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About the Author
Polymath William Morris (1834–96) was a prolific writer of novels and essays as well as a translator of medieval texts. Although best known in his lifetime as a poet, Morris is chiefly remembered today for his designs, which he issued from his highly successful decorative arts firm. He also founded the Kelmscott Press, which he dedicated to the hand-printing of a select number of beautiful books.
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Of a river called the Sundering flood, and of the folk that dwelt thereby.
It is told that there was once a mighty river which ran South into the sea, and at the mouth thereof was a great and rich city, which had been builded and had waxed and thriven because of the great & most excellent haven which the river aforesaid made where it fell into the sea» and now it was like looking at a huge wood of barked and smoothened fir/trees when one saw the masts of the ships that lay in the said haven.
But up this river ran the flood of tide a long way, so that biggest of dromonds and round-ships might fare along it, & oft they lay amid pleasant up/country places, with their yards all but touching the windows of the husbandman's stead, and their bowsprits thrusting forth amongst the middens, and the routing swine, and querulous hens; and the uneasy lads and lasses sitting at high/mass of the Sunday in the grey village church would see the tall masts dimly amidst the painted saints of the aisle windows, and their minds would wander from the mass/hackled priest and the words & the gestures of him, and see visions of far countries & outlandish folk, & some would be heart/smitten with that desire of wandering & looking on new things which so oft the sea-beat board and the wind/strained pine bear with them to the dwellings of the stay/at/homes: & to some it seemed as if, when they went from out the church, they should fall in with St. Thomas of India stepping over the gangway, and come to visit their uplandish Christmas and the Yule/feast of the field-abiders of mid/winter frost. And more/ over, when the tide failed, & there was no longer a flood to bear the sea/going keels up/stream, and that was hard on an hundred of miles from the sea, yet was this great river a noble and wide-spreading water, and the downlong stream thereof not so heavy nor so fierce but that the barges and lesser heels might well spread their sails when the south/west wind blew, & fare on without beating; or if the wind were fouler for them, they that were loth to reach from shore to shore, might be tracked up by the draught of horses and bullocks, and bear the wares of the merchants to many a cheaping.
Other rivers moreover not a few fell into this main flood,& of them were some no lesser than the Thames is at Abingdon, where I, who gathered this tale, dwell in the house of the Black Canons blessed be St. William, and St. Richard, and the holy Austin our candle in the dark! Yea & some were even bigger, so that the land was well furnished both of fisheries and water-ways.
Now the name of this river was the Sundering flood, and the city at the mouth thereof was called the City of the Sundering flood. And it is no wonder, considering all that I have told concerning the wares & chaffer that it bore up/country, though the folk of the City and its lands, and the city/folk in special, knew no cause for this name. Nay, oft they jested & gibed and gabbed, for they loved their river much & were proud of it; wherefore they said it was no sunderer but a uniter; that it joined land to land & shore to shore; that it had peopled the wilderness and made the waste places blossom, & that no highway for wheels and beasts in all the land was so full of blessings & joys as was their own wet Highway of the flood. Nevertheless, as meseemeth that no name is given to any town or mountain or river causeless, but that men are moved to name all steads for a remembrance of deeds that have been done and tidings that have befallen, or some one cause, even so might it well be with the Sundering flood, and whereas also I wot something of that cause X shall now presently show you the same.
For ye must know that all this welfare of the said mighty river was during that while that it flowed through the plain country a-nigh the city, or the fertile pastures & acres of hill & dale & down, further to the north. But one who should follow it up further and further would reach at last the place where it came forth from the mountains. Inhere, though it be far smaller than lower down, yet is it still a mighty great water, & it is then well two hundred miles from the main sea. Now from the mountains it cometh in three great forces, and many smaller ones, & perilous and awful is it to behold; for betwixt those forces it filleth all the mountain ghyll, and there is no foothold for man, nay for goat, save at a hundred foot or more above the water, & that evil and perilous; and as is the running of a winter mill/stream to the beetles & shrew/mice that haunt the greensward beside it, so is the running of that flood to the sons of Adam and the beasts that serve them: & none has been so bold as to strive to cast a bridge across it.
But when ye have journeyed with much toil and no little peril over the mountain/necks, for by the gorge of the river, as aforesaid, no man may go, and have come out of the mountains once more, then again ye have the flood before you, cleaving a great waste of rocks mingled with sand, where groweth neither tree nor bush nor grass; and now the flood floweth wide and shallow but swift, so that no words may tell of its swiftness, & on either side the water are great wastes of tumbled stones that the spates have borne down from the higher ground, And ye shall know that from this place upward to its very wells in the higher mountains, the flood decreaseth not much in body or might, though it be wider or narrower as it is shallower or deeper, for nought but mere trickles of water fall into it in the space of this sandy waste, and what feeding it hath is from the bents & hills on either side as you wend toward the mountains to the north, where, as aforesaid, are its chiefest wells.
Now when ye have journeyed over this waste for some sixty miles the land begins to better, & there is grass again, yet no trees, and it rises into bents, which go back on each side, east and west, from the flood, and the said bents are grass also u p to the tops, where they are crested with sheer rocks black of colour. Hs for the flood itself, it is now gathered into straiter compass, & is deep, and exceeding strong; high banks it hath on either side thereof of twenty foot and upward of black rock going down sheer to the water; & thus it is for a long way, save that the banks be higher & higher as the great valley of the river rises toward the northern mountains.
But as it rises the land betters yet, and is well grassed, and in divers nooks & crannies groweth small wood of birch and whiles of quicken tree; but ever the best of the grass waxeth nigh unto the lips of the Sundering flood, where it rises a little from the Dale to the water; and what little acre/land there is, and it is but little, is up on knolls that lie nearer to the bent, and be turned somewhat southward; or on the east side of the flood, which runneth here nigh due north to south, on the bent/side itself, where, as it windeth and turneth, certain slopes lie turned to south/west. And in these places be a few garths, fenced against the deer, wherein grow rye, and some little barley whereof to make malt for beer and ale, whereas the folk of this high/up windy valley may have no comfort of wine. And it is to be said that ever is the land better and the getting more on the east side of the Sundering flood than on the west.
As to the folk of this land, they are but few even now, and belike were fewer yet in the time of my tale. Inhere was no great man amongst them, neither King, nor Earl, nor Alderman, & it had been bard living for a strong/thief in the Dale. Yet folk there were both on the east side & the west of the flood. On n either side were they utterly cutoff from the world outside the Dale; for though it were toilsome it was not perilous to climb e flood the bents and so wend over the necks sunders the east and west, where some forty miles from the west bank and fifty from the east you might come down into a valley fairly well peopled, wherein were two or three cheaping/towns: and to these towns the dalesmen had some resort, that they might sell such of their wool as they needed not to weave for themselves, & other small chaffer, so that they might buy wrought wares such as cutlery and pots, and above all boards and timber, whereof they had nought at home.
But this you must wot & understand, that howsoever the Sundering flood might be misnamed down below, up in the Dale & down a/ way to the southern mountains it was such that better named it might not be, & that nought might cross its waters undrowned save the fowl flying. Nay and if one went up/stream to where it welled forth from the great mountains, he were no nearer to passing from one side to the other, for there would be nought before him but a wall of sheer rock, and above that rent and tumbled crags, the safe strong/houses of erne and osprey and gerfalcon, therefore all the dealings which the folk on the east Dale & the west might have with each other was but shouting & crying across the swirling and gurgling eddies of the black water, which themselves the while seemed to be talking together in some dread and unknown tongue.
True it is that on certain feast-days, & above all on Midsummer night, the folk would pluck up a heart, & gather together as gaily clad as might be where the flood was the narrowest, save at one place, whereof more hereafter, and there on each side would trundle the fire/wheel, and do other Midsummer games, and make music of string/play and horns, and singsongs of old time & drink to each other, and depart at last to their own homes blessing each other. But never might any man on the east touch the hand of any on the west, save it were that by some strange wandering from the cheaping/towns aforesaid they might meet at last, far and far off from the Dale of the Sundering flood.
Of Wethermel & the child Osberne
Draw we nigher now to the heart of our tale, and tell how on the east side of the Sundering flood was erewhile a stead hight Wethermel: a stead more lonely than most even in that Dale, the last house but one, and that was but a cot, toward the mountains at the head of the Dale. It was not ill set down, for its houses stood beneath a low spreading knoll, the broader side where of was turned to the south/west, and where by consequence was good increase of corn year by year. The said knoll of Wethermel was amidst of the Plain of the Dale a mile from the water/side, and all round about it the pasture was good for kine & horses & sheep all to the water's lip on the west & half way up the bent on the east; while towards the crown of the bent was a wood of bushes good for firewood & charcoal, and even beyond the crown of the bent was good sheep/land a long way.
Nevertheless, though its land was fruitful as for that country, yet had Wethermel no great name for luck, and folk who had the choice would liever dwell otherwhere, so that it was hard for the goodman to get men to work there for hire. Many folk deemed that this ill/luck came because the knoll had been of old time a dwelling of the Dwarfs or the Landwights, and that they grudged it that the children of Adam had supplanted them, and that corn grew on the very roof of their ancient house. But however that might be, there was little thriving there for the most part: and at least it was noted by some, that if there were any good hap it ever missed one generation, & went not from father to son, but from grandsire to grandson: & even so it was now at the beginning of this tale.
For he who had been master of Wethermel had died a young man, & his wife followed him a month or two, and there was left in the house but the father and mother of these twain, bale & stout folk, be of fifty winters, she of forty/five; an old woman of seventy, a kinswoman of the house who bad fostered the late good-man & a little lad who bad to name Osberne, now twelve winters old, a child strong and bold, tall, bright and beauteous. These four were all the folk of Wethermel, save now and then a hired man who was bard/pressed for livelihood would begot to abide there some six months or so. It must be told further that there was no house within ten miles either up or down the water on that side, save the little cot abovesaid nigher to the mountains, and that was four miles up/stream; it bight Burcot, & was somewhat kenspeckle. Withal as to those Cloven Motes, as they were called, which were between the folk on either side, they were holden at a stead seven miles below Wethermel, so that in all wise was it a lonely and scantly-manned abode: & because of this every man on the stead must work somewhat hard and long day by day, & even Osberne the little lad must do his share; and up to this time we tell of, his work was chiefly about the houses, or else it was on the knoll, or round about it, scaring fowl from the com; weeding the acre/ground, or tending the old horses that fed near the garth; or goose/herding at whiles, forsooth, the two elders, who loved and treasured the little carle exceedingly, were loth to trust him far out of sight because of his bold heart & wilful spirit; and there were perils in the Dale, & in special at that rough and wild end thereof, though they came not from weaponed reivers for the more part, though now and again some desperate outcast from the thicker peopled lands had strayed into it; & there was talk from time to time of outlaws who lay out over the mountain necks, & might not always do to lack a sheep or a neat or a horse. Other perils more of every/day there were for a young child, as the deep and hurrying stream of the Sundering flood, & the wolves which haunted the bent & the foothills of the mountains; & ever moreover there was the peril from creatures seldom seen, Dwarfs and Land/wights to wit, who, as all tales told, might be well pleased to have away into their realm so fair a child of the sons of Adam as was this Osberne, forsooth for the most part the lad kept within bounds, for love's sake rather than fear, though he wotted well that beating abode bound/breaking; but ye may well wot that this quietness might not always be. And one while amongst others he was missing for long, &when his grandsire sought him he found him at last half way between grass and water above the fierce swirling stream of the river for he had clomb down the sheer rock of the bank, which all along the water is fashioned into staves, as it were organ/pipes, but here & there broken by I wot not what mighty power. There then was my lad in an ingle/nook of the rock, & not able either to go down or come up, till the goodman let a rope down to him and hauled him on to the grass.
Belike he was a little cowed by the peril, & the beating he got for putting his folk in such fear; but though he was somewhat moved by his grandame's tears and lamentation over him, and no less by the old carline's bewailing for his days that he would so surely shorten, yet this was not by a many the last time he strayed from the stead away into peril. On a time he was missing again night/long, but in the morning came into the house blithe & merry, but exceeding hungry, & when the goodman asked him where he had been & bade him whipping/cheer, he said that he cared little if beaten he were, so merry a time he had had; for he had gone a long way up the Dale, & about twilight, this was in mid/May, had fallen in with a merry lad somewhat bigger than himself, who had shown him many merry plays, and at last had brought him to his house, which is not builded of stone and turf, like to ours, saith he, but is in a bole in the rock; and there we wore away the night, & there was no one there but we two, and again he showed me more strange plays, which were wondrous; but some did frighten me.
Excerpted from "The Sundering Flood"
Copyright © 2017 William Morris.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Table of Contents
I. Of a river called the Sundering Flood, and of the folks that dwelt thereby
II. Of Wethermel and the child Osberne
III. Wolves harry the flock
IV. Surly John falls out with the goodman
V. Osberne slays the wolves
VI. They fare to the Cloven Mote
VII. Of a newcomer, and his gift to Osberne
VIII. The goodman gets a new hired man
IX. The Bight of the Cloven Knoll
X. Osberne and Elfhild hold converse together
XI. Osberne shoots a gift across the Flood
XII. Of a guest called Waywearer
XIII. Steelhead gives Osberne the sword Board-cleaver
XIV. Steelhead takes leave of Osberne
XV. Surly John brings a guest to Wethermel
XVI. Hardcastle would seize Wethermel
XVII. Osberne slayeth Hardcastle
XVIII. Osberne tells Elfhild of the killing of Hardcastle
XIX. The winter passes, and Elfhild tells of the death of her kinswoman
XX. Osberne fares to East Cheaping and brings gifts for Elfhild
XXI. Warriors from East Cheaping ride into the Dale
XXII. Osberne takes leave of Elfhild
XXIII. Osberne is chosen captain of the Dalesmen
XXIV. A skirmish with the Baron of Deepdale in the marshes
XXV. Stephen tells of an adventure in the camp of the Foemen
XXVI. They bring the Baron into East Cheaping
XXVII. They parley from the walls
XXVIII. The Baron of Deepdale makes peace
XXIX. Osberne and his men return to Wethermel
XXX. Osberne goes to the trysting-place
XXXI. They meet through autumn and winter
XXXII. Foemen among the West Dalers
XXXIII. Osberne seeks tidings of Elfhild
XXXIV. Osberne sorrows for the loss of Elfhild
XXXV.berne seeks counsel of Steelhead
XXXVI. The staves which Osberne taught to the Dalesmen
XXXVII. Osberne takes leave of Wethermel
XXXVIII. Osberne parts fron Stephen the Eater
XXXIX. Osberne gets him a new master
XL. Osberne rides with Sir Godrick
XLI. They joust with the Knight of the Fish
XLII. They deliver the thorpedwellers from the Black Skinners
XLIII. They come to the edge of the Wood Masterless
XLIV. They reach Longshaw, and Osberne gets him a new name
XLV. The Red Lad scatters the host of the Barons
XLVI. Osberne enters the City of the Sundering Flood
XLVII. The Battle in the Square
XLVIII. Sir Godrick is chosen Burgreve of the City
XLIX. The Red Lad takes leave of Sir Godrick
L. The Red Lad speaks privily with Sir Godrick
LI. Osberne is beguiled by felons
LII. The meeting of Osberne and Elfhild
LIII. They come to Wethermel, and the Carline begins a tale
LIV. The Blue Knight buys the Maiden of the Chapman
LV. The Blue Knight talks with the Maiden by the way
LVI. They come to Brookside
LVII. The Maiden bears tidings of a young champion at Longshaw
LVIII. The Blue Knight and his host leave Brookside
LIX. The Maiden and the Carline flee to the Grey Sisters
LX. They fall in with three Chapmen
LXI. They escape from the Chapmen by the Carline's wizardy
LXII. The Carline endeth her tale
LXIII. Osberne and Elfhild make themselves known to their people
LXIV. The Lip of the Sundering Flood
LXV. A friend at need
LXVI. The Lord of Longshaw gathereth force