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Chapter I. Of a River Called the Sundering Flood, and of the Folk that Dwelt Thereby
Chapter II. Of Wethermel and the Child Osberne
Chapter III. Wolves Harry the Flock
Chapter IV. Surly John Falls Out with the Goodman
Chapter V. Osberne Slays the Wolves
Chapter VI. They Fare to the Cloven Mote
Chapter VII. Of a Newcomer, and His Gift to Osberne
Chapter VIII. The Goodman Gets a New Hired Man
Chapter IX. The Bight of the Cloven Knoll
Chapter X. Osberne and Elfhild Hold Converse Together
Chapter XI. Osberne Shoots a Gift Across the Flood
Chapter XII. Of a Guest Called Waywearer
Chapter XIII. Steelhead Gives Osberne the Sword Boardcleaver
Chapter XIV. The Gifts of Steelhead
Chapter XV. Surly John Brings a Guest to Wethermel
Chapter XVI. Hardcastle Would Seize Wethermel
Chapter XVII. The Slaying of Hardcastle
Chapter XVIII. Elfhild Hears of the Slaying
Chapter XIX. The Winter Passes and Elfhild Tells of the Death of Her Kinswoman
Chapter XX. Osberne Fares to Eastcheaping and Brings Gifts for Elfhild
Chapter XXI. Warriors from Eastcheaping Ride into the Dale
Chapter XXII. Osberne Takes Leave of Elfhild
Chapter XXIII. Osberne Is Chosen Captain of the Dalesmen
Chapter XXIV. A Skirmish with the Baron of Deepdale in the Marshes
Chapter XXV. Stephen Tells of an Adventure in the Camp of the Foemen
Chapter XXVI. They Bring the Baron into Eastcheaping
Chapter XXVII. They Parley from the Walls
Chapter XXVIII. The Baron of Deepdale Makes Peace
Chapter XXIX. Osberne and His Men Return to Wethermel
Chapter XXX. Osberne Goes to the Trysting-Place
Chapter XXXI. They Meet Through Autumn and Winter
Chapter XXXII. Foemen Among the West Dalers
Chapter XXXIII. Osberne Seeks Tidings of Elfhild
Chapter XXXIV. Osberne Sorrows for the Loss of Elfhild
Chapter XXXV. Osberne Seeks Counsel of Steelhead
Chapter XXXVI. The Staves which Osberne Taught to the Dalesmen
Chapter XXXVII. Osberne Takes Leave of Wethermel
Chapter XXXVIII. Osberne Parts from Stephen the Eater
Chapter XXXIX. Osberne Gets Him a New Master
Chapter XL. Osberne Rides with Sir Godrick
Chapter XLI. They Joust with the Knight of the Fish
Chapter XLII. They Deliver the Thorp-Dwellers from the Black Skinners
Chapter XLIII. They Come to the Edge of the Wood Masterless
Chapter XLIV. They Reach Longshaw and Osberne Gets Him a New Name
Chapter XLV. The Red Lad Scatters the Host of the Barons
Chapter XLVI. Osberne Enters the City of the Sundering Flood
Chapter XLVII. The Battle in the Square
Chapter XLVIII. Sir Godrick Is Chosen Burgreve of the City
Chapter XLIX. Of the City King and the Outland King
Chapter L. The Red Lad Speaks Privily with Sir Godrick
Chapter LI. Osberne is Beguiled by Felons
Chapter LII. The Meeting of Osberne and Elfhild
Chapter LIII. Strangers Come to Wethermel
Chapter LIV. The Carline Beginneth Her Tale
Chapter LV. The Blue Knight Buys the Maiden of the Chapman
Chapter LVI. The Blue Knight Talks with the Maiden by the Way
Chapter LVII. They Come to Brookside
Chapter LVIII. Peaceful Days in the Castle of Brookside
Chapter LIX. Tidings of Longshaw and of the Hosting of the Barons' League
Chapter LX. The Blue Knight Gathers Men and Departs from Brookside
Chapter LXI. The Maiden and the Carline Flee to the Grey Sisters
Chapter LXII. They Fall in with Three Chapmen
Chapter LXIII. They Escape from the Chapmen by the Carline's Wizardry
Chapter LXIV. The Carline Endeth Her Tale
Chapter LXV. Osberne and Elfhild Make Themselves Known to Their People
Chapter LXVI. The Lip of the Sundering Flood
Chapter LXVII. A Friend at Need
Chapter LXVIII. The Knight of Longshaw Gathereth Force
Draw we nigher now to the heart of our tale, and tell how on the east side of the Sundering Flood was erewhile a stead hight Wethermel: a stead more lonely than most even in that Dale, the last house but one, and that was but a cot, toward the mountains at the head of the Dale. It was not ill set down, for its houses stood beneath a low spreading knoll, the broader side whereof was turned to the south-west, and where by consequence was good increase of corn year by year. The said knoll of Wethermel was amidst of the plain of the Dale a mile from the waterside, and all round about it the pasture was good for kine and horses and sheep all to the water's lip on the west and half way up the bent on the east; while towards the crown of the bent was a wood of bushes good for firewood and charcoal, and even beyond the crown of the bent was good sheep-land a long way.
Nevertheless, though its land was fruitful as for that country, yet had Wethermel no great name for luck, and folk who had the choice would liever dwell otherwhere, so that it was hard for the goodman to get men to work there for hire. Many folk deemed that this ill-luck came because the knoll had been of old time a dwelling of the Dwarfs or the Land-wights, and that they grudged it that the children of Adam had supplanted them, and that corn grew on the very roof of their ancient house. But however that might be, there was little thriving there for the most part: and at least it was noted by some, that if there were any good hap, it ever missed one generation, and went not from father to son, but from grandsire to grandson: and even so it was now at the beginning of this tale.
For he who had been master of Wethermel had died a young man, and his wife followed him in a month or two, and there was left in the house but the father and mother of these twain, hale and stout folk, he of fifty winters, she of forty-five; an old woman of seventy, a kinswoman of the house who had fostered the late goodman; and a little lad who had to name Osberne, now twelve winters old, a child strong and bold, tall, bright and beauteous. These four were all the folk of Wethermel, save now and then a hired man who was hard pressed for livelihood would be got to abide there some six months or so. It must be told further that there was no house within ten miles either up or down the water on that side, save the little cot abovesaid nigher to the mountains, and that was four miles up-stream; it hight Burcot, and was somewhat kenspeckle. Withal as to those Cloven Motes, as they were called, which were between the folk on either side, they were holden at a stead seven miles below Wethermel. So that in all wise was it a lonely and scantly-manned abode: and because of this every man on the stead must work somewhat hard and long day by day, and even Osberne the little lad must do his share; and up to this time we tell of, his work was chiefly about the houses, or else it was on the knoll, or round about it, scaring fowl from the corn; weeding the acre-ground, or tending the old horses that fed near the garth; or goose-herding at whiles. Forsooth, the two elders, who loved and treasured the little carle exceedingly, were loth to trust him far out of sight because of his bold heart and wilful spirit; and there were perils in the Dale, and in special at that rough and wild end of thereof, though they came not from weaponed reivers for the more part, though now and again some desperate outcast from the thicker peopled lands had strayed into it; and there was talk from time to time of outlaws who lay out over the mountain-necks, and might not always do to lack a sheep or a neat or a horse. Other perils more of every-day there were for a young child, as the deep and hurrying stream of the Sundering Flood, and the wolves which haunted the bent and the foothills of the mountains; and ever moreover there was the peril from creatures seldom seen, Dwarfs and Land-wights to wit, who, as all tales told, might be well pleased to have away into their realm so fair a child of the sons of Adam as was this Osberne.
Forsooth for the most part the lad kept within bounds, for love's sake rather than fear, though he wotted well that beating abode bound-breaking; but ye may well wot that this quietness might not always be. And one while amongst others he was missing for long, and when his grandsire sought him he found him at last half way between grass and water above the fierce swirling stream of the river; for he had clomb down the sheer rock of the bank, which all along the water is fashioned into staves, as it were organ-pipes, but here and there broken by I wot not what mighty power. There then was my lad in an ingle-nook of the rock, and not able either to go down or come up, till the goodman let a rope down to him and hauled him on to the grass.
Belike he was a little cowed by the peril, and the beating he got for putting his folk in such fear; but though he was somewhat moved by his grandam's tears and lamentations over him, and no less by the old carline's bewailing for his days that he would so surely shorten, yet this was not by a many the last time he strayed from the stead away into peril. On a time he was missing again nightlong, but in the morning came into the house blithe and merry, but exceeding hungry, and when the good man asked him where he had been and bade him whipping-cheer, he said that he cared little if beaten were he, so merry a time he had had; for he had gone a long way up the Dale, and about twilight (this was in mid-May) had fallen in with a merry lad somewhat bigger than himself, who had shown him many merry plays, and at last had brought him to his house, "which is not builded of stone and turf, like to ours," saith he, "but is in a hole in the rock; and there we wore away the night, and there was no one there but we two, and again he showed me more strange plays, which were wondrous; but some did frighten me."
Then his grandsire asked him what like those plays were. Said Osberne: "He took a stone and stroked it, and mumbled, and it turned into a mouse, and played with us nought afraid a while; but presently it grew much bigger, till it was bigger than a hare; and great game meseemed that was, till on a sudden it stood on its hind-legs, and lo it was become a little child, and O, but so much littler than I; and then it ran away from us into the dark, squealing the while like a mouse behind the panel, only louder. Well, thereafter, my playmate took a big knife, and said: 'Now, drudgling, I shall show thee a good game indeed.' And so he did, for he set the edge of the said knife against his neck, and off came his head; but there came no blood, nor did he tumble down, but took up his head and stuck it on again, and then he stood crowing like our big red cock. Then he said: 'Poultry, cockerel, now I will do the like by thee.' And he came to me with the knife; but I was afraid, and gat hold of his hand and had the knife from him; and then I wrestled with him and gave him a fall; but I must needs let him get up again presently, whereas he grew stronger under my hand; then he thrust me from him and laughed exceeding much, and said: 'Here is a champion come into my house forsooth! Well, I will leave thine head on thy shoulders, for belike I might not be able to stick it on again, which were a pity of thee, for a champion shalt thou verily be in the days to come.' After this all his play with me was to sit down and bid me hearken; and then he took out a little pipe, and put it to his mouth, and made music out of it, which was both sweet and merry. And then he left that, and fell to telling me tales about the woods where big trees grow, and how his kindred had used to dwell therein, and fashioned most fair things in smith's work of gold and silver and iron; and all this liked me well; and he said: 'I tell thee that one day thou shalt have a sword of my father's father's fashioning, and that will be an old one, for they both were long-lived.' And as he spake I deemed that he was not like a child any more, but a little, little old man, white-haired and wrinkle-faced, but without a beard, and his hair shone like glass. And then -- I went to sleep, and when I woke up again it was morning, and I looked around and there was no one with me. So I arose and came home to you, and I am safe and sound if thou beat me not, kinsman."
Now ye may judge if his fore-elders were not scared by the lad's tale, for they knew that he had fallen in with one of the Dwarf-kin, and his grandam caught him up and hugged him and kissed him well favouredly; and the carline, whose name was Bridget, followed on the like road; and then she said: "See you, kinsmen, if it be not my doing that the blessed bairn has come back to us. Tell us, sweetheart, what thou hast round thy neck under thy shirt." Osberne laughed. Said he: "Thou didst hang on me a morsel of parchment with signs drawn thereon, and it is done in a silk bag. Fear not, foster-mother, but that I will wear it yet, since thou makest such to-do over it."
"Ah! the kind lad thou art, my dear," said the carline. "I will tell you, kinsmen, that I had that said parchment from our priest, and it is strong neckguard against all evil things, for on it is scored the Holy Rood, and thereon are the names of the three Holy Kings, and other writing withal which I may not read, for it is clerks' Latin." And again the two women made much of the little lad, while the goodman stood by grumbling and grunting; but this time did Osberne escape his beating, though he was promised a drubbing which should give him much to think on if he went that way again; and the women prayed and besought him to be obedient to the goodman herein.
But one thing he had not told his kinsfolk, to wit, that the Dwarf had given him for a gift that same knife wherewith he had played the game of heads-off, and a fair sheath went with it, and he had done him to wit that most like luck would go with it. Wherefore little Osberne had the said knife hidden under his raiment, along with the parchment whereon was scored the Holy Rood and the good words of wisdom written.
Now these matters, and other strayings and misdoings of the youngling, befel before the time whereof I now tell, when he was, as aforesaid, passed of twelve years; and it was in latter autumn, when the nights are lengthening. At this time there was a hired man dwelling with them, whose work it was to drive the sheep afield, either up on to the eastern bents or away off down to the water, so as they might not eat the grass of the kine from them. But Osberne, both of his own will and at the bidding of the goodman, went off afield with this man John and helped him to keep the sheep from straying over-far. Now one day at evening, somewhat later than he was wont, when, as it chanced, Osberne had not fared with him, back comes John from the bents, and he looked scared and pale, and he tells the tale that as the light began to fail up there, three huge wolves fell upon the sheep, and slew sundry of them, and it was easy to be seen of him that he had held no very close battle with the wolves, but had stood aloof till they had done their supper, and then gathered what he could of the sheep without going over-near the field of deed. The goodman berated him for his cowardice, and seemed to begrudge him his victuals somewhat that night, whereas, what with them who the wolves had slain, and them who had perchance fled away, the flock was seventeen wethers short. John excused himself what he might, and said that he had no weapon, nought save his shepherd's staff, and that the wolves had slain his dog in the first stour: but while he spake, Osberne, who sat by, deemed him somewhat stark and tall to be so little-hearted.
However, the next day the goodman and John must needs go up to the bent to see if they might find aught alive of the sheep that were missing, and each of them bore a shield and short spear, that they might make head against the wolves if that host should fall on them in the middle of the [day]. Meantime Osberne, by the goodman's bidding, drives the flock down toward the water, nothing loth, for ever the wondrous stream seemed to draw the lad to it. And a fair day he had of it, wandering amidst the sheep and being friendly with them, whiles drawing out his knife to look thereon, as oft he did when he was alone; and forsooth it was a goodly weapon, carven with quaintnesses about the heft, the blade inlaid with runes done in gold, and the sheath of silver. Whiles also he stood on the river's lip and looked across the water which was there in most places as big as the Thames is at Reading, but sometimes narrower. But there was nought stirring within eyeshot on the further bank that day, save the fowl, and a bull that came running along and lowing as he went on some errand, whatever it might be, for he was not followed of any men. So he came back with the flock before dark all safe; neither had he gone far from the stead, for so he was bidden of by his grandsire.
A little after comes in the goodman with John, neither of them in very sweet temper; they had seen nought of the sheep save the hide and bones of a half score, but the wolves they had not failed to see; they had come to the same place as the last night, and seemed by no means afraid of the man-host with its spears and shields, wherefore these last had turned their backs and run from them stoutly, and now sat together glowering on each other, and casting now and again a gibe each at each. But they were at one in this, that the wolves were huge and fierce beyond measure, and such as any man might fear. But at last John spake and said: "Well, master, it is as they say down the Dale, that this no lucky house; meseems ye are beset with no common wolves, but with skin-changers who have taken the shape of wolves, whether they be Land-wights or Dwarfs, or ride-a-nights of the outlaws."
At that word waxed the master wood-wrath, as was his wont if any spake of the luck of Wethermel; and he forgot his fear in his anger, and said: "Hearken the fool-talk of him! Thou hadst not the heart for all thine inches to go forward before thy master, and a man on the downward side of years; and now thou must needs make up fairy tales to cover they cowardice." Said John, grinning, "Keep thy head, master; for sooth it is that thou wert the first to run, and wert the first through the door."
"Thou liest," said the goodman; "but this I tell thee, that whosoever was afraid then, thou shalt be afraid now." And he rose up and smote his man upon the face so that he fell to the ground, and John leapt up and would have smitten his master again; but even therewith comes in the goodwife, and Bridget with her, bearing in the supper smoking hot, and something seemed to hold John back from his blow, and he sat down, surly enough but silent. Then said the goodwife: "What is to do here? Hast thou run against the settle-end, John, that thy cheek is red and blue?"
Laughed the youngling thereat, and a word came into his mouth, and he sang:
All grey on the bentThere the sheep-greedy went:The big spear and shieldMet the foes of the field,But nought the white teethIn the warriors gat sheath,For master and manFull meetly they ran.But now in this hallThe fear off doth fallFrom one of the twain,And his hand getteth gain,But the other sits there,And new groweth his fearBoth of man and of grey.So the meat on board lay,Thou on whom gold doth ride,Meat-goddess grey-eyed,Let the loaf-warden eat,And the man whom he beat,And the lad that doth lieIn wall-nook hereby,And thou Gold-tree the fair,And the milk-mother dear,Lest the meat wax a-coldBoth for bold and unbold.
Hereat all laughed, but the two men somewhat from one side of their mouths. And the goodman said: "See thou to it, kinsman, lest stripes be thy song-pay." But Osberne laughed from a fair and merry face and sang again:
O lord of the land,To the staff lay no handTill the grey ones thou faceIn the wind-weary place.
And therewith he fell to his meat and ate stoutly, and to the women it seemed that their little kinsman had the makings of a champion in him, and his staves they loved dearly in their hearts, and they smiled upon him kindly; and he looked from one to the other and quoth he:
Three mothers had I,And one is gone by,But two are left here,Leal, buxom, and dear.
As for the goodman, now that the meat was getting into him, the wrath was running off, and he thought within himself that presently he should have good avail of his grandson.
On the morrow comes John to the goodman, and quoth he: "Master, there is small doubt that I shall one day pay thee for the pudding in the pot which thou gavest me yestereen, and after that I shall have to take my soles out of this straightway; so meseemeth I had best go hence today."
"Well," said the goodman, "if thou must go, go, and the devil go with thee. But as to the knock on thy cheekbone, I will boot thee therefor, if thou wilt take boot and abide, for though thou be no hard worker, nor very deft of thy hands, yet the winter is lonely here, and thou wilt be missed somewhat."
Quoth John: "Yea, goodman, but there is this in it withal, that Wethermel liketh me not, though I say nought against thee for a master. I love not thy were-wolves, that are big and gruesome enough to frighten two stout armed men; and I love not thy Dwarfs, who cut off their own heads and stick them on again, and give guesting to little lads, doing them no hurt; for meseems that means that the said Dwarf will be carving guest-quarters here one day, and who knows how soon; and I care not for such an one as a fellow at board. And then there is thy grandson, and a fair boy he is and a good scald, though that be come upon him somewhat suddenly. But he is over bigwordy for me, and I see clearly that soon there shall be two masters in this house, and one is well enough for me. And lastly as to thy kinswomen; I wot well I shall have no good word from them year in year out. So take this for my last word, that I shall turn my back upon thee so soon as thou hast paid me my hire, and shall go seek quarters down the Dale, at some merrier stead than this."
The goodman looked on him sourly, and then turned about and took a bag from the chest, and drew silver from it, and told over certain pieces and laid them before John (who is henceforth called Surly John) and said: "Here is thine hire in good silver. And now I shall not say one more word to thee for good or bad, save this, that thou hadst best look to it that thy silver melt not before many months are over. Take thy soles out of this straightway." So John took up his silver, and stowed it in his pouch, and then he said: "Well, goodman, now that I am paid I think that I had best pay thee for the cheek-knock of last night."
He was a tall man and strong of thirty winters, and the goodman somewhat on in years and not over strong, wherefore the battle seemed like to go all one way. But lo, as he rushed on the goodman, of a sudden he felt his feet pulled away from under him, and fell noseling to the ground; and when he would rise, lo there was on one side of him the goodman with a cudgel in his hand, and Osberne on the other, with his whittle drawn; and the lad laughed and said: "Thou has been a long while and used many words about going, so belike thou wert best tarry no longer; or wert thou thinking thou wouldst go to bed? Nay, thou hast talked long, but nought so long that it is night yet."
So therewith Surly John arose and shook the dust of the floor off him, shouldered his bag, which he had ready by, and went out-of-doors and down the Dale afoot, for he was too shamefaced to crave the loan of a horse, to which forsooth the kinsmen would have made him welcome.
So the day wore amidst divers matters, and the sheep pastured anigh to the Mel; but ever the goodman said that wolves or no wolves he must drive them up the bent next day. But he said this so often, that it seemed as if he were not over willing thereto; and in the evening he took forth an old sword which he had, a good one, and sat whetting it with a hone. So they fared to bed.
But in the morning ere it was light the goodman deemed he heard goings-on in the house, and he sat up and hearkened. Next then he heard a hand amongst the three shields which hung on the panel the other side of his shut-bed, and thereafter he heard one going to the door; and he smiled thereat and lay down again, and presently there came the sound of the bleating of many sheep. So the carle stands up therewith and does on his raiment and takes his spear and shield and girds his sword to him, and goeth forth and out of the garth, and turns his face up toward the bent, but goes very slow; and day was now just beginning to dawn though the stars yet shone; clear was the morning. Now in the grey light the carle could just see what he looked to see, to wit, the whole flock going together toward the bent, and a little figure of a son of Adam going after them, on whom a red scarlet hue was even dimly to be seen.
The carle smiled, and said to himself, Forsooth, yonder ruffler must needs clothe him in holiday raiment to do his doughty deed! Now will I not follow him to mar his championship, but will leave him alone to his luck, which I see to be great.
So he abode a little in an ingle of the garth wall, while the sheep lessened but grew clearer before him, and the scarlet raiment of his grandson grew brighter; and then he went swiftly, skirting the knoll till he had it betwixt him and the stead, and thereafter he went more leisurely toward the north. And he said to himself, The lad will do well enough; and as to the women, they will make the less outcry, that when they find me and my weapons gone they will think I have fared with him up the bent. So therewith he betook himself well out of the way, keeping near to the bank of the river.
As to Osberne, I will say nought of him till he comes back in the even, driving all his sheep before him, not one lacking, and two of the lost ones found. He bears with him shield and spear, and has the Dwarf-wrought whittle in his girdle. Over his shoulder to boot he carries a biggish bag, well-nigh big enough for so little a carle; of white linen it is, it hath something heavy in it, and is much stained with blood. So he folds the sheep straightway, and then comes into the hall, he and his bag, and throws the same into the ingle of the hearth fire. Then he casts a sack over his shoulders and sits before the bag, so that it may not be lightly seen. By this time, it was dusking outside, and inside the hall it was pretty much dark save for the fire, where little flames leapt up now and again as some piece of the firing tumbled over. In the hall was no one, for the women were bringing in the kine, and the goodman was not yet come in from the field.
There he sits quietly, stirring little. And the next tidings is, the goodman comes home alone; he hears the sheep a-bleating, and goes glad at heart to the fold; and there is his joy eked, for by the light of the moon, which is now rising, he can see well enough to tell over the sheep, and finds two more than there were yesterday. So he goes speedily toward the hall, and the women now come up after him, having gotten the kine into the byre; so they all three go into the hall together.
Then cries out the goodman: "Is there aught in the hall now?" Osberne answers from where he sat: "There is but little, for I am little." Then they turn and see him hugging himself up in the sack, and something at his back, they cannot see what; and the goodman says: "What hast thou been about all day, kinsman? Thou art forever foolhardy and a truant; of right, stripes should pay the for thy straying." Said Osberne: "I have been shepherding sheep; may it not buy me off the stripes that I have found two of the lost ones, and brought back all safe?" "Maybe," says the master; "but did aught else befal thee?" Says the lad: "Will it not buy me off beating that I have also brought home good catch?"
"Yea, if the catch be good," says the goodman. "It is but a leash of snipes, which I got me in a corner of the bog up yonder," says Osberne. "Snipes!" says Bridget; "deft art thou, fosterling, to take them without either springe or stonebow, and they all flittering like butterflies on a March day."
"Yea, auntie," saith he, "but a stone or two might avail without the bow, were one deft enough. Yet with no such weapon did I slay them; ask me what weapons I bore against them." Therewith he stirs and shakes himself, and off tumbles the sack from his shoulders, and therewith his grandam lights up the candles, and they all see the scarlet and gold of his holiday raiment; and Bridget says: "This also will I ask thee, fosterling, do men go out to take snipes in their holiday raiment?"
"I will tell thee," says the little lad: "the weapons I bore against the catch were the shield to ward, and the spear to thrust, and the knife for the shearing of the heads: and I tell thee that when men go to battle they use to wend in their fair-dyed raiment."
Then he stood up in the hall, the little one, but trim and goodly, with gleaming eyes and bright hair, and a word came into his mouth:
On the wind-weary bentThe grey ones they went,Growled the greedy and glaredOn the sheep-kin afeared;Low looked the bright sunOn the battle begun,For they saw how the swainStood betwixt them and gain.'Twas the spear in the belly, the spear in the mouth,And a warp of the shield from the north to the south,The spear in the throat, and the eyes of the sunScarce shut as the last of the battle was done.
"Well sung, kinsman!" said the goodman: "now shalt thou show us the snipes." But ere the lad might stoop to his bag the two women were upon him, clipping and kissing him as if they would never have enough thereof. He made a shift to thrust them off at last, and stooping to his bag he drew out something and cast it on the board, and lo the sheared-off head of a great grey wolf with gaping jaws and glistening white fangs, and the women shrank before it. But Osberne said: "Lo the first of the catch, and here is the second." And again he drew out a head from the bag and cast it on the board; and so with the third in due course.
"Now," said he, "the bag is empty, and deemest thou, grandsire, that I have bought off my beating? And thou, grandam, I pray thee, give me my meat, for I am anhungered." So now they had nought but praises and caresses for him and they made as it were a new feast of the November day, and were as merry as if they were feasting the best days of Yule.
And now the days wore away to winter, and ever thereafter might Osberne do what he would, and go where he would, for as little a lad as he was; but he worked with a good will if he were uncompelled, and if he were suffered to wander at whiles as his will drave him. Forsooth, since he had no fellows of a like age to him, it was whiles that he found the open field or the waste gave him better fellowship than the older folk, yea even than the women.
Winter came, and the snow and the frost, which was not very hard in that land, as many would have been glad if it were, for then might the Sundering Flood have been laid with ice, which never betid. On the morning of Yule day, Osberne and his grandsire and grandam got under way long before daylight, that they might go to the Cloven Mote, and hear the Christmass in the church of Allhallows, which had been builded on the east side of the water to be the church of the Mote; but on the other side of the water was another church like to it in all ways, and under the same invocation, for the Western folk. This was the first time that Osberne had been boun to the Mote, and withal both the women were wont to stay at home: but this time nought would serve the goodwife but she must wend with her man, that she might show her darling and her champion to the neighbours. It was a matter of seven miles down the water to the Mote-stead, and they went aslant over the snow-covered fields, and hit the riverbank about half way, and went thence along the very lip of the water. And by then it was pretty much daylight; and Osberne looked over the water and saw about a half mile off (for the day was clear) two little knolls rising from the field, and betwixt them and about them a shaw of small wood; and he asked his grandsire what that might be, for hitherto he had never been so far down the water; whereas before he slew the wolves, down the water was banned to him, and after that he had been busy about the houses and folds, or driving the sheep to the bents day by day.
So his grandsire answered him: "That is hight Hartshaw, and we are told that on the other side of the shaw and the knolls looking west is a stead with houses inhabited, and the whole place is hight Hartshaw Knolls." Said Osberne: "I would we were there a while, for as I look at the stead it seemeth friendly to me, and I fare to feel that the folk thereof shall come into my life some day." Answered the goodman: "We hear that little dwelleth there save a widow-woman and her one child, a little maiden. And as to thy one day, it shall be a long while coming; for long and long shall it be for any one to encompass the Sundering Flood, save the Winter of Fear come upon us, and all the land be overlaid with ice, and the waters of the Flood be stayed; which may God and Allhallows forfend."
The lad said nought for a while; and then he said: "Goodman, I would we had gone down to riverbank from out our own door, and gone all along the Flood-side to the Mote; for it were pleasant to have looked across the Flood, thinking of all there is on the other side, and wondering if we shall ever get there. Why did we not this, for on the very bank the going is better?" Said the carle: "We have come the shortest way this bitter morning; that is all."
Herein he lied; for they had gone that slant-way to give the go-by to a certain place of the Flood-bank which the Dale-dwellers deemed perilous; but thereof he would not tell the little carle, now that he was become so masterful, deeming that if he heard of any peril toward he would be all agog to try the adventure thereof, as forsooth was true. Of this place, which lay now but just behind them, shall more be told hereafter.
Now they come to the Mote in good time when the sun was but just arisen, and there was already a throng; and at their coming the folk on the western side raised a shout, as the folk on either side were wont to welcome newcomers; but the very first man they hit upon was Surly John; and the goodwife, a soft, kind woman, hailed him friendly, and was fain to have some one whom she knew unto whom to tell her tale of the champion and the wolves. For indeed it needs must out to the very first comer, and out it came now, many worded, and folk, both men and women, gathered about the twain to hearken; for the goodwife told it all well and without hitch.
Surly John must needs abide the telling of it, but when it was done he said: "Well, dame, so it is that I always deemed the lad kenspeckle; and it has moreover turned out as I warned you, that you have got a new master over you." And therewith he turned away; but of those others who heard the tale there were more than one or two who praised it much, and deemed it marvellous as might well be that a child should have faced and slain those three monsters who had put two stout men to flight. And one man made up this stave, which was presently sung all about the Eastern Mote, and went over the water with the tale to the Western one:
To run and to fightAre deeds free to the wight,And John tried in battleHad heard the boards rattle,But needed to proveThe race back to the stove;So his wightness he showedIn way-wearing the road.While Osberne, who knewHow the foot-race to do,Must try the new gameWhere the battle-beasts came.
Bairn for fight, but for running the strong man and tall,And all folk for the laughter when both are in hall.
When Surly John heard this stave he cursed between his teeth, but said nought.
But now on either side, the churches fell to ringing to mass, and all folk fared to service. And Osberne sat in a good place amongst the carles, and forsooth he had both ears and eyes open, both then and all day. Mass over, the cooking-fires were lighted and tents were pitched on either side the water, and in a while they went to dinner; and thereafter, when they had sung a while, came the time of drinking, and folk were paired, men and women so far as might be, for more men there were than women. But whereas all men save Surly John were well with Osberne, there was gotten for his mate a fair young damsel of but seventeen winters, and Osberne, who had looked hard on all the women who were well-liking (for he had seen but very seldom any women save those two of his kinfolk), was amazed with joy when the dear maid pulled down her hood and pulled off her gloves. And whereas she was shy of him because of his doughtiness, for all that he was but a child, it was not until they had drunk a cup or two that he took heart to set his hand to her neck and kiss her cheeks and her mouth, whereat she blushed rosy red, and all they that were in the tent laughed and cheered. But thereafter they fell to sweet speech and talked much, and he held her hand when the end of the feast was done; which was after this wise, that folk stood on the the very lip of the river in one long row, hand in hand, and the loving-cup went down each row, and they cried healths to each other, and then lifted up their voices and shouted all together, and so undid the Mote and parted. And this time (and it was dark save for the fires flaring behind them) it was the maid that kissed Osberne; neither needed she, a tall damsel though she was, to stoop much thereto, for right big and tall he was of his years.
So then all went back each to his own home. And the winter wore away at Wethermel with nought to tell of.
Now when spring came again, needs must Osberne drive the sheep up to the bents, though he had liefer haunted the riverside, for sore he desired to cross the Flood and find out tidings there. And though he were a child, yet he would by his own choice have fared to seek out the pretty maiden whose hand he had held on the edge of the river that even, but livelihood drave him to look to the sheep now that the spring grass was growing.