The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter vi. They Fare to the Cloven Mote

And now the days wore away to winter, and ever thereafter might Osberne do what he would, and go where he would, for as little a lad as he was; but he worked with a good will if he were uncompelled, and if he were suffered to wander at whiles as his will drave him. Forsooth, since he had no fellows of a like age to him, it was whiles that he found the open field or the waste gave him better fellowship than the older folk, yea even than the women.

Winter came, and the snow and the frost, which was not very hard in that land, as many would have been glad if it were, for then might the Sundering Flood have been laid with ice, which never betid. On the morning of Yule day, Osberne and his grandsire and grandam got under way long before daylight, that they might go to the Cloven Mote, and hear the Christmass in the church of Allhallows, which had been builded on the east side of the water to be the church of the Mote; but on the other side of the water was another church like to it in all ways, and under the same invocation, for the Western folk. This was the first time that Osberne had been boun to the Mote, and withal both the women were wont to stay at home: but this time nought would serve the goodwife but she must wend with her man, that she might show her darling and her champion to the neighbours. It was a matter of seven miles down the water to the Mote-stead, and they went aslant over the snow-covered fields, and hit the riverbank about half way, and went thence along the very lip of the water. And by then it was pretty much daylight; and Osberne looked over the water and saw about a half mile off (for the day was clear) two little knolls rising from the field, and betwixt them and about them a shaw of small wood; and he asked his grandsire what that might be, for hitherto he had never been so far down the water; whereas before he slew the wolves, down the water was banned to him, and after that he had been busy about the houses and folds, or driving the sheep to the bents day by day.

So his grandsire answered him: “That is hight Hartshaw, and we are told that on the other side of the shaw and the knolls looking west is a stead with houses inhabited, and the whole place is hight Hartshaw Knolls.” Said Osberne: “I would we were there a while, for as I look at the stead it seemeth friendly to me, and I fare to feel that the folk thereof shall come into my life some day.” Answered the goodman: “We hear that little dwelleth there save a widow-woman and her one child, a little maiden. And as to thy one day, it shall be a long while coming; for long and long shall it be for any one to encompass the Sundering Flood, save the Winter of Fear come upon us, and all the land be overlaid with ice, and the waters of the Flood be stayed; which may God and Allhallows forfend.”

The lad said nought for a while; and then he said: “Goodman, I would we had gone down to riverbank from out our own door, and gone all along the Flood-side to the Mote; for it were pleasant to have looked across the Flood, thinking of all there is on the other side, and wondering if we shall ever get there. Why did we not this, for on the very bank the going is better?” Said the carle: “We have come the shortest way this bitter morning; that is all.”

Herein he lied; for they had gone that slant-way to give the go-by to a certain place of the Flood-bank which the Dale-dwellers deemed perilous; but thereof he would not tell the little carle, now that he was become so masterful, deeming that if he heard of any peril toward he would be all agog to try the adventure thereof, as forsooth was true. Of this place, which lay now but just behind them, shall more be told hereafter.

Now they come to the Mote in good time when the sun was but just arisen, and there was already a throng; and at their coming the folk on the western side raised a shout, as the folk on either side were wont to welcome newcomers; but the very first man they hit upon was Surly John; and the goodwife, a soft, kind woman, hailed him friendly, and was fain to have some one whom she knew unto whom to tell her tale of the champion and the wolves. For indeed it needs must out to the very first comer, and out it came now, many worded, and folk, both men and women, gathered about the twain to hearken; for the goodwife told it all well and without hitch.

Surly John must needs abide the telling of it, but when it was done he said: “Well, dame, so it is that I always deemed the lad kenspeckle; and it has moreover turned out as I warned you, that you have got a new master over you.” And therewith he turned away; but of those others who heard the tale there were more than one or two who praised it much, and deemed it marvellous as might well be that a child should have faced and slain those three monsters who had put two stout men to flight. And one man made up this stave, which was presently sung all about the Eastern Mote, and went over the water with the tale to the Western one:

To run and to fight

Are deeds free to the wight,

And John tried in battle

Had heard the boards rattle,

But needed to prove

The race back to the stove;

So his wightness he showed

In way-wearing the road.

While Osberne, who knew

How the foot-race to do,

Must try the new game

Where the battle-beasts came.

Bairn for fight, but for running the strong man and tall,

And all folk for the laughter when both are in hall.

When Surly John heard this stave he cursed between his teeth, but said nought.

But now on either side, the churches fell to ringing to mass, and all folk fared to service. And Osberne sat in a good place amongst the carles, and forsooth he had both ears and eyes open, both then and all day. Mass over, the cooking-fires were lighted and tents were pitched on either side the water, and in a while they went to dinner; and thereafter, when they had sung a while, came the time of drinking, and folk were paired, men and women so far as might be, for more men there were than women. But whereas all men save Surly John were well with Osberne, there was gotten for his mate a fair young damsel of but seventeen winters, and Osberne, who had looked hard on all the women who were well-liking (for he had seen but very seldom any women save those two of his kinfolk), was amazed with joy when the dear maid pulled down her hood and pulled off her gloves. And whereas she was shy of him because of his doughtiness, for all that he was but a child, it was not until they had drunk a cup or two that he took heart to set his hand to her neck and kiss her cheeks and her mouth, whereat she blushed rosy red, and all they that were in the tent laughed and cheered. But thereafter they fell to sweet speech and talked much, and he held her hand when the end of the feast was done; which was after this wise, that folk stood on the the very lip of the river in one long row, hand in hand, and the loving-cup went down each row, and they cried healths to each other, and then lifted up their voices and shouted all together, and so undid the Mote and parted. And this time (and it was dark save for the fires flaring behind them) it was the maid that kissed Osberne; neither needed she, a tall damsel though she was, to stoop much thereto, for right big and tall he was of his years.

So then all went back each to his own home. And the winter wore away at Wethermel with nought to tell of.

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