The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter xxiii. Osberne Is Chosen Captain of the Dalesmen

So when he was come anigh the stead he saw the gathered folk and the glittering of weapons about a knoll a bowshot without the garth, and made the best of his way toward the Mote. And as he was drawing near, there ran toward him divers men from the skirts of the throng, and cried out for him to hasten, “For now,” cried one of them, “the Mote is dealing with thee.” So he ran on with them; and when he entered the throng, which for those parts was no small one, there went up a great shout, and they shoved him along up to the foot of the knoll, on the top whereof stood three of the best men of estate, and the Lawman of the Dale, and the captain of the men of Eastcheaping. These called him to come amongst them, and then the Lawman fell to speaking: “Osberne Wulfgrimsson,” said he, “thou art late to the Mote, and it is well-nigh done, but this is the heart of the matter, that we have ten score and six of good men pledged them to ride with these friends of of Eastcheaping; but they have craved to have a captain to them chosen from us Dalesmen. But whereas there hath been but little war or strife in the Dale since the riding of the White Champion, which is a thirty years ago, we be for the most part little skilled in battle; and we all wot that thou hast a man’s heart in thy lad’s body, and that thou hast slain a mighty man of war, a man deft in all prowess. Wherefore some of the folk have spoken of thee to be the captain of our company; and I tell thee that I shall presently call for the word of the whole Mote, and if they yeasay it, then must thou needs go as captain of these, will thou nill thou.”

Osberne was as red as fire in the face by then the Lawman was done, and he said: “Master, I pray thee consider my youth, and how I have had no schooling herein, and know nought of ordering men or arraying a battle. All this is nought like defending life and livelihood against a robber when there was none to serve at a pinch, and using one’s mother-wit in dealing with it.” The captain of the Eastcheapers smiled upon him kindly and said: “My son, he who can use his mother-wit to any purpose when the edges be aloft hath learned the more part of battle-craft. Withal it is but a few hours agone that I saw thee handling the men of thine household like to a ripe man. Fear not, my son, but that thou shalt do well enough; and moreover I promise that I will learn thee the craft all I may. And know that if thou deny this, then shalt thou take the heart out of these good fellows, who be eager enough to help the good town and be no mannikins, I warrant them. Naysay it not, my lad, naysay it not.”

Now was Osberne’s heart thumping against his ribs, what for sudden wonder, what for the hope of renown that flashed upon him as a sudden flame of strange light. But withal he thought in himself, and that all suddenly also: If the Sundering Flood is to be encompassed here is indeed the beginning of it, if this good Knight shall be my friend and shall learn me the craft of war, and thereby I become a man of might, to be desired and waged by them who have not had either the craft or the courage to fight for themselves face to face with their foemen.

Wherefore now he turned to the Lawman and said: “Master, it is enough; if the Mote of the neighbours will have me captain I may not naysay it: and may my luck be enough to overcome my childish years: and if not, may I lie on the field and not come back again to hear the mothers and maids curse me for having cast away the lives of their sons and their dears.”

Then spake the Lawman, after he had smiled on Osberne and laid his hand on the lad’s shoulder: “Men of the East Dale, ye be met together to see if ye can in any wise help our friends and neighbours of Eastcheaping, and ye have told off certain men to go in arms for their avail, and will have a captain over them. Now it hath been said to me that he who seems likeliest for the said captain is the young man Osberne Wulfgrimsson of Wethermel, and if this be so, let me hear your voices saying Yea. But even then there will be time for any man of you to name another, if it seem good to him, and that name will also be put to the Mote, and a dozen others if such there be. Now first, what say ye to Osberne Wulfgrimsson?”

Straightway arose a great cheer and the clashing of weapons, and well-nigh every man as it seemed cried out Yea. But when the noise and cry was abated, the Lawman bade any man who would put forth another name. No man spake for a little while, till at last Surly John pushes forth to the front and says: “I name Erling Thomasson, a good man and true!” Brake forth then great laughter and whooping, for the said Erling was a manifest niggard, a dastard who sweated in his bed when the mouse squeaked in the wall a nighttime. But one man sang out: “Yea, Lawman, and I name Surly John.” Thereat was great laughter, and men shoved John to and fro till they had hustled him out to the skirts of the throng, and there bid him go a wolf-hunting.

But now the Lawman takes Osberne by the hand and leads him to the edge of the knoll, and stands there and says: “Men of the Dale, ye would go to the war; ye would take a captain to you; ye would have Osberne Wulfgrimsson for your captain. All this ye have done uncompelled, of your own will; therefore take not the rue if it not turn out so well as ye looked for. But now I bid all them that be going on this journey to lift up their right hands and swear to be leal and true to your captain, Osberne Wulfgrimsson, in all things for life or for death.”

Even so they did with a hearty good will: thereupon Osberne spake and said, after he had a word with [the Knight] Sir Medard, apart: “All ye my men, I have but this to say to you: I hold you trusty and valiant, and men unlike to fight soft. But this I know of you, as of all other of us Dalesmen, that ye are most wont to go each after his own will, and it is well-nigh enough to put a man off from doing a thing if another man say to him, Do it. Now this manner ye must change, since ye are become men-at-arms, and if I bid you go to the right or the left, ye need think of nought but which is your right hand and which the left; though forsooth I wot well that some of ye be so perverse that even that debate may lead you into trouble and contention. Now look to it that ye may not all be captains, and they that try it, so long as I be over you, are like to wend into wild weather. Now stouthearts, and my friends, it is now a little past high noon; and we shall abide here no longer than tomorrow morn, and at daybreak we shall be on our way to Eastcheaping, wherefore that time have yet got to see to your weapons and array, and to say farewell, such of you as be not too far off, to your kindred and wives and sweethearts. And now let all we do our best when we come among the edges, so that hereafter one man may say to another: Thou art as valiant as the Dalesmen when they fought in the war of Eastcheaping.”

Then all men gave a great shout, and were well-nigh weeping-ripe for high heart and for love of him, though a minute before their faces were all agrin, so wise and valiant and kind they deemed his words and the manner of his speaking.

Therewith the Mote brake up, and the men were busy arraying them for departure: and as for Osberne, he had his hands full of work, in giving and taking commandments, and in learning from Sir Medard the beginnings of the lore of battle; so that what hopes he had of making his way to the trysting-place once more were speedily swept aside. And the next morning betimes they set out together, the Dalesmen and the Eastcheapers, in all good fellowship, and in two days’ time came to Eastcheaping; and they were lodged full well by the crafts-masters of the good town. But Sir Medard took Osberne with him up into the Castle and guested him there, that he might the closer teach him his new craft, and an apt scholar he found. Also from the morrow after their coming, the captain, by bidding of the Porte, furnished and arrayed the Dalesmen with weapons, as long spears and good swords and bows and arrows, and jacks and sallets and shields, and they went out into the mead under the Castle to be better assured thereby, and fell to learning how best to handle their weapons. And both their captains and they themselves deemed it best that they should fight a-foot; for though they were good horsemen after their fashion, they would have to learn all in the craft of fighting a-horseback.

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