Now a great silence fell upon the throng, and they stood as men abiding some new matter. Unto them arose the Alderman, and said:
‘Men of the Dale, and ye Shepherds and Woodlanders; it is well known to you that we have foemen in the wood and beyond it; and now have we gotten sure tidings, that they will not abide at home or in the wood, but are minded to fall upon us at home. Now therefore I will not ask you whether ye will have peace or war; for with these foemen ye may have peace no otherwise save by war. But if ye think with me, three things have ye to determine: first, whether ye will abide your foes in your own houses, or will go meet them at theirs; next, whether ye will take to you as fellows in arms a valiant folk of the children of the Gods, who are foemen to our foemen; and lastly, what man ye will have to be your War-leader. Now, I bid all those here assembled, to speak hereof, any man of them that will, either what they may have conceived in their own minds, or what their kindred may have put into their mouths to speak.’
Therewith he sat down, and in a little while came forth old Hall-ward of the House of the Steer, and stood before the Alderman, and said: ‘O Alderman, all we say: Since war is awake we will not tarry, but will go meet our foes while it is yet time. The valiant men of whom thou tellest shall be our fellows, were there but three of them. We know no better War-leader than Face-of-god of the House of the Face. Let him lead us.’
Therewith he went his ways; and next came forth War-well, and said: ‘The House of the Bridge would have Face-of-god for War-leader, these tall men for fellows, and the shortest way to meet the foe.’ And he went back to his place.
Next came Fox of Upton, and said: ‘Time presses, or much might be spoken. Thus saith the House of the Bull: Let us go meet the foe, and take these valiant strangers for way-leaders, and Face-of-god for War-leader.’ And he also went back again.
Then came forth two men together, an old man and a young, and the old man spake as soon as he stood still: ‘The Men of the Vine bid me say their will: They will not stay at home to have their houses burned over their heads, themselves slain on their own hearths, and their wives haled off to thralldom. They will take any man for their fellow in arms who will smite stark strokes on their side. They know Face-of-god, and were liefer of him for War-leader than any other, and they will follow him wheresoever he leadeth. Thus my kindred biddeth me say, and I hight Fork-beard of Lea. If I live through this war, I shall have lived through five.’
Therewith he went back to his place; but the young man lifted up his voice and said: ‘To all this I say yea, and so am I bidden by the kindred of the Sickle. I am Red-beard of the Knolls, the son of my father.’ And he went to his place again.
Then came forth Stone-face, and said: ‘The House of the Face saith: Lead us through the wood, O Face-of-god, thou War-leader, and ye warriors of the Wolf. I am Stone-face, as men know, and this word hath been given to me by the kindred.’ And he took his place again.
Then came forth together the three chiefs of the Shepherds, to wit Hound-under-Greenbury, Strongitharm, and the Hyllier; and Strongitharm spake for all three, and said:
‘The Men of Greenbury, and they of the Fleece and the Thorn, are of one accord, and bid us say that they are well pleased to have Face-of-god for War-leader; and that they will follow him and the warriors of the Wolf to live or die with them; and that they are ready to go meet the foe at once, and will not skulk behind the walls of Greenbury.’
Therewith the three went back again to their places.
Then came forth that tall man that bare the Banner of the Wolf, when he had given the staff into the hands of him who stood next. He came and stood over against the seat of the chieftains; and for a while he could say no word, but stood struggling with the strong passion of his joy; but at last he lifted his hands aloft, and cried out in a loud voice:
‘O war, war! O death! O wounding and grief! O loss of friends and kindred! let all this be rather than the drawing back of meeting hands and the sundering of yearning hearts!’ and he went back hastily to his place. But from the ranks of the Woodlanders ran forth a young man, and cried out:
‘As is the word of Red-wolf, so is my word, Bears-bane of Carlstead; and this is the word which our little Folk hath put into our mouths; and O! that our hands may show the meaning of our mouths; for nought else can.’
Then indeed went up a great shout, though many forebore to cry out; for now were they too much moved for words or sounds. And in special was Face-of-god moved; and he scarce knew which way to look, lest he should break out into sobs and weeping; for of late he had been much among the Woodlanders, and loved them much.
Then all the noise and clamour fell, and it was to men as if they who had come thither a folk, had now become an host of war.
But once again the Alderman rose up and spake:
‘Now have ye yeasaid three things: That we take Face-of-god of the House of the Face for our War-leader; that we fare under weapons at once against them who would murder us; and that we take the valiant Folk of the Wolf for our fellows in arms.’
Therewith he stayed his speech, and this time the shout arose clear and most mighty, with the tossing up of swords and the clashing of weapons on shields.
Then he said: ‘Now, if any man will speak, here is the War-leader, and here is the chief of our new friends, to answer to whatso any of the kindred would have answered.’
Thereon came forth the Fiddle from amongst the Men of the Sickle, and drew somewhat nigh to the Alderman, and said:
‘Alderman, we would ask of the War-leader if he hath devised the manner of our assembling, and the way of our war-faring, and the day of our hosting. More than this I will not ask of him, because we wot that in so great an assembly it may be that the foe may have some spy of whom we wot not; and though this be not likely, yet some folk may babble; therefore it is best for the wise to be wise everywhere and always. Therefore my rede it is, that no man ask any more concerning this, but let it lie with the War-leader to bring us face to face with the foe as speedily as he may.’
All men said that this was well counselled. But Face-of-god arose and said: ‘Ye Men of the Dale, ye Shepherds and Woodlanders, meseemeth the Fiddle hath spoken wisely. Now therefore I answer him and say, that I have so ordered everything since the Gate-thing was holden at Burgstead, that we may come face to face with the foemen by the shortest of roads. Every man shall be duly summoned to the Hosting, and if any man fail, let it be accounted a shame to him for ever.’
A great shout followed on his words, and he sat down again. But Fox of Upton came forth and said:
‘O Alderman, we have yeasaid the fellowship of the valiant men who have come to us from out of the waste; but this we have done, not because we have known them, otherwise than by what our kinsman Face-of-god hath told us concerning them, but because we have seen clearly that they will be of much avail to us in our warfare. Now, therefore, if the tall chieftain who sitteth beside thee were to do us to wit what he is, and whence he and his are come, it were well, and fain were we thereof; but if he listeth not to tell us, that also shall be well.’
Then arose Folk-might in his place; but or ever he could open his mouth to speak, the tall Red-wolf strode forward bearing with him the Banner of the Wolf and the Sun-burst, and came and stood beside him; and the wind ran through the folds of the banner, and rippled it out above the heads of those twain. Then Folk-might spake and said:
‘O Men of the Dale and the Sheepcotes, I will do as ye bid me do;
And fain were ye of the story if every deal ye knew.
But long, long were its telling, were I to tell it all:
Let it bide till the Cup of Deliverance ye drink from hall to hall.
‘Like you we be of the kindreds, of the Sons of the Gods we come,
Midst the Mid-earth’s mighty Woodland of old we had our home;
But of older time we abided ‘neath the mountains of the Earth,
O’er which the Sun ariseth to waken woe and mirth.
Great were we then and many; but the long days wore us thin,
And war, wherein the winner hath weary work to win.
And the woodland wall behind us e’en like ourselves was worn,
And the tramp of the hosts of the foemen adown its glades was borne
On the wind that bent our wheat-fields. So in the morn we rose,
And left behind the stubble and the autumn-fruited close,
And went our ways to the westward, nor turned aback to see
The glare of our burning houses rise over brake and tree.
But the foe was fierce and speedy, nor long they tarried there,
And through the woods of battle our laden wains must fare;
And the Sons of the Wolf were minished, and the maids of the Wolf waxed few,
As amidst the victory-singing we fared the wild-wood through.
‘So saith the ancient story, that west and west we went, And many a day of battle we had in brake, on bent;
Whilst here a while we tarried, and there we hastened on,
And still the battle-harvest from many a folk we won.
‘Of the tale of the days who wotteth? Of the years what man can tell,
While the Sons of the Wolf were wandering, and knew not where to dwell?
But at last we clomb the mountains, and mickle was our toil,
As high the spear-wood clambered of the drivers of the spoil;
And tangled were the passes and the beacons flared behind,
And the horns of gathering onset came up upon the wind.
So saith the ancient story, that we stood in a mountain-cleft,
Where the ways and the valleys sundered to the right hand and the left.
There in the place of sundering all woeful was the rede;
We knew no land before us, and behind was heavy need.
As the sword cleaves through the byrny, so there the mountain flank
Cleft through the God-kin’s people; and ne’er again we drank
The wine of war together, or feasted side by side
In the Feast-hall of the Warrior on the fruit of the battle-tide.
For there we turned and sundered; unto the North we went
And up along the waters, and the clattering stony bent;
And unto the South and the Sheepcotes down went our sister’s sons;
And O for the years passed over since we saw those valiant ones!’
He ceased, and laid his right hand on the banner-staff a little below the left hand of Red-wolf; and men were so keen to hear each word that he spake, that there was no cry nor sound of voices when he had done, only the sound of the rippling banner of the Wolf over the heads of those twain. The Sun-beam bowed her head now, and wept silently. But the Bride, she had drawn her sword, and held it upright in her hand before her, and the sun smote fire from out of it.
Then it was but a little while before Red-wolf lifted up his voice, and sang:
‘Hearken a wonder, O Folk of the Field,
How they that did sunder stand shield beside shield!
Lo! the old wont and manner by fearless folk made,
On the Bole of the Banner the brothers’ hands laid.
Lo! here the token of what hath betid!
Grown whole is the broken, found that which was hid.
Now one way we follow whate’er shall befall;
As seeketh the swallow his yesteryear’s hall.
Seldom folk fewer to fight-stead hath fared;
Ne’er have men truer the battle-reed bared.
Grey locks now I carry, and old am I grown,
Nor looked I to tarry to meet with mine own.
For we who remember the deeds of old days
Were nought but the ember of battle ablaze.
For what man might aid us? what deed and what day
Should come where Weird laid us aloof from the way?
What man save that other of Twain rent apart,
Our war-friend, our Brother, the piece of our heart.
Then hearken the wonder how shield beside shield
The twain that did sunder wend down to the Field!’
Now when he had made an end, men could no longer forebear the shout; and it went up into the heavens, and was borne by the west-wind down the Dale to the ears of the stay-at-home women and men unmeet to go abroad, and it quickened their blood and the spirits within them as they heard it, and they smiled and were fain; for they knew that their kinsfolk were glad.
But when there was quiet on the Mote-field again, Folk-might spake again and said;
‘It is sooth that my Brother sayeth, and that now again we wend,
All the Sons of the Wolf together, till the trouble hath an end.
But as for that tale of the Ancients, it saith that we who went
To the northward, climbed and stumbled o’er many a stony bent,
Till we happed on that isle of the waste-land, and the grass of Shadowy Vale,
Where we dwelt till we throve a little, and felt our might avail.
Then we fared abroad from the shadow and the little-lighted hold,
And the increase fell to the valiant, and the spoil to the battle-bold,
And never a man gainsaid us with the weapons in our hands;
And in Silver-dale the happy we gat us life and lands.
‘So wore the years o’er-wealthy; and meseemeth that ye know
How we sowed and reaped destruction, and the Day of the overthrow:
How we leaned on the staff we had broken, and put our lives in the hand
Of those whom we had vanquished and the feeble of the land;
And these were the stone of stumbling, and the burden not to be borne,
When the battle-blast fell on us and our day was over-worn.
Thus then did our wealth bewray us, and left us wise and sad;
And to you, bold men, it falleth once more to make us glad,
If so your hearts are bidding, and ye deem the deed of worth.
Such were we; what we shall be, ’tis yours to say henceforth.’
He said furthermore: ‘How great we have been I have told you already; and ye shall see for yourselves how little we be now. Is it enough, and will ye have us for friends and brothers? How say ye?’
They answered with shout upon shout, so that all the place and the wild-wood round about was full of the voice of their crying; but when the clamour fell, then spake the Alderman and said:
‘Friend, and chieftain of the Wolf, thou mayst hear by this shouting of the people that we have no mind to naysay our yea-say. And know that it is not our use and manner to seek the strong for friends, and to thrust aside the weak; but rather to choose for our friends them who are of like mind to us, men in whom we put our trust. From henceforth then there is brotherhood between us; we are yours, and ye are ours; and let this endure for ever!’
Then were all men full of joy; and now at last the battle seemed at hand, and the peace beyond the battle.
Then men brought the hallowed beasts all garlanded with flowers into the Doom-ring, and there were they slain and offered up unto the Gods, to wit the Warrior, the Earth-god, and the Fathers; and thereafter was solemn feast holden on the Field of the Folk-mote, and all men were fain and merry. Nevertheless, not all men abode there the feast through; for or ever the afternoon was well worn, were many men wending along the Portway eastward toward the Upper Dale, each man in his war-gear and with a scrip hung about him; and these were they who were bound for the trysting-place and the journey over the waste.
So the Folk-mote was sundered; and men went to their houses, and there abode in peace the time of their summoning; since they wotted well that the Hosting was afoot.
But as for the Woodlanders, who were at the Mote-stead with all their folk, women, children, and old men, they went not back again to Carlstead; but prayed the neighbours of the Middle Dale to suffer them to abide there awhile, which they yeasaid with a good will. So the Woodlanders tilted themselves in, the more part of them, down in the meadows below the Mote-stead, along either side of Wildlake’s Way; but their ancient folk, and some of the women and children, the neighbours would have into their houses, and the rest they furnished with victual and all that they needed without price, looking upon them as their very guests. For indeed they deemed that they could see that these men would never return to Carlstead, but would abide with the Men of the Wolf in Silver-dale, once it were won. And this they deemed but meet and right, yet were they sorry thereof; for the Woodlanders were well beloved of all the Dalesmen; and now that they had gotten to know that they were come of so noble a kindred, they were better beloved yet, and more looked upon.