The Sundering Flood, by William Morris, , at sacred-texts.com
Chapter XXXIX. Osberne Gets Him a New Master
On the second day thereafter he rode through the gate of Eastcheaping, and so up the street to the Castle; and many of the townsmen knew him, and cried out good welcome unto him, but he stayed not for any, but came his ways to the Castle, and lighted down in the forecourt and asked for Sir Medard. Here also was he well known, and men were joyful of his coming, and asked him many things of his doings and his welfare; but he answered as shortly as he might and still asked for Sir Medard; and they said that he might see him straightway, for that he was sitting in the solar, and albeit he had a guest with him, they doubted not but that the good knight would be fain of seeing his fellow-in-arms.
So they led him in, and Sir Medard arose at once and greeted Osberne with great joy, and embraced and kissed him. Then he turned to the other man who was in the solar with him, and said: "Lo thou, Sir Godrick, here is a champion whom thou wilt be glad to talk to, meseemeth, when we have drunk a cup." Therewith he called for wine and spices, for it was the time of the morning bever. Sir Godrick hailed Osberne, who looked on him and saw that he was a tall man, long-armed and very strong-looking, a man swart of visage, long-nosed and long-chinned, with light grey eyes; but though he was somewhat sober of aspect, there was nought evil-looking in his face. He looked downright and hard at Osberne, and said: "If Sir Medard speaketh not by way of jest, thou hast begun early, young man, and I wish thee joy thereof." Osberne reddened and held his peace, but Medard said: "There be of our foemen no few, who ever if they jested at the lad have done with it now forever." Osberne reddened yet more if it might be, but the long man took him by the hand and spake kindly to him, and said: "Be not troubled at a light word of mine; at the first thou didst seem so young and fair that it was not easy to think of thee grim amongst the edges; but many a man lines hid within himself."
So now they were served of the wine, and Sir Medard spake to Osberne: "Well, Dalesman, thou art come amongst us again, grown in manliness, as was like to be. Now if thou be come but to see us and make us merry with thy fellowship, it is well; but if thou have an errand, and would ask something of us, it is better yet; since forsooth we deem that we owe thee somewhat." Said Osberne: "Well then, true it is that I have an errand and crave something, and that is soon told; for I would have thee put me in the way of deeds to do, since I have left the Dale and am seeking adventures."
"That will be the least of things to do for thee, my friend," said Medard; "and in good time comest thou hither; for though the good town is in all peace and lacks not men, yet here is Sir Godrick of Longshaw, who is here with me partly for the gathering of men. But good must they be who ride with him, and all without fear, whereas I shall tell thee that he is the hardiest knight and most fearless rider of these days. Now do ye two talk it over together."
Osberne looked Sir Godrick in the face, and ever the more he beheld him the better he liked the looks of his eyes and his visage. So now spake the Knight: "How sayest thou, young man? After all I have heard of thee I may well ask thee to be of mine. Only I must tell thee that the work may be both hard and rough; and though there may be somewhat to be won, yet on the other hand the pay may be little more than leave to do the work." Said Osberne: "So far as that goes, I am well willing to take my chance of it; but there is one thing which might stand in the way of service with thee." "What is that?" said Sir Godrick. Said Osberne: "It is in my mind that from henceforth for a while my days should pass in some land that is far hence, that is, from mine own place, and rather to the south than the north."
"Where dwelleth thy kindred then?" said Godrick. "In the Dale, which is cleft by the Sundering Flood," said Osberne, "up under the great mountains; and I am of the East Dale, else scarce had I been here."
"Well," said the Knight, "my chiefest house, which hight Longshaw, lieth a long way south of this; but I shall tell thee that it is no great way from the Sundering Flood; but betwixt it and the Flood is a great waste and forest. As to the Flood, it is there, where it runs through this forest which is called the Masterless Wood, a mighty great river, whereon are barges and cutters and seagoing dromonds even, so that it sunders nought, but joins rather. Now besides my house of Longshaw, which is as it were the knop and ouch of my manors, I have other houses and strongholds, some of which be in the very forest itself, and none of them more than a little way thence. For, sooth to say, the said forest is a shield and a refuge to me, and I had been overcome long ago save for its warding. I must tell thee further, that the southernmost skirts of the said forest come down within a score of miles of the great city by the sea which men call the City of the Sundering Flood; and that the city-folk love the forest little, save they might master it and make it their own, wherein they have failed hitherto, praise be to Allhallows! For then were I their very outlaw; whereas now there be others of the knighthood who dwell anigh me who deem that I have the right of it in warding my lands and theirs from these king-ruled chapmen. More by token that the day may come when the folk of their own town, as the gilds of the Lesser Crafts and the husbandmen and simple mariners, may rise against them, deeming them, as the truth is, hard masters and tyrants; wherefore, despite all their mastership, when I will and have occasion thereto, I may ride their streets in safety, for they wot that if they laid a hand on me or mine, it would be Bills and bows! bills and bows! up one street and down another. Wherefore they meddle not with me themselves, but set two or three of the barons who hold of them on the east side of the Wood Masterless to harry me from time to time. Lo thou, lad, now thou knowest not only whereabouts thou mayest go to serve me, but also some deal of the quarrel wherein thou shalt draw sword, if it come to that. How sayest thou?"
"Wait a while, Sir Knight," said Osberne, "and tell me first: if the King of the city overcome thee, will he take from thee that which is thine own of right, or that which thou hast taken from some other?"
"He will take nothing more than my life," said Sir Godrick; "but ye may add thereto some small matter of the remnants of houses and land which erst my fathers owned, well-beloved of all folk. Forsooth here and there I hold some tower or strength which I have taken from my foemen, who dared me thereto."
"Good is that," said Osberne; "now would I ask of another thing: when thou hast been so pushed to it that thou must needs burn men in their house, has it been the wont of thee and thine to let the old men and women and children come out safe, or to burn them in with the rest?"
The Knight looked grimly on him, and said: "Friend of the Dale, if thou comest to be my man, and thou dost such evil deeds as to burn in them that may make no defence, then if thou escapest hanging at my hands thou mayst call me thy dastard thenceforward."
Quoth Osberne: "One more thing I would ask yet: if these gilds of craft aforesaid should rise up against their King and the tyrants of the Porte, and they sent to thee for help, wouldst thou give them so much help as not to be against them, but let them fight it out and the mightiest to prevail? Or how much more wouldst thou give?"
Stood up Sir Godrick therewith and was very wroth. Said he: "If these good fellows of the Lesser Crafts rise against their lords and send to me, then if they have gotten to them so much as the littlest of the city gates, of if it be but a dromond on the river, then will I go to them with all mine and leave house and lands behind, that we may battle it out side by side to live or die together. Or if they may not do so much as that, yet if all or any of them may win out a-gates and turn their heads toward Longshaw, then will I ride to meet them with everything that may bear spear or axe, and I will have them home with me and arm them and clothe them and feed them and house them, and my lands shall be their lands, and bite and drop shall we share together, so long as it holds out: and a noble host shall we gather, and harry the King and his dastards till we prevail at last, and we will have a new rule of the City and a new Porte, and I will be the captain thereof if they will have it so: or else to die in the pain. Now I say this is the least that I shall do. And if any man be so bold as to tell me to my face that I will do less, I say that he lies in his throat; and that shall I prove on him, body to body."
Now Sir Medard fell a-laughing, and he said: "There there! here is no champion so hardy as to gainsay thee; for I know thee well, old friend, that thou art preux above all men. And as for the Dalesman, look on him and see how his eyes are glittering and his cheeks flushing. Trust me, thou shalt have a man after thine own heart, young though he be."
Sir Godrick sat down and passed his hand over his brow, and he smiled a little, and said: "Well, man of the East Dale, hast thou perchance yet another question to ask? for meseems for a man who would take wages of me thou hast already asked a few."
Quoth Osberne: "Lord, be not wroth, but one more question have I to ask. And as to my wages, let that be; for to ask these questions and to have them thus answered, is better than wages to me. But now this is verily my last question. That Masterless Wood which thou hast said is a shield and refuge to thee, is it not also a refuge for rufflers and runagates and strong-thieves? and what dost thou do in dealing with such ill-doers?"
Now Sir Godrick spake quietly and said: "My lad, true it is that there is a sort of folk who haunt the said wood, who live by taking from others. But thou shalt wot that they do but little harm to husbandmen and other poor folk, because such have little to be robbed of. And forsooth many of those from whom they rob are worthy to lose that which they have gotten from poor folk by fraud and covin, and may as duly be called thieves as those that waylay them. Nevertheless we suffer not the said runagates to live and rob wholly in peace; and if we take them, they have the choice of a high gallows or somewhat hard service under my captains. Nay, if it be proven of them that they have been murderous and cruel, they may not forego the dance in the air, even as I said afore. Now then, deemest thou me so evil a lord? Or dost thou deem thee meet for nought save the host of heaven and to be a sergeant of the blessed Michael himself? May he help and save us!"
Said Osberne: "That may come to pass, lord, one day, but meanwhile I pray thee receive me as thy man, and thou shalt find that I am not so ill at obeying a commandment as ye may deem."
And therewith he knelt before the Knight and put his hands between his hands, and swore by Allhallows to be true to him.
Sir Godrick was well pleased, and said to Sir Medard: "Hath he done aught hitherto for which I might dub him a knight?" "Many deeds," said Sir Medard, "hath he done whereby he might be made a knight; but he will not have it because his kindred are not and were not of the knighthood, albeit men of honour."
"Well," said Sir Godrick, "in these matters let each man go his own way, so let it be as it will; yet some name shall I give him that he may be known by it. And lo thou, he is clad all in red, and ruddy of countenance is he, and his sprouting beard shall be red when it hath grown greater, though his hair is yellow and shiny as glass. Wherefore now I shall call him the Red Lad; and by that name meseemeth he shall be known far and wide."
Then they laughed all three, and the two knights drank, both of them, to the Red Lad, and Osberne thanked them and pledged them in turn. And well content was he with the way that things had gone.