When morning was, there were horns sounding from the tower on the toft, and all men hastening in their war-gear to the topmost of the other toft, the bare one, whereon was no building; for thereon was ever the mote-stead of these woodmen. But men came not only from the stead and houses of the Tofts, but also from the woodland cots and dwellings anigh, of which were no few. And they that came there first found King Christopher sitting on the mound amid the mote-stead, and Jack of the Tofts and his seven sons sitting by him, and all they well-weaponed and with green coats over their hauberks; and they that came last found three hundreds of good men and true gathered there, albeit this was but the Husting of the Tofts.
So when there were no more to come, then was the Mote hallowed, and the talk began; but short and sharp was their rede, for well did all men wot who had been in the hall the night before that there was now no time to lose. For though nigh all the men that had been in the hall were well known to each other, yet might there perchance have been some spy unknown, who had edged him in as a guest to one of the good men. Withal, as the saw saith: The word flieth, the wight dieth. And it were well if they might gather a little host ere their foeman might gather a mickle.
First therefore arose Jack of the Tofts, and began shortly to put forth the sooth, that there was come the son of King Christopher the Old, and that now he was seeking to his kingdom, not for lust of power and gain, but that he might be the friend of good men and true, and uphold them and be by them upholden. And saith he: “Look ye on the face of this man, and tell me where ye shall find a friend friendlier than he, and more single-hearted?” And therewith he laid his hand on Christopher’s head, and the young man rose up, blushing like a maid, and thereafter a long time could no lord be heard for the tumult of gladness and the clashing of weapons.
But when it was a little hushed, then spake Jack again: “Now need no man say more to man on this matter, for ye call this curly-headed lad the King of Oakenrealm, even as some of ye did last night.”
Mighty was the shout of yea-say that arose at that word; and when it was stilled, a grey-head stood up and said: “King Christopher, and thou, our leader, whom we shall henceforth call Earl, it is now meet that we shear up the war-arrow, and send it forth to whithersoever we deem our friends dwell, and that this be done at once here in this Mote, and that the hosting be after three nights’ frist in the plain of Hazeldale, which all ye know is twelve miles nigher to Oakenrealm than this.”
All men yea-said this, no one gainsaid it; and straightway was fire kindled and the bull slain, for the said elder had brought him thither; and the arrow was sheared and scorched and reddened, and the runners were fetched, and the word given them, and they were sped on their errand.
Up rose then another, a young man, and spake: “Many stout fellows be here, and some wise and well-ruled, and many also hot-head and wilful: Child Christopher is King now, and we all know him that when he cometh into the fray he is like to strike three strokes for two that any other winneth; but as to his lore of captainship, if he hath any, he was born with it, as is like enough, seeing who was his father; therefore we need a captain well-proven, to bid us how to turn hither and thither, and where to gather thickest, and where to spread thinnest; and when to fall on fiercely and when to give way, and let the thicket cover us; for wise in war shall our foemen be. Now therefore if anyone needeth a better captain than our kin-father and war-father Jack of the Tofts, he must needs go fetch him from otherwhere! How sayest thou, Christopher lad?”
Great cheer there was at the word, and laughter no little therewith. But Christopher stood up, and took Jack by the hand, and said: “Now say I, that if none else follow this man into battle, yet will I; and if none else obey him to go backward or forward to the right hand or to the left as he biddeth, yet will I. Thou, Wilfrid Wellhead, look to it that thou dost no less. But ye folk, what will ye herein?”
So they all yea-said Jack of the Tofts for captain; and forsooth they might do no less, for he was wary and wise, and had done many deeds, and seen no little of warfare.
Then again arose a man of some forty winters, strong built and not ungoodly, but not merry of countenance, and he spake: “King and war-leader, I have a word to say: We be wending to battle, we carles, with spear in fist and sword by side; and if we die in the fray, of the day’s work is it; but what do we with our kinswomen, as mothers and daughters and wives and she-friends, and the little ones they have borne us? For, see ye! this warfare we are faring, maybe it shall not last long, and yet maybe it shall; and then may the foeman go about us and fall on this stead if we leave them behind here with none to guard them; and if, on the other hand, we leave them men enough for their warding, then we minish our host overmuch. What do we then?”
Then spake Jack of the Tofts: “This is well thought of by Haward of Whiteacre, and we must look to it. And, by my rede, we shall have our women and little ones with us; and why not? For we shall then but be moving Toftstead as we move; and ever to some of us hath it been as a camp rather than an house. Moreover, ye know it, that our women be no useless and soft queans, who durst not lie under the oak boughs for a night or two, or wade a water over their ankles, but valiant they be, and kind, and helpful; and many of them are there who can draw a bow with the best, and, it may be, push a spear if need were. How say ye, lads?”
Now this also they yea-said gladly; forsooth they had scarce been fain of leaving the women behind, at least the younger ones, even had they been safe at the Tofts; for there is no time when a man would gladlier have a fair woman in his arms than when battle and life-peril are toward.
Thereafter the Mote sundered, when the Captain had bidden his men this and that matter that each should look to; and said that he, for his part, with King Christopher and a chosen band, would set off for Hazeldale on the morrow morn, whereas some deal of the gathering would of a certainty be come thither by then; and that there was enough left of that day to see to matters at the Tofts.
So all men went about their business, which was, for the most part, seeing to the victualling of the host.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53