The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter xlii. They Deliver the Thorp-Dwellers from the Black Skinners

Now they rode that fair well-peopled land, and nought befel them to tell of till the fourth day thence, and then, as they were riding a good highway with a somewhat steep bank or little hill on their left hands, as they turned about the said hill and had all the plain to their right hands before them, they saw new tidings, and it was just about high noon. For there lay in their road, a mile and a half ahead, a thorp so big that it was well-nigh a little town, but quite unfenced, though many of the houses were were goodly and great as for such a place. But now all was going ill there, for they saw smoke and flames coming forth from the windows and roofs of many of the houses, and a confused crying and shrieking came down the wind to them, and Osberne the keen-eyed deemed he could see folk, some a-horseback, fleeing down the highway toward them. Then Sir Godrick cried out: “Prick on, good men of mine! This is no case for tarrying, these be the Black Skinners, and if we make not the more haste, all will be under fire and steel.”

And he spurred withal, and Osberne after him. But now as they drew nigher there was no naysaying but that folk were fleeing desperately along the highway, and some with their hands spread out to the newcomers as if praying for help, young men and old, women and children; and after them came howling and smiting men-at-arms in wild armour, and though they were not in all ways like to those with whom the Dalesmen had fought by the Sundering Flood, yet somehow they called those wretches to Osberne’s remembrance, and he knew at once what had befallen, and wrath flamed up in his heart, for it well-nigh seemed to him as if Elfhild must have been borne off again. And he unknit the peace-strings from about Boardcleaver, and drew him forth so that a clear humming noise went forth into the sunlit air, and spurred on so hard that he outwent every man there.

But when the Skinners saw those riders coming on, they stayed the chase, and some few tarried while they shot from their short-bows, which did but little harm, and so they hustled back into the thorp; and some few, the first of them, gat through and off into the fields; but the fleers drew aside to the right hand and the left, calling blessings on the good Knight and his, and, when the torrent of them was past, followed after timidly towards their wasted dwelling. And as Sir Godrick and his were within the thorp they found a many of the Skinners there (two hundreds of their carcases were buried afterwards) and all about by the houses lay mangled bodies of the country-folk, some few with weapons in their hands, but more of women and children. But when Godrick and his had slain the first plump that they had driven in from the road, the Knight cried out: “Ye thorp-dwellers, look to quenching the fires, while we slay you these wolf-swine.” Thereon the countrymen began to run together with buckets wherever the riders were before them. And there was a pretty stream running down the mid-most of the street, and though it were dyed with blood that day, it was no worse for the quenching of the flames. Meanwhile Sir Godrick and his set themselves to the work, and it was not right perilous, for the thieves were all about scattermeal in twos and threes, and most afoot robbing and murdering and fire-raising, so that they made but such defence, when they made any, as the rat makes to the terrier. Shortly to say it, in half an hour there was not one of them left alive, save some few who gat to their horses and fled, having cast away their weapons and armour. Then the riders turned to help the thorp-dwellers in quenching their fires, and in some two hours they had got all under wherein was any hope, and the rest they must let burn away.

Then would Sir Godrick have gone his ways, but the poor folk of the thorp prayed him so piteously to abide till the morrow that he had no heart to naysay them. So they brought him and his what things they might get together after the ravage, and begrudged them nought. Moreover in the morning five stout fellows of the younger sort prayed him to take them with him to serve him in war, since they knew not now how to live; so he yeasaid them, nothing loth, and horsed them on the Skinners’ way-beasts, which were good, and armed them with such of their armour as was not too filthy for decent men to use. The rest of the horses and gear they left to the thorp-abiders, to better their hard case withal.

So they departed, and that same day they came on two other thorps, but not so big as this, which had been utterly ravaged, so that there was neither dog nor cat therein, save in one house two little men-children of two and three years old, whom they brought away with them for pity’s sake.

The next day they came to a cheaping-town, walled and defensible, whose gates were shut for fear of the Skinners. But when Sir Godrick had spoken to the captain of the guard at the gate, and had told him how they had fared of late, and of the slaughter of the Skinners, they opened to them joyfully, and made them kindly welcome, and there they rested a three days, of which rest their way-beasts had great need.

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