Wear the days hereafter into summer, and Osberne is at Wethermel, and doth what work cometh to hand no worser than heretofore; yet folk marvel that his sorrow over the man-fall of the Cloven battle seemeth to wear off him but little, though he is mild and kind in speech to all men. Much he sat talking with Stephen the Eater, who in these days was growing whole of his hurts, and it is thought he learned some hidden lore from him, for many deemed that Stephen was wise therein. Every third day he went all alone to the Bight of the Cloven Knoll, and sat there long through the day; but never had he any tidings of Elfhild, nor forsooth did he look for any such. He learned from over the water that there was no newcomer at Hartshaw Knolls, and that the house and garth lay waste, and so was like to abide.
Now when it lacked but three nights of Midsummer, Osberne, after he had spoken long with Stephen, set some victual in his scrip, and went afoot in the evening-tide up the bent and over it among the mountain-necks, and so into that same little dale where he had first met Steelhead. There he sat him down on the grass by the brook-side and ate his meat, and then, when it darkened so much as it would that June night, he laid him down and slept in all trust of safekeeping. He awoke at the end of dawn and washed him in the brook, and then clad him and sat down to abide sunrise. Then even as the sun arose it smote a beam of light from some bright thing overtopping the crown of the hillside before him, and Osberne knew that there was come his friend Steelhead, in such guise as he had first beheld him there: which was in sooth the very thing which he desired.
So Osberne stood up to greet him and Steelhead came to him and put his arms about him and kissed and embraced him, and Osberne wept for pity and hope of his life. Then said Steelhead: “I know why thou art come to me; a while agone I laid my hands upon thee that I might make thy body stark for all adventure, and now thou wouldst have me do the like for the soul of thee. Herein will I do what I may, but first we will eat of the increase of Wethermel, that thou mayest see how much I love thee and the land that bred thee.”
So Osberne bestirred him, and kindled the cooking-fire and made ready the meat, and they ate together in all content and friendliness. But when they were full Steelhead spake: “Now whether wouldst thou be silent thereof, knowing that I know it without words spoken?”
Quoth Osberne: “I would tell it.”
“There is yet time,” said Steelhead, smiling kindly on him, “so make no tarrying.”
The Osberne began straightway, and spared not words overmuch, but herein he used the most when he told of Elfhild, what she was like in those latter days, and how his heart enfolded her, and how sweet was her converse with him; and when he was done Steelhead said: “What is in thy mind concerning dwelling in the Dale amidst thine own folk?” Said Osberne: “My mind it is to live and die here, and do all that is due to the folk of my fathers.” Said Steelhead: “Then thou must be healed of this trouble; that is, thou must forget thy love and thy longing, or at the least thou must think more of other matters than of this. For I will not have it that thou my fosterling shouldst be a kill-joy among men of the kindred; wherefore ill-luck will come of it.”
Said Osberne, knitting his brows: “I will not be healed in this way. For do I not know that she also is wrapped in sorrow and tormented by longing. Shall I leave her, therefore, as the dastard leaves a wounded friend before the oncoming foeman?”
Steelhead smiled on him. Quoth he: “Thou wilt not be healed? So be it; then mayst thou not abide in the Dale amongst the kindred, but carry thy trouble to the lands of the aliens, where there is none to remember the joyous face of thee before the trouble was.”
“This may I do,” said Osberne, “and even so it shall be since it is thy will. But hast nought else to say to enhearten me in my travel?”
“This I have thereto,” quoth Steelhead, “that though the world be wide there are many ways about it, and meseemeth that there is somewhere a way whereon thy feet and Elfhild’s may draw toward one another.” Said Osberne: “May all good hap go with thee for thy word. Dost thou not see how my face is already gladdened thereby?”
Said Steelhead: “This is hope, my son, that flareth up swiftly and fadeth soon; but no this I shall give to thee, as I deem I may, that never shalt thou lack hope so long as thou hast deeds to to. Call to mind what thou thyself saidst unto Elfhild, that the only way to bridge the Sundering Flood is for one of you, or both, to wander wide in the world. But now tell me, what hast thou in thy mind to do in these days that pass?” Said Osberne: “I have been thinking of it, that when the Midsummer Feast is over I shall say farewell to my folk and to ride to Eastcheaping to find Sir Medard; for meseems he is the man whom I know out in the world who will put me in the way of deeds.” Said Steelhead: “And wilt thou go alone, or hast thou a mind to take any with thee? Suppose it were Stephen the Eater, who is a man of lore, and as I do thee to wit moreover, a friend of our own?” “Dost thou command me to have him with me, lord?” said Osberne. “Nay,” said Steelhead, “I but ask thee of thy mind in the matter.”
Said Osberne: “Then I shall tell the that my mind is to go all birdalone. I would take no part of Wethermel with me, lest I soften towards the Dale, and turn back some fair day of summer and fall to nursing my sorrow therein. Moreover I know of Stephen that he is both a wise man and a champion, and I deem it were well to leave such an one to uphold the good days of Wethermel; so that whether I do that which I would, and come back in joy and honour; or do it not, and die away from my place, not without honour it may be, I shall yet know of the thriving of my kindred and the pleasures of Wethermel, which shall yet be glorious on the earth, even as it were a very living creature and mine own true friend. Many a time shall I think of it, in good hap and in ill hap, in grief and in joy.”
“Hail to thy word, son and stout-heart!” said Steelhead, “for herein thou thinkest of it as my very heart would that thou shouldst. Now I see that I have indeed sown the seed of hope in thee, and I call it the lack of fear.”
And now he brought the talk on other matters, and was as kind and friendly as might be, and Osberne deemed it was a great thing for him that he had so won the love of this noble wight and great-heart. So in all pleasure the day sped, and when it was hard on sunset Steelhead spake: “Now must I get me back to my house and home of old time, and thou shalt go home to Wethermel the dear; and now I see of thee that thou shalt hold a cheerful countenance there, and depart when needs must in honour and well-liking of all men.”
So they stood up, but ere Osberne turned his face to the west he said: “And when shall I see thee again, lord?”
“Who knows?” said Steelhead; “maybe when thou lookest least for me: on the lonely marsh maybe, or in the thick of the forest; or in the midst of the fierce battle, or on thy very death-bed; or it may not be at all in thine earthly life.”
“And that house whereto thou art now going, shall I ever see thee there?” said Osberne.
“Surely I deem that thou shalt; and yet most surely not till thine earthly days are over. But now farewell, and my heart goes with thee.” Therewith he turned and was gone, and Osberne went his ways to Wethermel without looking after him. And now it seemed to him as if he had been fain not to have gone back to that well-beloved stead, but to have gone on east at all adventure; and he looked toward the day when he must depart at last as a sad and sore time, when hope would be dimmed by mere sorrow and trouble.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58