Face-of-God went back through the wood by the way he had come, paying little heed to the things about him. For whatever he thought of strayed not one whit from the image of the Fair Woman of the Mountain-side.
He went through the wood swiftlier than yesterday, and made no stay for noon or aught else, nor did he linger on the road when he was come into the Dale, either to speak to any or to note what they did. So he came to the House of the Face about dusk, and found no man within the hall either carle or queen. So he cried out on the folk, and there came in a damsel of the house, whom he greeted kindly and she him again. He bade her bring the washing-water, and she did so and washed his feet and his hands. She was a fair maid enough, as were most in the Dale, but he heeded her little; and when she was done he kissed not her cheek for her pains, as his wont was, but let her go her ways unthanked. But he went to his shut-bed and opened his chest, and drew fair raiment from it, and did off his wood-gear, and did on him a goodly scarlet kirtle fairly broidered, and a collar with gems of price therein, and other braveries. And when he was so attired he came out into the hall, and there was old Stone-face standing by the hearth, which was blazing brightly with fresh brands, so that things were clear to see.
Stone-face noted Gold-mane’s gay raiment, for he was not wont to wear such attire, save on the feasts and high days when he behoved to. So the old man smiled and said:
‘Welcome back from the Wood! But what is it? Hast thou been wedded there, or who hath made thee Earl and King?’
Said Face-of-god: ‘Foster-father, sooth it is that I have been to the wood, but there have I seen nought of manfolk worse than myself. Now as to my raiment, needs must I keep it from the moth. And I am weary withal, and this kirtle is light and easy to me. Moreover, I look to see the Bride here again, and I would pleasure her with the sight of gay raiment upon me.’
‘Nay,’ said Stone-face, ‘hast thou not seen some woman in the wood arrayed like the image of a God? and hath she not bidden thee thus to worship her to-night? For I know that such wights be in the wood, and that such is their wont.’
Said Gold-mane: ‘I worship nought save the Gods and the Fathers. Nor saw I in the wood any such as thou sayest.’
Therewith Stone-face shook his head; but after a while he said:
‘Art thou for the wood to-morrow?’
‘Nay,’ said Gold-mane angrily, knitting his brows.
‘The morrow of to-morrow,’ said Stone-face, ‘is the day when we look to see the Westland merchants: after all, wilt thou not go hence with them when they wend their ways back before the first snows fall?’
‘Nay,’ said he, ‘I have no mind to it, fosterer; cease egging me on hereto.’
Then Stone-face shook his head again, and looked on him long, and muttered: ‘To the wood wilt thou go to-morrow or next day; or some day when doomed is thine undoing.’
Therewith entered the service and torches, and presently after came the Alderman with Hall-face; and Iron-face greeted his son and said to him: ‘Thou hast not hit the time to do on thy gay raiment, for the Bride will not be here to-night; she bideth still at the Feast at the Apple-tree House: or wilt thou be there, son?’
‘Nay,’ said Face-of-god, ‘I am over-weary. And as for my raiment, it is well; it is for thine honour and the honour of the name.’
So to table they went, and Iron-face asked his son of his ways again, and whether he was quite fixed in his mind not to go down to the Plain and the Cities: ‘For,’ said he, ‘the morrow of to-morrow shall the merchants be here, and this were great news for them if the son of the Alderman should be their faring-fellow back.’
But Face-of-god answered without any haste or heat: ‘Nay, father, it may not be: fear not, thou shalt see that I have a good will to work and live in the Dale.’
And in good sooth, though he was a young man and loved mirth and the ways of his own will, he was a stalwarth workman, and few could mow a match with him in the hay-month and win it; or fell trees as certainly and swiftly, or drive as straight and clean a furrow through the stiff land of the lower Dale; and in other matters also was he deft and sturdy.