THE STORY OF THE GLITTERING PLAIN OR THE LAND OF LIVING MEN
by William Morris
CHAPTER I: OF THOSE THREE WHO CAME TO THE HOUSE OF THE RAVEN
It has been told that there was once a young man of free kindred and whose name was Hallblithe: he was fair, strong, and not untried in battle; he was of the House of the Raven of old time.
This man loved an exceeding fair damsel called the Hostage, who was of the House of the Rose, wherein it was right and due that the men of the Raven should wed.
She loved him no less, and no man of the kindred gainsaid their love, and they were to be wedded on Midsummer Night.
But one day of early spring, when the days were yet short and the nights long, Hallblithe sat before the porch of the house smoothing an ash stave for his spear, and he heard the sound of horse-hoofs drawing nigh, and he looked up and saw folk riding toward the house, and so presently they rode through the garth gate; and there was no man but he about the house, so he rose up and went to meet them, and he saw that they were but three in company: they had weapons with them, and their horses were of the best; but they were no fellowship for a man to be afraid of; for two of them were old and feeble, and the third was dark and sad, and drooping of aspect: it seemed as if they had ridden far and fast, for their spurs were bloody and their horses all a-sweat.
Hallblithe hailed them kindly and said: “Ye are way-worn, and maybe ye have to ride further; so light down and come into the house, and take bite and sup, and hay and corn also for your horses; and then if ye needs must ride on your way, depart when ye are rested; or else if ye may, then abide here night-long, and go your ways to-morrow, and meantime that which is ours shall be yours, and all shall be free to you.”
Then spake the oldest of the elders in a high piping voice and said: “Young man, we thank thee; but though the days of the springtide are waxing, the hours of our lives are waning; nor may we abide unless thou canst truly tell us that this is the Land of the Glittering Plain: and if that be so, then delay not, lead us to thy lord, and perhaps he will make us content.”
Spake he who was somewhat less stricken in years than the first: “Thanks have thou! but we need something more than meat and drink, to wit the Land of Living Men. And Oh! but the time presses.”
Spake the sad and sorry carle: “We seek the Land where the days are many: so many that he who hath forgotten how to laugh, may learn the craft again, and forget the days of Sorrow.”
Then they all three cried aloud and said:
“Is this the Land? Is this the Land?”
But Hallblithe wondered, and he laughed and said: “Wayfarers, look under the sun down the plain which lieth betwixt the mountains and the sea, and ye shall behold the meadows all gleaming with the spring lilies; yet do we not call this the Glittering Plain, but Cleveland by the Sea. Here men die when their hour comes, nor know I if the days of their life be long enough for the forgetting of sorrow; for I am young and not yet a yokefellow of sorrow; but this I know, that they are long enough for the doing of deeds that shall not die. And as for Lord, I know not this word, for here dwell we, the sons of the Raven, in good fellowship, with our wives that we have wedded, and our mothers who have borne us, and our sisters who serve us. Again I bid you light down off your horses, and eat and drink, and be merry; and depart when ye will, to seek what land ye will.”
They scarce looked on him, but cried out together mournfully:
“This is not the Land! This is not the Land!”
No more than that they said, but turned about their horses and rode out through the garth gate, and went clattering up the road that led to the pass of the mountains. But Hallblithe hearkened wondering, till the sound of their horse-hoofs died away, and then turned back to his work: and it was then two hours after high-noon.
CHAPTER II: EVIL TIDINGS COME TO HAND AT CLEVELAND
Not long had he worked ere he heard the sound of horsehoofs once more, and he looked not up, but said to himself, “It is but the lads bringing back the teams from the acres, and riding fast and driving hard for joy of heart and in wantonness of youth.”
But the sound grew nearer and he looked up and saw over the turf wall of the garth the flutter of white raiment; and he said:
“Nay, it is the maidens coming back from the seashore and the gathering of wrack.”
So he set himself the harder to his work, and laughed, all alone as he was, and said: “She is with them: now I will not look up again till they have ridden into the garth, and she has come from among them, and leapt off her horse, and cast her arms about my neck as her wont is; and it will rejoice her then to mock me with hard words and kind voice and longing heart; and I shall long for her and kiss her, and sweet shall the coming days seem to us: and the daughters of our folk shall look on and be kind and blithe with us.”
Therewith rode the maidens into the garth, but he heard no sound of laughter or merriment amongst them, which was contrary to their wont; and his heart fell, and it was as if instead of the maidens’ laughter the voices of those wayfarers came back upon the wind crying out, “Is this the Land? Is this the Land?”
Then he looked up hastily, and saw the maidens drawing near, ten of the House of the Raven, and three of the House of the Rose; and he beheld them that their faces were pale and woe-begone, and their raiment rent, and there was no joy in them. Hallblithe stood aghast while one who had gotten off her horse (and she was the daughter of his own mother) ran past him into the hall, looking not at him, as if she durst not: and another rode off swiftly to the horse-stalls. But the others, leaving their horses, drew round about him, and for a while none durst utter a word; and he stood gazing at them, with the spoke-shave in his hand, he also silent; for he saw that the Hostage was not with them, and he knew that now he was the yokefellow of sorrow.
At last he spoke gently and in a kind voice, and said: “Tell me, sisters, what evil hath befallen us, even if it be the death of a dear friend, and the thing that may not be amended.”
Then spoke a fair woman of the Rose, whose name was Brightling, and said: “Hallblithe, it is not of death that we have to tell, but of sundering, which may yet be amended. We were on the sand of the sea nigh the Ship-stead and the Rollers of the Raven, and we were gathering the wrack and playing together; and we saw a round-ship nigh to shore lying with her sheet slack, and her sail beating the mast; but we deemed it to be none other than some bark of the Fish- biters, and thought no harm thereof, but went on running and playing amidst the little waves that fell on the sand, and the ripples that curled around our feet. At last there came a small boat from the side of the round-ship, and rowed in toward shore, and still we feared not, though we drew a little aback from the surf and let fall our gown-hems. But the crew of that boat beached her close to where we stood, and came hastily wading the surf towards us; and we saw that they were twelve weaponed men, great, and grim, and all clad in black raiment. Then indeed were we afraid, and we turned about and fled up the beach; but now it was too late, for the tide was at more than half ebb and long was the way over the sand to the place where we had left our horses tied among the tamarisk-bushes. Nevertheless we ran, and had gotten up to the pebble-beach before they ran in amongst us: and they caught us, and cast us down on to the hard stones.
“Then they made us sit in a row on a ridge of the pebbles; and we were sore afraid, yet more for defilement at their hands than for death; for they were evil-looking men exceeding foul of favour. Then said one of them: ‘Which of all you maidens is the Hostage of the House of the Rose?’
“Then all we kept silence, for we would not betray her. But the evil man spake again: ‘Choose ye then whether we shall take one, or all of you across the waters in our black ship.’ Yet still we others spake not, till arose thy beloved, O Hallblithe, and said:
“‘Let it be one then, and not all; for I am the Hostage.’
“‘How shalt thou make us sure thereof?’ said the evil carle.
“She looked on him proudly and said: ‘Because I say it.’
“‘Wilt thou swear it?’ said he.
“‘Yea,’ said she, ‘I swear it by the token of the House wherein I shall wed; by the wings of the Fowl that seeketh the Field of Slaying.’
“‘It is enough,’ said the man, ‘come thou with us. And ye maidens sit ye there, and move not till we have made way on our ship, unless ye would feel the point of the arrow. For ye are within bowshot of the ship, and we have shot weapons aboard.’
“So the Hostage departed with them, and she unweeping, but we wept sorely. And we saw the small boat come up to the side of the round- ship, and the Hostage going over the gunwale along with those evil men, and we heard the hale and how of the mariners as they drew up the anchor and sheeted home; and then the sweeps came out and the ship began to move over the sea. And one of those evil-minded men bent his bow and shot a shaft at us, but it fell far short of where we sat, and the laugh of those runagates came over the sands to us. So we crept up the beach trembling, and then rose to our feet and got to our horses, and rode hither speedily, and our hearts are broken for thy sorrow.”
At that word came Hallblithe’s own sister out from the hall; and she bore weapons with her, to wit Hallblithe’s sword and shield and helm and hauberk. As for him he turned back silently to his work, and set the steel of the spear on the new ashen shaft, and took the hammer and smote the nail in, and laid the weapon on a round pebble that was thereby, and clenched the nail on the other side. Then he looked about, and saw that the other damsel had brought him his coal-black war-horse ready saddled and bridled; then he did on his armour, and girt his sword to his side and leapt into the saddle, and took his new-shafted spear in hand and shook the rein. But none of all those damsels durst say a word to him or ask him whither he went, for they feared his face, and the sorrow of his heart. So he got him out of the garth and turned toward the sea-shore, and they saw the glitter of his spear-point a minute over the turf-wall, and heard the clatter of his horse-hoofs as he galloped over the hard way; and thus he departed.
CHAPTER III: THE WARRIORS OF THE RAVEN SEARCH THE SEAS
Then the women bethought them, and they spake a word or two together, and then they sundered and went one this way and one that, to gather together the warriors of the Raven who were a-field, or on the way, nigh unto the house, that they might follow Hallblithe down to the sea-shore and help him; after a while they came back again by one and two and three, bringing with them the wrathful young men; and when there was upward of a score gathered in the garth armed and horsed, they rode their ways to the sea, being minded to thrust a long-ship of the Ravens out over the Rollers into the sea, and follow the strong-thieves of the waters and bring a-back the Hostage, so that they might end the sorrow at once, and establish joy once more in the House of the Raven and the House of the Rose. But they had with them three lads of fifteen winters or thereabouts to lead their horses back home again, when they should have gone up on to the Horse of the Brine.
Thus then they departed, and the maidens stood in the garth-gate till they lost sight of them behind the sandhills, and then turned back sorrowfully into the house, and sat there talking low of their sorrow. And many a time they had to tell their tale anew, as folk came into the hall one after another from field and fell. But the young men came down to the sea, and found Hallblithe’s black horse straying about amongst the tamarisk-bushes above the beach; and they looked thence over the sand, and saw neither Hallblithe nor any man: and they gazed out seaward, and saw neither ship nor sail on the barren brine. Then they went down on to the sand, and sundered their fellowship, and went half one way, half the other, betwixt the sandhills and the surf, where now the tide was flowing, till the nesses of the east and the west, the horns of the bay, stayed them. Then they met together again by the Rollers, when the sun was within an hour of setting. There and then they laid hand to that ship which is called the Seamew, and they ran her down over the Rollers into the waves, and leapt aboard and hoisted sail, and ran out the oars and put to sea; and a little wind was blowing seaward from the gates of the mountains behind them.
So they quartered the sea-plain, as the kestrel doth the water- meadows, till the night fell on them, and was cloudy, though whiles the wading moon shone out; and they had seen nothing, neither sail nor ship, nor aught else on the barren brine, save the washing of waves and the hovering of sea-fowl. So they lay-to outside the horns of the bay and awaited the dawning. And when morning was come they made way again, and searched the sea, and sailed to the out-skerries, and searched them with care; then they sailed into the main and fared hither and thither and up and down: and this they did for eight days, and in all that time they saw no ship nor sail, save three barks of the Fish-biters nigh to the Skerry which is called Mew- stone.
So they fared home to the Raven Bay, and laid their keel on the Rollers, and so went their ways sadly, home to the House of the Raven: and they deemed that for this time they could do no more in seeking their valiant kinsman and his fair damsel. And they were very sorry; for these two were well-beloved of all men. But since they might not amend it, they abode in peace, awaiting what the change of days might bring them.
CHAPTER IV: NOW HALLBLITHE TAKETH THE SEA
Now must it be told of Hallblithe that he rode fiercely down to the sea-shore, and from the top of the beach he gazed about him, and there below him was the Ship-stead and Rollers of his kindred, whereon lay the three long-ships, the Seamew, and the Osprey and the Erne. Heavy and huge they seemed to him as they lay there, black- sided, icy-cold with the washing of the March waves, their golden dragon-heads looking seaward wistfully. But first had he looked out into the offing, and it was only when he had let his eyes come back from where the sea and sky met, and they had beheld nothing but the waste of waters, that he beheld the Ship-stead closely; and therewith he saw where a little to the west of it lay a skiff, which the low wave of the tide lifted and let fall from time to time. It had a mast, and a black sail hoisted thereon and flapping with slackened sheet. A man sat in the boat clad in black raiment, and the sun smote a gleam from the helm on his head. Then Hallblithe leapt off his horse, and strode down the sands shouldering his spear; and when he came near to the man in the boat he poised his spear and shook it and cried out: “Man, art thou friend or foe?”
Said the man: “Thou art a fair young man: but there is grief in thy voice along with wrath. Cast not till thou hast heard me, and mayst deem whether I may do aught to heal thy grief.”
“What mayst thou do?” said Hallblithe; “art thou not a robber of the sea, a harrier of the folks that dwell in peace?”
The man laughed: “Yea,” said he, “my craft is thieving and carrying off the daughters of folk, so that we may have a ransom for them. Wilt thou come over the waters with me?”
Hallblithe said wrathfully:
“Nay, rather, come thou ashore here! Thou seemest a big man, and belike shall be good of thine hands. Come and fight with me; and then he of us who is vanquished, if he be unslain, shall serve the other for a year, and then shalt thou do my business in the ransoming.”
The man in the boat laughed again, and that so scornfully that he angered Hallblithe beyond measure: then he arose in the boat and stood on his feet swaying from side to side as he laughed. He was passing big, long-armed and big-headed, and long hair came from under his helm like the tail of a red horse; his eyes were grey and gleaming, and his mouth wide.
In a while he stayed his laughter and said: “O Warrior of the Raven, this were a simple game for thee to play; though it is not far from my mind, for fighting when I needs must win is no dull work. Look you, if I slay or vanquish thee, then all is said; and if by some chance stroke thou slayest me, then is thine only helper in this matter gone from thee. Now to be short, I bid thee come aboard to me if thou wouldst ever hear another word of thy damsel betrothed. And moreover this need not hinder thee to fight with me if thou hast a mind to it thereafter; for we shall soon come to a land big enough for two to stand on. Or if thou listest to fight in a boat rocking on the waves, I see not but there may be manhood in that also.”
Now was the hot wrath somewhat run off Hallblithe, nor durst he lose any chance to hear a word of his beloved; so he said: “Big man, I will come aboard. But look thou to it, if thou hast a mind to bewray me; for the sons of the Raven die hard.”
“Well,” said the big man, “I have heard that their minstrels are of many words, and think that they have tales to tell. Come aboard and loiter not.” Then Hallblithe waded the surf and lightly strode over the gunwale of the skiff and sat him down. The big man thrust out into the deep and haled home the sheet; but there was but little wind.
Then said Hallblithe: “Wilt thou have me row, for I wot not whitherward to steer?”
Said the red carle: “Maybe thou art not in a hurry; I am not: do as thou wilt.” So Hallblithe took the oars and rowed mightily, while the alien steered, and they went swiftly and lightly over the sea, and the waves were little.
CHAPTER V: THEY COME UNTO THE ISLE OF RANSOM
So the sun grew low, and it set; the stars and the moon shone a while and then it clouded over. Hallblithe still rowed and rested not, though he was weary; and the big man sat and steered, and held his peace. But when the night was grown old and it was not far from the dawn, the alien said: “Youngling of the Ravens, now shalt thou sleep and I will row.”
Hallblithe was exceeding weary; so he gave the oars to the alien and lay down in the stern and slept. And in his sleep he dreamed that he was lying in the House of the Raven, and his sisters came to him and said, “Rise up now, Hallblithe! wilt thou be a sluggard on the day of thy wedding? Come thou with us to the House of the Rose that we may bear away the Hostage.” Then he dreamed that they departed, and he arose and clad himself: but when he would have gone out of the hall, then was it no longer daylight, but moonlight, and he dreamed that he had dreamed: nevertheless he would have gone abroad, but might not find the door; so he said he would go out by a window; but the wall was high and smooth (quite other than in the House of the Raven, where were low windows all along one aisle), nor was there any way to come at them. But he dreamed that he was so abashed thereat, and had such a weakness on him, that he wept for pity of himself: and he went to his bed to lie down; and lo! there was no bed and no hall; nought but a heath, wild and wide, and empty under the moon. And still he wept in his dream, and his manhood seemed departed from him, and he heard a voice crying out, “Is this the Land? Is this the Land?”
Therewithal he awoke, and as his eyes cleared he beheld the big man rowing and the black sail flapping against the mast; for the wind had fallen dead and they were faring on over a long smooth swell of the sea. It was broad daylight, but round about them was a thick mist, which seemed none the less as if the sun were ready to shine through it.
As Hallblithe caught the red man’s eye, he smiled and nodded on him and said: “Now has the time come for thee first to eat and then to row. But tell me what is that upon thy cheeks?”
Hallblithe, reddening somewhat, said: “The night dew hath fallen on me.”
Quoth the sea-rover, “It is no shame for thee a youngling to remember thy betrothed in thy sleep, and to weep because thou lackest her. But now bestir thee, for it is later than thou mayest deem.”
Therewith the big man drew in the oars and came to the afterpart of the boat, and drew meat and drink out of a locker thereby; and they ate and drank together, and Hallblithe grew strong and somewhat less downcast; and he went forward and gat the oars into his hands.
Then the big red man stood up and looked over his left shoulder and said: “Soon shall we have a breeze and bright weather.”
Then he looked into the midmost of the sail and fell a-whistling such a tune as the fiddles play to dancing men and maids at Yule-tide, and his eyes gleamed and glittered therewithal, and exceeding big he looked. Then Hallblithe felt a little air on his cheek, and the mist grew thinner, and the sail began to fill with wind till the sheet tightened: then, lo! the mist rising from the face of the sea, and the sea’s face rippling gaily under a bright sun. Then the wind increased, and the wall of mist departed and a few light clouds sped over the sky, and the sail swelled and the boat heeled over, and the seas fell white from the prow, and they sped fast over the face of the waters.
Then laughed the red-haired man, and said: “O croaker on the dead branch, now is the wind such that no rowing of thine may catch up with it: so in with the oars now, and turn about, and thou shalt see whitherward we are going.”
Then Hallblithe turned about on the thwart and looked across the sea, and lo! before them the high cliffs and crags and mountains of a new land which seemed to be an isle, and they were deep blue under the sun, which now shone aloft in the mid heaven. He said nought at all, but sat looking and wondering what land it might be; but the big man said: “O tomb of warriors, is it not as if the blueness of the deep sea had heaved itself up aloft, and turned from coloured air into rock and stone, so wondrous blue it is? But that is because those crags and mountains are so far away, and as we draw nigher to them, thou shalt see them as they verily are, that they are coal-black; and yonder land is an isle, and is called the Isle of Ransom. Therein shall be the market for thee where thou mayst cheapen thy betrothed. There mayst thou take her by the hand and lead her away thence, when thou hast dealt with the chapman of maidens and hast pledged thee by the fowl of battle, and the edge of the fallow blade to pay that which he will have of thee.”
As the big man spoke there was a mocking in his voice and his face and in his whole huge body, which made the sword of Hallblithe uneasy in his scabbard; but he refrained his wrath, and said: “Big man, the longer I look, the less I can think how we are to come up on to yonder island; for I can see nought but a huge cliff, and great mountains rising beyond it.”
“Thou shalt the more wonder,” said the alien, “the nigher thou drawest thereto; for it is not because we are far away that thou canst see no beach or strand, or sloping of the land seaward, but because there is nought of all these things. Yet fear not! am I not with thee? thou shalt come ashore on the Isle of Ransom.”
Then Hallblithe held his peace, and the other spake not for a while, but gave a short laugh once or twice; and said at last in a big voice, “Little Carrion-biter, why dost thou not ask me of my name?”
Now Hallblithe was a tall man and a fell fighter; but he said: “Because I was thinking of other things and not of thee.”
“Well,” said the big man, in a voice still louder, “when I am at home men call me the Puny Fox.”
Then Hallblithe said: “Art thou a Fox? It may well be that thou shalt beguile me as such beasts will but look to it, that if thou dost I shall know how to avenge me.”
Then rose up the big man from the helm, and straddled wide in the boat, and cried out in a great roaring voice: “Crag-nester, I am one of seven brethren, and the smallest and weakest of them. Art thou not afraid?”
“No,” said Hallblithe, “for the six others are not here. Wilt thou fight here in boat, O Fox?”
“Nay,” said Fox, “rather we will drink a cup of wine together.”
So he opened the locker again and drew out thence a great horn of some huge neat of the outlands, which was girthed and stopped with silver, and also a golden cup, and he filled the cup from the horn and gave it into Hallblithe’s hand and said: “Drink, O black-fledged nestling! But call a health over the cup if thou wilt.” So Hallblithe raised the cup aloft and cried: “Health to the House of the Raven and to them that love it! an ill day to its foemen!” Then he set his lips to the cup and drank; and that wine seemed to him better and stronger than any he had ever tasted. But when he had given the cup back again to Fox, that red one filled it again, and cried over it, “The Treasure of the Sea! and the King that dieth not!” Then he drank, and filled again for Hallblithe, and steered with his knees meanwhile; and thus they drank three cups each, and Fox smiled and was peaceful and said but little, but Hallblithe sat wondering how the world was changed for him since yesterday.
But now was the sky blown all clear of clouds and the wind piped shrill behind them, and the great waves rose and fell about them, and the sun glittered on them in many colours. Fast flew the boat before the wind as though it would never stop, and the day was waning, and the wind still rising; and now the Isle of Ransom uphove huge before them, and coal-black, and no beach and no haven was to be seen therein; and still they ran before the wind towards that black cliff- wall, against which the sea washed for ever, and no keel ever built by man might live for one moment ‘twixt the surf and the cliff of that grim land. The sun grew low, and sank red under the sea, and that world of stone swallowed up half the heavens before them, for they were now come very nigh thereto; nor could Hallblithe see aught for it, but that they must be dashed against the cliff and perish in a moment of time.
Still the boat flew on; but now when the twilight was come, and they had just opened up along reach of the cliff that lay beyond a high ness, Hallblithe thought he saw down by the edge of the sea something darker than the face of the rock-wall, and he deemed it was a cave: they came a little nearer and he saw it was a great cave high enough to let a round-ship go in with all her sails set.
“Son of the Raven,” quoth Fox, “hearken, for thy heart is not little. Yonder is the gate into the Isle of Ransom, and if thou wilt, thou mayst go through it. Yet it may be that if thou goest ashore on to the Isle something grievous shall befall thee, a trouble more than thou canst bear: a shame it may be. Now there are two choices for thee: either to go up on to the Isle and face all; or to die here by my hand having done nothing unmanly or shameful: What sayest thou?”
“Thou art of many words when time so presses, Fox,” said Hallblithe. “Why should I not choose to go up on to the Island to deliver my trothplight maiden? For the rest, slay me if thou canst, if we come alive out of this cauldron of waters.”
Said the big red man: “Look on then, and note Fox how he steereth, as it were through a needle’s eye.”
Now were they underneath the black shadow of the black cliff and amidst the twilight the surf was tossed about like white fire. In the lower heavens the stars were beginning to twinkle and the moon was bright and yellow, and aloft all was peaceful, for no cloud sullied the sky. One moment Hallblithe saw all this hanging above the turmoil of thundering water and dripping rock and the next he was in the darkness of the cave, the roaring wind and the waves still making thunder about him, though of a different voice from the harsh hubbub without. Then he heard Fox say: “Sit down now and take the oars, for presently shall we be at home at the landing place.”
So Hallblithe took the oars and rowed, and as they went up the cave the sea fell, and the wind died out into the aimless gustiness of hollow places; and for a little while was all as dark as dark might be. Then Hallblithe saw that the darkness grew a little greyer, and he looked over his shoulder and saw a star of light before the bows of the boat, and Fox cried out: “Yea, it is like day; bright will the moon be for such as needs must be wayfaring to-night! Cease rowing, O Son of the coal-blue fowl, for there is way enough on her.”
Then Hallblithe lay on his oars, and in a minute the bows smote the land; then he turned about and saw a steep stair of stone, and up the sloping shaft thereof the moonlit sky and the bright stars. Then Fox arose and came forward and leapt out of the boat and moored her to a big stone: then he leapt back again and said: “Bear a hand with the victuals; we must bring them out of the boat unless thou wilt sleep supperless, as I will not. For to-night must we be guests to ourselves, since it is far to the dwelling of my people, and the old man is said to be a skin-changer, a flit-by-night. And as to this cave, it is deemed to be nowise safe to sleep therein, unless the sleeper have a double share of luck. And thy luck, meseemeth, O Son of the Raven, is as now somewhat less than a single share. So to- night we shall sleep under the naked heaven.”
Hallblithe yea-said this, and they took the meat and drink, such as they needed, from out the boat, and climbed the steep stair no little way, and so came out on to a plain place, which seemed to Hallblithe bare and waste so far as he saw it by the moonlight; for the twilight was gone now, and nought was left of the light of day save a glimmer in the west.
This Hallblithe deemed wonderful, that no less out on the open heath and brow of the land than in the shut-in cave, all that tumult of the wind had fallen, and the cloudless night was calm, and with a little air blowing from the south and the landward.
Therewithal was Fox done with his loud-voiced braggart mood, and spoke gently and peaceably like to a wayfarer, who hath business of his to look to as other men. Now he pointed to certain rocks or low crags that a little way off rose like a reef out of the treeless plain; then said he: “Shipmate, underneath yonder rocks is our resting-place for to-night; and I pray thee not to deem me churlish that I give thee no better harbour. But I have a charge over thee to bring thee safe thus far on thy quest; and thou wouldst find it hard to live among such housemates as thou wouldst find up yonder amongst our folks to-night. But tomorrow shalt thou come to speech with him who will deal with thee concerning the ransom.”
“It is enough,” said Hallblithe, “and I thank thee for thy leading: and as for thy rough and uncomely words which thou hast given me, I pardon thee for them: for I am none the worse of them: forsooth, if I had been, my sword would have had a voice in the matter.”
“I am well content as it is, Son of the Raven,” quoth Fox; “I have done my bidding and all is well.”
“Tell me then who it is hath bidden thee bring me hither?”
“I may not tell thee,” said Fox; “thou art here, be content, as I am.”
And he spake no more till they had come to the reef aforesaid, which was some two furlongs from the place where they had come from out of the cave. There then they set forth their supper on the stones, and ate what they would, and drank of that good strong wine while the horn bare out. And now was Fox of few words, and when Hallblithe asked him concerning that land, he had little to say. And at last when Hallblithe asked him of that so perilous house and those who manned it, he said to him:
“Son of the Raven, it avails not asking of these matters; for if I tell thee aught concerning them I shall tell thee lies. Once again let it be enough for thee that thou hast passed over the sea safely on thy quest; and a more perilous sea it is forsooth than thou deemest. But now let us have an end of vain words, and make our bed amidst these stones as best we may; for we should be stirring betimes in the morning.” Hallblithe said little in answer, and they arrayed their sleeping places cunningly, as the hare doth her form, and like men well used to lying abroad.
Hallblithe was very weary and he soon fell asleep; and as he lay there, he dreamed a dream, or maybe saw a vision; whether he were asleep when he saw it, or between sleeping and waking, I know not. But this was his dream or his vision; that the Hostage was standing over him, and she as he had seen her but yesterday, bright-haired and ruddy-cheeked and white-skinned, kind of hand and soft of voice, and she said to him: “Hallblithe, look on me and hearken, for I have a message for thee.” And he looked and longed for her, and his soul was ravished by the sweetness of his longing, and he would have leapt up and cast his arms about her, but sleep and the dream bound him, and he might not. Then the image smiled on him and said: “Nay, my love, lie still, for thou mayst not touch me: here is but the image of the body which thou desirest. Hearken then. I am in evil plight, in the hands of strong-thieves of the sea, nor know I what they will do with me, and I have no will to be shamed; to be sold for a price from one hand to another, yet to be bedded without a price, and to lie beside some foe-man of our folk, and he to cast his arms about me, will I, will I not: this is a hard case. Therefore to-morrow morning at daybreak while men sleep, I think to steal forth to the gunwale of the black ship and give myself to the gods, that they and not these runagates may be masters of my life and my soul, and may do with me as they will: for indeed they know that I may not bear the strange kinless house, and the love and caressing of the alien house- master, and the mocking and stripes of the alien house-mistress. Therefore let the Hoary One of the sea take me and look to my matters, and carry me to life or death, which-so he will. Thin now grows the night, but lie still a little yet, while I speak another word.
“Maybe we shall meet alive again, and maybe not: and if not, though we have never yet lain in one bed together, yet I would have thee remember me: yet not so that my image shall come between thee and thy speech-friend and bed-fellow of the kindred, that shall lie where I was to have lain. Yet again, if I live and thou livest, I have been told and have heard that by one way or other I am like to come to the Glittering Plain, and the Land of Living Men. O my beloved, if by any way thou mightest come thither also, and we might meet there, and we two alive, how good it were! Seek that land then, beloved! seek it, whether or no we once more behold the House of the Rose, or tread the floor of the Raven dwelling. And now must even this image of me sunder from thee. Farewell!”
Therewith was the dream done and the vision departed; and Hallblithe sat up full of anguish and longing; and he looked about him over the dreary land, and it was somewhat light and the sky was grown grey and cloudy, and he deemed that the dawn was come. So he leapt to his feet and stooped down over Fox, and took him by the shoulder, and shook him and said: “Faring-fellow, awake! the dawn is come, and we have much to do.”
Fox sat up and growled like a dog, and rubbed his eyes and looked about him and said: “Thou hast waked me for nought: it is the false dawn of the moon that shineth now behind the clouds and casteth no shadow; it is but an hour after midnight. Go to sleep again, and let me be, else will I not be a guide to thee when the day comes.” And he lay down and was asleep at once. Then Hallblithe went and lay down again full of sorrow: Yet so weary was he that he presently fell asleep, and dreamed no more.
CHAPTER VI: OF A DWELLING OF MAN ON THE ISLE OF RANSOM
When he awoke again the sun shone on him, and the morning was calm and windless. He sat up and looked about him, but could see no signs of Fox save the lair wherein he had lain. So he arose to his feet and sought for him about the crannies of the rocks, and found him not; and he shouted for him, and had no answer. Then he said, “Belike he has gone down to the boat to put a thing in, or take a thing out.” So he went his ways to the stair down into the water- cave, and he called on Fox from the top of the stair, and had no answer.
So he went down that long stair with a misgiving in his heart, and when he came to the last step there was neither man nor boat, nor aught else save the water and the living rock. Then was he exceeding wroth, for he knew that he had been beguiled, and he was in an evil case, left alone on an Isle that he knew not, a waste and desolate land, where it seemed most like he should die of famine.
He wasted no breath or might now in crying out for Fox, or seeking him; for he said to himself: “I might well have known that he was false and a liar, whereas he could scarce refrain his joy at my folly and his guile. Now is it for me to strive for life against death.”
Then he turned and went slowly up the stair, and came out on to the open face of that Isle, and he saw that it was waste indeed, and dreadful: a wilderness of black sand and stones and ice-borne rocks, with here and there a little grass growing in the hollows, and here and there a dreary mire where the white-tufted rushes shook in the wind, and here and there stretches of moss blended with red-blossomed sengreen; and otherwhere nought but the wind-bitten creeping willow clinging to the black sand, with a white bleached stick and a leaf or two, and again a stick and a leaf. In the offing looking landward were great mountains, some very great and snow-capped, some bare to the tops; and all that was far away, save the snow, was deep-blue in the sunny morning. But about him on the heath were scattered rocks like the reef beneath which he had slept the last night, and peaks, and hammers, and knolls of uncouth shapes.
Then he went to the edge of the cliffs and looked down on the sea which lay wrinkled and rippling on toward the shore far below him, and long he gazed thereon and all about, but could see neither ship nor sail, nor aught else save the washing of waves and the hovering of sea fowl.
Then he said: “Were it not well if I were to seek that house-master of whom Fox spake? Might he not flit me at least to the Land of the Glittering Plain? Woe is me! now am I of that woful company, and I also must needs cry out, Where is the land? Where is the land?”
Therewith he turned toward the reef above their lair, but as he went he thought and said: “Nay, but was not this Stead a lie like the rest of Fox’s tale? and am I not alone in this sea-girt wilderness? Yea, and even that image of my Beloved which I saw in the dream, perchance that also was a mere beguiling; for now I see that the Puny Fox was in all ways wiser than is meet and comely.” Yet again he said: “At least I will seek on, and find out whether there be another man dwelling on this hapless Isle, and then the worst of it will be battle with him, and death by point and edge rather than by hunger; or at the best we may become friends and fellows and deliver each other.” Therewith he came to the reef, and with much ado climbed to the topmost of its rocks and looked down thence landward: and betwixt him and the mountains, and by seeming not very far off, he saw smoke arising: but no house he saw, nor any other token of a dwelling. So he came down from the stone and turned his back upon the sea and went toward that smoke with his sword in its sheath, and his spear over his shoulder. Rough and toilsome was the way: three little dales he crossed amidst the mountain necks, each one narrow and bare, with a stream of water amidst, running seaward, and whether in dale or on ridge, he went ever amidst sand and stones, and the weeds of the wilderness, and saw no man, or man-tended beast.
At last, after he had been four hours on the way, but had not gone very far, he topped a stony bent, and from the brow thereof beheld a wide valley grass-grown for the more part, with a river running through it, and sheep and kine and horses feeding up and down it. And amidst this dale by the stream-side, was a dwelling of men, a long hall and other houses about it builded of stone.
Then was Hallblithe glad, and he strode down the bent speedily, his war-gear clashing upon him: and as he came to the foot thereof and on to the grass of the dale, he got amongst the pasturing horses, and passed close by the horse-herd and a woman that was with him. They scowled at him as he went by, but meddled not with him in any way. Although they were giant-like of stature and fierce of face, they were not ill-favoured: they were red-haired, and the woman as white as cream where the sun had not burned her skin; they had no weapons that Hallblithe might see save the goad in the hand of the carle.
So Hallblithe passed on and came to the biggest house, the hall aforesaid: it was very long, and low as for its length, not over shapely of fashion, a mere gabled heap of stones. Low and strait was the door thereinto, and as Hallblithe entered stooping lowly, and the fire of the steel of his spear that he held before him was quenched in the mirk of the hall, he smiled and said to himself: “Now if there were one anigh who would not have me enter alive, and he with a weapon in his hand, soon were all the tale told.” But he got into the hall unsmitten, and stood on the floor thereof, and spake: “The sele of the day to whomsoever is herein! Will any man speak to the new comer?”
But none answered or gave him greeting; and as his eyes got used to the dusk of the hall, he looked about him, and neither on the floor or the high seat nor in any ingle could he see a man; and there was silence there, save for the crackling of the flickering flame on the hearth amidmost, and the running of the rats behind the panelling of the walls.
On one side of the hall was a row of shut-beds, and Hallblithe deemed that there might be men therein; but since none had greeted him he refrained him from searching them for fear of a trap, and he thought, “I will abide amidst the floor, and if there be any that would deal with me, friend or foe, let him come hither to me.”
So he fell to walking up and down the hall from buttery to dais, and his war-gear rattled upon him. At last as he walked he thought he heard a small thin peevish voice, which yet was too husky for the squeak of a rat. So he stayed his walk and stood still, and said: “Will any man speak to Hallblithe, a newcomer, and a stranger in this Stead?”
Then that small voice made a word and said: “Why paceth the fool up and down our hall, doing nothing, even as the Ravens flap croaking about the crags, abiding the war-mote and the clash of the fallow blades?”
Said Hallblithe, and his voice sounded big in the hall: “Who calleth Hallblithe a fool and mocketh at the sons of the Raven?”
Spake the voice: “Why cometh not the fool to the man that may not go to him?”
Then Hallblithe bent forward to hearken, and he deemed that the voice came from one of the shut-beds, so he leaned his spear against a pillar, and went into the shut-bed he had noted, and saw where there lay along in it a man exceeding old by seeming, sore wasted, with long hair as white as snow lying over the bed-clothes.
When the elder saw Hallblithe, he laughed a thin cracked laugh as if in mockery and said: “Hail newcomer! wilt thou eat?”
“Yea,” said Hallblithe.
“Go thou into the buttery then,” said the old carle, “and there shalt thou find on the cupboard cakes and curds and cheese: eat thy fill, and when thou hast done, look in the ingle, and thou shalt see a cask of mead exceeding good, and a stoup thereby, and two silver cups; fill the stoup and bring it hither with the cups; and then may we talk amidst of drinking, which is good for an old carle. Hasten thou! or I shall deem thee a double fool who will not fare to fetch his meat, though he be hungry.”
Then Hallblithe laughed, and went down the hall into the buttery and found the meat, and ate his fill, and came away with the drink back to the Long-hoary man, who chuckled as he came and said: “Fill up now for thee and for me, and call a health to me and wish me somewhat.”
“I wish thee luck,” said Hallblithe, and drank. Said the elder: “And I wish thee more wits; is luck all that thou mayst wish me? What luck may an outworn elder have?”
“Well then,” quoth Hallblithe, “what shall I wish thee? Wouldst thou have me wish thee youth?”
“Yea, certes,” said the Long-hoary, “that and nought else.”
“Youth then I wish thee, if it may avail thee aught,” said Hallblithe, and he drank again therewith.
“Nay, nay,” said the old carle peevishly, “take a third cup, and wish me youth with no idle words tacked thereto.”
Said Hallblithe raising the cup: “Herewith I wish thee youth!” and he drank.
“Good is the wish,” said the elder; “now ask thou the old carle whatso thou wilt.”
Said Hallblithe: “What is this land called?”
“Son,” said the other, “hast thou heard it called the Isle of Ransom?”
“Yea,” said Hallblithe, “but what wilt thou call it?”
“By no other name,” said the hoary carle.
“It is far from other lands?” said Hallblithe.
“Yea,” said the carle, “when the light winds blow, and the ships sail slow.”
“What do ye who live here?” said Hallblithe. “How do ye live, what work win ye?”
“We win diverse work,” said the elder, “but the gainfullest is robbing men by the high hand.”
“Is it ye who have stolen from me the Hostage of the Rose?” said Hallblithe.
Said the Long-hoary, “Maybe; I wot not; in diverse ways my kinsmen traffic, and they visit many lands. Why should they not have come to Cleveland also?”
“Is she in this Isle, thou old runagate?” said Hallblithe.
“She is not, thou young fool,” said the elder. Then Hallblithe flushed red and spake: “Knowest thou the Puny Fox?”
“How should I not?” said the carle, “since he is the son of one of my sons.”
“Dost thou call him a liar and a rogue?” said Hallblithe.
The elder laughed; “Else were I a fool,” said he; “there are few bigger liars or bigger rogues than the Puny Fox!”
“Is he here in this Isle?” said Hallblithe; “may I see him?”
The old man laughed again, and said: “Nay, he is not here, unless he hath turned fool since yesterday: why should he abide thy sword, since he hath done what he would and brought thee hither?”
Then he laughed, as a hen cackles a long while, and then said: “What more wilt thou ask me?”
But Hallblithe was very wroth: “It availeth nought to ask,” he said; “and now I am in two minds whether I shall slay thee or not.”
“That were a meet deed for a Raven, but not for a man,” said the carle, “and thou that hast wished me luck! Ask, ask!”
But Hallblithe was silent a long while. Then the carle said, “Another cup for the longer after youth!”
Hallblithe filled, and gave to him, and the old man drank and said: “Thou deemest us all liars in the Isle of Ransom because of thy beguiling by the Puny Fox: but therein thou errest. The Puny Fox is our chiefest liar, and doth for us the more part of such work as we need: therefore, why should we others lie. Ask, ask!”
“Well then,” said Hallblithe, “why did the Puny Fox bewray me, and at whose bidding?”
Said the elder: “I know, but I will not tell thee. Is this a lie?”
“Nay, I deem it not,” said Hallblithe: “But, tell me, is it verily true that my trothplight is not here, that I may ransom her?”
Said the Long-hoary: “I swear it by the Treasure of the Sea, that she is not here: the tale was but a lie of the Puny Fox.”
CHAPTER VII: A FEAST IN THE ISLE OF RANSOM
Hallblithe pondered his answer awhile with downcast eyes and said at last: “Have ye a mind to ransom me, now that I have walked into the trap?”
“There is no need to talk of ransom,” said the elder; “thou mayst go out of this house when thou wilt, nor will any meddle with thee if thou strayest about the Isle, when I have set a mark on thee and given thee a token: nor wilt thou be hindered if thou hast a mind to leave the Isle, if thou canst find means thereto; moreover as long as thou art in the Isle, in this house mayst thou abide, eating and drinking and resting with us.”
“How then may I leave this Isle?” said Hallblithe.
The elder laughed: “In a ship,” said he.
“And when,” said Hallblithe, “shall I find a ship that shall carry me?”
Said the old carle, “Whither wouldest thou my son?” Hallblithe was silent a while, thinking what answer he should make; then he said: “I would go to the land of the Glittering Plain.”
“Son, a ship shall not be lacking thee for that voyage,” said the elder. “Thou mayst go to-morrow morn. And I bid thee abide here to- night, and thy cheer shall not be ill. Yet if thou wilt believe my word, it will be well for thee to say as little as thou mayst to any man here, and that little as little proud as maybe: for our folk are short of temper and thou knowest there is no might against many. Indeed it is not unlike that they will not speak one word to thee, and if that be so, thou hast no need to open thy mouth to them. And now I will tell thee that it is good that thou hast chosen to go to the Glittering Plain. For if thou wert otherwise minded, I wot not how thou wouldest get thee a keel to carry thee, and the wings have not yet begun to sprout on thy shoulders, raven though thou be. Now I am glad that thou art going thy ways to the Glittering Plain to- morrow; for thou wilt be good company to me on the way: and I deem that thou wilt be no churl when thou art glad.”
“What,” said Hallblithe, “art thou wending thither, thou old man?”
“Yea,” said he, “nor shall any other be on the ship save thou and I, and the mariners that waft us; and they forsooth shall not go aland there. Why should not I go, since there are men to bear me aboard?”
Said Hallblithe, “And when thou art come aland there, what wilt thou do?”
“Thou shalt see, my son,” said the Long-hoary. “It may be that thy good wishes shall be of avail to me. But now since all this may only be if I live through this night, and since my heart hath been warmed by the good mead, and thy fellowship, and whereas I am somewhat sleepy, and it is long past noon, go forth into the hall, and leave me to sleep, that I may be as sound as eld will let me to-morrow. And as for thee, folk, both men and women, shall presently come into the hall, and I deem not that any shall meddle with thee; but if so be that any challenge thee, whatsoever may be his words, answer thou to him, ‘THE HOUSE OF THE UNDYING,’ and there will be an end of it. Only look thou to it that no naked steel cometh out of thy scabbard. Go now, and if thou wilt, go out of doors; yet art thou safer within doors and nigher unto me.”
So Hallblithe went back into the main hall, and the sun had gotten round now, and was shining into the hall, through the clerestory windows, so that he saw clearly all that was therein. And he deemed the hall fairer within than without; and especially over the shut- beds were many stories carven in the panelling, and Hallblithe beheld them gladly. But of one thing he marvelled, that whereas he was in an island of the strong-thieves of the waters, and in their very home and chiefest habitation, there were no ships or seas pictured in that imagery, but fair groves and gardens, with flowery grass and fruited trees all about. And there were fair women abiding therein, and lovely young men, and warriors, and strange beasts and many marvels, and the ending of wrath and beginning of pleasure and the crowning of love. And amidst these was pictured oft and again a mighty king with a sword by his side and a crown on his head; and ever was he smiling and joyous, so that Hallblithe, when he looked on him, felt of better heart and smiled back on the carven image.
So while Hallblithe looked on these things, and pondered his case carefully, all alone as he was in that alien hall, he heard a noise without of talking and laughter, and presently the pattering of feet therewith, and then women came into the hall, a score or more, some young, some old, some fair enough, and some hard-featured and uncomely, but all above the stature of the women whom he had seen in his own land.
So he stood amidst the hall-floor and abided them; and they saw him and his shining war-gear, and ceased their talking and laughter, and drew round about him, and gazed at him; but none said aught till an old crone came forth from the ring, and said “Who art thou, standing under weapons in our hall?”
He knew not what to answer, and held his peace; and she spake again: “Whither wouldest thou, what seekest thou?”
Then answered Hallblithe: “THE HOUSE OF THE UNDYING.”
None answered, and the other women all fell away from him at once, and went about their business hither and thither through the hall. But the old crone took him by the hand, and led him up to the dais, and set him next to the midmost high-seat. Then she made as if she would do off his war-gear, and he would not gainsay her, though he deemed that foes might be anear; for in sooth he trusted in the old carle that he would not bewray him, and moreover he deemed it would be unmanly not to take the risks of the guesting, according to the custom of that country.
So she took his armour and his weapons and bore them off to a shut- bed next to that wherein lay the ancient man, and she laid the gear within it, all save the spear, which she laid on the wall-pins above; and she made signs to him that therein he was to lie; but she spake no word to him. Then she brought him the hand-washing water in a basin of latten, and a goodly towel therewith, and when he had washed she went away from him, but not far.
This while the other women were busy about the hall; some swept the floor down, and when it was swept strawed thereon rushes and handfuls of wild thyme: some went into the buttery and bore forth the boards and the trestles: some went to the chests and brought out the rich hangings, the goodly bankers and dorsars, and did them on the walls: some bore in the stoups and horns and beakers, and some went their ways and came not back a while, for they were busied about the cooking. But whatever they did, none hailed him, or heeded him more than if he had been an image, as he sat there looking on. None save the old woman who brought him the fore-supper, to wit a great horn of mead, and cakes and dried fish.
So was the hall arrayed for the feast very fairly, and Hallblithe sat there while the sun westered and the house grew dim, and dark at last, and they lighted the candles up and down the hall. But a little after these were lit, a great horn was winded close without, and thereafter came the clatter of arms about the door, and exceeding tall weaponed men came in, one score and five, and strode two by two up to the foot of the dais, and stood there in a row. And Hallblithe deemed their war-gear exceeding good; they were all clad in ring- locked byrnies, and had steel helms on their heads with garlands of gold wrought about them and they bore spears in their hands, and white shields hung at their backs. Now came the women to them and unarmed them; and under their armour their raiment was black; but they had gold rings on their arms, and golden collars about their necks. So they strode up to the dais and took their places on the high-seat, not heeding Hallblithe any more than if he were an image of wood. Nevertheless that man sat next to him who was the chieftain of all and sat in the midmost high-seat; and he bore his sheathed sword in his hand and laid it on the board before him, and he was the only man of those chieftains who had a weapon.
But when these were set down there was again a noise without, and there came in a throng of men armed and unarmed who took their places on the end-long benches up and down the hall; with these came women also, who most of them sat amongst the men, but some busied them with the serving: all these men were great of stature, but none so big as the chieftains on the high-seat.
Now came the women in from the kitchen bearing the meat, whereof no little was flesh-meat, and all was of the best. Hallblithe was duly served like the others, but still none spake to him or even looked on him; though amongst themselves they spoke in big, rough voices so that the rafters of the hall rang again.
When they had eaten their fill the women filled round the cups and the horns to them, and those vessels were both great and goodly. But ere they fell to drinking uprose the chieftain who sat furthest from the midmost high-seat on the right and cried a health: “THE TREASURE OF THE SEA!” Then they all stood up and shouted, women as well as men, and emptied their horns and cups to that health. Then stood up the man furthest on the left and cried out, “Drink a health to the Undying King!” And again all men rose up and shouted ere they drank. Other healths they drank, as the “Cold Keel,” the “Windworn Sail,” the “Quivering Ash” and the “Furrowed Beach.” And the wine and mead flowed like rivers in that hall of the Wild Men. As for Hallblithe, he drank what he would but stood not up, nor raised his cup to his lips when a health was drunk; for he knew not whether these men were his friends or his foes, and he deemed it would be little-minded to drink to their healths, lest he might be drinking death and confusion to his own kindred.
But when men had drunk a while, again a horn blew at the nether end of the hall, and straightway folk arose from the endlong tables, and took away the boards and trestles, and cleared the floor and stood against the wall; then the big chieftain beside Hallblithe arose and cried out: “Now let man dance with maid, and be we merry! Music, strike up!” Then flew the fiddle-bows and twanged the harps, and the carles and queens stood forth on the floor; and all the women were clad in black raiment, albeit embroidered with knots and wreaths of flowers. A while they danced and then suddenly the music fell, and they all went back to their places. Then the chieftain in the high- seat arose and took a horn from his side, and blew a great blast on it that filled the hall; then he cried in a loud voice: “Be we merry! Let the champions come forth!”
Men shouted gleefully thereat, and straightway ran into the hall from out the screens three tall men clad all in black armour with naked swords in their hands, and stood amidst the hall-floor, somewhat on one side, and clashed their swords on their shields and cried out: “Come forth ye Champions of the Raven!”
Then leapt Hallblithe from his seat and set his hand to his left side, but no sword was there; so he sat down again, remembering the warning of the Elder, and none heeded him.
Then there came into the hall slowly and mournfully three men-at- arms, clad and weaponed like the warriors of his folk, with the image of the Raven on their helms and shields. So Hallblithe refrained him, for besides that this seemed like to be a fair battle of three against three, he doubted some snare, and he determined to look on and abide.
So the champions fell to laying on strokes that were no child’s play, though Hallblithe doubted if the edges bit, and it was but a little while before the Champions of the Raven fell one after another before the Wild Men, and folk drew them by the heels out into the buttery. Then arose great laughter and jeering, and exceeding wroth was Hallblithe; howbeit he refrained him because he remembered all he had to do. But the three Champions of the Sea strode round the hall, tossing up their swords and catching them as they fell, while the horns blew up behind them.
After a while the hall grew hushed, and the chieftain arose and cried: “Bring in now some sheaves of the harvest we win, we lads of the oar and the arrow!” Then was there a stir at the screen doors, and folk pressed forward to see, and, lo, there came forward a string of women, led in by two weaponed carles; and the women were a score in number, and they were barefoot and their hair hung loose and their gowns were ungirt, and they were chained together wrist to wrist; yet had they gold at arm and neck: there was silence in the hall when they stood amidst of the floor.
Then indeed Hallblithe could not refrain himself, and he leapt from his seat and on to the board, and over it, and ran down the hall, and came to those women and looked them in the face one by one, while no man spake in the hall. But the Hostage was not amongst them; nay forsooth, they none of them favoured of the daughters of his people, though they were comely and fair; so that again Hallblithe doubted if this were aught but a feast-hall play done to anger him; whereas there was but little grief in the faces of those damsels, and more than one of them smiled wantonly in his face as he looked on them.
So he turned about and went back to his seat, having said no word, and behind him arose much mocking and jeering; but it angered him little now; for he remembered the rede of the elder and how that he had done according to his bidding, so that he deemed the gain was his. So sprang up talk in the hall betwixt man and man, and folk drank about and were merry, till the chieftain arose again and smote the board with the flat of his sword, and cried out in a loud and angry voice, so that all could hear: “Now let there be music and minstrelsy ere we wend bedward!”
Therewith fell the hubbub of voices, and there came forth three men with great harps, and a fourth man with them, who was the minstrel; and the harpers smote their harps so that the roof rang therewith, and the noise, though it was great, was tuneable, and when they had played thus a little while, they abated their loudness somewhat, and the minstrel lifted his voice and sang:
The land lies black
With winter’s lack,
The wind blows cold
Round field and fold;
All folk are within,
And but weaving they win.
Where from finger to finger the shuttle flies fast, And the eyes of the singer look fain on the cast, As he singeth the story of summer undone And the barley sheaves hoary ripe under the sun.
Then the maidens stay
The light-hung sley,
And the shuttles bide
By the blue web’s side,
While hand in hand
With the carles they stand.
But ere to the measure the fiddles strike up, And the elders yet treasure the last of the cup, There stand they a-hearkening the blast from the lift, And e’en night is a-darkening more under the drift.
There safe in the hall
They bless the wall,
And the roof o’er head,
Of the valiant stead;
And the hands they praise
Of the olden days.
Then through the storm’s roaring the fiddles break out, And they think not of warring, but cast away doubt, And, man before maiden, their feet tread the floor, And their hearts are unladen of all that they bore.
But what winds are o’er-cold
For the heart of the bold?
What seas are o’er-high
For the undoomed to die?
Dark night and dread wind,
But the haven we find.
Then ashore mid the flurry of stone-washing surf! Cloud-hounds the moon worry, but light lies the turf; Lo the long dale before us! the lights at the end, Though the night darkens o’er us, bid whither to wend.
Who beateth the door
By the foot-smitten floor?
What guests are these
From over the seas?
Take shield and sword
For their greeting-word.
Lo, lo, the dance ended! Lo, midst of the hall The fallow blades blended! Lo, blood on the wall! Who liveth, who dieth? O men of the sea, For peace the folk crieth; our masters are ye.
Now the dale lies grey
At the dawn of day;
And fair feet pass
O’er the wind-worn grass;
And they turn back to gaze
On the roof of old days.
Come tread ye the oaken-floored hall of the sea! Be your hearts yet unbroken; so fair as ye be, That kings are abiding unwedded to gain
The news of our riding the steeds of the main.
Much shouting and laughter arose at the song’s end; and men sprang up and waved their swords above the cups, while Hallblithe sat scowling down on their merriment. Lastly arose the chieftain and called out loudly for the good-night cup, and it went round and all men drank. Then the horn blew for bed, and the chieftains went to their chambers, and the others went to the out-bowers or laid them down on the hall-floor, and in a little while none stood upright thereon. So Hallblithe arose, and went to the shut-bed appointed for him, and laid him down and slept dreamlessly till the morning.
CHAPTER VIII: HALLBLITHE TAKETH SHIP AGAIN AWAY FROM THE ISLE OF RANSOM
When he awoke, the sun shone into the hall by the windows above the buttery, and there were but few folk left therein. But so soon as Hallblithe was clad, the old woman came to him, and took him by the hand, and led him to the board, and signed to him to eat of what was thereon; and he did so; and by then he was done, came folk who went into the shut-bed where lay the Long-hoary, and they brought him forth bed and all and bare him out a-doors. Then the crone brought Hallblithe his arms and he did on byrny and helm, girt his sword to his side, took his spear in his hand and went out a-doors; and there close by the porch lay the Long-hoary upon a horse-litter. So Hallblithe came up to him and gave him the sele of the day: and the elder said: “Good morrow, son, I am glad to see thee. Did they try thee hard last night?”
And Hallblithe saw two of the carles that had borne out the elder, that they were talking together, and they looked on him and laughed mockingly; so he said to the elder: “Even fools may try a wise man, and so it befell last night. Yet, as thou seest, mumming hath not slain me.”
Said the old man: “What thou sawest was not all mumming; it was done according to our customs; and well nigh all of it had been done, even hadst thou not been there. Nay, I will tell thee; at some of our feasts it is not lawful to eat either for the chieftains or the carles, till a champion hath given forth a challenge, and been answered and met, and the battle fought to an end. But ye men, what hindereth you to go to the horses’ heads and speed on the road the chieftain who is no longer way-worthy?”
So they ran to the horses and set down the dale by the riverside, and just as Hallblithe was going to follow afoot, there came a swain from behind the house leading a red horse which he brought to Hallblithe as one who bids mount. So Hallblithe leapt into the saddle and at once caught up with the litter of the Long-hoary down along the river. They passed by no other house, save here and there a cot beside some fold or byre; they went easily, for the way was smooth by the river-side; so in less than two hours they came where the said river ran into the sea. There was no beach there, for the water was ten fathom deep close up to the lip of the land; but there was a great haven land-locked all but a narrow outgate betwixt the sheer black cliffs. Many a great ship might have lain in that haven; but as now there was but one lying there, a round-ship not very great, but exceeding trim and meet for the sea.
There without more ado the carles took the elder from the litter and bore him aboard, and Hallblithe followed him as if he had been so appointed. They laid the old man adown on the poop under a tilt of precious web, and so went aback by the way that they had come; and Hallblithe went and sat down beside the Long-hoary, who spake to him and said: “Seest thou, son, how easy it is for us twain to be shipped for the land whither we would go? But as easy as it is for thee to go thither whereas we are going, just so hard had it been for thee to go elsewhere. Moreover I must tell thee that though many an one of the Isle of Ransom desireth to go this voyage, there shall none else go, till the world is a year older, and he who shall go then shall be likest to me in all ways, both in eld and in feebleness, and in gibing speech, and all else; and now that I am gone, his name shall be the same as that whereby ye may call me to- day, and that is Grandfather. Art thou glad or sorry, Hallblithe?”
“Grandfather,” said Hallblithe, “I can scarce tell thee: I move as one who hath no will to wend one way or other. Meseems I am drawn to go thither whereas we are going; therefore I deem that I shall find my beloved on the Glittering Plain: and whatever befalleth afterward, let it be as it will!”
“Tell me, my son,” said the Grandfather, “how many women are there in the world?”
“How may I tell thee?” said Hallblithe.
“Well, then,” said the elder, “how many exceeding fair women are there?”
Said Hallblithe, “Indeed I wot not.”
“How many of such hast thou seen?” said the Grandfather.
“Many,” said Hallblithe; “the daughters of my folk are fair, and there will be many other such amongst the aliens.”
Then laughed the elder, and said: “Yet, my son, he who had been thy fellow since thy sundering from thy beloved, would have said that in thy deeming there is but one woman in the world; or at least one fair woman: is it not so?”
Then Hallblithe reddened at first, as though he were angry; then he said: “Yea, it is so.”
Said the Grandfather in a musing way: “I wonder if before long I shall think of it as thou dost.”
Then Hallblithe gazed at him marvelling, and studied to see wherein lay the gibe against himself; and the Grandfather beheld him, and laughed as well as he might, and said: “Son, son; didst thou not wish me youth?”
“Yea,” said Hallblithe, “but what ails thee to laugh so? What is it I have said or done?”
“Nought, nought,” said the elder, laughing still more, “only thou lookest so mazed. And who knoweth what thy wish may bring forth?”
Thereat was Hallblithe sore puzzled; but while he set himself to consider what the old carle might mean, uprose the hale and how of the mariners; they cast off the hawsers from the shore, ran out the sweeps, and drave the ship through the haven-gates. It was a bright sunny day; within, the green water was oily-smooth, without the rippling waves danced merrily under a light breeze, and Hallblithe deemed the wind to be fair; for the mariners shouted joyously and made all sail on the ship; and she lay over and sped through the waves, casting off the seas from her black bows. Soon were they clear of those swart cliffs, and it was but a little afterwards that the Isle of Ransom was grown deep blue behind them and far away.
CHAPTER IX: THEY COME TO THE LAND OF THE GLITTERING PLAIN
As in the hall, so in the ship, Hallblithe noted that the folk were merry and of many words one with another, while to him no man cast a word save the Grandfather. As to Hallblithe, though he wondered much what all this betokened, and what the land was whereto he was wending, he was no man to fear an unboded peril; and he said to himself that whatever else betid, he should meet the Hostage on the Glittering Plain; so his heart rose and he was of good cheer, and as the Grandfather had foretold, he was a merry faring-fellow to him. Many a gibe the old man cast at him, and whiles Hallblithe gave him back as good as he took, and whiles he laughed as the stroke went home and silenced him; and whiles he understood nought of what the elder said. So wore the day and still the wind held fair, though it was light; and the sun set in a sky nigh cloudless, and there was nowhere any forecast of peril. But when night was come, Hallblithe lay down on a fair bed, which was dight for him in the poop, and he soon fell asleep and dreamed not save such dreams as are but made up of bygone memories, and betoken nought, and are not remembered.
When he awoke, day lay broad on the sea, and the waves were little, the sky had but few clouds, the sun shone bright, and the air was warm and sweet-breathed.
He looked aside and saw the old man sitting up in his bed, as ghastly as a dead man dug up again: his bushy eyebrows were wrinkled over his bleared old eyes, the long white hair dangled forlorn from his gaunt head: yet was his face smiling and he looked as happy as the soul within him could make the half-dead body. He turned now to Hallblithe and said:
“Thou art late awake: hadst thou been waking earlier, the sooner had thine heart been gladdened. Go forward now, and gaze thy fill and come and tell me thereof.”
“Thou art happy, Grandfather,” said Hallblithe, “what good tidings hath morn brought us?”
“The Land! the Land!” said the Long-hoary; “there are no longer tears in this old body, else should I be weeping for joy.”
Said Hallblithe: “Art thou going to meet some one who shall make thee glad before thou diest, old man?”
“Some one?” said the elder; “what one? Are they not all gone? burned, and drowned, and slain and died abed? Some one, young man? Yea, forsooth some one indeed! Yea, the great warrior of the Wasters of the Shore; the Sea-eagle who bore the sword and the torch and the terror of the Ravagers over the coal-blue sea. It is myself, MYSELF that I shall find on the Land of the Glittering Plain, O young lover!”
Hallblithe looked on him wondering as he raised his wasted arms towards the bows of the ship pitching down the slope of the sunlit sea, or climbing up it. Then again the old man fell back on his bed and muttered: “What fool’s work is this! that thou wilt draw me on to talk loud, and waste my body with lack of patience. I will talk with thee no more, lest my heart swell and break, and quench the little spark of life within me.”
Then Hallblithe arose to his feet, and stood looking at him, wondering so much at his words, that for a while he forgat the land which they were nearing, though he had caught glimpses of it, as the bows of the round-ship fell downward into the hollow of the sea. The wind was but light, as hath been said, and the waves little under it, but there was still a smooth swell of the sea which came of breezes now dead, and the ship wallowed thereon and sailed but slowly.
In a while the old man opened his eyes again, and said in a low peevish voice: “Why standest thou staring at me? why hast thou not gone forward to look upon the land? True it is that ye Ravens are short of wits.”
Said Hallblithe: “Be not wrath, chieftain; I was wondering at thy words, which are exceeding marvellous; tell me more of this land of the Glittering Plain.”
Said the Grandfather: “Why should I tell it thee? ask of the mariners. They all know more than thou dost.”
“Thou knowest,” said Hallblithe, “that these men speak not to me, and take no more heed of me than if I were an image which they were carrying to sell to the next mighty man they may hap on. Or tell me, thou old man,” said he fiercely, “is it perchance a thrall-market whereto they are bringing me? Have they sold her there, and will they sell me also in the same place, but into other hands.”
“Tush!” said the Grandfather somewhat feebly, “this last word of thine is folly; there is no buying or selling in the land whereto we are bound. As to thine other word, that these men have no fellowship with thee, it is true: thou art my fellow and the fellow of none else aboard. Therefore if I feel might in me, maybe I will tell thee somewhat.”
Then he raised his head a little and said: “The sun grows hot, the wind faileth us, and slow and slow are we sailing.”
Even as he spoke there was a stir amidships, and Hallblithe looked and beheld the mariners handling the sweeps, and settling themselves on the rowing-benches. Said the elder: “There is noise amidships, what are they doing?”
The old man raised himself a little again, and cried out in his shrill voice: “Good lads! brave lads! Thus would we do in the old time when we drew anear some shore, and the beacons were sending up smoke by day, and flame benights; and the shore-abiders did on their helms and trembled. Thrust her through, lads! Thrust her along!” Then he fell back again, and said in a weak voice: “Make no more delay, guest, but go forward and look upon the land, and come back and tell me thereof, and then the tale may flow from me. Haste, haste!” So Hallblithe went down from the poop, and in to the waist, where now the rowers were bending to their oars, and crying out fiercely as they tugged at the quivering ash; and he clomb on to the forecastle and went forward right to the dragon-head, and gazed long upon the land, while the dashing of the oar-blades made the semblance of a gale about the ship’s black sides. Then he came back again to the Sea-eagle, who said to him: “Son, what hast thou seen?”
“Right ahead lieth the land, and it is still a good way off. High rise the mountains there, but by seeming there is no snow on them; and though they be blue they are not blue like the mountains of the Isle of Ransom. Also it seemed to me as if fair slopes of woodland and meadow come down to the edge of the sea. But it is yet far away.”
“Yea,” said the elder, “is it so? Then will I not wear myself with making words for thee. I will rest rather, and gather might. Come again when an hour hath worn, and tell me what thou seest; and may happen then thou shalt have my tale!” And he laid him down therewith and seemed to be asleep at once. And Hallblithe might not amend it; so he waited patiently till the hour had worn, and then went forward again, and looked long and carefully, and came back and said to the Sea-eagle, “The hour is worn.”
The old chieftain turned himself about and said “What hast thou seen?
Said Hallblithe: “The mountains are pale and high, and below them are hills dark with wood, and betwixt them and the sea is a fair space of meadowland, and methought it was wide.”
Said the old man: “Sawest thou a rocky skerry rising high out of the sea anigh the shore?”
“Nay,” said Hallblithe, “if there be, it is all blended with the meadows and the hills.”
Said the Sea-eagle: “Abide the wearing of another hour, and come and tell me again, and then I may have a gainful word for thee.” And he fell asleep again. But Hallblithe abided, and when the hour was worn, he went forward and stood on the forecastle. And this was the third shift of the rowers, and the stoutest men in the ship now held the oars in their hands, and the ship shook through all her length and breadth as they drave her over the waters.
So Hallblithe came aft to the old man and found him asleep; so he took him by the shoulder, and shook him and said: “Awake, faring- fellow, for the land is a-nigh.”
So the old man sat up and said: “What hast thou seen?”
Said Hallblithe: “I have seen the peaks and cliffs of the far-off mountains; and below them are hills green with grass and dark with woods, and thence stretch soft green meadows down to the sea-strand, which is fair and smooth, and yellow.”
“Sawest thou the skerry?” said the Sea-eagle.
“Yea, I saw it,” said Hallblithe, “and it rises sheer from out the sea about a mile from the yellow strand; but its rocks are black, like the rocks of the Isle of Ransom.”
“Son,” said the elder, “give me thine hands and raise me up a little.” So Hallblithe took him and raised him up, so that he sat leaning against the pillows; and he looked not on Hallblithe, but on the bows of the ship, which now pitched but a little up and down, for the sea was laid quiet now. Then he cried in his shrill, piping voice: “It is the Land! It is the Land!”
But after a little while he turned to Hallblithe and spake: “Short is the tale to tell: thou hast wished me youth, and thy wish hath thriven; for to-day, ere the sun goes down, thou shalt see me as I was in the days when I reaped the harvest of the sea with sharp sword and hardy heart. For this is the land of the Undying King, who is our lord and our gift-giver; and to some he giveth the gift of youth renewed, and life that shall abide here the Gloom of the Gods. But none of us all may come to the Glittering Plain and the King Undying without turning the back for the last time on the Isle of Ransom: nor may any men of the Isle come hither save those who are of the House of the Sea-eagle, and few of those, save the chieftains of the House, such as are they who sat by thee on the high-seat that even. Of these once in a while is chosen one of us, who is old and spent and past battle, and is borne to this land and the gift of the Undying. Forsooth some of us have no will to take the gift, for they say they are liefer to go to where they shall meet more of our kindred than dwell on the Glittering Plain and the Acre of the Undying; but as for me I was ever an overbearing and masterful man, and meseemeth it is well that I meet as few of our kindred as may be: for they are a strifeful race.”
Hereat Hallblithe marvelled exceedingly, and he said: “And what am I in all this story? Why am I come hither with thy furtherance?”
Said the Sea-eagle: “We had a charge from the Undying King concerning thee, that we should bring thee hither alive and well, if so be thou camest to the Isle of Ransom. For what cause we had the charge, I know not, nor do I greatly heed.”
Said Hallblithe: “And shall I also have that gift of undying youth, and life while the world of men and gods endureth?”
“I must needs deem so,” said the Sea-eagle, “so long as thou abidest on the Glittering Plain; and I see not how thou mayst ever escape thence.”
Now Hallblithe heard him, how he said “escape,” and thereat he was somewhat ill at ease, and stood and pondered a little. At last he said: “Is this then all that thou hast to tell me concerning the Glittering Plain?”
“By the Treasure of the Sea!” said the elder, “I know no more of it. The living shall learn. But I suppose that thou mayst seek thy troth-plight maiden there all thou wilt. Or thou mayst pray the Undying King to have her thither to thee. What know I? At least, it is like that there shall be no lack of fair women there: or else the promise of youth renewed is nought and vain. Shall this not be enough for thee?”
“Nay,” said Hallblithe.
“What,” said the elder, “must it be one woman only?”
“One only,” said Hallblithe.
The old man laughed his thin mocking laugh, and said: “I will not assure thee but that the land of the Glittering Plain shall change all that for thee so soon as it touches the soles of thy feet.”
Hallblithe looked at him steadily and smiled, and said: “Well is it then that I shall find the Hostage there; for then shall we be of one mind, either to sunder or to cleave together. It is well with me this day.”
“And with me it shall be well ere long,” said the Sea-eagle.
But now the rowers ceased rowing and lay on their oars, and the shipmen cast anchor; for they were but a bowshot from the shore, and the ship swung with the tide and lay side-long to the shore. Then said the Sea-eagle: “Look forth, shipmate, and tell me of the land.”
And Hallblithe looked and said: “The yellow beach is sandy and shell-strewn, as I deem, and there is no great space of it betwixt the sea and the flowery grass; and a bowshot from the strand I see a little wood amidst which are fair trees blossoming.”
“Seest thou any folk on the shore?” said the old man. “Yea,” said Hallblithe, “close to the edge of the sea go four; and by seeming three are women, for their long gowns flutter in the wind. And one of these is clad in saffron colour, and another in white, and another in watchet; but the carle is clad in dark red; and their raiment is all glistening as with gold and gems; and by seeming they are looking at our ship as though they expected somewhat.”
Said the Sea-eagle: “Why now do the shipmen tarry and have not made ready the skiff? Swillers and belly-gods they be; slothful swine that forget their chieftain.”
But even as he spake came four of the shipmen, and without more ado took him up, bed and all, and bore him down into the waist of the ship, whereunder lay the skiff with four strong rowers lying on their oars. These men made no sign to Hallblithe, nor took any heed of him; but he caught up his spear, and followed them and stood by as they lowered the old man into the boat. Then he set his foot on the gunwale of the ship and leapt down lightly into the boat, and none hindered or helped him; and he stood upright in the boat, a goodly image of battle with the sun flashing back from his bright helm, his spear in his hand, his white shield at his back, and thereon the image of the Raven; but if he had been but a salt-boiling carle of the sea-side none would have heeded him less.
CHAPTER X: THEY HOLD CONVERSE WITH FOLK OF THE GLITTERING PLAIN
Now the rowers lifted the ash-blades, and fell to rowing towards shore: and almost with the first of their strokes, the Sea-eagle moaned out:
“Would we were there, oh, would we were there! Cold groweth eld about my heart. Raven’s Son, thou art standing up; tell me if thou canst see what these folk of the land are doing, and if any others have come thither?”
Said Hallblithe: “There are none others come, but kine and horses are feeding down the meadows. As to what those four are doing, the women are putting off their shoon, and girding up their raiment, as if they would wade the water toward us; and the carle, who was barefoot before, wendeth straight towards the sea, and there he standeth, for very little are the waves become.”
The old man answered nothing, and did but groan for lack of patience; but presently when the water was yet waist deep the rowers stayed the skiff, and two of them slipped over the gunwale into the sea, and between them all they took up the chieftain on his bed and got him forth from the boat and went toward the strand with him; and the landsfolk met them where the water was shallower, and took him from their hands and bore him forth on to the yellow sand, and laid him down out of reach of the creeping ripple of the tide. Hallblithe withal slipped lightly out of the boat and waded the water after them. But the shipmen rowed back again to their ship, and presently Hallblithe heard the hale and how, as they got up their anchor.
But when Hallblithe was come ashore, and was drawn near the folk of the land, the women looked at him askance, and they laughed and said: “Welcome to thee also, O young man!” And he beheld them, and saw that they were of the stature of the maidens of his own land; they were exceeding fair of skin and shapely of fashion, so that the nakedness of their limbs under their girded gowns, and all glistening with the sea, was most lovely and dainty to behold. But Hallblithe knelt by the Sea-eagle to note how he fared, and said: “How is it with thee, O chieftain?”
The old man answered not a word, and he seemed to be asleep, and Hallblithe deemed that his cheeks were ruddier and his skin less wasted and wrinkled than aforetime. Then spake one of those women: “Fear not, young man; he is well and will soon be better.” Her voice was as sweet as a spring bird in the morning; she was white-skinned and dark-haired, and full sweetly fashioned; and she laughed on Hallblithe, but not mockingly; and her fellows also laughed, as though it was strange for him to be there. Then they did on their shoon again, and with the carle laid their hands to the bed whereon the old man lay, and lifted him up, and bore him forth on to the grass, turning their faces toward the flowery wood aforesaid; and they went a little way and then laid him down again and rested; and so on little by little, till they had brought him to the edge of the wood, and still he seemed to be asleep. Then the damsel who had spoken before, she with the dark hair, said to Hallblithe, “Although we have gazed on thee as if with wonder, this is not because we did not look to meet thee, but because thou art so fair and goodly a man: so abide thou here till we come back to thee from out of the wood.”
Therewith she stroked his hand, and with her fellows lifted the old man once more, and they bore him out of sight into the thicket.
But Hallblithe went to and fro a dozen paces from the wood, and looked across the flowery meads and deemed he had never seen any so fair. And afar off toward the hills he saw a great roof arising, and thought he could see men also; and nigher to him were kine pasturing, and horses also, whereof some drew anear him and stretched out their necks and gazed at him; and they were goodly after their kind; and a fair stream of water came round the corner out of the wood and down the meadows to the sea; and Hallblithe went thereto and could see that there was but little ebb and flow of the tide on that shore; for the water of the stream was clear as glass, and the grass and flowers grew right down to its water; so he put off his helm and drank of the stream and washed his face and his hands therein, and then did on his helm again and turned back again toward the wood, feeling very strong and merry; and he looked out seaward and saw the Ship of the Isle of Ransom lessening fast; for a little land wind had arisen and they had spread their sails to it; and he laid down on the grass till the four folk of the country came out of the wood again, after they had been gone somewhat less than an hour, but the Sea-eagle was not with them: and Hallblithe rose up and turned to them, and the carle saluted him and departed, going straight toward that far-away roof he had seen; and the women were left with Hallblithe, and they looked at him and he at them as he stood leaning on his spear.
Then said the black-haired damsel: “True it is, O Spearman, that if we did not know of thee, our wonder would be great that a man so young and lucky-looking should have sought hither.”
“I wot not why thou shouldest wonder,” said Hallblithe; “I will tell thee presently wherefore I come hither. But tell me, is this the Land of the Glittering Plain?”
“Even so,” said the damsel, “dost thou not see how the sun shineth on it? Just so it shineth in the season that other folks call winter.”
“Some such marvel I thought to hear of,” said he; “for I have been told that the land is marvellous; and fair though these meadows be, they are not marvellous to look on now: they are like other lands, though it maybe, fairer.”
“That may be,” she said; “we have nought but hearsay of other lands. If we ever knew them we have forgotten them.”
Said Hallblithe, “Is this land called also the Acre of the Undying?”
As he spake the words the smile faded from the damsel’s face; she and her fellows grew pale, and she said: “Hold thy peace of such words! They are not lawful for any man to utter here. Yet mayst thou call it the Land of the Living.”
He said: “I crave pardon for the rash word.”
Then they smiled again, and drew near to him, and caressed him with their hands, and looked on him lovingly; but he drew a little aback from them and said: “I have come hither seeking something which I have lost, the lack whereof grieveth me.”
Quoth the damsel, drawing nearer to him again, “Mayst thou find it, thou lovely man, and whatsoever else thou desirest.”
Then he said: “Hath a woman named the Hostage been brought hither of late days? A fair woman, bright-haired and grey-eyed, kind of countenance, soft of speech, yet outspoken and nought timorous; tall according to our stature, but very goodly of fashion; a woman of the House of the Rose, and my troth-plight maiden.”
They looked on each other and shook their heads, and the black-haired damsel spake: “We know of no such a woman, nor of the kindred which thou namest.”
Then his countenance fell, and became piteous with desire and grief, and he bent his brows upon them, for they seemed to him light-minded and careless, though they were lovely.
But they shrank from him trembling, and drew aback; for they had all been standing close to him, beholding him with love, and she who had spoken most had been holding his left hand fondly. But now she said: “Nay, look not on us so bitterly! If the woman be not in the land, this cometh not of our malice. Yet maybe she is here. For such as come hither keep not their old names, and soon forget them what they were. Thou shalt go with us to the King, and he shall do for thee what thou wilt; for he is exceeding mighty.”
Then was Hallblithe appeased somewhat; and he said: “Are there many women in the land?”
“Yea, many,” said that damsel.
“And many that are as fair as ye be?” said he. Then they laughed and were glad, and drew near to him again and took his hands and kissed them; and the black-haired damsel said: “Yea, yea, there be many as fair as we be, and some fairer,” and she laughed.
“And that King of yours,” said he, “how do ye name him?”
“He is the King,” said the damsel.
“Hath he no other name?” said Hallblithe.
“We may not utter it,” she said; “but thou shalt see him soon, that there is nought but good in him and mightiness.”
CHAPTER XI: THE SEA-EAGLE RENEWETH HIS LIFE
But while they spake together thus, came a man from out of the wood very tall of stature, red-bearded and black-haired, ruddy-cheeked, full-limbed, most joyous of aspect; a man by seeming of five and thirty winters. He strode straight up to Hallblithe, and cast his arms about him, and kissed his cheek, as if he had been an old and dear friend newly come from over seas.
Hallblithe wondered and laughed, and said: “Who art thou that deemest me so dear?”
Said the man: “Short is thy memory, Son of the Raven, that thou in so little space hast forgotten thy shipmate and thy faring-fellow; who gave thee meat and drink and good rede in the Hall of the Ravagers.” Therewith he laughed joyously and turned about to the three maidens and took them by the hands and kissed their lips, while they fawned upon him lovingly.
Then said Hallblithe: “Hast thou verily gotten thy youth again, which thou badest me wish thee?”
“Yea, in good sooth,” said the red-bearded man; “I am the Sea-eagle of old days; and I have gotten my youth, and love therewithal, and somewhat to love moreover.”
Therewith he turned to the fairest of the damsels, and she was white- skinned and fragrant as the lily, rose-cheeked and slender, and the wind played with the long locks of her golden hair, which hung down below her knees; so he cast his arms about her and strained her to his bosom, and kissed her face many times, and she nothing loth, but caressing him with lips and hand. But the other two damsels stood by smiling and joyous: and they clapped their hands together and kissed each other for joy of the new lover; and at last fell to dancing and skipping about them like young lambs in the meadows of Spring-tide. But amongst them all, stood up Hallblithe leaning on his spear with smiling lips and knitted brow; for he was pondering in his mind in what wise he might further his quest.
But after they had danced a while the Sea-eagle left his love that he had chosen and took a hand of either of the two damsels, and led them tripping up to Hallblithe, and cried out: “Choose thou, Raven’s baby, which of these twain thou wilt have to thy mate; for scarcely shalt thou see better or fairer.”
But Hallblithe looked on them proudly and sternly, and the black- haired damsel hung down her head before him and said softly: “Nay, nay, sea-warrior; this one is too lovely to be our mate. Sweeter love abides him, and lips more longed for.”
Then stirred Hallblithe’s heart within him and he said: “O Eagle of the Sea, thou hast thy youth again: what then wilt thou do with it? Wilt thou not weary for the moonlit main, and the washing of waves and the dashing of spray, and thy fellows all glistening with the brine? Where now shall be the alien shores before thee, and the landing for fame, and departure for the gain of goods? Wilt thou forget the ship’s black side, and the dripping of the windward oars, as the squall falleth on when the sun hath arisen, and the sail tuggeth hard on the sheet, and the ship lieth over and the lads shout against the whistle of the wind? Has the spear fallen from thine hand, and hast thou buried the sword of thy fathers in the grave from which thy body hath escaped? What art thou, O Warrior, in the land of the alien and the King? Who shall heed thee or tell the tale of thy glory, which thou hast covered over with the hand of a light woman, whom thy kindred knoweth not, and who was not born in a house wherefrom it hath been appointed thee from of old to take the pleasure of woman? Whose thrall art thou now, thou lifter of the spoil, thou scarer of the freeborn? The bidding of what lord or King wilt thou do, O Chieftain, that thou mayst eat thy meat in the morning and lie soft in thy bed in the evening?”
“O Warrior of the Ravagers, here stand I, Hallblithe of the Raven, and I am come into an alien land beset with marvels to seek mine own, and find that which is dearest to mine heart; to wit, my troth-plight maiden the Hostage of the Rose, the fair woman who shall lie in my bed, and bear me children, and stand by me in field and fold, by thwart and gunwale, before the bow and the spear, by the flickering of the cooking-fire, and amidst the blaze of the burning hall, and beside the bale-fire of the warrior of the Raven. O Sea-eagle, my guester amongst the foemen, my fellow-farer and shipmate, say now once for all whether thou wilt help me in my quest, or fall off from me as a dastard?”
Again the maidens shrank before his clear and high-raised voice, and they trembled and grew pale.
But the Sea-eagle laughed from a countenance kind with joy, and said: “Child of the Raven, thy words are good and manly: but it availeth nought in this land, and I wot not how thou wilt fare, or why thou hast been sent amongst us. What wilt thou do? Hadst thou spoken these words to the Long-hoary, the Grandfather, yesterday, his ears would have been deaf to them; and now that thou speakest them to the Sea-eagle, this joyous man on the Glittering Plain, he cannot do according to them, for there is no other land than this which can hold him. Here he is strong and stark, and full of joy and love; but otherwhere he would be but a gibbering ghost drifting down the wind of night. Therefore in whatsoever thou mayst do within this land I will stand by thee and help thee; but not one inch beyond it may my foot go, whether it be down into the brine of the sea, or up into the clefts of the mountains which are the wall of this goodly land.
“Thou hast been my shipmate and I love thee, I am thy friend; but here in this land must needs be the love and the friendship. For no ghost can love thee, no ghost may help thee. And as to what thou sayest concerning the days gone past and our joys upon the tumbling sea, true it is that those days were good and lovely; but they are dead and gone like the lads who sat on the thwart beside us, and the maidens who took our hands in the hall to lead us to the chamber. Other days have come in their stead, and other friends shall cherish us. What then? Shall we wound the living to pleasure the dead, who cannot heed it? Shall we curse the Yuletide, and cast foul water on the Holy Hearth of the winter feast, because the summer once was fair and the days flit and the times change? Now let us be glad! For life liveth.”
Therewith he turned about to his damsel and kissed her on the mouth. But Hallblithe’s face was grown sad and stern, and he spake slowly and heavily: “So is it, shipmate, that whereas thou sayest that the days flit, for thee they shall flit no more; and the day may come for thee when thou shalt be weary, and know it, and long for the lost which thou hast forgotten. But hereof it availeth nought for me to speak any longer, for thine ears are deaf to these words, and thou wilt not hear them. Therefore I say no more save that I thank thee for thy help whatsoever it may be; and I will take it, for the day’s work lieth before me, and I begin to think that it may be heavy enough.”