
and the bank, moreover, was stonier and higher than the meadow's
face, which fell away from it as a shallow dish from its rim:
thereon yet lay the mist like a white wall.

So the Romans and their friends the dastards of the Goths had well
nigh got all ready, and had driven stakes into the water from bank to
bank to mark out the safe ford, and some of their light-armed and
most of their Goths were by now in the water or up on the Wolfing
meadow with the more part of their baggage and wains; and the rest of
the host was drawn up in good order, band by band, waiting the word
to take the water, and the captain was standing nigh to the river
bank beside their God the chief banner of the Host.

Of a sudden one of the dastards of the Goths who was close to the
Captain cried out that he heard horse coming; but because he spake in
the Gothic tongue, few heeded; but even therewith an old leader of a
hundred cried out the same tidings in the Roman tongue, and all men
fell to handling their weapons; but before they could face duly
toward the meadow, came rushing from out of the mist a storm of
shafts that smote many men, and therewithal burst forth the sound of
the Markmen's war-horn, like the roaring of a hundred bulls mingled
with the thunder of horses at the gallop; and then dark over the wall
of mist showed the crests of the riders of the Mark, though scarce
were their horses seen till their whole war-rank came dark and
glittering into the space of the rising-ground where the mist was but
a haze now, and now at last smitten athwart by the low sun just
arisen.

Therewith came another storm of shafts, wherein javelins and spears
cast by the hand were mingled with the arrows: but the Roman ranks
had faced the meadow and the storm which it yielded, swiftly and
steadily, and they stood fast and threw their spears, albeit not with
such good aim as might have been, because of their haste, so that few
were slain by them. And the Roman Captain still loth to fight with
the Goths in earnest for no reward, and still more and more believing
that this was the only band of them that he had to look to, bade
those who were nighest the ford not to tarry for the onset of a few
wild riders, but to go their ways into the water; else by a sudden
onrush might the Romans have entangled Otter's band in their ranks,
and so destroyed all. As it was the horsemen fell not on the Roman
ranks full in face, but passing like a storm athwart the ranks to the
right, fell on there where they were in thinnest array (for they were
gathered to the ford as aforesaid), and slew some and drave some into
the deeps and troubled the whole Roman host.

So now the Roman Captain was forced to take new order, and gather all
his men together, and array his men for a hard fight; and by now the
mist was rolling off from the face of the whole meadow and the sun
was bright and hot. His men serried their ranks, and the front rank
cast their spears, and slew both men and horses of the Goths as those
rode along their front casting their javelins, and shooting here and
there from behind their horses if occasion served, or making a shift
to send an arrow even as they sat a-horseback; then the second rank
of the Romans would take the place of the first, and cast in their
turn, and they who had taken the water turned back and took their
place behind the others, and many of the light-armed came with them,
and all the mass of them flowed forward together, looking as if it
might never be broken. But Otter would not abide the shock, since he
had lost men and horses, and had no mind to be caught in the sweep of
their net; so he made the sign, and his Company drew off to right and
left, yet keeping within bow-shot, so that the bowmen still loosed at
the Romans.

But they for their part might not follow afoot men on untired horses,
and their own horse was on the west side with the baggage, and had it
been there would have been but of little avail, as the Roman Captain
knew. So they stood awhile making grim countenance, and then slowly
drew back to the ford under cover of their light-armed who shot at
the Goths as they rode forward, but abode not their shock.

But Otter and his folk followed after the Romans again, and again did
them some hurt, and at last drew so nigh, that once more the Romans
stormed forth, and once more smote a stroke in the air; nor even so
would the Markmen cease to meddle with them, though never would Otter
suffer his men to be mingled with them. At the last the Romans,
seeing that Otter would not walk into the open trap, and growing
weary of this bickering, began to take the water little by little,
while a strong Company kept face to the Markmen; and now Otter saw
that they would not be hindered any longer, and he had lost many men,
and even now feared lest he should be caught in the trap, and so lose
all. And on the other hand it was high noon by now, so that he had
given respite to the stay-at-homes of the Wolfings, so that they
might get them into the wood. So he drew out of bowshot and bade his
men breathe their horses and rest themselves and eat something; and
they did so gladly, since they saw that they might not fall upon the
Romans to live and die for it until Thiodolf was come, or until they
knew that he was not coming. But the Romans crossed the ford in good
earnest and were soon all gathered together on the western bank
making them ready for the march to Wolfstead. And it must be told
that the Roman Captain was the more deliberate about this because
after the overthrow of his light-armed there the morning before, he
thought that the Roof was held by warriors of the kindreds, and not
by a few old men, and women, and lads. Therefore he had no fear of
their escaping him. Moreover it was this imagination of his, to wit
that a strong band of warriors was holding Wolf-stead, that made him
deem there were no more worth thinking about of the warriors of the
Mark save Otter's Company and the men in the Hall of the Wolfings.

CHAPTER XXII--OTTER FALLS ON AGAINST HIS WILL

It was with the same imagination working in him belike that the Roman
Captain set none to guard the ford on the westward side of Mirkwood-
water. The Romans tarried there but a little hour, and then went
their ways; but Otter sent a man on a swift horse to watch them, and
when they were clean gone for half an hour, he bade his folk to
horse, and they departed, all save a handful of the swains and
elders, who were left to tell the tidings to Thiodolf when he should
come into Mid-mark.

So Otter and his folk crossed the ford, and drew up in good order on
the westward bank, and it was then somewhat more than three hours
after noon. He had been there but a little while before he noted a
stir in the Bearing meadow, and lo, it was the first of Thiodolf's
folk, who had gotten out of the wood and had fallen in with the men
whom he had left behind. And these first were the riders of the
Bearings, and the Wormings, (for they had out-gone the others who
were afoot). It may well be thought how fearful was their anger when
they set eyes on the smouldering ashes of the dwellings; nor even
when those folk of Otter had told them all they had to tell could
some of them refrain them from riding off to the burnt houses to seek
for the bodies of their kindred. But when they came there, and
amidst the ashes could find no bones, their hearts were lightened,
and yet so mad wroth they were, that some could scarce sit their
horses, and great tears gushed from the eyes of some, and pattered
down like hail-stones, so eager were they to see the blood of the
Romans. So they rode back to where they had left their folk talking
with them of Otter; and the Bearings were sitting grim upon their
horses and somewhat scowling on Otter's men. Then the foremost of
those who had come back from the houses waved his hand toward the
ford, but could say nought for a while; but the captain and chief of
the Bearings, a grizzled man very big of body, whose name was
Arinbiorn, spake to that man and said; "What aileth thee Sweinbiorn
the Black? What hast thou seen?"

He said:

"Now red and grey is the pavement of the Bearings' house of old:
Red yet is the floor of the dais, but the hearth all grey and cold.
I knew not the house of my fathers; I could not call to mind
The fashion of the building of that Warder of the Wind.
O wide were grown the windows, and the roof exceeding high!
For nought there was to look on 'twixt the pavement and the sky.
But the tie-beam lay on the dais, and methought its staining fair;
For rings of smoothest charcoal were round it here and there,
And the red flame flickered o'er it, and never a staining wight
Hath red earth in his coffer so clear and glittering bright,
And still the little smoke-wreaths curled o'er it pale and blue.
Yea, fair is our hall's adorning for a feast that is strange and
new."

Said Arinbiorn: "What sawest thou therein, O Sweinbiorn, where sat
thy grandsire at the feast? Where were the bones of thy mother
lying?"

Said Sweinbiorn:

"We sought the feast-hall over, and nought we found therein
Of the bones of the ancient mothers, or the younglings of the kin.
The men are greedy, doubtless, to lose no whit of the prey,
And will try if the hoary elders may yet outlive the way
That leads to the southland cities, till at last they come to stand
With the younglings in the market to be sold in an alien land."

Arinbiorn's brow lightened somewhat; but ere he could speak again an
ancient thrall of the Galtings spake and said:

"True it is, O warriors of the Bearings, that we might not see any
war-thralls being led away by the Romans when they came away from the
burning dwellings; and we deem it certain that they crossed the water
before the coming of the Romans, and that they are now with the stay-
at-homes of the Wolfings in the wild-wood behind the Wolfing
dwellings, for we hear tell that the War-duke would not that the
Hall-Sun should hold the Hall against the whole Roman host."

Then Sweinbiorn tossed up his sword into the air and caught it by the
hilts as it fell, and cried out: "On, on to the meadow, where these
thieves abide us!" Arinbiorn spake no word, but turned his horse and
rode down to the ford, and all men followed him; and of the Bearings
there were an hundred warriors save one, and of the Wormings eighty
and seven.

So rode they over the meadow and into the ford and over it, and
Otter's company stood on the bank to meet them, and shouted to see
them; but the others made but little noise as they crossed the water.

So when they were on the western bank Arinbiorn came among them of
Otter, and cried out: "Where then is Otter, where is the War-duke,
is he alive or dead?"

And the throng opened to him and Otter stood facing him; and
Arinbiorn spake and said: "Thou art alive and unhurt, War-duke, when
many have been hurt and slain; and methinks thy company is little
minished though the kindred of the Bearings lacketh a roof; and its
elders and women and children are gone into captivity. What is this?
Was it a light thing that gangrel thieves should burn and waste in
Mid-mark and depart unhurt, that ye stand here with clean blades and
cold bodies?"

Said Otter: "Thou grievest for the hurt of thine House, Arinbiorn;
but this at least is good, that though ye have lost the timber of
your house ye have not lost its flesh and blood; the shell is gone,
but the kernel is saved: for thy folk are by this time in the wood
with the Wolfing stay-at-homes, and among these are many who may
fight on occasion, so they are safe as for this time: the Romans may
not come at them to hurt them."

Said Arinbiorn: "Had ye time to learn all this, Otter, when ye fled
so fast before the Romans, that the father tarried not for the son,
nor the son for the father?"

He spoke in a loud voice so that many heard him, and some deemed it
evil; for anger and dissension between friends seemed abroad; but
some were so eager for battle, that the word of Arinbiorn seemed good
to them, and they laughed for pride and anger.

Then Otter answered meekly, for he was a wise man and a bold: "We
fled not, Arinbiorn, but as the sword fleeth, when it springeth up
from the iron helm to fall on the woollen coat. Are we not now of
more avail to you, O men of the Bearings, than our dead corpses would
have been?"

Arinbiorn answered not, but his face waxed red, as if he were
struggling with a weight hard to lift: then said Otter:

"But when will Thiodolf and the main battle be with us?"

Arinbiorn answered calmly: "Maybe in a little hour from now, or
somewhat more."

Said Otter: "My rede is that we abide him here, and when we are all
met and well ordered together, fall on the Romans at once: for then
shall we be more than they; whereas now we are far fewer, and
moreover we shall have to set on them in their ground of vantage."

Arinbiorn answered nothing; but an old man of the Bearings, one
Thorbiorn, came up and spake:

"Warriors, here are we talking and taking counsel, though this is no
Hallowed Thing to bid us what we shall do, and what we shall forbear;
and to talk thus is less like warriors than old women wrangling over
the why and wherefore of a broken crock. Let the War-duke rule here,
as is but meet and right. Yet if I might speak and not break the
peace of the Goths, then would I say this, that it might be better
for us to fall on these Romans at once before they have cast up a
dike about them, as Fox telleth is their wont, and that even in an
hour they may do much."

As he spake there was a murmur of assent about him, but Otter spake
sharply, for he was grieved.

"Thorbiorn, thou art old, and shouldest not be void of prudence. Now
it had been better for thee to have been in the wood to-day to order
the women and the swains according to thine ancient wisdom than to
egg on my young warriors to fare unwarily. Here will I abide

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