by William Morris


But it must be told of Gold-mane that what had befallen him was in this wise. His skid-strap brake in good sooth, and he stayed to mend it; but when he had done what was needful, he looked up and saw no man nigh, what for the drift, and that they had gone on somewhat; so he rose to his feet, and without more delay, instead of keeping on toward the elk-ground and the way his face had been set, he turned himself north-and-by-east, and went his ways swiftly towards that airt, because he deemed that it might lead him to the Mountain-hall where he had guested. He abode not for the storm to clear, but swept off through the thick of it; and indeed the wind was somewhat at his back, so that he went the swiftlier. But when the drift was gotten to its very worst, he sheltered himself for a little in a hollow behind a thorn-bush he stumbled upon. As soon as it began to abate he went on again, and at last when it was quite clear, and the sun shone out, he found himself on a long slope of the fells covered deep with smooth white snow, and at the higher end a great crag rising bare fifty feet above the snow, and more rocks, but none so great, and broken ground as he judged (the snow being deep) about it on the hither side; and on the further, three great pine-trees all bent down and mingled together by their load of snow.

Thitherward he made, as a man might, seeing nothing else to note before him; but he had not made many strides when forth from behind the crag by the pine-trees came a man; and at first Face-of-god thought it might be one of his hunting-fellows gone astray, and he hailed him in a loud voice, but as he looked he saw the sun flash back from a bright helm on the new-comer's head; albeit he kept on his way till there was but a space of two hundred yards between them; when lo! the helm-bearer notched a shaft to his bent bow and loosed at Face-of-god, and the arrow came whistling and passed six inches by his right ear. Then Face-of-god stopped perplexed with his case; for he was on the deep snow in his skids, with his bow unbent, and he knew not how to bend it speedily. He was loth to turn his back and flee, and indeed he scarce deemed that it would help him. Meanwhile of his tarrying the archer loosed again at him, and this time the shaft flew close to his left ear. Then Face-of-god thought to cast himself down into the snow, but he was ashamed; till there came a third shaft which flew over his head amidmost and close to it. 'Good shooting on the Mountain!' muttered he; 'the next shaft will be amidst my breast, and who knows whether the Alderman's handiwork will keep it out.'

So he cried aloud: 'Thou shootest well, brother; but art thou a foe? If thou art, I have a sword by my side, and so hast thou; come hither to me, and let us fight it out friendly if we must needs fight.'

A laugh came down the wind to him clear but somewhat shrill, and the archer came swiftly towards him on his skids with no weapon in his hand save his bow; so that Face-of-god did not draw his sword, but stood wondering.

As they drew nearer he beheld the face of the new-comer, and deemed that he had seen it before; and soon, for all that it was hooded close by the ill-weather raiment, he perceived it to be the face of Bow-may, ruddy and smiling.

She laughed out loud again, as she stopped herself within three feet of him, and said:

'Yea, friend Yellow-hair, we heard of the elks and looked to see thee hereabouts, and I knew thee at once when I came out from behind the crag and saw thee stand bewildered.'

Said Gold-mane: 'Hail to thee, Bow-may! and glad am I to see thee. But thou liest in saying that thou knewest me; else why didst thou shoot those three shafts at me? Surely thou art not so quick as that with all thy friends: these be sharp greetings of you Mountain- folk.'

'Thou lad with the sweet mouth,' she said, 'I like to see thee and hear thee talk, but now must I hasten thy departure; so stand we here no longer. Let us get down into the wood where we can do off our skids and sit down, and then will I tell thee the tidings. Come on!'

And she caught his hand in hers, and they went speedily down the slopes toward the great oak-wood, the wind whistling past their ears.

'Whither are we going?' said he.

Said she: 'I am to show thee the way back home, which thou wilt not know surely amidst this snow. Come, no words! thou shalt not have my tale from me till we are in the wood: so the sooner we are there the sooner shalt thou be pleased.'

So Face-of-god held his peace, and they went on swiftly side by side. But it was not Bow-may's wont to be silent for long, so presently she said:

'Thou art good so do as I bid thee; but see thou, sweet playmate, for all thou art a chieftain's son, thou wert but feather-brained to ask me why I shot at thee. I shoot at thee! that were a fine tale to tell her this even! Or dost thou think that I could shoot at a big man on the snow at two hundred paces and miss him three times? Unless I aimed to miss.'

'Yea, Bow-may,' said he, 'art thou so deft a Bow-may? Thou shalt be in my company whenso I fare to battle.'

'Indeed,' she said, 'therein thou sayest but the bare truth: nowhere else shall I be, and thou shalt find my bow no worse than a good shield.'

He laughed somewhat lightly; but she looked on him soberly and said: 'Laugh in that fashion on the day of battle, and we shall be well content with thee!'

So on they sped very swiftly, for their way was mostly down hill, so that they were soon amongst the outskirting trees of the wood, and presently after reached the edge of the thicket, beyond which the ground was but thinly covered with snow.

There they took off their skids, and went into the thick wood and sat down under a hornbeam tree; and ere Gold-mane could open his mouth to speak Bow-may began and said:

'Well it was that I fell in with thee, Dalesman, else had there been murders of men to tell of; but ever she ordereth all things wisely, though unwisely hast thou done to seek to her. Hearken! dost thou think that thou hast done well that thou hast me here with my tale? Well, hadst thou busied thyself with the slaying of elks, or with sitting quietly at home, yet shouldest thou have heard my tale, and thou shouldest have seen me in Burgstead in a day or two to tell thee concerning the flitting of the token. And ill it is that I have missed it, for fain had I been to behold the House of the Face, and to have seen thee sitting there in thy dignity amidst the kindred of chieftains.'

And she sighed therewith. But he said: 'Hold up thine heart, Bow- may! On the word of a true man that shall befall thee one day. But come, playmate, give me thy tale!'

'Yea,' she said, 'I must now tell thee in the wild-wood what else I had told thee in the Hall. Hearken closely, for this is the message:

'Seek not to me again till thou hast the token; else assuredly wilt thou be slain, and I shall be sorry for many a day. Thereof as now I may not tell thee more. Now as to the token: When March is worn two weeks fail not to go to and fro on the place of the Maiden Ward for an hour before sunrise every day till thou hear tidings.'

'Now,' quoth Bow-may, 'hast thou hearkened and understood?'

'Yea,' said he.

She said: 'Then tell me the words of my message concerning the token.' And he did so word for word. Then she said:

'It is well, there is no more to say. Now must I lead thee till thou knowest the wood; and then mayst thou get on to the smooth snow again, and so home merrily. Yet, thou grey-eyed fellow, I will have my pay of thee before I do that last work.'

Therewith she turned about to him and took his head between her hands, and kissed him well favouredly both cheeks and mouth; and she laughed, albeit the tears stood in her eyes as she said: 'Now smelleth the wood sweeter, and summer will come back again. And even thus will I do once more when we stand side by side in battle array.'

He smiled kindly on her and nodded as they both rose up from the earth: she had taken off her foul-weather gloves while they spake, and he kissed her hand, which was shapely of fashion albeit somewhat brown, and hard of palm, and he said in friendly wise:

'Thou art a merry faring-fellow, Bow-may, and belike shalt be withal a true fighting-fellow. Come now, thou shalt be my sister and I thy brother, in despite of those three shafts across the snow.'

He laughed therewith; she laughed not, but seemed glad, and said soberly:

'Yea, I may well be thy sister; for belike I also am of the people of the Gods, who have come into these Dales by many far ways. I am of the House of the Ragged Sword of the Kindred of the Wolf. Come, brother, let us toward Wildlake's Way.'

Therewith she went before him and led through the thicket as by an assured and wonted path, and he followed hard at heel; but his thought went from her for a while; for those words of brother and sister that he had spoken called to his mind the Bride, and their kindness of little children, and the days when they seemed to have nought to do but to make the sun brighter, and the flowers fairer, and the grass greener, and the birds happier each for the other; and a hard and evil thing it seemed to him that now he should be making all these things nought and dreary to her, now when he had become a man and deeds lay before him. Yet again was he solaced by what Bow- may had said concerning battle to come; for he deemed that she must have had this from the Friend's foreseeing; and he longed sore for deeds to do, wherein all these things might be cleared up and washen clean as it were.

So passed they through the wood a long way, and it was getting dark therein, and Gold-mane said:

'Hold now, Bow-may, for I am at home here.'

She looked around and said: 'Yea, so it is: I was thinking of many things. Farewell and live merrily till March comes and the token!'

Therewith she turned and went her ways and was soon out of sight, and he went lightly through the wood, and then on skids over the hard snow along the Dale's edge till he was come to the watch-tower, when the moon was bright in heaven.

Thus was he at Burgstead and the House of the Face betimes, and before the hunters were gotten back.