The House of the Wolfings, by William Morris, , at sacred-texts.com
CHAPTER XXVIII—OF THE STORM OF DAWNING
Then Thiodolf bade Fox and two others steal forward, and see what of foemen was before them; so they fell to creeping on towards the open: but scarcely had they started, before all men could hear the tramp of men drawing nigh; then Thiodolf himself took with him a score of his House and went quietly toward the wood-edge till they were barely within the shadow of the beech-wood; and he looked forth and saw men coming straight towards their lurking-place. And those he saw were a good many, and they were mostly of the dastards of the Goths; but with them was a Captain of an Hundred of the Romans, and some others of his kindred; and Thiodolf deemed that the Goths had been bidden to gather up some of the night-watchers and enter the wood and fall on the stay-at-homes. So he bade his men get them aback, and he himself abode still at the very wood's edge listening intently with his sword bare in his hand. And he noted that those men of the foe stayed in the daylight outside the wood, but a few yards from it, and, by command as it seemed, fell silent and spake no word; and the morn was very still, and when the sound of their tramp over the grass had ceased, Thiodolf could hear the tramp of more men behind them. And then he had another thought, to wit that the Romans had sent scouts to see if the Goths yet abided on the vantage-ground by the ford, and that when they had found them gone, they were minded to fall on them unawares in the refuge of the Thing-stead and were about to do so by the counsel and leading of the dastard Goths; and that this was one body of the host led by those dastards, who knew somewhat of the woods. So he drew aback speedily, and catching hold of Fox by the shoulder (for he had taken him alone with him) he bade him creep along through the wood toward the Thing-stead, and bring back speedy word whether there were any more foemen near the wood thereaway; and he himself came to his men, and ordered them for onset, drawing them up in a shallow half moon, with the bowmen at the horns thereof, with the word to loose at the Romans as soon as they heard the war-horn blow: and all this was done speedily and with little noise, for they were well nigh so arrayed already.
Thus then they waited, and there was more than a glimmer of light even under the beechen leaves, and the eastern sky was yellowing to sunrise. The other warriors were like hounds in the leash eager to be slipped; but Thiodolf stood calm and high-hearted turning over the memory of past days, and the time he thought of seemed long to him, but happy.
Scarce had a score of minutes passed, and the Romans before them, who were now gathered thick behind those dastards of the Goths, had not moved, when back comes Fox and tells how he has come upon a great company of the Romans led by their thralls of the Goths who were just entering the wood, away there towards the Thing-stead.
"But, War-duke," says he, "I came also across our own folk of the second battle duly ordered in the wood ready to meet them; and they shall be well dealt with, and the sun shall rise for us and not for them."
Then turns Thiodolf round to those nighest to him and says, but still softly:
"Hear ye a word, O people, of the wisdom of the foe!
Before us thick they gather, and unto the death they go.
They fare as lads with their cur-dogs who have stopped a fox's earth,
And standing round the spinny, now chuckle in their mirth,
Till one puts by the leafage and trembling stands astare
At the sight of the Wood wolf's father arising in his lair—
They have come for our wives and our children, and our sword-edge shall they meet;
And which of them is happy save he of the swiftest feet?"
Speedily then went that word along the ranks of the Kindred, and men were merry with the restless joy of battle: but scarce had two minutes passed ere suddenly the stillness of the dawn was broken by clamour and uproar; by shouts and shrieks, and the clashing of weapons from the wood on their left hand; and over all arose the roar of the Markmen's horn, for the battle was joined with the second company of the Kindreds. But a rumour and murmur went from the foemen before Thiodolf's men; and then sprang forth the loud sharp word of the captains commanding and rebuking, as if the men were doubtful which way they should take.
Amidst all which Thiodolf brandished his sword, and cried out in a great voice:
"Now, now, ye War-sons!
Now the Wolf waketh!
Lo how the Wood-beast
Wendeth in onset.
E'en as his feet fare
Fall on and follow!"
And he led forth joyously, and terrible rang the long refrained gathered shout of his battle as his folk rushed on together devouring the little space between their ambush and the hazel-beset greensward.
In the twinkling of an eye the half-moon had lapped around the Roman-Goths and those that were with them; and the dastards made no stand but turned about at once, crying out that the Gods of the Kindreds were come to aid and none could withstand them. But these fleers thrust against the band of Romans who were next to them, and bore them aback, and great was the turmoil; and when Thiodolf's storm fell full upon them, as it failed not to do, so close were they driven together that scarce could any man raise his hand for a stroke. For behind them stood a great company of those valiant spearmen of the Romans, who would not give way if anywise they might hold it out: and their ranks were closely serried, shield nigh touching shield, and their faces turned toward the foe; and so arrayed, though they might die, they scarce knew how to flee. As they might these thrust and hewed at the fleers, and gave fierce words but few to the Roman-Goths, driving them back against their foemen: but the fleers had lost the cunning of their right hands, and they had cast away their shields and could not defend their very bodies against the wrath of the kindreds; and when they strove to flee to the right hand or to the left, they were met by the horns of the half-moon, and the arrows began to rain in upon them, and from so close were they shot at that no shaft failed to smite home.
There then were the dastards slain; and their bodies served for a rampart against the onrush of the Markmen to those Romans who had stood fast. To them were gathering more and more every minute, and they faced the Goths steadily with their hard brown visages and gleaming eyes above their iron- plated shields; not casting their spears, but standing closely together, silent, but fierce. The light was spread now over all the earth; the eastern heavens were grown golden-red, flecked here and there with little crimson clouds: this battle was fallen near silent, but to the North was great uproar of shouts and cries, and the roaring of the war-horns, and the shrill blasts of the brazen trumpets.
Now Thiodolf, as his wont was when he saw that all was going well, had refrained himself of hand-strokes, but was here and there and everywhere giving heart to his folk, and keeping them in due order, and close array, lest the Romans should yet come among them. But he watched the ranks of the foe, and saw how presently they began to spread out beyond his, and might, if it were not looked to, take them in flank; and he was about to order his men anew to meet them, when he looked on his left hand and saw how Roman men were pouring thick from the wood out of all array, followed by a close throng of the kindreds: for on this side the Romans were outnumbered and had stumbled unawares into the ambush of the Markmen, who had fallen on them straightway and disarrayed them from the first. This flight of their folk the Romans saw also, and held their men together, refraining from the onset, as men who deem that they will have enough to do to stand fast.
But the second battle of the Markmen, (who were of the Nether-mark, mingled with the Mid-mark) fought wisely, for they swept those fleers from before them, slaying many and driving the rest scattering, yet held the chase for no long way, but wheeling about came sidelong on toward the battle of the Romans and Thiodolf. And when Thiodolf saw that, he set up the whoop of victory, he and his, and fell fiercely on the Romans, casting everything that would fly, as they rushed on to the handplay; so that there was many a Roman slain with the Roman spears that those who had fallen had left among their foemen.
Now the Roman captains perceived that it availed not to tarry till the men of the Mid and Nether-marks fell upon their flank; so they gave command, and their ranks gave back little by little, facing their foes, and striving to draw themselves within the dike and garth, which, after their custom, they had already cast up about the Wolfing Roof, their stronghold.
Now as fierce as was the onset of the Markmen, the main body of the Romans could not be hindered from doing this much before the men of the second battle were upon them; but Thiodolf and Arinbiorn with some of the mightiest brake their array in two places and entered in amongst them. And wrath so seized upon the soul of Arinbiorn for the slaying of Otter, and his own fault towards him, that he cast away his shield, and heeding no strokes, first brake his sword in the press, and then, getting hold of a great axe, smote at all before him as though none smote at him in turn; yea, as though he were smiting down tree-boles for a match against some other mighty man; and all the while amidst the hurry, strokes of swords and spears rained on him, some falling flatwise and some glancing sideways, but some true and square, so that his helm was smitten off and his hauberk rent adown, and point and edge reached his living flesh; and he had thrust himself so far amidst the foe that none could follow to shield him, so that at last he fell shattered and rent at the foot of the new clayey wall cast up by the Romans, even as Thiodolf and a band with him came cleaving the press, and the Romans closed the barriers against friend and foe, and cast great beams adown, and masses of iron and lead and copper taken from the smithying-booths of the Wolfings, to stay them if it were but a little.
Then Thiodolf bestrode the fallen warrior, and men of his House were close behind him, for wisely had he fought, cleaving the press like a wedge, helping his friends that they might help him, so that they all went forward together. But when he saw Arinbiorn fall he cried out:
"Woe's me, Arinbiorn! that thou wouldest not wait for me; for the day is young yet, and over-young!"
There then they cleared the space outside the gate, and lifted up the Bearing Warrior, and bare him back from the rampart. For so fierce had been the fight and so eager the storm of those that had followed after him that they must needs order their battle afresh, since Thiodolf's wedge which he had driven into the Roman host was but of a few and the foe had been many and the rampart and the shot-weapons were close anigh. Wise therefore it seemed to abide them of the second battle and join with them to swarm over the new-built slippery wall in the teeth of the Roman shot.
In this, the first onset of the Morning Battle, some of the Markmen had fallen, but not many, since but a few had entered outright into the Roman ranks; and when they first rushed on from the wood but three of them were slain, and the slaughter was all of the dastards and the Romans; and afterwards not a few of the Romans were slain, what by Arinbiorn, what by the others; for they were fighting fleeing, and before their eyes was the image of the garth-gate which was behind them; and they stumbled against each other as they were driven sideways against the onrush of the Goths, nor were they now standing fair and square to them, and they were hurried and confused with the dread of the onset of them of the two Marks.
As yet Thiodolf had gotten no great hurt, so that when he heard that Arinbiorn's soul had passed away he smiled and said:
"Yea, yea, Arinbiorn might have abided the end, for ere then shall the battle be hard."
So now the Wolfings and the Bearings met joyously the kindreds of the Nether Mark and the others of the second battle, and they sang the song of victory arrayed in good order hard by the Roman rampart, while bowstrings twanged and arrows whistled, and sling-stones hummed from this side and from that.
And of their song of victory thus much the tale telleth:
"Now hearken and hear
Of the day-dawn of fear,
And how up rose the sun
On the battle begun.
All night lay a-hiding,
Our anger abiding,
Dark down in the wood
The sharp seekers of blood;
But ere red grew the heaven we bore them all bare,
For against us undriven the foemen must fare;
They sought and they found us, and sorrowed to find,
For the tree-boles around us the story shall mind,
How fast from the glooming they fled to the light,
Yeasaying the dooming of Tyr of the fight.
"Hearken yet and again
How the night gan to wane,
And the twilight stole on
Till the world was well won!
E'en in such wise was wending
A great host for our ending;
On our life-days e'en so
Stole the host of the foe;
Till the heavens grew lighter, and light grew the world,
And the storm of the fighter upon them was hurled,
Then some fled the stroke, and some died and some stood,
Till the worst of the storm broke right out from the wood,
And the war-shafts were singing the carol of fear,
The tale of the bringing the sharp swords anear.
"Come gather we now,
For the day doth grow.
Come, gather, ye bold,
Lest the day wax old;
Lest not till to-morrow
We slake our sorrow,
And heap the ground
With many a mound.
Come, war-children, gather, and clear we the land!
In the tide of War-father the deed is to hand.
Clad in gear that we gilded they shrink from our sword;
In the House that we builded they sit at the board;
Come, war-children, gather, come swarm o'er the wall
For the feast of War-father to sweep out the Hall!"
Now amidst of their singing the sun rose upon the earth, and gleamed in the arms of men, and lit the faces of the singing warriors as they stood turned toward the east.
In this first onset of battle but twenty and three Markmen were slain in all, besides Arinbiorn; for, as aforesaid, they had the foe at a disadvantage. And this onset is called in the tale the Storm of Dawning.