by William Morris


Next morning Face-of-god dight himself for work, and took his axe; for his brother Hall-face had bidden him go down with him to the Yew- wood and cut timber there, since he of all men knew where to go straight to the sticks that would quarter best for bow-staves; whereas the Alderman had the right of hewing in that wood. So they went forth, those brethren, from the House of the Face, but when they were gotten to the gate, who should be there but the Bride awaiting them, and she with an ass duly saddled for bearing the yew-sticks. Because Hall-face had told her that he and belike Gold-mane were going to hew in the wood, and she thought it good to be of the company, as oft had befallen erst. When they met she greeted Face- of-god and kissed him as her wont was; and he looked upon her and saw how fair she was, and how kind and friendly were her eyes that beheld him, and how her whole face was eager for him as their lips parted. Then his heart failed him, when he knew that he no longer desired her as she did him, and he said within himself:

'Would that she had been of our nighest kindred! Would that I had had a sister and that this were she!'

So the three went along the highway down the Dale, and Hall-face and the Bride talked merrily together and laughed, for she was happy, since she knew that Gold-mane had been to the wood and was back safe and much as he had been before. So indeed it seemed of him; for though at first he was moody and of few words, yet presently he cursed himself for a mar-sport, and so fell into the talk, and enforced himself to be merry; and soon he was so indeed; for he thought: 'She drew me thither: she hath a deed for me to do. I shall do the deed and have my reward. Soon will the spring-tide be here, and I shall be a young man yet when it comes.'

So came they to the place where he had met the three maidens yesterday; there they also turned from the highway; and as they went down the bent, Gold-mane could not but turn his eyes on the beauty of the Bride and the lovely ways of her body: but presently he remembered all that had betid, and turned away again as one who is noting what it behoves him not to note. And he said to himself: 'Where art thou, Gold-mane? Whose art thou? Yea, even if that had been but a dream that I have dreamed, yet would that this fair woman were my sister!'

So came they to the Yew-wood, and the brethren fell to work, and the Bride with them, for she was deft with the axe and strong withal. But at midday they rested on the green slope without the Yew-wood; and they ate bread and flesh and onions and apples, and drank red wine of the Dale. And while they were resting after their meat, the Bride sang to them, and her song was a lay of time past; and here ye have somewhat of it:

'Tis over the hill and over the dale
Men ride from the city fast and far,
If they may have a soothfast tale,
True tidings of the host of war.

And first they hap on men-at-arms,
All clad in steel from head to foot:
Now tell true tale of the new-come harms,
And the gathered hosts of the mountain-root.

Fair sirs, from murder-carles we flee,
Whose fashion is as the mountain-trolls';
No man can tell how many they be,
And the voice of their host as the thunder rolls.

They were weary men at the ending of day,
But they spurred nor stayed for longer word.
Now ye, O merchants, whither away?
What do ye there with the helm and the sword?

O we must fight for life and gear,
For our beasts are spent and our wains are stayed,
And the host of the Mountain-men draws near,
That maketh all the world afraid.

They left the chapmen on the hill,
And through the eve and through the night
They rode to have true tidings still,
And were there on the way when the dawn was bright.

O damsels fair, what do ye then
To loiter thus upon the way,
And have no fear of the Mountain-men,
The host of the carles that strip and slay?

O riders weary with the road,
Come eat and drink on the grass hereby!
And lay you down in a fair abode
Till the midday sun is broad and high;

Then unto you shall we come aback,
And lead you forth to the Mountain-men,
To note their plenty and their lack,
And have true tidings there and then.

'Tis over the hill and over the dale
They ride from the mountain fast and far;
And now have they learned a soothfast tale,
True tidings of the host of war.

It was summer-tide and the Month of Hay,
And men and maids must fare afield;
But we saw the place were the bow-staves lay,
And the hall was hung with spear and shield.

When the moon was high we drank in the hall,
And they drank to the guests and were kind and blithe,
And they said: Come back when the chestnuts fall,
And the wine-carts wend across the hythe.

Come oft and o'er again, they said;
Wander your ways; but we abide
For all the world in the little stead;
For wise are we, though the world be wide.

Yea, come in arms if ye will, they said;
And despite your host shall we abide
For life or death in the little stead;
For wise are we, though the world be wide.

So she made an end and looked at the fairness of the dale spreading wide before her, and a robin came nigh from out of a thorn-bush and sung his song also, the sweet herald of coming winter; and the lapwings wheeled about, black and white, above the meadow by the river, sending forth their wheedling pipe as they hung above the soft turf.

She felt the brothers near her, and knew their friendliness from of old, and she was happy; nor had she looked closer at Gold-mane would she have noted any change in him belike; for the meat and the good wine, and the fair sunny time, and the Bride's sweet voice, and the ancient song softened his heart while it fed the desire therein.

So in a while they arose from their rest and did what was left them of their work, and so went back to Burgstead through the fair afternoon; by seeming all three in all content. But yet Gold-mane, as from time to time he looked upon the Bride, kept saying to himself: 'O if she had been but my sister! sweet had the kinship been!'