When he came back to the dais he saw that there was meat upon the board, and the Friend said to him:
‘Now art thou Gold-mane indeed: but come now, sit by me and eat, though the Wood-woman giveth thee but a sorry banquet, O guest; but from the Dale it is, and we be too far now from the dwellings of men to have delicate meat on the board, though to-night when they come back thy cheer shall be better. Yet even then thou shalt have no such dainties as Stone-face hath imagined for thee at the hands of the Wood-wight.’
She laughed therewith, and he no less; and in sooth the meat was but simple, of curds and new cheese, meat of the herdsmen. But Face-of-god said gaily: ‘Sweet it shall be to me; good is all that the Friend giveth.’
Then she raised her hand and made the sign of the Hammer over the board, and looked up at him and said:
‘Hath the Earth-god changed my face, Gold-mane, to what I verily am?’
He held his face close to hers and looked into it, and him-seemed it was as pure as the waters of a mountain lake, and as fine and well-wrought every deal of it as when his father had wrought in his stithy many days and fashioned a small piece of great mastery. He was ashamed to kiss her again, but he said to himself, ‘This is the fairest woman of the world, whom I have sworn to wed this year.’ Then he spake aloud and said:
‘I see the face of the Friend, and it will not change to me.’
Again she reddened a little, and the happy look in her face seemed to grow yet sweeter, and he was bewildered with longing and delight.
But she stood up and went to an ambrye in the wall and brought forth a horn shod and lipped with silver of ancient fashion, and she poured wine into it and held it forth and said:
‘O guest from the Dale, I pledge thee! and when thou hast drunk to me in turn we will talk of weighty matters. For indeed I bear hopes in my hands too heavy for the daughters of men to bear; and thou art a chieftain’s son, and mayst well help me to bear them; so let us talk simply and without guile, as folk that trust one another.’
So she drank and held out the horn to him, and he took the horn and her hand both, and he kissed her hand and said:
‘Here in this Hall I drink to the Sons of the Wolf, whosoever they be.’ Therewith he drank and he said: ‘Simply and guilelessly indeed will I talk with thee; for I am weary of lies, and for thy sake have I told a many.’
‘Thou shalt tell no more,’ she said; ‘and as for the health thou hast drunk, it is good, and shall profit thee. Now sit we here in these ancient seats and let us talk.’
So they sat them down while the sun was westering in the March afternoon, and she said:
‘Tell me first what tidings have been in the Dale.’
So he told her of the ransackings and of the murder at Carlstead.
She said: ‘These tidings have we heard before, and some deal of them we know better than ye do, or can; for we were the ransackers of Penny-thumb and Harts-bane. Thereof will I say more presently. What other tidings hast thou to tell of? What oaths were sworn upon the Boar last Yule?’
So he told her of the oath of Bristler the son of Brightling. She smiled and said: ‘He shall keep his oath, and yet redden no blade.’
Then he told of his father’s oath, and she said:
‘It is good; but even so would he do and no oath sworn. All men may trust Iron-face. And thou, my friend, what oath didst thou swear?’
His face grew somewhat troubled as he said: ‘I swore to wed the fairest woman in the world, though the Dalesmen gainsaid me, and they beyond the Dale.’
‘Yea,’ she said, ‘and there is no need to ask thee whom thou didst mean by thy “fairest woman,” for I have seen that thou deemest me fair enough. My friend, maybe thy kindred will be against it, and the kindred of the Bride; and it might be that my kindred would have gainsaid it if things were not as they are. But though all men gainsay it, yet will not I. It is meet and right that we twain wed.’
She spake very soberly and quietly, but when she had spoken there was nothing in his heart but joy and gladness: yet shame of her loveliness refrained him, and he cast down his eyes before hers. Then she said in a kind voice:
‘I know thee, how glad thou art of this word of mine, because thou lookest on me with eyes of love, and thinkest of me as better than I am; though I am no ill woman and no beguiler. But this is not all that I have to say to thee, though it be much; for there are more folk in the world than thou and I only. But I told thee this first, that thou mightest trust me in all things. So, my friend, if thou canst, refrain thy joy and thy longing a little, and hearken to what concerneth thee and me, and thy people and mine.’
‘Fair woman and sweet friend,’ he said, ‘thou knowest of a gladness which is hard to bear if one must lay it aside for a while; and of a longing which is hard to refrain if it mingle with another longing— knowest thou not?’
‘Yea,’ she said, ‘I know it.’
‘Yet,’ said Face-of-god, ‘I will forbear as thou biddest me. Tell me, then, what were the felons who were slain at Carlstead? Knowest thou of them?’
‘Over well,’ she said, ‘they are our foes this many a year; and since we met last autumn they have become foes of you Dalesmen also. Soon shall ye have tidings of them; and it was against them that I bade thee arm yesterday.’
Said Face-of-god: ‘Is it against them that thou wouldst have us do battle along with thy folk?’
‘So it is,’ she said; ‘no other foemen have we. And now, Gold-mane, thou art become a friend of the Wolf, and shalt before long be of affinity with our House; that other day thou didst ask me to tell thee of me and mine, and now will I do according to thine asking. Short shall my tale be; because maybe thou shalt hear it told again, and in goodly wise, before thine whole folk.
‘As thou wottest we be now outlaws and Wolves’ Heads; and whiles we lift the gear of men, but ever if we may of ill men and not of good; there is no worthy goodman of the Dale from whom we would take one hoof, or a skin of wine, or a cake of wax.
‘Wherefore are we outlaws? Because we have been driven from our own, and we bore away our lives and our weapons, and little else; and for our lands, thou seest this Vale in the howling wilderness and how narrow and poor it is, though it hath been the nurse of warriors in time past.
‘Hearken! Time long ago came the kindred of the Wolf to these Mountains of the World; and they were in a pass in the stony maze and the utter wilderness of the Mountains, and the foe was behind them in numbers not to be borne up against. And so it befell that the pass forked, and there were two ways before our Folk; and one part of them would take the way to the north and the other the way to the south; and they could not agree which way the whole Folk should take. So they sundered into two companies, and one took one way and one another. Now as to those who fared by the southern road, we knew not what befell them, nor for long and long had we any tale of them.
‘But we who took the northern road, we happened on this Vale amidst the wilderness, and we were weary of fleeing from the over-mastering foe; and the dale seemed enough, and a refuge, and a place to dwell in, and no man was there before us, and few were like to find it, and we were but a few. So we dwelt here in this Vale for as wild as it is, the place where the sun shineth never in the winter, and scant is the summer sunshine therein. Here we raised a Doom-ring and builded us a Hall, wherein thou now sittest beside me, O friend, and we dwelt here many seasons.
‘We had a few sheep in the wilderness, and a few neat fed down the grass of the Vale; and we found gems and copper in the rocks about us wherewith at whiles to chaffer with the aliens, and fish we drew from our river the Shivering Flood. Also it is not to be hidden that in those days we did not spare to lift the goods of men; yea, whiles would our warriors fare down unto the edges of the Plain and lie in wait there till the time served, and then drive the spoil from under the very walls of the Cities. Our men were not little-hearted, nor did our women lament the death of warriors over-much, for they were there to bear more warriors to the Folk.
‘But the seasons passed, and the Folk multiplied in Shadowy Vale, and livelihood seemed like to fail them, and needs must they seek wider lands. So by ways which thou wilt one day wot of, we came into a valley that lieth north-west of Shadowy Vale: a land like thine of Burgdale, or better; wide it was, plenteous of grass and trees, well watered, full of all things that man can desire.
‘Were there men before us in this Dale? sayest thou. Yea, but not very many, and they feeble in battle, weak of heart, though strong of body. These, when they saw the Sons of the Wolf with weapons in their hands, felt themselves puny before us, and their hearts failed them; and they came to us with gifts, and offered to share the Dale between them and us, for they said there was enough for both folks. So we took their offer and became their friends; and some of our Houses wedded wives of the strangers, and gave them their women to wife. Therein they did amiss; for the blended Folk as the generations passed became softer than our blood, and many were untrusty and greedy and tyrannous, and the days of the whoredom fell upon us, and when we deemed ourselves the mightiest then were we the nearest to our fall. But the House whereof I am would never wed with these Westlanders, and other Houses there were who had affinity with us who chiefly wedded with us of the Wolf, and their fathers had come with ours into that fruitful Dale; and these were called the Red Hand, and the Silver Arm, and the Golden Bushel, and the Ragged Sword. Thou hast heard those names once before, friend?’
‘Yea,’ he said, and as he spoke the picture of that other day came back to him, and he called to mind all that he had said, and his happiness of that hour seemed the more and the sweeter for that memory.
She went on: ‘Fair and goodly is that Dale as mine own eyes have seen, and plentiful of all things, and up in its mountains to the east are caves and pits whence silver is digged abundantly; therefore is the Dale called Silver-dale. Hast thou heard thereof, my friend?’
‘Nay,’ said Face-of-god, ‘though I have marvelled whence ye gat such foison of silver.’
He looked on her and marvelled, for now she seemed as if it were another woman: her eyes were gleaming bright, her lips were parted; there was a bright red flush on the pommels of her two cheeks as she spake again and said:
‘Happy lived the Folk in Silver-dale for many and many winters and summers: the seasons were good and no lack was there: little sickness there was and less war, and all seemed better than well. It is strange that ye Dalesmen have not heard of Silver-dale.’
‘Nay,’ said he, ‘but I have not; of Rose-dale have I heard, as a land very far away: but no further do we know of toward that airt. Lieth Silver-dale anywhere nigh to Rose-dale?’
She said: ‘It is the next dale to it, yet is it a far journey betwixt the two, for the ice-sea pusheth a horn in betwixt them; and even below the ice the mountain-neck is passable to none save a bold crag-climber, and to him only bearing his life in his hands. But, my friend, I am but lingering over my tale, because it grieveth me sore to have to tell it. Hearken then! In the days when I had seen but ten summers, and my brother was a very young man, but exceeding strong, and as beautiful as thou art now, war fell on us without rumour or warning; for there swarmed into Silver-dale, though not by the ways whereby we had entered it, a host of aliens, short of stature, crooked of limb, foul of aspect, but fierce warriors and armed full well: they were men having no country to go back to, though they had no women or children with them, as we had when we were young in these lands, but used all women whom they took as their beastly lust bade them, making them their thralls if they slew them not. Soon we found that these foemen asked no more of us than all we had, and therewithal our lives to be cast away or used for their service as beasts of burden or pleasure. There then we gathered our fighting-men and withstood them; and if we had been all of the kindreds of the Wolf and the fruit of the wives of warriors, we should have driven back these felons and saved the Dale, though it maybe more than half ruined: but the most part of us were of that mingled blood, or of the generations of the Dalesmen whom we had conquered long ago, and stout as they were of body their hearts failed them, and they gave themselves up to the aliens to be as their oxen and asses.
‘Why make a long tale of it? We who were left, and could brook death but not thraldom, fought it out together, women as well as men, till the sweetness of life and a happy chance for escape bid us flee, vanquished but free men. For at the end of three days’ fight we had been driven up to the easternmost end of the Dale, and up anigh to the jaws of the pass whereby the Folk had first come into Silver-dale, and we had those with us who knew every cranny of that way, while to strangers who knew it not it was utterly impassable; night was coming on also, and even those murder-carles were weary with slaying; and, moreover, on this last day, when they saw that they had won all, they were fighting to keep, and not to slay, and a few stubborn carles and queens, of what use would they be, or where was the gain of risking life to win them?
‘So they forbore us, and night came on moonless and dark; and it was the early spring season, when the days are not yet long, and so by night and cloud we fled away, and back again to Shadowy Vale.
‘Forsooth, we were but a few; for when we were gotten into this Vale, this strip of grass and water in the wilderness, and had told up our company, we were but two hundred and thirty and five of men and women and children. For there were an hundred and thirty and three grown men of all ages, and of women grown seventy and five, and one score and seven children, whereof I was one; for, as thou mayst deem, it was easier for grown men with weapons in their hands to escape from that slaughter than for women and children.
‘There sat we in yonder Doom-ring and took counsel, and to some it seemed good that we should all dwell together in Shadowy Vale, and beset the skirts of the foemen till the days should better; but others deemed that there was little avail therein; and there was a mighty man of the kindred, Stone-wolf by name, a man of middle-age, and he said, that late in life had he tasted of war, and though the banquet was made bitter with defeat, yet did the meat seem wholesome to him. “Come down with me to the Cities of the Plain,” said he, “all you who are stout warriors; and leave we here the old men and the swains and the women and children. Hateful are the folk there, and full of malice, but soft withal and dastardly. Let us go down thither and make ourselves strong amongst them, and sell our valour for their wealth till we come to rule them, and they make us their kings, and we establish the Folk of the Wolf amongst the aliens; then will we come back hither and bring away that which we have left.”
‘So he spake, and the more part of the warriors yea said his rede, and they went with him to the Westland, and amongst these was my brother Folk-might (for that is his name in the kindred). And I sorrowed at his departure, for he had borne me thither out of the flames and the clash of swords and the press of battle, and to me had he ever been kind and loving, albeit he hath had the Words of hard and froward used on him full oft.
‘So in this Vale abode we that were left, and the seasons passed; some of the elders died, and some of the children also; but more children were born, for amongst us were men and women to whom it was lawful to wed with each other. Even with this scanty remnant was left some of the life of the kindred of old days; and after we had been here but a little while, the young men, yea and the old also, and even some of the women, would steal through passes that we, and we only, knew of, and would fall upon the Aliens in Silver-dale as occasion served, and lift their goods both live and dead; and this became both a craft and a pastime amongst us. Nor may I hide that we sometimes went lifting otherwhere; for in the summer and autumn we would fare west a little and abide in the woods the season through, and hunt the deer thereof, and whiles would we drive the spoil from the scattered folk not far from your Shepherd-Folk; but with the Shepherds themselves and with you Dalesmen we meddled not.
‘Now that little wood-lawn with the toft of an ancient dwelling in it, wherein, saith Bow-may, thou didst once rest, was one of our summer abodes; and later on we built the hall under the pine-wood that thou knowest.
‘Thus then grew up our young men; and our maids were little softer; e’en such as Bow-may is (and kind is she withal), and it seemed in very sooth as if the Spirit of the Wolf was with us, and the roughness of the Waste made us fierce; and law we had not and heeded not, though love was amongst us.’
She stopped awhile and fell a-musing, and her face softened, and she turned to him with that sweet happy look upon it and said:
‘Desolate and dreary is the Dale, thou deemest, friend; and yet for me I love it and its dark-green water, and it is to me as if the Fathers of the kindred visit it and hold converse with us; and there I grew up when I was little, before I knew what a woman was, and strange communings had I with the wilderness. Friend, when we are wedded, and thou art a great chieftain, as thou wilt be, I shall ask of thee the boon to suffer me to abide here at whiles that I may remember the days when I was little and the love of the kindred waxed in me.’
‘This is but a little thing to ask,’ said Face-of-god; ‘I would thou hadst asked me more.’
‘Fear not,’ she said, ‘I shall ask thee for much and many things; and some of them belike thou shalt deny me.’
He shook his head; but she smiled in his face and said:
‘Yea, so it is, friend; but hearken. The seasons passed, and six years wore, and I was grown a tall slim maiden, fleet of foot and able to endure toil enough, though I never bore weapons, nor have done. So on a fair even of midsummer when we were together, the most of us, round about this Hall and the Doom-ring, we saw a tall man in bright war-gear come forth into the Dale by the path that thou camest, and then another and another till there were two score and seven men-at-arms standing on the grass below the scree yonder; by that time had we gotten some weapons in our hands, and we stood together to meet the new-comers, but they drew no sword and notched no shaft, but came towards us laughing and joyous, and lo! it was my brother Folk-might and his men, those that were left of them, come back to us from the Westland.
‘Glad indeed was I to behold him; and for him when he had taken me in his arms and looked up and down the Dale, he cried out: ‘In many fair places and many rich dwellings have I been; but this is the hour that I have looked for.’
‘Now when we asked him concerning Stone-wolf and the others who were missing (for ten tens of stalwarth men had fared to the Westland), he swept out his hand toward the west and said with a solemn face: “There they lie, and grass groweth over their bones, and we who have come aback, and ye who have abided, these are now the children of the Wolf: there are no more now on the earth.”
‘Let be! It was a fair even and high was the feast in the Hall that night, and sweet was the converse with our folk come back. A glad man was my brother Folk-might when he heard that for years past we had been lifting the gear of men, and chiefly of the Aliens in Silver-dale: and he himself was become learned in war and a deft leader of men.
‘So the days passed and the seasons, and we lived on as we might; but with Folk-might’s return there began to grow up in all our hearts what had long been flourishing in mine, and that was the hope of one day winning back our own again, and dying amidst the dear groves of Silver-dale. Within these years we had increased somewhat in number; for if we had lost those warriors in the Westland, and some old men who had died in the Dale, yet our children had grown up (I have now seen twenty and one summers) and more were growing up. Moreover, after the first year, from the time when we began to fall upon the Dusky Men of Silver-dale, from time to time they who went on such adventures set free such thralls of our blood as they could fall in with and whom they could trust in, and they dwelt (and yet dwell) with us in the Dale: first and last we have taken in three score and twelve of such men, and a score of women-thralls withal.
‘Now during these seasons, and not very long ago, after I was a woman grown, the thought came to me, and to Folk-might also, that there were kindreds of the people dwelling anear us whom we might so deal with that they should become our friends and brothers in arms, and that through them we might win back Silver-dale.
‘Of Rose-dale we wotted already that the Folk were nought of our blood, feeble in the field, cowed by the Dusky Men, and at last made thralls to them; so nought was to do there. But Folk-might went to and fro to gather tidings: at whiles I with him, at whiles one or more of Wood-father’s children, who with their father and mother and Bow-may have abided in the Vale ever since the Great Undoing.
‘Soon he fell in with thy Folk, and first of all with the Woodlanders, and that was a joy to him; for wot ye what? He got to know that these men were the children of those of our Folk who had sundered from us in the mountain passes time long and long ago; and he loved them, for he saw that they were hardy and trusty, and warriors at heart.
‘Then he went amongst the Shepherd-Folk, and he deemed them good men easily stirred, and deemed that they might soon be won to friendship; and he knew that they were mostly come from the Houses of the Woodlanders, so that they also were of the kindred.
‘And last he came into Burgdale, and found there a merry and happy Folk, little wont to war, but stout-hearted, and nowise puny either of body or soul; he went there often and learned much about them, and deemed that they would not be hard to win to fellowship. And he found that the House of the Face was the chiefest house there; and that the Alderman and his sons were well beloved of all the folk, and that they were the men to be won first, since through them should all others be won. I also went to Burgstead with him twice, as I told thee erst; and I saw thee, and I deemed that thou wouldest lightly become our friend; and it came into my mind that I myself might wed thee, and that the House of the Face thereby might have affinity thenceforth with the Children of the Wolf.’
He said: ‘Why didst thou deem thus of me, O friend?’
She laughed and said: ‘Dost thou long to hear me say the words when thou knowest my thought well? So be it. I saw thee both young and fair; and I knew thee to be the son of a noble, worthy, guileless man and of a beauteous woman of great wits and good rede. And I found thee to be kind and open-handed and simple like thy father, and like thy mother wiser than thou thyself knew of thyself; and that thou wert desirous of deeds and fain of women.’
She was silent for a while, and he also: then he said: ‘Didst thou draw me to the woods and to thee?’
She reddened and said: ‘I am no spell-wife: but true it is that Wood-mother made a waxen image of thee, and thrust through the heart thereof the pin of my girdle-buckle, and stroked it every morning with an oak-bough over which she had sung spells. But dost thou not remember, Gold-mane, how that one day last Hay-month, as ye were resting in the meadows in the cool of the evening, there came to you a minstrel that played to you on the fiddle, and therewith sang a song that melted all your hearts, and that this song told of the Wild-wood, and what was therein of desire and peril and beguiling and death, and love unto Death itself? Dost thou remember, friend?’
‘Yea,’ he said, ‘and how when the minstrel was done Stone-face fell to telling us more tales yet of the woodland, and the minstrel sang again and yet again, till his tales had entered into my very heart.’
‘Yea,’ she said, ‘and that minstrel was Wood-wont; and I sent him to sing to thee and thine, deeming that if thou didst hearken, thou would’st seek the woodland and happen upon us.’
He laughed and said: ‘Thou didst not doubt but that if we met, thou mightest do with me as thou wouldest?’
‘So it is,’ she said, ‘that I doubted it little.’
‘Therein wert thou wise,’ said Face-of-god; ‘but now that we are talking without guile to each other, mightest thou tell me wherefore it was that Folk-might made that onslaught upon me? For certain it is that he was minded to slay me.’
She said: ‘It was sooth what I told thee, that whiles he groweth so battle-eager that whatso edge-tool he beareth must needs come out of the scabbard; but there was more in it than that, which I could not tell thee erst. Two days before thy coming he had been down to Burgstead in the guise of an old carle such as thou sawest him with me in the market-place. There was he guested in your Hall, and once more saw thee and the Bride together; and he saw the eyes of love wherewith she looked on thee (for so much he told me), and deemed that thou didst take her love but lightly. And he himself looked on her with such love (and this he told me not) that he deemed nought good enough for her, and would have had thee give thyself up wholly to her; for my brother is a generous man, my friend. So when I told him on the morn of that day whereon we met that we looked to see thee that eve (for indeed I am somewhat foreseeing), he said: “Look thou, Sun-beam, if he cometh, it is not unlike that I shall drive a spear through him.” “Wherefore?” said I; “can he serve our turn when he is dead?” Said he: “I care little. Mine own turn will I serve. Thou sayest WHEREFORE? I tell thee this stripling beguileth to her torment the fairest woman that is in the world—such an one as is meet to be the mother of chieftains, and to stand by warriors in their day of peril. I have seen her; and thus have I seen her.” Then said I: “Greatly forsooth shalt thou pleasure her by slaying him!” And he answered: “I shall pleasure myself. And one day she shall thank me, when she taketh my hand in hers and we go together to the Bride-bed.” Therewith came over me a clear foresight of the hours to come, and I said to him: “Yea, Folk-might, cast the spear and draw the sword; but him thou shalt not slay: and thou shalt one day see him standing with us before the shafts of the Dusky Men.” So I spake; but he looked fiercely at me, and departed and shunned me all that day, and by good hap I was hard at hand when thou drewest nigh our abode. Nay, Gold-mane, what would’st thou with thy sword? Why art thou so red and wrathful? Would’st thou fight with my brother because he loveth thy friend, thine old playmate, thy kinswoman, and thinketh pity of her sorrow?’
He said, with knit brow and gleaming eyes: ‘Would the man take her away from me perforce?’
‘My friend,’ she said, ‘thou art not yet so wise as not to be a fool at whiles. Is it not so that she herself hath taken herself from thee, since she hath come to know that thou hast given thyself to another? Hath she noted nought of thee this winter and spring? Is she well pleased with the ways of thee?’
He said: ‘Thou hast spoken simply with me, and I will do no less with thee. It was but four days agone that she did me to wit that she knew of me how I sought my love on the Mountain; and she put me to sore shame, and afterwards I wept for her sorrow.’
Therewith he told her all that the Bride had said to him, as he well might, for he had forgotten no word of it.
Then said the Friend: ‘She shall have the token that she craveth, and it is I that shall give it to her.’
Therewith she took from her finger a ring wherein was set a very fair changeful mountain-stone, and gave it to him, and said:
‘Thou shalt give her this and tell her whence thou hadst it; and tell her that I bid her remember that To-morrow is a new day.’