The House of the Wolfings
Part 2 out of 5
so many of swimming its dark green dangerous waters. And the day
wore on towards evening and the glory of the western sky was unseen
because of the wall of high trees. And still the host made on, and
because of the narrowness of the space between river and wood it was
strung out longer and looked a very great company of men. And
moreover the men of the eastern-lying part of Mid-mark, were now
marching thick and close on the other side of the river but a little
way from the Wolfings and their fellows; for nothing but the narrow
river sundered them.
So night fell, and the stars shone, and the moon rose, and yet the
Wolfings and their fellows stayed not, since they wotted that behind
them followed a many of the men of the Mark, both the Mid and the
Nether, and they would by no means hinder their march.
So wended the Markmen between wood and stream on either side of
Mirkwood-water, till now at last the night grew deep and the moon
set, and it was hard on midnight, and they had kindled many torches
to light them on either side of the water. So whereas they had come
to a place where the trees gave back somewhat from the river, which
was well-grassed for their horses and neat, and was called Baitmead,
the companies on the western side made stay there till morning. And
they drew the wains right up to the thick of the wood, and all men
turned aside into the mead from the beaten road, so that those who
were following after might hold on their way if so they would. There
then they appointed watchers of the night, while the rest of them lay
upon the sward by the side of the trees, and slept through the short
The tale tells not that any man dreamed of the fight to come in such
wise that there was much to tell of his dream on the morrow; many
dreamed of no fight or faring to war, but of matters little, and
often laughable, mere mingled memories of bygone time that had no
waking wits to marshal them.
But that man of the Beamings dreamed that he was at home watching a
potter, a man of the thralls of the House working at his wheel, and
fashioning bowls and ewers: and he had a mind to take of his clay
and fashion a horse for the lad that had bemoaned the promise of his
toy. And he tried long and failed to fashion anything; for the clay
fell to pieces in his hands; till at last it held together and grew
suddenly, not into an image of a horse, but of the Great Yule Boar,
the similitude of the Holy Beast of Frey. So he laughed in his sleep
and was glad, and leaped up and drew his sword with his clay-stained
hands that he might wave it over the Earth Boar, and swear a great
oath of a doughty deed. And therewith he found himself standing on
his feet indeed, just awakened in the cold dawn, and holding by his
right hand to an ash-sapling that grew beside him. So he laughed
again, and laid him down, and leaned back and slept his sleep out
till the sun and the voices of his fellows stirring awakened him.
CHAPTER VII--THEY GATHER TO THE FOLK-MOTE
When it was the morning, all the host of the Markmen was astir on
either side of the water, and when they had broken their fast, they
got speedily into array, and were presently on the road again; and
the host was now strung out longer yet, for the space between water
and wood once more diminished till at last it was no wider than ten
men might go abreast, and looking ahead it was as if the wild-wood
swallowed up both river and road.
But the fighting-men hastened on merrily with their hearts raised
high, since they knew that they would soon be falling in with more of
their people, and the coming fight was growing a clearer picture to
their eyes; so from side to side of the river they shouted out the
cries of their Houses, or friend called to friend across the eddies
of Mirkwood-water, and there was game and glee enough.
So they fared till the wood gave way before them, and lo, the
beginning of another plain, somewhat like the Mid-mark. There also
the water widened out before them, and there were eyots in it with
stony shores crowned with willow or with alder, and aspens rising
from the midst of them.
But as for the plain, it was thus much different from Mid-mark, that
the wood which begirt it rose on the south into low hills, and away
beyond them were other hills blue in the distance, for the most bare
of wood, and not right high, the pastures of the wild-bull and the
bison, whereas now dwelt a folk somewhat scattered and feeble;
hunters and herdsmen, with little tillage about their abodes, a folk
akin to the Markmen and allied to them. They had come into those
parts later than the Markmen, as the old tales told; which said
moreover that in days gone by a folk dwelt among those hills who were
alien from the Goths, and great foes to the Markmen; and how that on
a time they came down from their hills with a great host, together
with new-comers of their own blood, and made their way through the
wild-wood, and fell upon the Upper-mark; and how that there befel a
fearful battle that endured for three days; and the first day the
Aliens worsted the Markmen, who were but a few, since they were they
of the Upper-mark only. So the Aliens burned their houses and slew
their old men, and drave off many of their women and children; and
the remnant of the men of the Upper-mark with all that they had,
which was now but little, took refuge in an island of Mirkwood-water,
where they fenced themselves as well as they could for that night;
for they expected the succour of their kindred of the Mid-mark and
the Nether-mark, unto whom they had sped the war-arrow when they
first had tidings of the onset of the Aliens.
So at the sun-rising they sacrificed to the Gods twenty chieftains of
the Aliens whom they had taken, and therewithal a maiden of their own
kindred, the daughter of their war-duke, that she might lead that
mighty company to the House of the Gods; and thereto was she nothing
loth, but went right willingly.
There then they awaited the onset. But the men of Mid-mark came up
in the morning, when the battle was but just joined, and fell on so
fiercely that the aliens gave back, and then they of the Upper-mark
stormed out of their eyot, and fell on over the ford, and fought till
the water ran red with their blood, and the blood of the foemen. So
the Aliens gave back before the onset of the Markmen all over the
meads; but when they came to the hillocks and the tofts of the half-
burned habitations, and the wood was on their flank, they made a
stand again, and once more the battle waxed hot, for they were very
many, and had many bow-men: there fell the War-duke of the Markmen,
whose daughter had been offered up for victory, and his name was
Agni, so that the tofts where he fell have since been called Agni's
Tofts. So that day they fought all over the plain, and a great many
died, both of the Aliens and the Markmen, and though these last were
victorious, yet when the sun went down there still were the Aliens
abiding in the Upper-mark, fenced by their wain-burg, beaten, and
much diminished in number, but still a host of men: while of the
Markmen many had fallen, and many more were hurt, because the Aliens
were good bowmen.
But on the morrow again, as the old tale told, came up the men of the
Nether-mark fresh and unwounded; and so the battle began again on the
southern limit of the Upper-mark where the Aliens had made their
wain-burg. But not long did it endure; for the Markmen fell on so
fiercely, that they stormed over the wain-burg, and slew all before
them, and there was a very great slaughter of the Aliens; so great,
tells the old tale, that never again durst they meet the Markmen in
Thus went forth the host of the Markmen, faring along both sides of
the water into the Upper-mark; and on the west side, where went the
Wolfings, the ground now rose by a long slope into a low hill, and
when they came unto the brow thereof, they beheld before them the
whole plain of the Upper-mark, and the dwellings of the kindred
therein all girdled about by the wild-wood; and beyond, the blue
hills of the herdsmen, and beyond them still, a long way aloof, lying
like a white cloud on the verge of the heavens, the snowy tops of the
great mountains. And as they looked down on to the plain they saw it
embroidered, as it were, round about the habitations which lay within
ken by crowds of many people, and the banners of the kindreds and the
arms of men; and many a place they saw named after the ancient battle
and that great slaughter of the Aliens.
On their left hand lay the river, and as it now fairly entered with
them into the Upper-mark, it spread out into wide rippling shallows
beset with yet more sandy eyots, amongst which was one much greater,
rising amidmost into a low hill, grassy and bare of tree or bush; and
this was the island whereon the Markmen stood on the first day of the
Great Battle, and it was now called the Island of the Gods.
Thereby was the ford, which was firm and good and changed little from
year to year, so that all Markmen knew it well and it was called
Battleford: thereover now crossed all the eastern companies, footmen
and horsemen, freemen and thralls, wains and banners, with shouting
and laughter, and the noise of horns and the lowing of neat, till all
that plain's end was flooded with the host of the Markmen.
But when the eastern-abiders had crossed, they made no stay, but went
duly ordered about their banners, winding on toward the first of the
abodes on the western side of the water; because it was but a little
way southwest of this that the Thing-stead of the Upper-mark lay; and
the whole Folk was summoned thither when war threatened from the
South, just as it was called to the Thing-stead of the Nether-mark,
when the threat of war came from the North. But the western
companies stayed on the brow of that low hilt till all the eastern
men were over the river, and on their way to the Thing-stead, and
then they moved on.
So came the Wolfings and their fellows up to the dwellings of the
northernmost kindred, who were called the Daylings, and bore on their
banner the image of the rising sun. Thereabout was the Mark somewhat
more hilly and broken than in the Mid-mark, so that the Great Roof of
the Daylings, which was a very big house, stood on a hillock whose
sides had been deft down sheer on all sides save one (which was left
as a bridge) by the labour of men, and it was a very defensible
Thereon were now gathered round about the Roof all the stay-at-homes
of the kindred, who greeted with joyous cries the men-at-arms as they
passed. Albeit one very old man, who sat in a chair near to the edge
of the sheer hill looking on the war array, when he saw the Wolfing
banner draw near, stood up to gaze on it, and then shook his head
sadly, and sank back again into his chair, and covered his face with
his hands: and when the folk saw that, a silence bred of the
coldness of fear fell on them, for that elder was deemed a foreseeing
But as those three fellows, of whose talk of yesterday the tale has
told, drew near and beheld what the old carle did (for they were
riding together this day also) the Beaming man laid his hand on
Wolfkettle's rein and said:
"Lo you, neighbour, if thy Vala hath seen nought, yet hath this old
man seen somewhat, and that somewhat even as the little lad saw it.
Many a mother's son shall fall before the Welshmen."
But Wolfkettle shook his rein free, and his face reddened as of one
who is angry, yet he kept silence, while the Elking said:
"Let be, Toti! for he that lives shall tell the tale to the
foreseers, and shall make them wiser than they are to-day."
Then laughed Toti, as one who would not be thought to be too heedful
of the morrow. But Wolfkettle brake out into speech and rhyme, and
"O warriors, the Wolfing kindred shall live or it shall die;
And alive it shall be as the oak-tree when the summer storm goes by;
But dead it shall be as its bole, that they hew for the corner-post
Of some fair and mighty folk-hall, and the roof of a war-fain host."
So therewith they rode their ways past the abode of the Daylings.
Straight to the wood went all the host, and so into it by a wide way
cleft through the thicket, and in some thirty minutes they came
thereby into a great wood-lawn cleared amidst of it by the work of
men's hands. There already was much of the host gathered, sitting or
standing in a great ring round about a space bare of men, where
amidmost rose a great mound raised by men's hands and wrought into
steps to be the sitting-places of the chosen elders and chief men of
the kindred; and atop the mound was flat and smooth save for a turf
bench or seat that went athwart it whereon ten men might sit.
All the wains save the banner-wains had been left behind at the
Dayling abode, nor was any beast there save the holy beasts who drew
the banner-wains and twenty white horses, that stood wreathed about
with flowers within the ring of warriors, and these were for the
burnt offering to be given to the Gods for a happy day of battle.
Even the war-horses of the host they must leave in the wood without
the wood-lawn, and all men were afoot who were there.
For this was the Thing-stead of the Upper-mark, and the holiest place
of the Markmen, and no beast, either neat, sheep, or horse might
pasture there, but was straightway slain and burned if he wandered
there; nor might any man eat therein save at the holy feasts when
offerings were made to the Gods.
So the Wolfings took their place there in the ring of men with the
Elkings on their right hand and the Beamings on their left. And in
the midst of the Wolfing array stood Thiodolf clad in the dwarf-
wrought hauberk: but his head was bare; for he had sworn over the
Cup of Renown that he would fight unhelmed throughout all that
trouble, and would bear no shield in any battle thereof however
fierce the onset might be.
Short, and curling close to his head was his black hair, a little
grizzled, so that it looked like rings of hard dark iron: his
forehead was high and smooth, his lips full and red, his eyes steady
and wide-open, and all his face joyous with the thought of the fame
of his deeds, and the coming battle with a foeman whom the Markmen
knew not yet.
He was tall and wide-shouldered, but so exceeding well fashioned of
all his limbs and body that he looked no huge man. He was a man well
beloved of women, and children would mostly run to him gladly and
play with him. A most fell warrior was he, whose deeds no man of the
Mark could equal, but blithe of speech even when he was sorrowful of
mood, a man that knew not bitterness of heart: and for all his
exceeding might and valiancy, he was proud and high to no man; so
that the very thralls loved him.
He was not abounding in words in the field; nor did he use much the
custom of those days in reviling and defying with words the foe that
was to be smitten with swords.
There were those who had seen him in the field for the first time who
deemed him slack at the work: for he would not always press on with
the foremost, but would hold him a little aback, and while the battle
was young he forbore to smite, and would do nothing but help a
kinsman who was hard pressed, or succour the wounded. So that if men
were dealing with no very hard matter, and their hearts were high and
overweening, he would come home at whiles with unbloodied blade. But
no man blamed him save those who knew him not: for his intent was
that the younger men should win themselves fame, and so raise their
courage, and become high-hearted and stout.
But when the stour was hard, and the battle was broken, and the
hearts of men began to fail them, and doubt fell upon the Markmen,
then was he another man to see: wise, but swift and dangerous,
rushing on as if shot out by some mighty engine: heedful of all, on
either side and in front; running hither and thither as the fight
failed and the fire of battle faltered; his sword so swift and deadly
that it was as if he wielded the very lightening of the heavens: for
with the sword it was ever his wont to fight.
But it must be said that when the foemen turned their backs, and the
chase began, then Thiodolf would nowise withhold his might as in the
early battle, but ever led the chase, and smote on the right hand and
on the left, sparing none, and crying out to the men of the kindred
not to weary in their work, but to fulfil all the hours of their day.
For thuswise would he say and this was a word of his:
"Let us rest to-morrow, fellows, since to-day we have fought amain!
Let not these men we have smitten come aback on our hands again,
And say 'Ye Wolfing warriors, ye have done your work but ill,
Fall to now and do it again, like the craftsman who learneth his
Such then was Thiodolf, and ever was he the chosen leader of the
Wolfings and often the War-duke of the whole Folk.
By his side stood the other chosen leader, whose name was Heriulf; a
man well stricken in years, but very mighty and valiant; wise in war
and well renowned; of few words save in battle, and therein a singer
of songs, a laugher, a joyous man, a merry companion. He was a much
bigger man than Thiodolf; and indeed so huge was his stature, that he
seemed to be of the kindred of the Mountain Giants; and his bodily
might went with his stature, so that no one man might deal with him
body to body. His face was big; his cheek-bones high; his nose like
an eagle's neb, his mouth wide, his chin square and big; his eyes
light-grey and fierce under shaggy eyebrows: his hair white and
Such were his raiment and weapons, that he wore a coat of fence of
dark iron scales sewn on to horse-hide, and a dark iron helm
fashioned above his brow into the similitude of the Wolf's head with
gaping jaws; and this he had wrought for himself with his own hands,
for he was a good smith. A round buckler he bore and a huge twibill,
which no man of the kindred could well wield save himself; and it was
done both blade and shaft with knots and runes in gold; and he loved
that twibill well, and called it the Wolf's Sister.
There then stood Heriulf, looking no less than one of the forefathers
of the kindred come back again to the battle of the Wolfings.
He was well-beloved for his wondrous might, and he was no hard man,
though so fell a warrior, and though of few words, as aforesaid, was
a blithe companion to old and young. In numberless battles had he
fought, and men deemed it a wonder that Odin had not taken to him a
man so much after his own heart; and they said it was neighbourly
done of the Father of the Slain to forbear his company so long, and
showed how well he loved the Wolfing House.
For a good while yet came other bands of Markmen into the Thing-
stead; but at last there was an end of their coming. Then the ring
of men opened, and ten warriors of the Daylings made their way
through it, and one of them, the oldest, bore in his hand the War-
horn of the Daylings; for this kindred had charge of the Thing-stead,
and of all appertaining to it. So while his nine fellows stood round
about the Speech-Hill, the old warrior clomb up to the topmost of it,
and blew a blast on the horn. Thereon they who were sitting rose up,
and they who were talking each to each held their peace, and the
whole ring drew nigher to the hill, so that there was a clear space
behind them 'twixt them and the wood, and a space before them between
them and the hill, wherein were those nine warriors, and the horses
for the burnt-offering, and the altar of the Gods; and now were all
well within ear-shot of a man speaking amidst the silence in a clear
But there were gathered of the Markmen to that place some four
thousand men, all chosen warriors and doughty men; and of the thralls
and aliens dwelling with them they were leading two thousand. But
not all of the freemen of the Upper-mark could be at the Thing; for
needs must there be some guard to the passes of the wood toward the
south and the hills of the herdsmen, whereas it was no wise
impassable to a wisely led host: so five hundred men, what of
freemen, what of thralls, abode there to guard the wild-wood; and
these looked to have some helping from the hill-men.
Now came an ancient warrior into the space between the men and the
wild-wood holding in his hand a kindled torch; and first he faced due
south by the sun, then, turning, he slowly paced the whole circle
going from east to west, and so on till he had reached the place he
started from: then he dashed the torch to the ground and quenched
the fire, and so went his ways to his own company again.
Then the old Dayling warrior on the mound-top drew his sword, and
waved it flashing in the sun toward the four quarters of the heavens;
and thereafter blew again a blast on the War-horn. Then fell utter
silence on the whole assembly, and the wood was still around them,
save here and there the stamping of a war-horse or the sound of his
tugging at the woodland grass; for there was little resort of birds
to the depths of the thicket, and the summer morning was windless.
CHAPTER VIII--THE FOLK-MOTE OF THE MARKMEN
So the Dayling warrior lifted up his voice and said:
"O kindreds of the Markmen, hearken the words I say;
For no chancehap assembly is gathered here to-day.
The fire hath gone around us in the hands of our very kin,
And twice the horn hath sounded, and the Thing is hallowed in.
Will ye hear or forbear to hearken the tale there is to tell?
There are many mouths to tell it, and a many know it well.
And the tale is this, that the foemen against our kindreds fare
Who eat the meadows desert, and burn the desert bare."
Then sat he down on the turf seat; but there arose a murmur in the
assembly as of men eager to hearken; and without more ado came a man
out of a company of the Upper-mark, and clomb up to the top of the
Speech-Hill, and spoke in a loud voice:
"I am Bork, a man of the Geirings of the Upper-mark: two days ago I
and five others were in the wild-wood a-hunting, and we wended
through the thicket, and came into the land of the hill-folk; and
after we had gone a while we came to a long dale with a brook running
through it, and yew-trees scattered about it and a hazel copse at one
end; and by the copse was a band of men who had women and children
with them, and a few neat, and fewer horses; but sheep were feeding
up and down the dale; and they had made them booths of turf and
boughs, and were making ready their cooking fires, for it was
evening. So when they saw us, they ran to their arms, but we cried
out to them in the tongue of the Goths and bade them peace. Then
they came up the bent to us and spake to us in the Gothic tongue,
albeit a little diversely from us; and when we had told them what and
whence we were, they were glad of us, and bade us to them, and we
went, and they entreated us kindly, and made us such cheer as they
might, and gave us mutton to eat, and we gave them venison of the
wild-wood which we had taken, and we abode with them there that
"But they told us that they were a house of the folk of the herdsmen,
and that there was war in the land, and that the people thereof were
fleeing before the cruelty of a host of warriors, men of a mighty
folk, such as the earth hath not heard of, who dwell in great cities
far to the south; and how that this host had crossed the mountains,
and the Great Water that runneth from them, and had fallen upon their
kindred, and overcome their fighting-men, and burned their dwellings,
slain their elders, and driven their neat and their sheep, yea, and
their women and children in no better wise than their neat and sheep.
"And they said that they had fled away thus far from their old
habitations, which were a long way to the south, and were now at
point to build them dwellings there in that Dale of the Hazels, and
to trust to it that these Welshmen, whom they called Romans, would
not follow so far, and that if they did, they might betake them to
the wild-wood, and let the thicket cover them, they being so nigh to
"Thus they told us; wherefore we sent back one of our fellowship,
Birsti of the Geirings, to tell the tale; and one of the herdsmen
folk went with him, but we ourselves went onward to hear more of
these Romans; for the folk when we asked them, said that they had
been in battle against them, but had fled away for fear of their
rumour only. Therefore we went on, and a young man of this kindred,
who named themselves the Hrutings of the Fell-folk, went along with
us. But the others were sore afeard, for all they had weapons.
"So as we went up the land we found they had told us the very sooth,
and we met divers Houses, and bands, and broken men, who were fleeing
from this trouble, and many of them poor and in misery, having lost
their flocks and herds as well as their roofs; and this last be but
little loss to them, as their dwellings are but poor, and for the
most part they have no tillage. Now of these men, we met not a few
who had been in battle with the Roman host, and much they told us of
their might not to be dealt with, and their mishandling of those whom
they took, both men and women; and at the last we heard true tidings
how they had raised them a garth, and made a stronghold in the midst
of the land, as men who meant abiding there, so that neither might
the winter drive them aback, and that they might be succoured by
their people on the other side of the Great River; to which end they
have made other garths, though not so great, on the road to that
water, and all these well and wisely warded by tried men. For as to
the Folks on the other side of the Water, all these lie under their
hand already, what by fraud what by force, and their warriors go with
them to the battle and help them; of whom we met bands now and again,
and fought with them, and took men of them, who told us all this and
much more, over long to tell of here."
He paused and turned about to look on the mighty assembly, and his
ears drank in the long murmur that followed his speaking, and when it
had died out he spake again, but in rhyme:
"Lo thus much of my tidings! But this too it behoveth to tell,
That these masterful men of the cities of the Markmen know full well:
And they wot of the well-grassed meadows, and the acres of the Mark,
And our life amidst of the wild-wood like a candle in the dark;
And they know of our young men's valour and our women's loveliness,
And our tree would they spoil with destruction if its fruit they may
For their lust is without a limit, and nought may satiate
Their ravening maw; and their hunger if ye check it turneth to hate,
And the blood-fever burns in their bosoms, and torment and anguish
O'er the wide field ploughed by the sword-blade for the coming years
And ruth is a thing forgotten and all hopes they trample down;
And whatso thing is steadfast, whatso of good renown,
Whatso is fair and lovely, whatso is ancient sooth
In the bloody marl shall they mingle as they laugh for lack of ruth.
Lo the curse of the world cometh hither; for the men that we took in
Said thus, that their host is gathering with many an ordered band
To fall on the wild-wood passes and flood the lovely Mark,
As the river over the meadows upriseth in the dark.
Look to it, O ye kindred! availeth now no word
But the voice of the clashing of iron, and the sword-blade on the
Therewith he made an end, and deeper and longer was the murmur of the
host of freemen, amidst which Bork gat him down from the Speech-Hill,
his weapons clattering about him, and mingled with the men of his
Then came forth a man of the kin of the Shieldings of the Upper-mark,
and clomb the mound; and he spake in rhyme from beginning to end; for
he was a minstrel of renown:
"Lo I am a man of the Shieldings and Geirmund is my name;
A half-moon back from the wild-wood out into the hills I came,
And I went alone in my war-gear; for we have affinity
With the Hundings of the Fell-folk, and with them I fain would be;
For I loved a maid of their kindred. Now their dwelling was not far
From the outermost bounds of the Fell-folk, and bold in the battle
And have met a many people, and held their own abode.
Gay then was the heart within me, as over the hills I rode
And thought of the mirth of to-morrow and the sweet-mouthed Hunding
And their old men wise and merry and their young men unafraid,
And the hall-glee of the Hundings and the healths o'er the guesting
But as I rode the valley, I saw a smoke go up
O'er the crest of the last of the grass-hills 'twixt me and the
And that smoke was black and heavy: so a while I bided aloof,
And drew my girths the tighter, and looked to the arms I bore
And handled my spear for the casting; for my heart misgave me sore,
For nought was that pillar of smoke like the guest-fain cooking-fire.
I lingered in thought for a minute, then turned me to ride up higher,
And as a man most wary up over the bent I rode,
And nigh hid peered o'er the hill-crest adown on the Hunding abode;
And forsooth 'twas the fire wavering all o'er the roof of old,
And all in the garth and about it lay the bodies of the bold;
And bound to a rope amidmost were the women fair and young,
And youths and little children, like the fish on a withy strung
As they lie on the grass for the angler before the beginning of
Then the rush of the wrath within me for a while nigh blinded my
Yet about the cowering war-thralls, short dark-faced men I saw,
Men clad in iron armour, this way and that way draw,
As warriors after the battle are ever wont to do.
Then I knew them for the foemen and their deeds to be I knew,
And I gathered the reins together to ride down the hill amain,
To die with a good stroke stricken and slay ere I was slain.
When lo, on the bent before me rose the head of a brown-faced man,
Well helmed and iron-shielded, who some Welsh speech began
And a short sword brandished against me; then my sight cleared and I
Five others armed in likewise up hill and toward me draw,
And I shook the spear and sped it and clattering on his shield
He fell and rolled o'er smitten toward the garth and the Fell-folk's
"But my heart changed with his falling and the speeding of my stroke,
And I turned my horse; for within me the love of life awoke,
And I spurred, nor heeded the hill-side, but o'er rough and smooth I
Till I heard no chase behind me; then I drew rein and abode.
And down in a dell was I gotten with a thorn-brake in its throat,
And heard but the plover's whistle and the blackbird's broken note
'Mid the thorns; when lo! from a thorn-twig away the blackbird swept,
And out from the brake and towards me a naked man there crept,
And straight I rode up towards him, and knew his face for one
I had seen in the hall of the Hundings ere its happy days were done.
I asked him his tale, but he bade me forthright to bear him away;
So I took him up behind me, and we rode till late in the day,
Toward the cover of the wild-wood, and as swiftly as we might.
But when yet aloof was the thicket and it now was moonless night,
We stayed perforce for a little, and he told me all the tale:
How the aliens came against them, and they fought without avail
Till the Roof o'er their heads was burning and they burst forth on
And were hewn down there together; nor yet was the slaughter slow.
But some they saved for thralldom, yea, e'en of the fighting men,
Or to quell them with pains; so they stripped them; and this man
espying just then
Some chance, I mind not whatwise, from the garth fled out and away.
"Now many a thing noteworthy of these aliens did he say,
But this I bid you hearken, lest I wear the time for nought,
That still upon the Markmen and the Mark they set their thought;
For they questioned this man and others through a go-between in words
Of us, and our lands and our chattels, and the number of our swords;
Of the way and the wild-wood passes and the winter and his ways.
Now look to see them shortly; for worn are fifteen days
Since in the garth of the Hundings I saw them dight for war,
And a hardy folk and ready and a swift-foot host they are."
Therewith Geirmund went down clattering from the Hill and stood with
his company. But a man came forth from the other side of the ring,
and clomb the Hill: he was a red-haired man, rather big, clad in a
skin coat, and bearing a bow in his hand and a quiver of arrows at
his back, and a little axe hung by his side. He said:
"I dwell in the House of the Hrossings of the Mid-mark, and I am now
made a man of the kindred: howbeit I was not born into it; for I am
the son of a fair and mighty woman of a folk of the Kymry, who was
taken in war while she went big with me; I am called Fox the Red.
"These Romans have I seen, and have not died: so hearken! for my
tale shall be short for what there is in it.
"I am, as many know, a hunter of Mirkwood, and I know all its ways
and the passes through the thicket somewhat better than most.
"A moon ago I fared afoot from Mid-mark through Upper-mark into the
thicket of the south, and through it into the heath country; and I
went over a neck and came in the early dawn into a little dale when
somewhat of mist still hung over it. At the dale's end I saw a man
lying asleep on the grass under a quicken tree, and his shield and
sword hanging over his head to a bough thereof, and his horse feeding
hoppled higher up the dale.
"I crept up softly to him with a shaft nocked on the string, but when
I drew near I saw him to be of the sons of the Goths. So I doubted
nothing, but laid down my bow, and stood upright, and went to him and
roused him, and he leapt up, and was wroth.
"I said to him, 'Wilt thou be wroth with a brother of the kindred
meeting him in unpeopled parts?'
"But he reached out for his weapons; but ere he could handle them I
ran in on him so that he gat not his sword, and had scant time to
smite at me with a knife which he drew from his waist.
"I gave way before him for he was a very big man, and he rushed past
me, and I dealt him a blow on the side of the head with my little axe
which is called the War-babe, and gave him a great wound: and he
fell on the grass, and as it happened that was his bane.
"I was sorry that I had slain him, since he was a man of the Goths:
albeit otherwise he had slain me, for he was very wroth and dazed
"He died not for a while; and he bade me fetch him water; and there
was a well hard by on the other side of the tree; so I fetched it him
in a great shell that I carry, and he drank. I would have sung the
blood-staunching song over him, for I know it well. But he said, 'It
availeth nought: I have enough: what man art thou?'
"I said, 'I am a fosterling of the Hrossings, and my mother was taken
in war: my name is Fox.'
"Said he; 'O Fox, I have my due at thy hands, for I am a Markman of
the Elkings, but a guest of the Burgundians beyond the Great River;
and the Romans are their masters and they do their bidding: even so
did I who was but their guest: and I a Markman to fight against the
Markmen, and all for fear and for gold! And thou an alien-born hast
slain their traitor and their dastard! This is my due. Give me to
"So did I; and he said; 'Wilt thou do an errand for me to thine own
house?' 'Yea,' said I.
"Said he, 'I am a messenger to the garth of the Romans, that I may
tell the road to the Mark, and lead them through the thicket; and
other guides are coming after me: but not yet for three days or
four. So till they come there will be no man in the Roman garth to
know thee that thou art not even I myself. If thou art doughty,
strip me when I am dead and do my raiment on thee, and take this ring
from my neck, for that is my token, and when they ask thee for a word
say, "NO LIMIT"; for that is the token-word. Go south-east over the
dales keeping Broadshield-fell square with thy right hand, and let
thy wisdom, O Fox, lead thee to the Garth of the Romans, and so back
to thy kindred with all tidings thou hast gathered--for indeed they
come--a many of them. Give me to drink.'
"So he drank again, and said, 'The bearer of this token is called
Hrosstyr of the River Goths. He hath that name among dastards. Thou
shalt lay a turf upon my head. Let my death pay for my life.'
"Therewith he fell back and died. So I did as he bade me and took
his gear, worth six kine, and did it on me; I laid turf upon him in
that dale, and hid my bow and my gear in a blackthorn brake hard by,
and then took his horse and rode away.
"Day and night I rode till I came to the garth of the Romans; there I
gave myself up to their watchers, and they brought me to their Duke,
a grim man and hard. He said in a terrible voice, 'Thy name?' I
said, 'Hrosstyr of the River Goths.' He said, 'What limit?' I
answered, 'NO LIMIT.' 'The token!' said he, and held out his hand.
I gave him the ring. 'Thou art the man,' said he.
"I thought in my heart, 'thou liest, lord,' and my heart danced for
"Then he fell to asking me questions a many, and I answered every one
glibly enough, and told him what I would, but no word of truth save
for his hurt, and my soul laughed within me at my lies; thought I,
the others, the traitors, shall come, and they shall tell him the
truth, and he will not trow it, or at the worst he will doubt them.
But me he doubted nothing, else had he called in the tormentors to
have the truth of me by pains; as I well saw afterwards, when they
questioned with torments a man and a woman of the hill-folk whom they
had brought in captive.
"I went from him and went all about that garth espying everything,
fearing nothing; albeit there were divers woful captives of the
Goths, who cursed me for a dastard, when they saw by my attire that I
was of their blood.
"I abode there three days, and learned all that I might of the garth
and the host of them, and the fourth day in the morning I went out as
if to hunt, and none hindered me, for they doubted me not.
"So I came my ways home to the Upper-mark, and was guested with the
Geirings. Will ye that I tell you somewhat of the ways of these
Romans of the garth? The time presses, and my tale runneth longer
than I would. What will ye?"
Then there arose a murmur, "Tell all, tell all." "Nay," said the
Fox, "All I may not tell; so much did I behold there during the three
days' stay; but this much it behoveth you to know: that these men
have no other thought save to win the Mark and waste it, and slay the
fighting men and the old carles, and enthrall such as they will, that
is, all that be fair and young, and they long sorely for our women
either to have or to sell.
"As for their garth, it is strongly walled about with a dyke newly
dug; on the top thereof are they building a wall made of clay, and
burned like pots into ashlar stones hard and red, and these are laid
"It is now the toil of the thralls of our blood whom they have taken,
both men and women, to dig that clay and to work it, and bear it to
kilns, and to have for reward scant meat and many stripes. For it is
a grim folk, that laugheth to see others weep.
"Their men-at-arms are well dight and for the most part in one way:
they are helmed with iron, and have iron on their breasts and reins,
and bear long shields that cover them to the knees. They are girt
with a sax and have a heavy casting-spear. They are dark-skinned and
ugly of aspect, surly and of few words: they drink little, and eat
"They have captains of tens and of hundreds over them, and that war-
duke over all; he goeth to and fro with gold on his head and his
breast, and commonly hath a cloak cast over him of the colour of the
"They have an altar in the midst of their burg, and thereon they
sacrifice to their God, who is none other than their banner of war,
which is an image of the ravening eagle with outspread wings; but yet
another God they have, and look you! it is a wolf, as if they were of
the kin of our brethren; a she-wolf and two man-children at her dugs;
wonderful is this.
"I tell you that they are grim; and know it by this token: those
captains of tens, and of hundreds, spare not to smite the warriors
with staves even before all men, when all goeth not as they would;
and yet, though they be free men, and mighty warriors, they endure it
and smite not in turn. They are a most evil folk.
"As to their numbers, they of the burg are hard on three thousand
footmen of the best; and of horsemen five hundred, nowise good; and
of bowmen and slingers six hundred or more: their bows weak; their
slingers cunning beyond measure. And the talk is that when they come
upon us they shall have with them some five hundred warriors of the
Over River Goths, and others of their own folk."
Then he said:
"O men of the Mark, will ye meet them in the meadows and the field,
Or will ye flee before them and have the wood for a shield?
Or will ye wend to their war-burg with weapons cast away,
With your women and your children, a peace of them to pray?
So doing, not all shall perish; but most shall long to die
Ere in the garths of the Southland two moons have loitered by."
Then rose the rumour loud and angry mingled with the rattle of swords
and the clash of spears on shields; but Fox said:
"Needs must ye follow one of these three ways. Nay, what say I?
there are but two ways and not three; for if ye flee they shall
follow you to the confines of the earth. Either these Welsh shall
take all, and our lives to boot, or we shall hold to all that is
ours, and live merrily. The sword doometh; and in three days it may
be the courts shall be hallowed: small is the space between us."
Therewith he also got him down from the Hill, and joined his own
house: and men said that he had spoken well and wisely. But there
arose a noise of men talking together on these tidings; and amidst it
an old warrior of the Nether-mark strode forth and up to the Hill-
top. Gaunt and stark he was to look on; and all men knew him and he
was well-beloved, so all held their peace as he said:
"I am Otter of the Laxings: now needeth but few words till the War-
duke is chosen, and we get ready to wend our ways in arms. Here have
ye heard three good men and true tell of our foes, and this last, Fox
the Red, hath seen them and hath more to tell when we are on the way;
nor is the way hard to find. It were scarce well to fall upon these
men in their garth and war-burg; for hard is a wall to slay. Better
it were to meet them in the Wild-wood, which may well be a friend to
us and a wall, but to them a net. O Agni of the Daylings, thou
warder of the Thing-stead, bid men choose a War-duke if none gainsay
And without more words he clattered down the Hill, and went and stood
with the Laxing band. But the old Dayling arose and blew the horn,
and there was at once a great silence, amidst which he said:
"Children of Slains-father, doth the Folk go to the war?"
There was no voice but shouted "yea," and the white swords sprang
aloft, and the westering sun swept along a half of them as they
tossed to and fro, and the others showed dead-white and fireless
against the dark wood.
Then again spake Agni:
"Will ye choose the War-duke now and once, or shall it be in a while,
after others have spoken?"
And the voice of the Folk went up, "Choose! Choose!"
Said Agni: "Sayeth any aught against it?" But no voice of a
gainsayer was heard, and Agni said:
"Children of Tyr, what man will ye have for a leader and a duke of
Then a great shout sprang up from amidst the swords: "We will have
Thiodolf; Thiodolf the Wolfing!"
Said Agni: "I hear no other name; are ye of one mind? hath any aught
to say against it? If that be so, let him speak now, and not forbear
to follow in the wheatfield of the spears. Speak, ye that will not
No voice gainsaid him: then said the Dayling: "Come forth thou War-
duke of the Markmen! take up the gold ring from the horns of the
altar, set it on thine arm and come up hither!"
Then came forth Thiodolf into the sun, and took up the gold ring from
where it lay, and did it on his arm. And this was the ring of the
leader of the folk whenso one should be chosen: it was ancient and
daintily wrought, but not very heavy: so ancient it was that men
said it had been wrought by the dwarfs.
So Thiodolf went up on to the hill, and all men cried out on him for
joy, for they knew his wisdom in war. Many wondered to see him
unhelmed, but they had a deeming that he must have made oath to the
Gods thereof and their hearts were glad of it. They took note of the
dwarf-wrought hauberk, and even from a good way off they could see
what a treasure of smith's work it was, and they deemed it like
enough that spells had been sung over it to make it sure against
point and edge: for they knew that Thiodolf was well beloved of the
But when Thiodolf was on the Hill of Speech, he said:
"Men of the kindreds, I am your War-duke to-day; but it is oftenest
the custom when ye go to war to choose you two dukes, and I would it
were so now. No child's play is the work that lies before us; and if
one leader chance to fall let there be another to take his place
without stop or stay. Thou Agni of the Daylings, bid the Folk choose
them another duke if so they will."
Said Agni: "Good is this which our War-duke hath spoken; say then,
men of the Mark, who shall stand with Thiodolf to lead you against
Then was there a noise and a crying of names, and more than two names
seemed to be cried out; but by far the greater part named either
Otter of the Laxings, or Heriulf of the Wolfings. True it is that
Otter was a very wise warrior, and well known to all the men of the
Mark; yet so dear was Heriulf to them, that none would have named
Otter had it not been mostly their custom not to choose both War-
dukes from one House.
Now spake Agni: "Children of Tyr, I hear you name more than one
name: now let each man cry out clearly the name he nameth.
So the Folk cried the names once more, but this time it was clear
that none was named save Otter and Heriulf; so the Dayling was at
point to speak again, but or ever a word left his lips, Heriulf the
mighty, the ancient of days, stood forth: and when men saw that he
would take up the word there was a great silence. So he spake:
"Hearken, children! I am old and war-wise; but my wisdom is the
wisdom of the sword of the mighty warrior, that knoweth which way it
should wend, and hath no thought of turning back till it lieth broken
in the field. Such wisdom is good against Folks that we have met
heretofore; as when we have fought with the Huns, who would sweep us
away from the face of the earth, or with the Franks or the
Burgundians, who would quell us into being something worser than they
be. But here is a new foe, and new wisdom, and that right shifty, do
we need to meet them. One wise duke have ye gotten, Thiodolf to wit;
and he is young beside me and beside Otter of the Laxings. And now
if ye must needs have an older man to stand beside him, (and that is
not ill) take ye Otter; for old though his body be, the thought
within him is keen and supple like the best of Welsh-wrought blades,
and it liveth in the days that now are: whereas for me, meseemeth,
my thoughts are in the days bygone. Yet look to it, that I shall not
fail to lead as the sword of the valiant leadeth, or the shaft shot
by the cunning archer. Choose ye Otter; I have spoken over long."
Then spoke Agni the Dayling, and laughed withal: "One man of the
Folk hath spoken for Otter and against Heriulf--now let others speak
if they will!"
So the cry came forth, "Otter let it be, we will have Otter!"
"Speaketh any against Otter?" said Agni. But there was no voice
raised against him.
Then Agni said: "Come forth, Otter of the Laxings, and hold the ring
Then Otter went up on to the hill and stood by Thiodolf, and they
held the ring together; and then each thrust his hand and arm through
the ring and clasped hands together, and stood thus awhile, and all
the Folk shouted together.
Then spake Agni: "Now shall we hew the horses and give the gifts to
Therewith he and the two War-dukes came down from the hill; and stood
before the altar; and the nine warriors of the Daylings stood forth
with axes to hew the horses and with copper bowls wherein to catch
the blood of them, and each hewed down his horse to the Gods, but the
two War-dukes slew the tenth and fairest: and the blood was caught
in the bowls, and Agni took a sprinkler and went round about the ring
of men, and cast the blood of the Gods'-gifts over the Folk, as was
the custom of those days.
Then they cut up the carcases and burned on the altar the share of
the Gods, and Agni and the War-dukes tasted thereof, and the rest
they bore off to the Daylings' abode for the feast to be holden that
Then Otter and Thiodolf spake apart together for awhile, and
presently went up again on to the Speech-Hill, and Thiodolf said:
"O kindreds of the Markmen; to-morrow with the day
We shall wend up Mirkwood-water to bar our foes the way;
And there shall we make our wain-burg on the edges of the wood,
Where in the days past over at last the aliens stood,
The Slaughter Tofts ye call it. There tidings shall we get
If the curse of the world is awakened, and the serpent crawleth yet
Amidst the Mirkwood thicket; and when the sooth we know,
Then bearing battle with us through the thicket shall we go,
The ancient Wood-wolf's children, and the People of the Shield,
And the Spear-kin and the Horse-kin, while the others keep the field
About the warded wain-burg; for not many need we there
Where amidst of the thickets' tangle and the woodland net they fare,
And the hearts of the aliens falter and they curse the fight ne'er
And wonder who is fighting and which way is the sun."
Thus he spoke; then Agni took up the war-horn again, and blew a
blast, and then he cried out:
"Now sunder we the Folk-mote! and the feast is for to-night,
And to-morrow the Wayfaring; But unnamed is the day of the fight;
O warriors, look ye to it that not long we need abide
'Twixt the hour of the word we have spoken, and our fair-fame's
For then 'midst the toil and the turmoil shall we sow the seeds of
And the Kindreds' long endurance, and the Goth-folk's great
Then arose the last great shout, and soberly and in due order,
kindred by kindred, they turned and departed from the Thing-stead and
went their way through the wood to the abode of the Daylings.
CHAPTER IX--THE ANCIENT MAN OF THE DAYLINGS
There still hung the more part of the stay-at-homes round about the
Roof. But on the plain beneath the tofts were all the wains of the
host drawn up round about a square like the streets about a market-
place; all these now had their tilts rigged over them, some white,
some black, some red, some tawny of hue; and some, which were of the
Beamings, green like the leafy tree.
The warriors of the host went down into this wain-town, which they
had not fenced in any way, since they in no wise looked for any onset
there; and there were their thralls dighting the feast for them, and
a many of the Dayling kindred, both men and women, went with them;
but some men did the Daylings bring into their Roof, for there was
room for a good many besides their own folk. So they went over the
Bridge of turf into the garth and into the Great Roof of the
Daylings; and amongst these were the two War-dukes.
So when they came to the dais it was as fair all round about there as
might well be; and there sat elders and ancient warriors to welcome
the guests; and among them was the old carle who had sat on the edge
of the burg to watch the faring of the host, and had shuddered back
at the sight of the Wolfing Banner.
And when the old carle saw the guests, he fixed his eyes on Thiodolf,
and presently came up and stood before him; and Thiodolf looked on
the old man, and greeted him kindly and smiled on him; but the carle
spake not till he had looked on him a while; and at last he fell a-
trembling, and reached his hands out to Thiodolf's bare head, and
handled his curls and caressed them, as a mother does with her son,
even if he be a grizzled-haired man, when there is none by: and at
last he said:
"How dear is the head of the mighty, and the apple of the tree
That blooms with the life of the people which is and yet shall be!
It is helmed with ancient wisdom, and the long remembered thought,
That liveth when dead is the iron, and its very rust but nought.
Ah! were I but young as aforetime, I would fare to the battle-stead
And stand amidst of the spear-hail for the praise of the hand and the
Then his hands left Thiodolf's head, and strayed down to his
shoulders and his breast, and he felt the cold rings of the hauberk,
and let his hands fall down to his side again; and the tears gushed
out of his old eyes and again he spake:
"O house of the heart of the mighty, O breast of the battle-lord
Why art thou coldly hidden from the flickering flame of the sword?
I know thee not, nor see thee; thou art as the fells afar
Where the Fathers have their dwelling, and the halls of Godhome are:
The wind blows wild betwixt us, and the cloud-rack flies along,
And high aloft enfoldeth the dwelling of the strong;
They are, as of old they have been, but their hearths flame not for
And the kindness of their feast-halls mine eyes shall never see."
Thiodolf's lips still smiled on the old man, but a shadow had come
over his eyes and his brow; and the chief of the Daylings and their
mighty guests stood by listening intently with the knit brows of
anxious men; nor did any speak till the ancient man again betook him
"I came to the house of the foeman when hunger made me a fool;
And the foeman said, 'Thou art weary, lo, set thy foot on the stool;'
And I stretched out my feet,--and was shackled: and he spake with a
'O guest, thine hands are heavy; now rest them for a while!'
So I stretched out my hands, and the hand-gyves lay cold on either
And the wood of the wolf had been better than that feast-hall, had I
That this was the ancient pit-fall, and the long expected trap,
And that now for my heart's desire I had sold the world's goodhap."
Therewith the ancient man turned slowly away from Thiodolf, and
departed sadly to his own place. Thiodolf changed countenance but
little, albeit those about him looked strangely on him, as though if
they durst they would ask him what these words might be, and if he
from his hidden knowledge might fit a meaning to them. For to many
there was a word of warning in them, and to some an evil omen of the
days soon to be; and scarce anyone heard those words but he had a
misgiving in his heart, for the ancient man was known to be
foreseeing, and wild and strange his words seemed to them.
But Agni would make light of it, and he said: "Asmund the Old is of
good will, and wise he is; but he hath great longings for the deeds
of men, when he hath tidings of battle; for a great warrior and a
red-hand hewer he hath been in times past; he loves the Kindred, and
deems it ill if he may not fare afield with them; for the thought of
dying in the straw is hateful to him."
"Yea," said another, "and moreover he hath seen sons whom he loved
slain in battle; and when he seeth a warrior in his prime he becometh
dear to him, and he feareth for him."
"Yet," said a third, "Asmund is foreseeing; and may be, Thiodolf,
thou wilt wot of the drift of these words, and tell us thereof."
But Thiodolf spake nought of the matter, though in his heart he
So the guests were led to table, and the feast began, within the hall
and without it, and wide about the plain; and the Dayling maidens
went in bands trimly decked out throughout all the host and served
the warriors with meat and drink, and sang the overword to their
lays, and smote the harp, and drew the bow over the fiddle till it
laughed and wailed and chuckled, and were blithe and merry with all,
and great was the glee on the eve of battle. And if Thiodolf's heart
were overcast, his face showed it not, but he passed from hall to
wain-burg and from wain-burg to hall again blithe and joyous with all
men. And thereby he raised the hearts of men, and they deemed it
good that they had gotten such a War-duke, meet to uphold all hearts
of men both at the feast and in the fray.
CHAPTER X--THAT CARLINE COMETH TO THE ROOF OF THE WOLFINGS
Now it was three days after this that the women were gathering to the
Women's-Chamber of the Roof of the Wolfings a little before the
afternoon changes into evening. The hearts of most were somewhat
heavy, for the doubt wherewith they had watched the departure of the
fighting-men still hung about them; nor had they any tidings from the
host (nor was it like that they should have). And as they were
somewhat down-hearted, so it seemed by the aspect of all things that
afternoon. It was not yet the evening, as is aforesaid, but the day
was worn and worsened, and all things looked weary. The sky was a
little clouded, but not much; yet was it murky down in the south-
east, and there was a threat of storm in it, and in the air close
round each man's head, and in the very waving of the leafy boughs.
There was by this time little doing in field and fold (for the kine
were milked), and the women were coming up from the acres and the
meadow and over the open ground anigh the Roof; there was the grass
worn and dusty, and the women that trod it, their feet were tanned
and worn, and dusty also; skin-dry and weary they looked, with the
sweat dried upon them; their girt-up gowns grey and lightless, their
half-unbound hair blowing about them in the dry wind, which had in it
no morning freshness, and no evening coolness.
It was a time when toil was well-nigh done, but had left its aching
behind it; a time for folk to sleep and forget for a little while,
till the low sun should make it evening, and make all things fair
with his level rays; no time for anxious thoughts concerning deeds
doing, wherein the anxious ones could do nought to help. Yet such
thoughts those stay-at-homes needs must have in the hour of their
toil scarce over, their rest and mirth not begun.
Slowly one by one the women went in by the Women's-door, and the
Hall-Sun sat on a stone hard by, and watched them as they passed; and
she looked keenly at all persons and all things. She had been
working in the acres, and her hand was yet on the hoe she had been
using, and but for her face her body was as of one resting after
toil: her dark blue gown was ungirded, her dark hair loose and
floating, the flowers that had wreathed it, now faded, lying strewn
upon the grass before her: her feet bare for coolness' sake, her
left hand lying loose and open upon her knee.
Yet though her body otherwise looked thus listless, in her face was
no listlessness, nor rest: her eyes were alert and clear, shining
like two stars in the heavens of dawntide; her lips were set close,
her brow knit, as of one striving to shape thoughts hard to
understand into words that all might understand.
So she sat noting all things, as woman by woman went past her into
the hall, till at last she slowly rose to her feet; for there came
two young women leading between them that same old carline with whom
she had talked on the Hill-of-Speech. She looked on the carline
steadfastly, but gave no token of knowing her; but the ancient woman
spoke when she came near to the Hall-Sun, and old as her semblance
was, yet did her speech sound sweet to the Hall-Sun, and indeed to
all those that heard it and she said:
"May we be here to-night, O Hall-Sun, thou lovely Seeress of the
mighty Wolfings? may a wandering woman sit amongst you and eat the
meat of the Wolfings?"
Then spake the Hall-Sun in a sweet measured voice: "Surely mother:
all men who bring peace with them are welcome guests to the Wolfings:
nor will any ask thine errand, but we will let thy tidings flow from
thee as thou wilt. This is the custom of the kindred, and no word of
mine own; I speak to thee because thou hast spoken to me, but I have
no authority here, being myself but an alien. Albeit I serve the
House of the Wolfings, and I love it as the hound loveth his master
who feedeth him, and his master's children who play with him. Enter,
mother, and be glad of heart, and put away care from thee."
Then the old woman drew nigher to her and sat down in the dust at her
feet, for she was now sitting down again, and took her hand and
kissed it and fondled it, and seemed loth to leave handling the
beauty of the Hall-Sun; but she looked kindly on the carline, and
smiled on her, and leaned down to her, and kissed her mouth, and
"Damsels, take care of this poor woman, and make her good cheer; for
she is wise of wit, and a friend of the Wolfings; and I have seen her
before, and spoken with her; and she loveth us. But as for me I must
needs be alone in the meads for a while; and it may be that when I
come to you again, I shall have a word to tell you."
Now indeed it was in a manner true that the Hall-Sun had no authority
in the Wolfing House; yet was she so well beloved for her wisdom and
beauty and her sweet speech, that all hastened to do her will in
small matters and in great, and now as they looked at her after the
old woman had caressed her, it seemed to them that her fairness grew
under their eyes, and that they had never seen her so fair; and the
sight of her seemed so good to them, that the outworn day and its
weariness changed to them, and it grew as pleasant as the first hours
of the sunlight, when men arise happy from their rest, and look on
the day that lieth hopeful before them with all its deeds to be.
So they grew merry, and they led the carline into the Hall with them,
and set her down in the Women's-Chamber, and washed her feet, and
gave her meat and drink, and bade her rest and think of nothing
troublous, and in all wise made her good cheer; and she was merry
with them, and praised their fairness and their deftness, and asked
them many questions about their weaving and spinning and carding;
(howbeit the looms were idle as then because it was midsummer, and
the men gone to the war). And this they deemed strange, as it seemed
to them that all women should know of such things; but they thought
it was a token that she came from far away.
But afterwards she sat among them, and told them pleasant tales of
past times and far countries, and was blithe to them and they to her
and the time wore on toward nightfall in the Women's-Chamber.
CHAPTER XI--THE HALL-SUN SPEAKETH
But for the Hall-Sun; she sat long on that stone by the Women's-door;
but when the evening was now come, she arose and went down through
the cornfields and into the meadow, and wandered away as her feet
Night was falling by then she reached that pool of Mirkwood-water,
whose eddies she knew so well. There she let the water cover her in
the deep stream, and she floated down and sported with the ripples
where the river left that deep to race over the shallows; and the
moon was casting shadows by then she came up the bank again by the
shallow end bearing in her arms a bundle of the blue-flowering mouse-
ear. Then she clad herself at once, and went straight as one with a
set purpose toward the Great Roof, and entered by the Man's-door; and
there were few men within and they but old and heavy with the burden
of years and the coming of night-tide; but they wondered and looked
to each other and nodded their heads as she passed them by, as men
who would say, There is something toward.
So she went to her sleeping-place, and did on fresh raiment, and came
forth presently clad in white and shod with gold and having her hair
wreathed about with the herb of wonder, the blue-flowering mouse-ear
of Mirkwood-water. Thus she passed through the Hall, and those
elders were stirred in their hearts when they beheld her beauty. But
she opened the door of the Women's-Chamber, and stood on the
threshold; and lo, there sat the carline amidst a ring of the Wolfing
women, and she telling them tales of old time such as they had not
yet heard; and her eyes were glittering, and the sweet words were
flowing from her mouth; but she sat straight up like a young woman;
and at whiles it seemed to those who hearkened, that she was no old
and outworn woman, but fair and strong, and of much avail. But when
she heard the Hall-Sun she turned and saw her on the threshold, and
her speech fell suddenly, and all that might and briskness faded from
her, and she fixed her eyes on the Hall-Sun and looked wistfully and
anxiously on her.
Then spake the Hall-Sun standing in the doorway:
"Hear ye a matter, maidens, and ye Wolfing women all,
And thou alien guest of the Wolfings! But come ye up the hall,
That the ancient men may hearken: for methinks I have a word
Of the battle of the Kindreds, and the harvest of the sword."
Then all arose up with great joy, for they knew that the tidings were
good, when they looked on the face of the Hall-Sun and beheld the
pride of her beauty unmarred by doubt or pain.
She led them forth to the dais, and there were the sick and the
elders gathered and some ancient men of the thralls: so she stepped
lightly up to her place, and stood under her namesake, the wondrous
lamp of ancient days. And thus she spake:
"On my soul there lies no burden, and no tangle of the fight
In plain or dale or wild-wood enmeshes now my sight.
I see the Markmen's wain-burg, and I see their warriors go
As men who wait for battle and the coming of the foe.
And they pass 'twixt the wood and the wain-burg within earshot of the
But over the windy meadows no sound thereof is borne,
And all is well amongst them. To the burg I draw anigh
And I see all battle-banners in the breeze of morning fly,
But no Wolfings round their banner and no warrior of the Shield,
No Geiring and no Hrossing in the burg or on the field."
She held her peace for a little while, and no one dared to speak;
then she lifted up her head and spake:
"Now I go by the lip of the wild-wood and a sound withal I hear,
As of men in the paths of the thicket, and a many drawing anear.
Then, muffled yet by the tree-boles, I hear the Shielding song,
And warriors blithe and merry with the battle of the strong.
Give back a little, Markmen, make way for men to pass
To your ordered battle-dwelling o'er the trodden meadow-grass,
For alive with men is the wild-wood and shineth with the steel,
And hath a voice most merry to tell of the Kindreds' weal,
'Twixt each tree a warrior standeth come back from the spear-strewn
And forth they come from the wild-wood and a little band are they."
Then again was she silent; but her head sank not, as of one thinking,
as before it did, but she looked straight forward with bright eyes
and smiling, as she said:
"Lo, now the guests they are bringing that ye have not seen before;
Yet guests but ill-entreated; for they lack their shields of war,
No spear in the hand they carry and with no sax are girt.
Lo, these are the dreaded foemen, these once so strong to hurt;
The men that all folk fled from, the swift to drive the spoil,
The men that fashioned nothing but the trap to make men toil.
They drew the sword in the cities, they came and struck the stroke
And smote the shield of the Markmen, and point and edge they broke.
They drew the sword in the war-garth, they swore to bring aback
God's gifts from the Markmen houses where the tables never lack.
O Markmen, take the God-gifts that came on their own feet
O'er the hills through the Mirkwood thicket the Stone of Tyr to
Again she stayed her song, which had been loud and joyous, and they
who heard her knew that the Kindreds had gained the day, and whilst
the Hall-Sun was silent they fell to talking of this fair day of
battle and the taking of captives. But presently she spread out her
hands again and they held their peace, and she said:
"I see, O Wolfing women, and many a thing I see,
But not all things, O elders, this eve shall ye learn of me,
For another mouth there cometh: the thicket I behold
And the Sons of Tyr amidst it, and I see the oak-trees old,
And the war-shout ringing round them; and I see the battle-lord
Unhelmed amidst of the mighty; and I see his leaping sword;
Strokes struck and warriors falling, and the streaks of spears I see,
But hereof shall the other tell you who speaketh after me.
For none other than the Shieldings from out the wood have come,
And they shift the turn with the Daylings to drive the folk-spear
And to follow with the Wolfings and thrust the war-beast forth.
And so good men deem the tidings that they bid them journey north
On the feet of a Shielding runner, that Gisli hath to name;
And west of the water he wendeth by the way that the Wolfings came;
Now for sleep he tarries never, and no meat is in his mouth
Till the first of the Houses hearkeneth the tidings of the south;
Lo, he speaks, and the mead-sea sippeth, and the bread by the way
And over the Geiring threshold and outward pass his feet;
And he breasts the Burg of the Daylings and saith his happy word,
And stayeth to drink for a minute of the waves of Battle-ford.
Lone then by the stream he runneth, and wendeth the wild-wood road,
And dasheth through the hazels of the Oselings' fair abode,
And the Elking women know it, and their hearts are glad once more,
And ye--yea, hearken, Wolfings, for his feet are at the door."
CHAPTER XII--TIDINGS OF THE BATTLE IN MIRKWOOD
As the Hall-Sun made an end they heard in good sooth the feet of the
runner on the hard ground without the hall, and presently the door
opened and he came leaping over the threshold, and up to the table,
and stood leaning on it with one hand, his breast heaving with his
last swift run. Then he spake presently:
"I am Gisli of the Shieldings: Otter sendeth me to the Hall-Sun; but
on the way I was to tell tidings to the Houses west of the Water: so
have I done. Now is my journey ended; for Otter saith: 'Let the
Hall-Sun note the tidings and send word of them by four of the
lightest limbed of the women, or by lads a-horseback, both west and
east of the Water; let her send the word as it seemeth to her,
whether she hath seen it or not. I will drink a short draught since
my running is over."
Then a damsel brought him a horn of mead and let it come into his
hand, and he drank sighing with pleasure, while the damsel for
pleasure of him and his tidings laid her hand on his shoulder. Then
he set down the horn and spake:
"We, the Shieldings, with the Geirings, the Hrossings, and the
Wolfings, three hundred warriors and more, were led into the Wood by
Thiodolf the War-duke, beside whom went Fox, who hath seen the
Romans. We were all afoot; for there is no wide way through the
Wood, nor would we have it otherwise, lest the foe find the thicket
easy. But many of us know the thicket and its ways; so we made not
the easy hard. I was near the War-duke, for I know the thicket and
am light-foot: I am a bowman. I saw Thiodolf that he was unhelmed
and bore no shield, nor had he any coat of fence; nought but a deer-
As he said that word, the carline, who had drawn very near to him and
was looking hard at his face, turned and looked on the Hall-Sun and
stared at her till she reddened under those keen eyes: for in her
heart began to gather some knowledge of the tale of her mother and
what her will was.
But Gisli went on: "Yet by his side was his mighty sword, and we all
knew it for Throng-plough, and were glad of it and of him and the
unfenced breast of the dauntless. Six hours we went spreading wide
through the thicket, not always seeing one another, but knowing one
another to be nigh; those that knew the thicket best led, the others
followed on. So we went till it was high noon on the plain and
glimmering dusk in the thicket, and we saw nought, save here and
there a roe, and here and there a sounder of swine, and coneys where
it was opener, and the sun shone and the grass grew for a little
space. So came we unto where the thicket ended suddenly, and there
was a long glade of the wild-wood, all set about with great oak-trees
and grass thereunder, which I knew well; and thereof the tale tells
that it was a holy place of the folk who abided in these parts before
the Sons of the Goths. Now will I drink."
So he drank of the horn and said: "It seemeth that Fox had a deeming
of the way the Romans should come; so now we abided in the thicket
without that glade and lay quiet and hidden, spreading ourselves as
much about that lawn of the oak-trees as we might, the while Fox and
three others crept through the wood to espy what might be toward:
not long had they been gone ere we heard a war-horn blow, and it was
none of our horns: it was a long way off, but we looked to our
weapons: for men are eager for the foe and the death that cometh,
when they lie hidden in the thicket. A while passed, and again we
heard the horn, and it was nigher and had a marvellous voice; then in
a while was a little noise of men, not their voices, but footsteps
going warily through the brake to the south, and twelve men came
slowly and warily into that oak-lawn, and lo, one of them was Fox;
but he was clad in the raiment of the dastard of the Goths whom he
had slain. I tell you my heart beat, for I saw that the others were
Roman men, and one of them seemed to be a man of authority, and he
held Fox by the shoulder, and pointed to the thicket where we lay,
and something he said to him, as we saw by his gesture and face, but
his voice we heard not, for he spake soft.
"Then of those ten men of his he sent back two, and Fox going between
them, as though he should be slain if he misled them; and he and the
eight abided there wisely and warily, standing silently some six feet
from each other, moving scarce at all, but looking like images
fashioned of brown copper and iron; holding their casting-spears
(which be marvellous heavy weapons) and girt with the sax.
"As they stood there, not out of earshot of a man speaking in his
wonted voice, our War-duke made a sign to those about him, and we
spread very quietly to the right hand and the left of him once more,
and we drew as close as might be to the thicket's edge, and those who
had bows the nighest thereto. Thus then we abided a while again; and
again came the horn's voice; for belike they had no mind to come
their ways covertly because of their pride.
"Soon therewithal comes Fox creeping back to us, and I saw him
whisper into the ear of the War-duke, but heard not the word he said.
I saw that he had hanging to him two Roman saxes, so I deemed he had
slain those two, and so escaped the Romans. Maidens, it were well
that ye gave me to drink again, for I am weary and my journey is
So again they brought him the horn, and made much of him; and he
drank, and then spake on.
"Now heard we the horn's voice again quite close, and it was sharp
and shrill, and nothing like to the roar of our battle-horns: still
was the wood and no wind abroad, not even down the oak-lawn; and we
heard now the tramp of many men as they thrashed through the small
wood and bracken of the thicket-way; and those eight men and their
leader came forward, moving like one, close up to the thicket where I
lay, just where the path passed into the thicket beset by the Sons of
the Goths: so near they were that I could see the dints upon their
armour, and the strands of the wire on their sax-handles. Down then
bowed the tall bracken on the further side of the wood-lawn, the
thicket crashed before the march of men, and on they strode into the
lawn, a goodly band, wary, alert, and silent of cries.
"But when they came into the lawn they spread out somewhat to their
left hands, that is to say on the west side, for that way was the
clear glade; but on the east the thicket came close up to them and
edged them away. Therein lay the Goths.
"There they stayed awhile, and spread out but a little, as men
marching, not as men fighting. A while we let them be; and we saw
their captain, no big man, but dight with very fair armour and
weapons; and there drew up to him certain Goths armed, the dastards
of the folk, and another unarmed, an old man bound and bleeding.
With these Goths had the captain some converse, and presently he
cried out two or three words of Welsh in a loud voice, and the nine
men who were ahead shifted them somewhat away from us to lead down
the glade westward.
"The prey had come into the net, but they had turned their faces
toward the mouth of it.
"Then turned Thiodolf swiftly to the man behind him who carried the
war-horn, and every man handled his weapons: but that man
understood, and set the little end to his mouth, and loud roared the
horn of the Markmen, and neither friend nor foe misdoubted the tale
thereof. Then leaped every man to his feet, all bow-strings twanged
and the cast-spears flew; no man forebore to shout; each as he might
leapt out of the thicket and fell on with sword and axe and spear,
for it was from the bowmen but one shaft and no more.
"Then might you have seen Thiodolf as he bounded forward like the
wild-cat on the hare, how he had no eyes for any save the Roman
captain. Foemen enough he had round about him after the two first
bounds from the thicket; for the Romans were doing their best to
spread, that they might handle those heavy cast-spears, though they
might scarce do it, just come out of the thicket as they were, and
thrust together by that onslaught of the kindreds falling on from two
sides and even somewhat from behind. To right and left flashed
Throng-plough, while Thiodolf himself scarce seemed to guide it: men
fell before him at once, and close at his heels poured the Wolfing
kindred into the gap, and in a minute of time was he amidst of the
throng and face to face with the gold-dight captain.
"What with the sweep of Throng-plough and the Wolfing onrush, there
was space about him for a great stroke; he gave a side-long stroke to
his right and hewed down a tall Burgundian, and then up sprang the
white blade, but ere its edge fell he turned his wrist, and drove the
point through that Captain's throat just above the ending of his
hauberk, so that he fell dead amidst of his folk.
"All the four kindreds were on them now, and amidst them, and needs
must they give way: but stoutly they fought; for surely no other
warriors might have withstood that onslaught of the Markmen for the
twinkling of an eye: but had the Romans had but the space to have
spread themselves out there, so as to handle their shot-weapons, many
a woman's son of us had fallen; for no man shielded himself in his
eagerness, but let the swiftness of the Onset of point-and-edge
shield him; which, sooth to say, is often a good shield, as here was
"So those that were unslain and unhurt fled west along the glade, but
not as dastards, and had not Thiodolf followed hard in the chase
according to his wont, they might even yet have made a fresh stand
and spread from oak-tree to oak-tree across the glade: but as it
befel, they might not get a fair offing so as to disentangle
themselves and array themselves in good order side by side; and
whereas the Markmen were fleet of foot, and in the woods they knew,
there were a many aliens slain in the chase or taken alive unhurt or
little hurt: but the rest fled this way and that way into the
thicket, with whom were some of the Burgundians; so there they abide
now as outcasts and men unholy, to be slain as wild-beasts one by one
as we meet them.
"Such then was the battle in Mirkwood. Give me the mead-horn that I
may drink to the living and the dead, and the memory of the dead, and
the deeds of the living that are to be."
So they brought him the horn, and he waved it over his head and drank
again and spake:
"Sixty and three dead men of the Romans we counted there up and down
that oak-glade; and we cast earth over them; and three dead dastards
of the Goths, and we left them for the wolves to deal with. And
twenty-five men of the Romans we took alive to be for hostages if
need should be, and these did we Shielding men, who are not very
many, bring aback to the wain-burg; and the Daylings, who are a great
company, were appointed to enter the wood and be with Thiodolf; and
me did Otter bid to bear the tidings, even as I have told you. And I
have not loitered by the way."
Great then was the joy in the Hall; and they took Gisli, and made
much of him, and led him to the bath, and clad him in fine raiment
taken from the coffer which was but seldom opened, because the cloths
it held were precious; and they set a garland of green wheat-ears on
his head. Then they fell to and spread the feast in the hall; and
they ate and drank and were merry.
But as for speeding the tidings, the Hall-Sun sent two women and two
lads, all a-horseback, to bear the words: the women to remember the
words which she taught them carefully, the lads to be handy with the
horses, or in the ford, or the swimming of the deeps, or in the
thicket. So they went their ways, down the water: one pair went on
the western side, and the other crossed Mirkwood-water at the
shallows (for being Midsummer the water was but small), and went
along the east side, so that all the kindred might know of the
tidings and rejoice.
Great was the glee in the Hall, though the warriors of the House were
away, and many a song and lay they sang: but amidst the first of the
singing they bethought them of the old woman, and would have bidden
her tell them some tale of times past, since she was so wise in the
ancient lore. But when they sought for her on all sides she was not
to be found, nor could anyone remember seeing her depart from the
Hall. But this had they no call to heed, and the feast ended, as it
began, in great glee.
Albeit the Hall-Sun was troubled about the carline, both that she had
come, and that she had gone: and she determined that the next time
she met her she would strive to have of her a true tale of what she
was, and of all that was toward.
CHAPTER XIII--THE HALL-SUN SAITH ANOTHER WORD
It was no later than the next night, and a many of what thralls were
not with the host were about in the feast-hall with the elders and
lads and weaklings of the House; for last night's tidings had drawn
them thither. Gisli had gone back to his kindred and the wain-burg
in the Upper-mark, and the women were sitting, most of them, in the
Women's-Chamber, some of them doing what little summer work needed
doing about the looms, but more resting from their work in field and
Then came the Hall-Sun forth from her room clad in glittering
raiment, and summoned no one, but went straight to her place on the
dais under her namesake the Lamp, and stood there a little without
speaking. Her face was pale now, her lips a little open, her eyes
set and staring as if they saw nothing of all that was round about
Now went the word through the Hall and the Women's-Chamber that the
Hall-Sun would speak again, and that great tidings were toward; so
all folk came flock-meal to the dais, both thralls and free; and
scarce were all gathered there, ere the Hall-Sun began speaking, and
"The days of the world thrust onward, and men are born therein
A many and a many, and divers deeds they win
In the fashioning of stories for the kindreds of the earth,
A garland interwoven of sorrow and of mirth.
To the world a warrior cometh; from the world he passeth away,
And no man then may sunder his good from his evil day.
By the Gods hath he been tormented, and been smitten by the foe:
He hath seen his maiden perish, he hath seen his speech-friend go:
His heart hath conceived a joyance and hath brought it unto birth:
But he hath not carried with him his sorrow or his mirth.
He hath lived, and his life hath fashioned the outcome of the deed,
For the blossom of the people, and the coming kindreds' seed.
"Thus-wise the world is fashioned, and the new sun of the morn
Where earth last night was desert beholds a kindred born,
That to-morrow and to-morrow blossoms all gloriously
With many a man and maiden for the kindreds yet to be,
And fair the Goth-folk groweth. And yet the story saith
That the deeds that make the summer make too the winter's death,
That summer-tides unceasing from out the grave may grow
And the spring rise up unblemished from the bosom of the snow.
"Thus as to every kindred the day comes once for all
When yesterday it was not, and to-day it builds the hall,
So every kindred bideth the night-tide of the day,
Whereof it knoweth nothing, e'en when noon is past away.
E'en thus the House of the Wolfings 'twixt dusk and dark doth stand,
And narrow is the pathway with the deep on either hand.
On the left are the days forgotten, on the right the days to come,
And another folk and their story in the stead of the Wolfing home.
Do the shadows darken about it, is the even here at last?
Or is this but a storm of the noon-tide that the wind is driving
"Unscathed as yet it standeth; it bears the stormy drift,
Nor bows to the lightening flashing adown from the cloudy lift.
I see the hail of battle and the onslaught of the strong,
And they go adown to the folk-mote that shall bide there over long.
I see the slain-heaps rising and the alien folk prevail,
And the Goths give back before them on the ridge o'er the treeless
I see the ancient fallen, and the young man smitten dead,
And yet I see the War-duke shake Throng-plough o'er his head,
And stand unhelmed, unbyrnied before the alien host,
And the hurt men rise around him to win back battle lost;
And the wood yield up her warriors, and the whole host rushing on,
And the swaying lines of battle until the lost is won.
Then forth goes the cry of triumph, as they ring the captives round
And cheat the crow of her portion and heap the warriors' mound.
There are faces gone from our feast-hall not the least beloved nor
But the wane of the House of the Wolfings not yet the world hath
The sun shall rise to-morrow on our cold and dewy roof,
For they that longed for slaughter were slaughtered far aloof."
She ceased for a little, but her countenance, which had not changed
during her song, changed not at all now: so they all kept silence
although they were rejoicing in this new tale of victory; for they
deemed that she was not yet at the end of her speaking. And in good
sooth she spake again presently, and said:
"I wot not what hath befallen nor where my soul may be,
For confusion is within me and but dimly do I see,
As if the thing that I look on had happed a while ago.
They stand by the tofts of a war-garth, a captain of the foe,
And a man that is of the Goth-folk, and as friend and friend they
But I hear no word they are saying, though for every word I seek.
And now the mist flows round me and blind I come aback
To the House-roof of the Wolfings and the hearth that hath no lack."
Her voice grew weaker as she spake the last words, and she sank
backward on to her chair: her clenched hands opened, the lids fell
down over her bright eyes, her breast heaved no more as it had done,
and presently she fell asleep.
The folk were doubtful and somewhat heavy-hearted because of those
last words of hers; but they would not ask her more, or rouse her
from her sleep, lest they should grieve her; so they departed to
their beds and slept for what was yet left of the night.
CHAPTER XIV--THE HALL-SUN IS CAREFUL CONCERNING THE PASSES OF THE
In the morning early folk arose; and the lads and women who were not
of the night-shift got them ready to go to the mead and the acres;
for the sunshine had been plenty these last days and the wheat was
done blossoming, and all must be got ready for harvest. So they
broke their fast, and got their tools into their hands: but they
were somewhat heavy-hearted because of those last words of the Hall-
Sun, and the doubt of last night still hung about them, and they were
scarcely as merry as men are wont to be in the morning.
As for the Hall-Sun, she was afoot with the earliest, and was no
less, but mayhap more merry than her wont was, and was blithe with
all, both old and young.
But as they were at the point of going she called to them, and said:
"Tarry a little, come ye all to the dais and hearken to me."
So they all gathered thereto, and she stood in her place and spake.
"Women and elders of the Wolfings, is it so that I spake somewhat of
tidings last night?"
"Yea," said they all.
She said, "And was it a word of victory?"
They answered "yea" again.
"Good is that," she said; "doubt ye not! there is nought to unsay.
But hearken! I am nothing wise in war like Thiodolf or Otter of the
Laxings, or as Heriulf the Ancient was, though he was nought so wise
as they be. Nevertheless ye shall do well to take me for your
captain, while this House is bare of warriors."
"Yea, yea," they said, "so will we."
And an old warrior, hight Sorli, who sat in his chair, no longer
quite way-worthy, said:
"Hall-Sun, this we looked for of thee; since thy wisdom is not wholly
the wisdom of a spae-wife, but rather is of the children of warriors:
and we know thine heart to be high and proud, and that thy death
seemeth to thee a small matter beside the life of the Wolfing House."
Then she smiled and said, "Will ye all do my bidding?"
And they all cried out heartily, "Yea, Hall-Sun, that will we."
She said: "Hearken then; ye all know that east of Mirkwood-water,
when ye come to the tofts of the Bearings, and their Great Roof, the
thicket behind them is close, but that there is a wide way cut
through it; and often have I gone there: if ye go by that way, in a
while ye come to the thicket's end and to bare places where the rocks
crop up through the gravel and the woodland loam. There breed the
coneys without number; and wild-cats haunt the place for that sake,
and foxes; and the wood-wolf walketh there in summer-tide, and hard
by the she-wolf hath her litter of whelps, and all these have enough;
and the bald-head erne hangeth over it and the kite, and also the
kestril, for shrews and mice abound there. Of these things there is
none that feareth me, and none that maketh me afraid. Beyond this
place for a long way the wood is nowise thick, for first grow ash-
trees about the clefts of the rock and also quicken-trees, but not
many of either; and here and there a hazel brake easy to thrust
through; then comes a space of oak-trees scattered about the lovely
wood-lawn, and then at last the beech-wood close above but clear
beneath. This I know well, because I myself have gone so far and
further; and by this easy way have I gone so far to the south, that I
have come out into the fell country, and seen afar off the snowy
mountains beyond the Great Water.
"Now fear ye not, but pluck up a heart! For either I have seen it or
dreamed it, or thought it, that by this road easy to wend the Romans
should come into the Mark. For shall not those dastards and traitors
that wear the raiment and bodies of the Goths over the hearts and the
lives of foemen, tell them hereof? And will they not have heard of
our Thiodolf, and this my holy namesake?
"Will they not therefore be saying to themselves, 'Go to now, why
should we wrench the hinges off the door with plenteous labour, when
another door to the same chamber standeth open before us? This House
of the Wolfings is the door to the treasure chamber of the Markmen;
let us fall on that at once rather than have many battles for other
lesser matters, and then at last have to fight for this also: for
having this we have all, and they shall be our thralls, and we may
slaughter what we will, and torment what we will and deflower what we
will, and make our souls glad with their grief and anguish, and take
aback with us to the cities what we will of the thralls, that their
anguish and our joy may endure the longer.' Thus will they say:
therefore is it my rede that the strongest and hardiest of you women
take horse, a ten of you and one to lead besides, and ride the
shallows to the Bearing House, and tell them of our rede; which is to
watch diligently the ways of the wood; the outgate to the Mark, and
the places where the wood is thin and easy to travel on: and ye
shall bid them give you of their folk as many as they deem fittest
thereto to join your company, so that ye may have a chain of watchers
stretching far into the wilds; but two shall lie without the wood,
their horses ready for them to leap on and ride on the spur to the
wain-burg in the Upper-mark if any tidings befal.
"Now of these eleven I ordain Hrosshild to be the leader and captain,
and to choose for her fellows the stoutest-limbed and heaviest-handed
of all the maidens here: art thou content Hrosshild?"
Then stood Hrosshild forth and said nought, but nodded yea; and soon
was her choice made amid jests and laughter, for this seemed no hard
matter to them.
So the ten got together, and the others fell off from them, and there
stood the ten maidens with Hrosshild, well nigh as strong as men,
clean-limbed and tall, tanned with sun and wind; for all these were
unwearied afield, and oft would lie out a-nights, since they loved
the lark's song better than the mouse's squeak; but as their kirtles
shifted at neck and wrist, you might see their skins as white as
privet-flower where they were wont to be covered.
Then said the Hall-Sun: "Ye have heard the word, see ye to it,
Hrosshild, and take this other word also: Bid the Bearing stay-at-
homes bide not the sword and the torch at home if the Romans come,
but hie them over hither, to hold the Hall or live in the wild-wood
with us, as need may be; for might bides with many.
"But ye maidens, take this counsel for yourselves; do ye each bear
with you a little keen knife, and if ye be taken, and it seem to you
that ye may not bear the smart of the Roman torments (for they be
wise in tormenting), but will speak and bewray us under them, then
thrust this little edge tool into the place of your bodies where the
life lieth closest, and so go to the Gods with a good tale in your
mouths: so may the Almighty God of Earth speed you, and the fathers
of the kindred!"
So she spoke; and they made no delay but each one took what axe or
spear or sword she liked best, and two had their bows and quivers of
arrows; and so all folk went forth from the Hall.
Soon were the horses saddled and bridled, and the maidens bestrode
them joyously and set forth on their way, going down the lanes of the
wheat, and rode down speedily toward the shallows of the water, and
all cried good speed after them. But the others would turn to their
day's work, and would go about their divers errands. But even as
they were at point to sunder, they saw a swift runner passing by
those maidens just where the acres joined the meadow, and he waved
his hand aloft and shouted to them, but stayed not his running for
them, but came up the lanes of the wheat at his swiftest: so they
knew at once that this was again a messenger from the host, and they
stood together and awaited his coming; and as he drew near they knew
him for Egil, the swiftest-footed of the Wolfings; and he gave a
great shout as he came among them; and he was dusty and wayworn, but
eager; and they received him with all love, and would have brought
him to the Hall to wash him and give him meat and drink, and cherish
him in all ways.
But he cried out, "To the Speech-Hill first, to the Speech-Hill
first! But even before that, one word to thee, Hall-Sun! Saith
Thiodolf, Send ye watchers to look to the entrance into Mid-mark,
which is by the Bearing dwelling; and if aught untoward befalleth let
one ride on the spur with the tidings to the Wain-burg. For by that
way also may peril come."
Then smiled some of the bystanders, and the Hall-Sun said: "Good is
it when the thought of a friend stirreth betimes in one's own breast.
The thing is done, Egil; or sawest thou not those ten women, and
Hrosshild the eleventh, as thou camest up into the acres?"
Said Egil; "Fair fall thine hand, Hall-Sun! thou art the Wolfings'
Ransom. Wend we now to the Speech-Hill."
So did they, and every thrall that was about the dwellings, man,
woman, and child fared with them, and stood about the Speech-Hill:
and the dogs went round about the edge of that assembly, wandering in
and out, and sometimes looking hard on some one whom they knew best,
if he cried out aloud.
But the men-folk gave all their ears to hearkening, and stood as
close as they might.
Then Egil clomb the Speech-Hill, and said.
CHAPTER XV--THEY HEAR TELL OF THE BATTLE ON THE RIDGE
"Ye have heard how the Daylings were appointed to go to help Thiodolf
in driving the folk-spear home to the heart of the Roman host. So
they went; but six hours thereafter comes one to Otter bidding him
send a great part of the kindreds to him; for that he had had tidings
that a great host of Romans were drawing near the wood-edge, but were
not entered therein, and that fain would he meet them in the open
"So the kindreds drew lots, and the lot fell first to the Elkings,
who are a great company, as ye know; and then to the Hartings, the
Beamings, the Alftings, the Vallings (also a great company), the
Galtings, (and they no lesser) each in their turn; and last of all to
the Laxings; and the Oselings prayed to go with the Elkings, and this
Otter deemed good, whereas a many of them be bowmen.
"All these then to the number of a thousand or more entered the wood;
and I was with them, for in sooth I was the messenger.
"No delay made we in the wood, nor went we over warily, trusting to
the warding of the wood by Thiodolf; and there were men with us who
knew the paths well, whereof I was one; so we speedily came through
into the open country.
"Shortly we came upon our folk and the War-duke lying at the foot of
a little hill that went up as a buttress to a long ridge high above
us, whereon we set a watch; and a little brook came down the dale for
"Night fell as we came thither; so we slept for a while, but abode
not the morning, and we were afoot (for we had no horses with us)
before the moon grew white. We took the road in good order, albeit
our folk-banners we had left behind in the burg; so each kindred
raised aloft a shield of its token to be for a banner. So we went
forth, and some swift footmen, with Fox, who hath seen the Roman war-
garth, had been sent on before to spy out the ways of the foemen.
"Two hours after sunrise cometh one of these, and telleth how he hath
seen the Romans, and how that they are but a short mile hence
breaking their fast, not looking for any onslaught; 'but,' saith he,
'they are on a high ridge whence they can see wide about, and be in
no danger of ambush, because the place is bare for the most part, nor
is there any cover except here and there down in the dales a few
hazels and blackthorn bushes, and the rushes of the becks in the
marshy bottoms, wherein a snipe may hide, or a hare, but scarce a
man; and note that there is no way up to that ridge but by a spur
thereof as bare as my hand; so ye will be well seen as ye wend up
"So spake he in my hearing. But Thiodolf bade him lead on to that
spur, and old Heriulf, who was standing nigh, laughed merrily and
said: 'Yea, lead on, and speedily, lest the day wane and nothing
done save the hunting of snipes.'
"So on we went, and coming to the hither side of that spur beheld
those others and Fox with them; and he held in his hand an arrow of
the aliens, and his face was all astir with half-hidden laughter, and
he breathed hard, and pointed to the ridge, and somewhat low down on
it we saw a steel cap and three spear-heads showing white from out a
little hollow in its side, but the men hidden by the hollow: so we
knew that Fox had been chased, and that the Romans were warned and
"No delay made the War-duke, but led us up that spur, which was
somewhat steep; and as we rose higher we saw a band of men on the
ridge, a little way down it, not a many; archers and slingers mostly,
who abode us till we were within shot, and then sent a few shots at
us, and so fled. But two men were hurt with the sling-plummets, and
one, and he not grievously, with an arrow, and not one slain.
"Thus we came up on to the ridge, so that there was nothing between
us and the bare heavens; thence we looked south-east and saw the
Romans wisely posted on the ridge not far from where it fell down
steeply to the north; but on the south, that is to say on their left
hands, and all along the ridge past where we were stayed, the ground
sloped gently to the south-west for a good way, before it fell,
somewhat steeply, into another long dale. Looking north we saw the
outer edge of Mirkwood but a little way from us, and we were glad
thereof; because ere we left our sleeping-place that morn Thiodolf
had sent to Otter another messenger bidding him send yet more men on
to us in case we should be hard-pressed in the battle; for he had had
a late rumour that the Romans were many. And now when he had looked
on the Roman array and noted how wise it was, he sent three swift-
foot ones to take stand on a high knoll which we had passed on the
way, that they might take heed where our folk came out from the wood
and give signal to them by the horn, and lead them to where the
battle should be.
"So we stood awhile and breathed us, and handled our weapons some
half a furlong from the alien host. They had no earth rampart around
them, for that ridge is waterless, and they could not abide there
long, but they had pitched sharp pales in front of them and they
stood in very good order, as if abiding an onslaught, and moved not
when they saw us; for that band of shooters had joined themselves to
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