The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter xi. Osberne Shoots a Gift Across the Flood

Now when the three days were over he went his ways to the Bight of the Cloven Knoll, and Stephen smiled and nodded to him friendly as he went out of the door, and once more he was clad in his red-scarlet raiment. He had his bow in his hand, and besides the three arrows which the hillman had given, he had two others out of the goodman’s quiver. Moreover he had thought over from time to time what he might give to the maiden, and now he had in his pouch a fair gold piece which his mother had given him when he was yet very young, and he thought that this were a fair gift might he but get it over to the other side of the Sundering Flood.

Now when he was within eyeshot of the ness, he looked thither, and saw a little figure on the crest thereof, and knew that the maiden had prevented him and was there already, so he hastened all he might to his own vantage ground, and straightway he gave her the sele of the day, and she greeted him kindly. Then he looks and sees that she is somewhat decked out for this meeting, for not only did the Dwarfs’ gift, the necklace, gleam and glitter on her little flat child’s bosom, but also she had made her a wreath for her head of the spring flowers, and another had she done about her loins. She stood there saying nothing a while, and it seemed to him that she was waiting for him to praise this new-wrought adornment. So he said: “Thou art in fairer guise than when first I saw thee; is there any high-tide toward at thy stead?”

“Nay,” she said; “I did this because I looked to see thee today, whereas the other time we happed on each other unawares. But hast thou done any more great deeds?”

He laughed and said: “Nay, nay, let me grow a few days older yet. Nevertheless there is this new thing, that this morning I have brought thee a gift which I deem I may to flit to thee, and I shall give it to thee with a good will if thou wilt promise that thou wilt not part with it ever.”

“With all my heart will I promise that,” she said; “but tell me what it is; show it to me.”

He drew it forth and held it up between his finger and thumb, and said: “It is a golden penny, very fair, and I deem it comes from some far country. My mother gave it to me when I was very young; yet I remember that she bade me part not with it, save I should give it to one unto whom I wished all luck, for that she deemed that luck went with it. Now thou art so fair and so dear, and my only fellow of like age, that I wish luck to thee as much as luck can be found: so I will flit it to thee this wise, that I will do it up in a piece of cloth and tie it to the head of this arrow (which is of no account), and shoot it over to thee.” And therewith he knelt down and fell to wrapping it up in the rag.

As for the maiden, she was all eager, and quivering with joy at the getting of such a gift; yet she spake and said: “O how good thou art to me: yet I deem not that thou shouldst give me thy mother’s gift. And moreover why shouldst thou shoot away thy luck? It may be that I am not doomed to be lucky, as surely thou art; and it may well be that thou mayst give me thy luck and make thee less lucky, without eking mine, if unluck be my weird.”

Now though he had set his heart on giving the gold to the fair child, yet her words seemed wise to him, and he said: “What then shall we do?” She said: “Abide a while till I think of it.”

So they were silent a while, both of them, till the little maid looked up and said: “Is it a round thing?” “Yea,” said he. “What is there upon it?” she said. Quoth Osberne: “On one side be two warriors, and on the other the Rood and certain letters.”

She thought again and said: “How much were it marred if it were halved, one warrior and half a cross?” He said: “That hangs upon this, who has one half and who the other.” She said “How would it be, since I can see that thou wishest that I should share thy gift, and belike thy luck also, if thou wert to do it into two halves, and keep one thyself and shoot me the other over the flood?” He leapt up and fell a-dancing for joy as she spake, and cried out: “O, but thou art wise! Now I can see that this is what my mother meant me to do, to share the gold and the luck.”

Therewith he took the penny out of its wrapping and drew forth his whittle, and gat a big stone and set the gold on the steel and smote it, deftly enough; for he was no ill smith for his years. Then he stood up and cried out: “There, it is done, and neither of the warriors is scathed, for there was a waste place betwixt them. Now then for the shaft and the bow!” The maiden looked eagerly with knitted brows, and soon saw Osberne take up the shaft and nock it on the bowstring.

Then he said: “Take heed and stand still and the halfling shall be thine. Look now, I will send the shaft so that it shall go in the grass-grown cleft betwixt the two big stones behind thee to thy right hand.” He raised his bow therewith, and saw how she gathered her skirts about her, as if she would not have them hinder the shaft. Then he loosed, and the shaft flew, but she abode still a little; and he laughed and said: “Go, maiden, and find the shaft and the gold.” Then she turned and ran to the cleft, and took out the arrow, and did off the wrapping with trembling fingers, and gat the gold and looked on it, and cried out: “O the fair warrior! such like shalt thou be on a penny, dear child.”

Then she came forward again and said: “Now this is strange, that neither last time nor now have we told each other our names: now I will tell thee that my name is Elfhild, of Hartshaw Knolls. What is thine?”

“Elfhild my child,” said he, “my name is Osberne Wulfgrim’s son, and I am of Wethermel, as I told thee. Yet belike it is not so strange that we have not told our names hitherto, and I hope no ill-luck will go with our telling them, for I suppose that people give each other names when there are many of them, and they would know one from another. But as to us, there be only two of us, so that if I call thee Maiden, and thou call me Swain, it had been enough. Nevertheless I am fain of calling thee Elfhild.”

“And I am full fain of calling thee Osberne,” she said. “Besides, if at any time both thou and I were to depart from this country-side we might chance to meet amongst folk of many names, and thus we might the better know each other — But O!” she said, growing exceeding eager, “dost thou know how good a gift thou has given me? For the halves of the penny, we shall both keep them for ever, as thou knowest, and by our having them we shall know each other if we meet in the world without and our faces have become changed.”

Said Osberne: “I deem not that my face will change very much, at least not till I grow old — nor do I think that thine will either.” She laughed merrily: “O, bairn Osberne, when thou art become a man and a great man, and art called maybe Earl Osberne Wulfgrimsson, will not thy face have changed, and thou with the beard and the fierce eyes, and the mouth that hath shouted in the battle? As for me, Allhallows grant it that my face may change: look at me, a kind of red crow now, all skinny and spindle-legged, and yet I may grow to be a fair woman; and then indeed I should be fain for thee to see me. For somehow it seems to be shown to me that thou wilt be loved of women & love them somewhat over-much.”

“For my part,” said Osberne, “I seem to see of myself that I shall have much to do slaying wolves and evil things, and standing before kings and getting gifts of them, so that there will be little time for me to go about loving women — yet thee I shall ever love, Elfhild.” And he reddened as he spake this, as though he were a youth before his time. But Elfhild said: “In all ways thou art kind to me, and thee shall I ever love. But now tell me, Osberne, what wouldst thou have me do today to make game and play for thee?” Said he: “Call up the sheep again to thee with the sweet little pipe, for therein is much game.” She nodded her head merrily, and drew forth her pipe and played, and the sheep came bundling up as the day before; and she danced and played a long while, and Osberne clapped his hands and laughed and egged her on, and was full fain of her dancing, and forsooth it was a wonder and delight to see her.

At last she was wearied out, and cast herself on the grass at the very edge of the cliff, and said that she could no more. And Osberne thanked her kindly.

So when she had gotten her breath again, she asked him what next she should do for his disport. And he bade tell him of how she lived with those two women, her aunts, and what she did from day to day. So she sat down as on the other day, with her legs hanging down over the grisly flood, and told him full sweetly of her joys and her work and her troubles. And some of the tale was piteous enough, for the two kinswomen, who were by no means old, for the eldest was only of thirty summers, were somewhat hard with the child and right careless of her, as shall be shown afterwards.

But after a little she broke off and said: “But Osberne, dear, these be no fair tales for thee, though thou art kind to hearken to them. I have better tales than that, of champions to wit, and ladies and castles and dragons and the like, that I have heard; some of my kinswomen, some of folk that come to our house at a pinch, for it is a poor house; and some, yea and most and the best, from an old woman who dwelleth in a cot not far from us. And she loveth me and hath learned me much lore; and I will tell thee thereof if thou wilt hearken.”

“I will well,” said he, “and thanks thou shalt have of me; I would I might give thee some other gift.” She said: “My tale reward will be that thou shalt tell me over and over the staves thou madest last time we met, till I have them by heart. And other staves shalt thou make for me if thou wilt.” “Thus is the bargain struck,” said the lad, “now get thee to the work.”

So the little maiden fell to telling him a tale of the Faery, and when it was done he asked for another; but this was a long one, and wore the day down, so that Elfhild must needs depart ere it was done. Then was a talk of when the next meeting should be, and to Osberne nought was near enough save tomorrow. But Elfhild said that it was nought safe, lest aught should wake up her kinswomen to asking of her whereabouts, and again the meeting was appointed for three days hence; but had it not been for the tale, for which something must be risked, Elfhild said that the time between must be a week. So each of the children departed to their houses well pleased.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07