Then turned Face-of-god back into the Hall, and saw where Iron-face sat at the dais, and with him Folk-might and Stone-face and the Elder of the Dale-wardens, and Sun-beam withal; so he went soberly up to the board, and sat himself down thereat beside Stone-face, over against Folk-might and his father, beside whom sat the Sun-beam; and Folk-might looked on him gravely, as a man powerful and trustworthy, yet was his look somewhat sour.
Then the Alderman said: 'My son, I said not to thee come back presently, because I wotted that thou wouldst surely do so, knowing that we have much to speak of. For, whatever these thy friends may have done, or whatsoever thou hast done with them to grieve us, all that must be set aside at this present time, since the matter in hand is to save the Dale and its folk. What sayest thou hereon? Since, young as thou mayst be, thou art our War-leader, and doubtless shalt so be after the Folk-mote hath been holden.'
Face-of-god answered not hastily: indeed, as he sat thinking for a minute or two, the fair spring day seemed to darken about them or to glare into the light of flames amidst the night-tide; and the joyous clamour without doors seemed to grow hoarse and fearful as the sound of wailing and shrieking. But he spake firmly and simply in a clear voice, and said:
'There can be no two words concerning what we have to aim at; these Dusky Men we must slay everyone, though we be fewer than they be.'
Folk-might smiled and nodded his head; but the others sat staring down the hall or into the hangings.
Then spake Folk-might: 'Thou wert a boy methought when I cast my spear at thee last autumn, Face-of-god, but now hast thou grown into a man. Now tell me, what deemest thou we must do to slay them all?'
Said Face-of-god: 'Once again it is clear that we must fall upon them at home in Rose-dale and Silver-dale.'
Again Folk-might nodded: but Iron-face said:
'Needeth this? May we not ward the Dale and send many bands into the wood to fall upon them when we meet them? Yea, and so doing these our guests have already slain many, as this valiant man hath told me e'en now. Will ye not slay so many at last, that they shall learn to fear us, and abide at home and leave us at peace?'
But Face-of-god said: 'Meseemeth, father, that this is not thy rede, and that thou sayest this but to try me: and perchance ye have been talking about me when I was without in the street e'en now. Even if it might be that we should thus cow these felons into abiding at home and tormenting their own thralls at their ease, yet how then are our friends of the Wolf holpen to their own again? And I shall tell thee that I have promised to this man and this woman that I will give them no less than a man's help in this matter. Moreover, I have spoken in every house of the Dale, and to the Shepherds and the Woodlanders, and there is no man amongst them but will follow me in the quarrel. Furthermore, they have heard of the thralldom that is done on men no great way from their own houses; yea, they have seen it; and they remember the old saw, "Grief in thy neighbour's hall is grief in thy garth," and sure it is, father, that whether thou or I gainsay them, go they will to deliver the thralls of the Dusky Men, and will leave us alone in the Dale.'
'This is no less than sooth,' said the Dale-warden, 'never have men gone forth more joyously to a merry-making than all men of us shall wend to this war.'
'But,' said Face-of-god, 'of one thing ye may be sure, that these men will not abide our pleasure till we cut them all off in scattered bands, nor will they sit deedless at home. Nor indeed may they; for we have heard from their thralls that they look to have fresh tribes of them come to hand to eat their meat and waste their servants, and these and they must find new abodes and new thralls; and they are now warned by the overthrows and slayings that they have had at our hands that we are astir, and they will not delay long, but will fall upon us with all their host; it might even be to-day or to-morrow.'
Said Folk-might: 'In all this thou sayest sooth, brother of the Dale; and to cut this matter short, I will tell you all, that yesterday we had with us a runaway from Silver-dale (it is overlong to tell how we fell in with her; for it was a woman). But she told us that this very moon is a new tribe come into the Dale, six long hundreds in number, and twice as many more are looked for in two eights of days, and that ere this moon hath waned, that is, in twenty-four days, they will wend their ways straight for Burgdale, for they know the ways thereto. So I say that Face-of-god is right in all wise. But tell me, brother, hast thou thought of how we shall come upon these men?'
'How many men wilt thou lead into battle?' said Face-of-god.
Folk-might reddened, and said: 'A few, a few; maybe two-hundreds all told.'
'Yea,' said Face-of-god, 'but some special gain wilt thou be to us.'
'So I deem at least,' said Folk-might.
Said Face-of-god: 'Good is that. Now have we held our Weapon-show in the Dale, and we find that we together with you be sixteen long hundreds of men; and the tale of the foemen that be now in Silver- dale, new-comers and all, shall be three thousands or thereabout, and in Rose-dale hard on a thousand.'
'Scarce so many,' said Folk-might; 'some of the felons have died; we told over our silver arm-rings yesterday, and the tale was three hundred and eighty and six. Besides, they were never so many as thou deemest.'
'Well,' said Face-of-god, 'yet at least they shall outnumber us sorely. We may scarce leave the Dale unguarded when our host is gone; therefore I deem that we shall have but one thousand of men for our onslaught on Silver-dale.'
'How come ye to that?' said Stone-face.
Said Face-of-god: 'Abide a while, fosterer! Though the odds between us be great, it is not to be hidden that I wot how ye of the Wolf know of privy passes into Silver-dale; yea, into the heart thereof; and this is the special gain ye have to give us. Therefore we, the thousand men, falling on the foe unawares, shall make a great slaughter of them; and if the murder be but grim enough, those thralls of theirs shall fear us and not them, as already they hate them and not us, so that we may look to them for rooting out these sorry weeds after the overthrow. And what with one thing, what with another, we may cherish a good hope of clearing Silver-dale at one stroke with the said thousand men.
'There remaineth Rose-dale, which will be easier to deal with, because the Dusky Men therein are fewer and the thralls as many: that also would I fall on at the same time as we fall on Silver-dale with the men that are left over from the Silver-dale onslaught. Wherefore my rede is, that we gather all those unmeet for battle in the field into this Burg, with ten tens of men to strengthen them; which shall be enough for them, along with the old men, and lads, and sturdy women, to defend themselves till help comes, if aught of evil befall, or to flee into the mountains, or at the worst to die valiantly. Then let the other five hundreds fare up to Rose-dale, and fall on the Dusky Men therein about the same time, but not before our onslaught on Silver-dale: thus shall hand help foot, so that stumbling be not falling; and we may well hope that our rede shall thrive.'
Then was he silent, and the Sun-beam looked upon him with gleaming eyes and parted lips, waiting eagerly to hear what Folk-might would say. He held his peace a while, drumming on the board with his fingers, and none else spake a word. At last he said:
'War-leader of Burgdale, all that thou hast spoken likes me well, and even so must it be done, saving that parting of our host and sending one part to fall upon Rose-dale. I say, nay; let us put all our might into that one stroke on Silver-dale, and then we are undone indeed if we fail; but so shall we be if we fail anywise; but if we win Silver-dale, then shall Rose-dale lie open before us.'
'My brother,' said Face-of-god, 'thou art a tried warrior, and I but a lad: but dost thou not see this, that whatever we do, we shall not at one onslaught slay all the Dusky Men of Silver-dale, and those that flee before us shall betake them to Rose-dale, and tell all the tale, and what shall hinder them then from falling on Burgdale (since they are no great way from it) after they have murdered what they will of the unhappy people under their hands?'
Said Folk-might: 'I say not but that there is a risk thereof, but in war we must needs run such risks, and all should be risked rather than that our blow on Silver-dale be light. For we be the fewer; and if the foemen have time to call that to mind, then are we all lost.'
Said Stone-face: 'Meseemeth, War-leader, that there is nought much to dread in leaving Rose-dale to itself for a while; for not only may we follow hard on the fleers if they flee to Rose-dale, and be there no long time after them, before they have time to stir their host but also after the overthrow we shall be free to send men back to Burgdale by way of Shadowy Vale. I deem that herein Folk-might hath the right of it.'
'Even so say I,' said the Alderman; 'besides, we might theft leave more folk behind us for the warding of the Dale. So, son, the risk whereof thou speakest groweth the lesser the longer it is looked on.'
Then spake the Dale-warden: 'Yet saving your wisdom, Alderman, the risk is there yet. For if these felons come into the Dale at all, even if the folk left behind hold the Burg and keep themselves unmurdered, yet may they not hinder the foe from spoiling our homesteads; so that our folk coming back in triumph shall find ruin at home, and spend weary days in hunting their foemen, who shall, many of them, escape into the Wild-wood.'
'Yea,' said the Sun-beam, 'sooth is that; and Face-of-god is wise to think of it and of other matters. Yet one thing we must bear in mind, that all may not go smoothly in our day's work in Silver-dale; so we must have force there to fall back on, in case we miss our stroke at first. Therefore, I say, send we no man to Rose-dale, and leave we no able man-at-arms behind in the Burg, so that we have with us every blade that may be gathered.'
Iron-face smiled and said: 'Thou art wise, damsel; and I marvel that so fair-fashioned a thing as thou can think so hardly of the meeting of the fallow blades. But hearken! will not the Dusky Men hear that we have stripped the Dale of fighting-men, and may they not then give our host the go-by and send folk to ruin us?'
There was silence while Face-of-god looked down on the board; but presently he lifted up his face and said:
'Folk-might was right when he said that all must be risked. Let us leave Rose-dale till we have overcome them of Silver-dale. Moreover, my father, thou must not deem of these felons as if they were of like wits to us, to forecast the deeds to come, and weigh the chances nicely, and unravel tangled clews. Rather they move like to the stares in autumn, or the winter wild-geese, and will all be thrust forward by some sting that entereth into their imaginations. Therefore, if they have appointed one moon to wear before they fall upon us, they will not stir till then, and we have time enough to do what must be done. Wherefore am I now of one mind with the rest of you. Now meseemeth it were well that these things which we have spoken here, and shall speak, should not be noised abroad openly; nay, at the Folk-mote it would be well that nought be said about the day or the way of our onslaught on Silver-dale, lest the foe take warning and be on their guard. Though, sooth to say, did I deem that if they had word of our intent they of Rose-dale would join themselves to them of Silver-dale, and that we should thus have all our foes in one net, then were I fain if the word would reach them. For my soul loathes the hunting that shall befall up and down the wood for the slaying of a man here, and two or three there, and the wearing of the days in wandering up and down with weapons in the hand, and the spinning out of hatred and delaying of peace.'
Then Iron-face reached his hand across the board and took his son's hand, and said:
'Hail to thee, son, for thy word! Herein thou speakest as if from my very soul, and fain am I of such a War-leader.'
And desire drew the eyes of the Sun-beam to Face-of-god, and she beheld him proudly. But he said:
'All hath been spoken that the others of us may speak; and now it falleth to the part of Folk-might to order our goings for the tryst for the onslaught, and the trysting-place shall be in Shadowy Vale. How sayest thou, Chief of the Wolf?'
Said Folk-might: 'I have little to say; and it is for the War-leader to see to this closely and piecemeal. I deem, as we all deem, that there should be no delay; yet were it best to wend not all together to Shadowy Vale, but in divers bands, as soon as ye may after the Folk-mote, by the sure and nigh ways that we shall show you. And when we are gathered there, short is the rede, for all is ready there to wend by the passes which we know throughly, and whereby it is but two days' journey to the head of Silver-dale, nigh to the caves of the silver, where the felons dwell the thickest.'
He set his teeth, and his colour came and went: for as constantly as the onslaught had been in his mind, yet whenever he spake of the great day of battle, hope and joy and anger wrought a tumult in his soul; and now that it was so nigh withal, he could not refrain his joy.
But he spake again: 'Now therefore, War-leader, it is for thee to order the goings of thy folk. But I will tell thee that they shall not need to take aught with them save their weapons and victual for the way, that is, for thirty hours; because all is ready for them in Shadowy Vale, though it be but a poor place as to victual. Canst thou tell us, therefore, what thou wilt do?'
Face-of-god had knit his brows and become gloomy of countenance; but now his face cleared, and he set his hand to his pouch, and drew forth a written parchment, and said:
'This is the order whereof I have bethought me. Before the Folk-mote I and the Wardens shall speak to the leaders of hundreds, who be mostly here at the Fair, and give them the day and the hour whereon they shall, each hundred, take their weapons and wend to Shadowy Vale, and also the place where they shall meet the men of yours who shall lead them across the Waste. These hundred-leaders shall then go straightway and give the word to the captains of scores, and the captains of scores to the captains of tens; and if, as is scarce doubtful, the Folk-mote yea-says the onslaught and the fellowship with you of the Wolf, then shall those leaders of tens bring their men to the trysting-place, and so go their ways to Shadowy Vale. Now here I have the roll of our Weapon-show, and I will look to it that none shall be passed over; and if ye ask me in what order they had best get on the way, my rede is that a two hundred should depart on the very evening of the day of the Folk-mote, and these to be of our folk of the Upper Dale; and on the morning of the morrow of the Folk- mote another two hundreds from the Dale; and in the evening of the same day the folk of the Shepherds, three hundreds or more, and that will be easy to them; again on the next day two more bands of the Lower Dale, one in the morning, one in the evening. Lastly, in the earliest dawn of the third day from the Folk-mote shall the Woodlanders wend their ways. But one hundred of men let us leave behind for the warding of the Burg, even as we agreed before. As for the place of tryst for the faring over the Waste, let it be the end of the knolls just by the jaws of the pass yonder, where the Weltering Water comes into the Dale from the East. How say ye?'
They all said, and Folk-might especially, that it was right well devised, and that thus it should be done.
Then turned Face-of-god to the Dale-warden, and said:
'It were good, brother, that we saw the other wardens as soon as may be, to do them to wit of this order, and what they have to do.'
Therewith he arose and took the Elder of the Dale-wardens away with him, and the twain set about their business straight-way. Neither did the others abide long in the Hall, but went out into the Burg to see the chapmen and their wares. There the Alderman bought what he needed of iron and steel and other matters; and Folk-might cheapened him a dagger curiously wrought, and a web of gold and silk for the Sun-beam, for which wares he paid in silver arm-rings, new-wrought and of strange fashion.
But amidst of the chaffer was now a great ring of men; and in the midst of the ring stood Redesman, fiddle and bow in hand, and with him were four damsels wondrously arrayed; for the first was clad in a smock so craftily wrought with threads of green and many colours, that it seemed like a piece of the green field beset with primroses and cowslips and harebells and windflowers, rather than a garment woven and sewn; and in her hand she bore a naked sword, with golden hilts and gleaming blade. But the second bore on her roses done in like manner, both blossoms and green leaves, wherewith her body was covered decently, which else had been naked. The third was clad as though she were wading the wheat-field to the waist, and above was wrapped in the leaves and bunches of the wine-tree. And the fourth was clad in a scarlet gown flecked with white wool to set forth the winter's snow, and broidered over with the burning brands of the Holy Hearth; and she bore on her head a garland of mistletoe. And these four damsels were clearly seen to image the four seasons of the year- -Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. But amidst them stood a fountain or conduit of gilded work cunningly wrought, and full of the best wine of the Dale, and gilded cups and beakers hung about it.
So now Redesman fell to caressing his fiddle with the bow till it began to make sweet music, and therewith the hearts of all danced with it; and presently words come into his mouth, and he fell to singing; and the damsels answered him:
Earth-wielders, that fashion the Dale-dwellers' treasure,
Soft are ye by seeming, yet hardy of heart!
No warrior amongst us withstandeth your pleasure;
No man from his meadow may thrust you apart.
Fresh and fair are your bodies, but far beyond telling
Are the years of your lives, and the craft ye have stored.
Come give us a word, then, concerning our dwelling,
And the days to befall us, the fruit of the sword.
When last in the feast-hall the Yule-fire flickered,
The foot of no foeman fared over the snow,
And nought but the wind with the ash-branches bickered:
Next Yule ye may deem it a long time ago.
Loud laughed ye last year in the wheat-field a-smiting;
And ye laughed as your backs drave the beam of the press.
When the edge of the war-sword the acres are lighting
Look up to the Banner and laugh ye no less.
Ye called and I came, and how good was the greeting,
When ye wrapped me in roses both bosom and side!
Here yet shall I long, and be fain of our meeting,
As hidden from battle your coming I bide.
I am here for your comfort, and lo! what I carry;
The blade with the bright edges bared to the sun.
To the field, to the work then, that e'en I may tarry
For the end of the tale in my first days begun!
Therewith the throng opened, and a young man stepped lightly into the ring, clad in very fair armour, with a gilded helm on his head; and he took the sword from the hand of the Maiden of Spring, and waved it in the air till the westering sun flashed back from it. Then each of the four damsels went up to the swain and kissed his mouth; and Redesman drew the bow across the strings, and the four damsels sang together, standing round about the young warrior:
It was but a while since for earth's sake we trembled,
Lest the increase our life-days had won for the Dale,
All the wealth that the moons and the years had assembled,
Should be but a mock for the days of your bale.
But now we behold the sun smite on the token
In the hand of the Champion, the heart of a man;
We look down the long years and see them unbroken;
Forth fareth the Folk by the ways it began.
So bid ye these chapmen in autumn returning,
To bring iron for ploughshares and steel for the scythe,
And the over-sea oil that hath felt the sun's burning,
And fair webs for your women soft-spoken and blithe;
And pledge ye your word in the market to meet them,
As many a man and as many a maid,
As eager as ever, as guest-fain to greet them,
And bide till the booth from the waggon is made.
Come, guests of our lovers! for we, the year-wielders,
Bid each man and all to come hither and take
A cup from our hands midst the peace of our shielders,
And drink to the days of the Dale that we make.
Then went the damsels to that wine-fountain, and drew thence cups of the best and brightest wine of the Dale, and went round about the ring, and gave drink to whomsoever would, both of the chapmen and the others; while the weaponed youth stood in the midst bearing aloft his sword and shield like an image in a holy place, and Redesman's bow still went up and down the strings, and drew forth a sweet and merry tune.
Great game it was now to see the stark Burgdale carles dragging the Men of the Plain, little loth, up to the front of the ring, that they might stretch out their hands for a cup, and how many a one, as he took it, took as much as he might of the damsel's hand withal. As for the damsels, they played the Holy Play very daintily, neither reddening nor laughing, but faring so solemnly, and withal so sweetly and bright-faced, that it might well have been deemed that they were in very sooth Maidens of the God of Earth sent from the ever-enduring Hall to cheer the hearts of men.
So simply and blithely did the Men of Burgdale disport them after the manner of their fathers, trusting in their valour and beholding the good days to be.
So wore the evening, and when night was come, men feasted throughout the Burg from house to house, and every hall was full. But the Guests from Shadowy Vale feasted in the Hall of the Face in all glee and goodwill; and with them were the chief of the chapmen and two others; but the rest of them had been laid hold of by goodmen of the Burg, and dragged into their feast-halls, for they were fain of those guests and their tales. One of the chapmen in the House of the Face knew Folk-might, and hailed him by the name he had borne in the Cities, Regulus to wit; indeed, the chief chapman knew him, and even somewhat over-well, for he had been held to ransom by Folk-might in those past days, and even yet feared him, because he, the chapman, had played somewhat of a dastard's part to him. But the other was an open-hearted and merry fellow, and no weakling; and Folk-might was fain of his talk concerning times bygone, and the fields they had foughten in, and other adventures that had befallen them, both good and evil.
As for Face-of-god, he went about the Hall soberly, and spake no more than behoved him, so as not to seem a mar-feast; for the image of the slaughter to be yet abode with him, and his heart foreboded the after-grief of the battle. He had no speech with the Sun-beam till men were sundering after the feast, and then he came close to her amidst of the turmoil, and said:
'Time presses on me these days; but if thou wouldest speak with me to-morrow as I would with thee, then mightest thou go on the Bridge of the Burg about sunrise, and I will be there, and we two only.'
Her face, which had been somewhat sad that evening (for she had been watching his), brightened at that word, and she took his hand as folk came thronging round about them, and said:
'Yea, friend, I shall be there, and fain of thee.' And therewithal they sundered for that night.
And all men went to sleep throughout the Burg: howbeit they set a watch at the Burg-Gate; and Hall-face, when he was coming back from the woodland ward about sunset, fell in with Redcoat of Waterless and four score men on the Portway coming to meet him and take his place. All which was clean contrary to the wont of the Burgdalers, who at most whiles held no watch and ward, not even in Fair-time.