The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter xvii. The Slaying of Hardcastle

So they three went down together into the meadow, and there stood the others by the hazel-garth: the goodman cowering and abject, Surly John pale and anxious, and the two women clinging together in sore sorrow, the grandam weeping sorely. But as they passed close by these last, Stephen touched the grandam and said to her: “Sawest thou ever King David the little?” “Nay,” she said sobbing. “Look thou into the hazel-garth presently then,” said he, “and thou shalt see him with eye.”

So now they two stood in the hazelled field; it was two hours before noon, the sky was overcast with a promise of the first snow of the winter, but as yet none had fallen, and the field was dry and hard. Now Hardcastle has Fiddlebow bare in his fist, but Osberne takes Boardcleaver from his girdle and unwinds the peace-strings; then he stands still for a moment and looks toward his foeman, who cries out at him: “Haste thee, lad, I were fain done with it.” Then Osberne draws forth the blade, and it made a gleam of white in the grey day, and as the folk say who stood thereby, as Boardcleaver came forth bare there came a great humming sound all about. Then Osberne gets his shield on his arm, and cries out: “Now thou warrior!” and straightway Hardcastle comes leaping toward him, and Osberne abode him as he came on with uplifted sword, leapt lightly to one side, and thrust forth Boardcleaver and touched his side, so that all could see the blade had drunk a little blood. Fiercely and fast turned Hardcastle about on the lad, but therewith was he within the ruffler’s stroke, and Boardcleaver’s point was steady before Osberne’s breast, and met Hardcastle’s side and made a great wound with the point, and the warrior staggered back, and his sword-point was lowered. Then cried out Osberne: “What! Thou wouldst unbreech me, wouldst thou? But now art thou unbreeched.” For therewith Boardcleaver swept round backhanded and came back as swift as lightning, and the edge clave all the right flank and buttock of him, so that the blood ran freely; and then as Hardcastle, still staggering, hove up his sword wildly, Osberne put the slant stroke aside with his shield and thrust forth Boardcleaver right at his breast, and the point went in, and the whole blade, as there were nought but dough before it, and Hardcastle, nigh rent in two, fell aback off the sword.

Osberne stood still a while looking on him, but Stephen ran up and knelt beside him, and felt his wrist and laid his hand on the breast, and then turned and looked up at Osberne, who knelt down beside him also and wiped the blood off Boardcleaver with a lap of the dead man’s coat. Then he stood up and thrust the blade back into the sheath, and wound the peace-strings about it all. Then came the word into his mouth, and he sang:

Came sword and shield

To the hazelled field

Where the fey man fell

At Wethermel:

The grey blade grew glad

In the hands of a lad,

And the tall man and stark

Leapt into the dark.

For the cleaver of war-boards came forth from his door

And guided the hand of the lacking in lore.

But now is the blade

In the dark sheath laid,

And the peace-strings lull

His heart o’erfull.

Up dale and down

The hall-roofs brown

Hang over the peace

Of the year’s increase.

No fear rendeth midnight and dieth the day

With no foe save the winter that weareth away.

Then he cried out: “Draw nigh, goodman and grandsire, and take again the house and lands of Wethermel, as ye had them aforetime before yesterday was a day.” So the goodman came to him and kissed him and thanked him kind and humbly, and the women came and embraced him and hung about him. As for Surly John, he had slunk away so soon as he saw the fall of his master, and now when they looked around for him, they saw him but as a fleck going swiftly down the Dale. Thereat they all laughed together, and the laughter eased their hearts, so that they felt free and happy.

“Now,” said Stephen, “what shall we do with this carcass, that was so fierce and fell this morning?” Said Osberne: “We shall lay him in earth here in his raiment as he fell, since he died in manly wise, though belike he has lived as a beast. But his sword I will give to thee in reward for thy trusty following both now and at other times.”

So Stephen fetched mattock and pick, and dug a grave for that champion amidwards of the hazel-garth, and there they laid him, and heaped up mould and stones over his grave; and to this day it is called Hardcastle’s Howe there, or for short, and that the oftenest, Hardcastle.

So they went all of them up to the house, and were merry and joyful.

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