The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter xliii. They Come to the Edge of the Wood Masterless

Now when they went on thence, they came within two days into a country all broken up into little hills and ridges, and beset with scraggy shaws, wherein were but few men and fewer dwellings, and the men either hunters or herders of neat, well-nigh wild, and this lasted them for three days more; but they knew hereof beforehand, and had made provision therefor at that last cheaping.

But at the end of the three days they came to a place where was a narrow stretch of green mead and a few acres in the wilderness, and a little river ran through all that, and above it on a height, steep and wellnigh sheer on all sides save one, was a castle high and strong, and as they drew nigh thereto Osberne saw a banner thrust out from the highest tower, and the Knight said to him: “Red Lad, whose banner is that?”

“I wot not,” said Osberne.

“Canst thou see the blazon of it?” said Sir Godrick.

“Yea,” said the other; “it hath a White Hart collared and chained with gold and emparked on a green ground.”

“Sooth is that,” said Sir Godrick. “Now look behind thee over thy shoulder.” Even so did Osberne, and saw a banner borne by one of theirs, and the selfsame blazon on it; and now he called to mind that never erst had he seen Sir Godrick’s banner displayed. And he laughed and wondered, and was some little deal abashed, and he said: “Lord, is this Longshaw?” Laughed the Knight in his turn, and said: “What, thou deemest this no very lordly castle for him who hath to withstand barons and portes and kings? Nay lad, look again and tell me if thou seest the Long Shaw; this is called Woodneb, and therein is a captain of mine who hight Edward the Brown, and therein shall we rest a while ere we enter the Wood Masterless. And hence onward to the Long Shaw is a twelve days’ journey if all go well.”

Now when Osberne heard that he was the better content, for in good sooth that desert-hold seemed all too strait to keep within its walls the valiancy of Sir Godrick and his host.

So presently the gates were thrown open, and folk gaily clad and armed came forth to meet their lord and his new men, and before them went Edward the Brown, a short thick man, but very sturdy-looking, his hair cut short to his head; small brown eyes [had he] and short nose, so that he looked somewhat like a bear; but a valiant man he was, and a trusty.

There then they had good entertainment, as men who were at home again, and they abode there seven days [ere] they departed, and had good disport of hunting and hawking; and there was much minstrelsy and tale-telling in the hall a-nights: and there must Osberne tell what stories he knew of the war of Eastcheaping and the matters of the Dale, both the tidings of his own day and of the days of his fathers; and therewith were men well content, for a good tale-teller he was.

No little also he talked with Sir Godrick, and especially on one matter: for his mind dwelt much on those same Skinners whom they had overthrown, and he kept weighing them against those evil aliens with whom he had fought across the Sundering Flood, and who, he deemed full surely, had borne away Elfhild. And on a day he asked Sir Godrick concerning it, and if these two sorts of wretches had aught to do with it; and he told him all the story of that battle, and what like his foemen were in body and array, and of their horses and armour and weapons, and of their shrieks and the gibbering of their Latin.

Then said Sir Godrick: “I will tell thee what meseemeth of thy foemen of that day, that they be of the kindred of these Black Skinners, though of another tribe, so that men call them the Red Skinners, though ye shall know that neither the Red nor the Black call themselves Skinners, which is but a name of terror which the country-folk have fixed on them for their evil deeds. Now further, although the Red Skinners be worse than any man else, they are not so bad as the Black. That is, they are more like men and less like wolves standing upright: to wit, they waste not and destroy not everything forthright, but keep it to make some gain thereof. As for example, they slay not and rip not up all their captives whatsoever they may be, but keep such as they may deem likely to sell to the thrall-cheapers. Now as to thy foes being of this ill folk, I deem it more like the more I think thereof, for not only hast thou given me a true picture of their aspect, but it is mostly the other side of the Sundering Flood which they haunt, though whiles we meet them about the borders of the Wood Masterless nigh unto the Flood. Withal I must tell thee, that though I speak of both the Black and the Red Skinners as of nations or tribes, I say not but they be mingled with runagates of divers folks; for whatever is worst or evillest or cruellest will drift toward them; and I wot not but that these men be worse than they of the blood, having in them more malice and grudging. But this I know for sure, that these are they who set them to work on such a business, and spy for them, and sell them their plunder, as they may well do since they are of aspect like other folk and know their tongues — But what aileth thee, Red Lad, to look so wan and so perturbed of countenance? Hast thou aught on thine heart which you wouldst tell me?”

“That have I,” said Osberne: and so shortly as he might he told his lord the whole tale of his dealings with Elfhild, and how she had vanished away before hand might [touch] hand or face face; and how he deemed that she had been borne off by these same Red Skinners. And when he had done Sir Godrick said: “Poor lad, and this was the cause then that made thee so eager to take service along with me! Well, thou hast done wisely; for first, thou hast got thee a faithful friend; and next, if thou never amendest it nor settest eyes on the maiden again, yet surely the doing of deeds shall ease thy sorrow, till at last it shall be scarce a sorrow to thee, but a tale of the past. And moreover, in coming to my house thou shalt have come to the only place where thou mayst perchance happen on tidings of her; since with these men we have to do, and also at whiles with those who deal with them by way of chaffer. And if we fall in with any of the Red ones, thou shalt make what captives thou wilt, and for the saving of their lives they may tell thee somewhat to further thy search. Hold up thine head then! for surely even now thou art doing all that thou mayst in the matter.”

Herewith must Osberne be content perforce, and in sooth his heart was the lighter that he had told his trouble to so good a friend as was Sir Godrick.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/morris/william/m87su/chapter43.html

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