The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter xlviii. Sir Godrick Is Chosen Burgreve of the City

But on the third of those four days came a man to Osberne early in the morning, and told him that the foe were holding the East Gate somewhat heedlessly, and that they had lost many in those last battles. Wherefore Osberne looked to it, and gat three hundreds of picked men, and passing through byways of the streets came to the townward end of the said gate but a little after sunrise, and without more ado made at the doors of the gate, which were but half shut. There they drave the few guards in, and followed on them pell-mell; and to make a long story short, they presently won the gate utterly with but little loss, and all those inside, who were scarce three hundreds, slain or taken. Now you may judge if this were good news for Sir Godrick, when with mickle labour and not a little loss he had won the town on the east side of the Sundering Flood.

But now, when they had won so much, they had yet to carry the war into the west side of the Flood, where was forsooth the chief strength of the King and the Porte. For there was the King’s palace and the great gildhall, both whereof were buildings defensible, and moreover they had full command of all the haven and the ships therein, for they had all the quays and landing-places and warehouses; so that both the sea and the river was under their wielding. Two bridges, made of great barges linked together, crossed the Flood, one near to the haven, the other a good way higher up; nor had the King and his thought it good to break either of them down. Both had fair and great castles to guard them at either side.

So now when Sir Godrick and the Council of the Lesser Crafts had met in divers motes with Osberne and other captains of the Longshaw host, it yet seemed a great matter that they had to deal with; and that if they had won many victories, they had yet to win the great one. And all men saw what would have befallen if the Barons’ League had not been so utterly broken up the year before. But now the greatest gain which Sir Godrick and the Lesser Crafts had was that they by no means lacked men, and those of the best; and though they were shut out from chaffer with the merchants of the City, yet whereas the whole countryside was open to them because of the riders of Longshaw, they were not like to fall short of victuals. Though true it is that the King’s men set swift keels on the Sundering Flood stuffed of men-at-arms, and these would land on the eastern bank so far as a twenty or thirty miles up, and plunder and ravage the country-folk, or whiles would come upon trains of victuals and suchlike wending towards the eastern city; and many fierce deeds they did, which made them no better beloved, so that men got to saying that the King’s men were but little better than the very Skinners themselves. Moreover, it is not to be said but that often these reivers and lifters were met by the riders of Longshaw or the weaponed men of the country-side, and put to the worse by them, and such as were taken at these times had nought for it save the noose on the tree.

Thus then these two hosts looked across the Sundering Flood on each other; and surely, unless the Craftsmen had been valiant and stubborn beyond most, they had lost heart, whereas war was not their mystery. Skirmishes there were a many. Whiles Sir Godrick would gather such boats and barges as they had, and thrust over into the haven, and lay hold of some good ship and strive to have her over to their side. Whiles they might do nought therein, and whiles they prevailed; but even then the King’s men contrived to set fire aboard the craft and spoil their play. Again, from time to time the King’s men would set certain ships and barges across the Flood, and strive to land and skirmish on the east side. But herein they but seldom gained aught, but they in turn would have their ships burned and their men slain or taken. Thus then it went on, and now one now the other came to their above; but neither might make an end of it.

At last, on a day when September was well worn, the King’s folk came to the midmost of the upper bridge with a white shield held aloft and a herald, and craved safe conduct for three of theirs, an old knight to wit, and two aldermen of the Porte; this was granted, and they came all to the North Gate, and the council-chamber of the Lesser Crafts therein. There they set forth their errand, which was in short that they would have peace if it might be had on such terms as were better than war and destruction. The men of the Small Crafts took their errand well, and asked them how long they might tarry, so that they might bear back conditions of peace. The messengers said that they were not looked for back that day, and the others said that by the next day at noon they would be all ready to send three of theirs back across the water with the terms of peace. Then were the messengers handed over to the guest-masters and made much of, and the masters of the Crafts fell to close council with Sir Godrick and his captains.

Now whatever other terms they bade need not be told, but the heart of the matter was this: First that so many of the masters of the Small Crafts should sit on the Great Council of the City, and that enough of them to make them of due weight in the Council. This they doubted not to gain since the war had gone with them. But the other was a harder matter, to wit, that a Burgreve should be appointed to govern the City, and that he should be of might to hold a good guard, and eke it at his will and the will of the Great Council; the said Burgreve to be chosen by all the Gilds of Craft, voting one with another, and not by the Great Council; which, as things went, would give the naming of him into the hands of the Lesser Crafts, who were more than the great ones, though far less rich and mighty. This indeed seemed like to be hard to swallow, whereas it was much like putting the King out of his place. Yet some said that belike by this time the Porte was grown mightier than the King, and if they would have it so, then would he have to give way. Herein they were doubtless right; but another thing had happened of which they knew nought, which was driving the King and Porte both toward peace, to wit that a king from over-sea had sent heralds defying the King, and that his host was to be looked for in no long while, and the King and the Porte both knew that they might make no head against him, so divided as they of the City then were. Wherefore when on the next day the three King’s men bore back the terms of peace, they tarried by a little while, and came back in two hours with safe conduct for as many as Sir Godrick and the Small Crafts would send. Whereon Sir Godrick and two of the Crafts were chosen, and went back across the water straightway, and without any tarrying fell to council with the King and the Porte. There they soon found what had befallen, and that their matter was like to be carried through with a wet finger, for the others were in hot haste both to make peace and to get the swords of Longshaw on their side against the Outland men. Nor did they gainsay any one condition on which the Small Crafts had put forward, but added only this one thing, that the host of Longshaw should join with them in defending the City against the Outland men. Hereto Sir Godrick accorded well, for he had no mind that all his battle for the Small Crafts of the City should have been of no avail, as it would be if Outlanders were to conquer the city and play the tyrant there.

The very next day then was peace signed and sealed on the terms abovesaid. And three days thereafter the Porte and the Crafts went about the choosing of the Burgreve. As none doubted it would be, Sir Godrick was chosen, and, which had scarce been looked for, none else was named; both big crafts and little would have none but he.

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