The House of the Wolfings, by William Morris, , at sacred-texts.com
CHAPTER XIV—THE HALL-SUN IS CAREFUL CONCERNING THE PASSES OF THE WOOD
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 way-worn, 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.