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Title: The Folk of the Mountain Door
Author: William Morris (1834-1896)* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700691.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: May 2007
Date most recently updated: May 2007


Production Note:
This story first appeared in volume 21 (1914) of The Collected Works of
William Morris. The story itself was left untitled by Morris, and the
title was given to it by his daughter, May Morris.


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Title: The Folk of the Mountain Door
Author: William Morris (1834-1896)



This story first appeared in volume 21 (1914) of The Collected Works of
William Morris. The story itself was left untitled by Morris, and the
title was given to it by his daughter, May Morris.



Of old time, in the days of the kings, there was a king of  folk, a
mighty man in battle, a man deemed lucky by the wise, who ruled over a
folk that begrudged not his kingship, whereas they knew of his valour and
wisdom and saw how by his means they prevailed over other folks, so that
their land was wealthy and at peace save about its uttermost borders. And
this folk was called the Folk of the Mountain Door, or more shortly, of
the Door.

Strong of body was this king, tall and goodly to look on, so that the
hearts of women fluttered with desire when he passed them by. In the
prime and flower of his age he wedded a wife, a seemly mate, a woman of
the Earl-kin, tall and white-skinned, golden haired and grey-eyed;
healthy, sweet-breathed, and soft-spoken, courteous of manners, wise of
heart, kind to all folk, well-beloved of little children. In early
spring-tide was the wedding, and a little after Yule she was brought to
bed of a man-child of whom the midwives said they had never seen a
fairer. He was sprinkled with water and was named Host-lord after the
name of his kindred of old.

Great was the feast of his name-day, and much people came thereto, the
barons of the land, and the lords of the neighbouring folk who would fain
stand well with the king; and merchants and craftsmen and sages and
bards; and the king took them with both hands and gave them gifts, and
hearkened to their talk and their tales, as if he were their very earthly
fellow; for as fierce as he was afield with the sword in his fist, even
so meek and kind he was in the hall amongst his folk and the strangers
that sought to him.

Now amongst the guests that ate and drank in the hall on the even of the
Name-day, the king as he walked amidst the tables beheld an old man as
tall as any champion of the king's host, but far taller had he been, but
that he was bowed with age. He was so clad that he had on him a kirtle of
lambswool undyed and snow-white, and a white cloak, lined with ermine and
welted with gold; a golden fillet set with gems was on his head, and a
gold-hilted sword by his side; and the king deemed as he looked on him
that he had never seen any man more like to the Kings of the Ancient
World than this man. By his side sat a woman old and very old, but great
of stature, and noble of visage, clad, she also, in white wool raiment
embroidered about with strange signs of worms and fire-drakes, and the
sun and the moon and the host of heaven.

So the king stayed his feet by them, for already he had noted that at the
table whereat they sat there had been this long time at whiles greater
laughter and more joyous than anywhere else in the hall, and whiles the
hush of folk that hearken to what delights the inmost of their hearts. So
now he greeted those ancients and said to them: "Is it well with you,
neighbours?" And the old carle hailed the king, and said, "There is
little lack in this house today."

"What lack at all do ye find therein?" said the king. Then there came a
word into the carle's mouth and he sang in a great voice:

Erst was the earth
Fulfilled of mirth:
Our swords were sheen
In the summer green;
And we rode and ran
Through winter wan,
And long and wide
Was the feast-hall's side.
And the sun that was sunken
Long under the wold
Hung ere we were drunken
High over the gold;
And as fowl in the bushes
Of summer-tide sing
So glad as the thrushes
Sang earl-folk and king.
Though the wild wind might splinter
The oak-tree of Thor,
The hand of mid-winter
But beat on the door.

"Yea," said the king, "and dost thou say that winter hath come into my
hall on the Name-day of my first-born?"

"Not so," said the carle.

"What is amiss then?" said the king. Then the carle sang again:

Were many men
In the feast-hall then,
And the worst on bench
Ne'er thought to blench
When the storm arose
In the war-god's close;
And for Tyr's high-seat,
Were the best full meet:
And who but the singer
Was leader and lord,
I steel-god, I flinger
Of adder-watched hoard?
Aloft was I sitting
Amidst of the place
And watched men a-flitting
All under my face.
And hushed for mere wonder
Were great men and small
As my voice in rhyme-thunder
Went over the hall.

"Yea," said the king, "thou hast been a mighty lord in days gone past, I
thought no less when first I set eyes on thee. And now I bid thee stand
up and sit on the high-seat beside me, thou and thy mate. Is she not thy
very speech-friend?"

Therewith a smile lit up the ancient man's face, and the woman turned to
him and he sang:

Spring came of old
In the days of gold,
In the thousandth year
Of the thousands dear,
When we twain met
And the mead was wet
With the happy tears
Of the best of the years.
But no cloud hung over
The eyes of the sun
That looked down on the lover
Ere eve was begun.
Oft, oft came the greeting
Of spring and her bliss
To the mead of our meeting,
The field of our kiss.
Is spring growing older?
Is earth on the wane
As the bold and the bolder
That come not again?

"0 king of a happy land," said [the ancient man], "I will take thy
bidding, and sit beside thee this night that thy wisdom may wax and the
days that are to come may be better for thee than the days that are."

So he spake and rose to his feet, and the ancient woman with him, and
they went with the king up to the high-seat, and all men in the
feast-hall rose up and stood to behold them, and they deemed them
wonderful and their coming a great thing.

But now when they were set down on the right hand and the left hand of
the king, he turned to the ancient man and said to him: "0 Lord of the
days gone past, and of the battles that have been, wilt thou now tell me
of thy name, and the name of thy mate, that I may call a health for thee
first of all great healths that shall be drunk tonight."

But the old man said and sang:

King, hast thou thought
How nipped and nought
Is last year's rose
Of the snow-filled close?
Or dost thou find
Last winter's wind
Will yet avail
For thy hall-glee's tale?
E'en such and no other
If spoken tonight
Were the name of the brother
Of war-gods of might.
Yea the word that hath shaken
The walls of the house
When the warriors half waken
To battle would rouse
Ye should drowse if ye heard it
Nor turn in the chair.
O long long since they feared it
Those foemen of fear!
Unhelpful, unmeaning
Its letters are left;
For the man overweening
Of manhood is reft.

This word the king hearkened, and found no word in his mouth to answer:
but he sat pondering heavy things, and sorrowful with the thought of the
lapse of years, and the waning of the blossom of his youth. And all the
many guests of the great feast-hall sat hushed, and the hall-glee died
out amongst them.

But the old man raised his head and smiled, and he stood on his feet, and
took the cup in his hand and cried out aloud: "What is this my masters,
are ye drowsy with meat and drink in this first hour of the feast? Or
have tidings of woe without words been borne amongst you, that ye sit
like men given over to wan hope, awaiting the coming of the doom that none
may gainsay, and the foe that none may overcome? Nay then, nay; but if ye
be speechless I will speak; and if ye be joyless I will rejoice and bid
the good wine welcome home. But first will I call a health over the cup:

"Pour, white-armed ones,
As the Rhine flood runs!
And O thanes in hall
I bid you all
Rise up, and stand
With the horn in hand,
And hearken and hear
The old name and the dear.
To HOST-LORD the health is
Who guarded of old
The House where the wealth is
The Home of the gold.
And again the Tree bloometh
Though winter it be
And no heart of man gloometh
From mountain to sea.
Come thou Lord, the rightwise,
Come Host-lord once more
To thy Hall-fellows, fightwise
The Folk of the Door!"

Huge then was the sudden clamour in the hall, and the shouts of men and
clatter of horns and clashing of weapons as all folk old and young, great
and little, carle and quean, stood up on the Night of the Name-day. And
once again there was nought but joy in the hall of the Folk of the Door.

But amidst the clamour the inner doors of the hall were thrown open, and
there came in women clad most meetly in coloured raiment, and amidst them
a tall woman in scarlet, bearing in her arms the babe new born clad in
fine linen and wrapped in a golden cloth, and she bore him up thus toward
the high-seat, while all men shouted even more if it were possible, and
set down cup and horn from their lips, and took up sword and shield and
raised the 'shield-roar in the hall.

But the [king] rose up with a joyful countenance, and got him from out of
his chair, and stood thereby: and the women stayed at the foot of the
dais all but the nurse, who bore up the child to the king, and gave it
into his arms; and he looked fondly on the youngling for a short space,
and then raised him aloft so that all men in the hall might see him, and
so laid him on the board before them and took his great spear from the
wall behind him and drew the point thereof across and across the boy's
face so that it well nigh grazed his flesh: at the first and at the last
did verily graze it as little as might be, but so that the blood started;
and while the babe wailed and cried, as was to be looked for, the king
cried aloud with a great voice:

"Here mark I thee to Odin even as were all thy kin marked from of old
from the time that the Gods were first upon the earth."

Then he took the child up in his arms and laid him in his own chair, and
cried out: "This is Host-lord the son of Host-lord King and Duke of the
Folk of the Door, who sitteth in his father's chair and shall do when I
am gone to Odin, unless any of the Folk gainsay it."

When he had spoken there came a man in at the door of the hall clad in
all his war-gear with a great spear in his hand, and girt with a sword,
and he strode clashing through the hall up to the high-seat and stood by
the chair of the king and lifted up his helm a little and cried out:

"Where are now the gainsayers, or where is the champion of the
gainsayers? Here stand I Host-rock of the Falcons of the Folk of the
Door, ready to meet the gainsayers?"

And he let his helm fall down again so that his face was hidden. And a
man one-eyed and huge rose up from the lower benches and cried out in a
loud voice: "O champion, hast thou hitherto foregone thy meat and drink
to sing so idle a song over the hall-glee? Come down amongst us, man, and
put off thine armour and eat and drink and be merry; for [of] thine
hunger and thirst am I full certain. Here be no gainsayers, but brethren
all, the sons of one Mother and one Father, though they be grown somewhat
old by now."

Then was there a clamour again, joyous with laughter and many good words.
And some men say, that when this man had spoken, the carle and quean
ancient of days who sat beside the king's chair, were all changed and
seemed to men's eyes as if they were in the flower of their days, mighty,
and lovely and of merry countenance: and it is told that no man knew that
big-voiced speaker, nor whence he came, and that presently when men
looked for him he was gone from the hall, and they knew not how.

Be this as it may, the two ancient ones each stooped down over the chair
whereas lay the little one and kissed him; and the old man took his cup
and wetted the lips of the babe with red wine, and the old woman took a
necklace from her neck of amber and silver and gold and did it on the
youngling's neck and spake; and her voice was very sweet though she were
old; and many heard the speech of her:

"O Host-lord of this even, Live long and hale! Many a woman shall look on
thee and few that see thee shall forbear to love thee."

Then the nurse took up the babe again and bore him out to the bower where
lay his mother, and the folk were as glad as glad might be, and no man
hath told of mirth greater and better than the hall-glee of that even.
And the old carle sat yet beside the king and was blithe with him and of
many words, and told him tales that he had never known before; and all
these were of the valiant deeds and the lives of his fathers before him,
and strange stories of the Folk of the Door and what they had done, and
the griefs which they had borne and the joys which they had won from the
earth and the heavens and the girdling waters of the world. And the king
waxed exceeding glad as he heard it all, and thought he would try to bear
it in mind as long as he lived; for it seemed to him that when he had
parted from those two ancient ones, that night, he should never see them
again.

So wore the time and the night was so late, that had it been summer-tide,
it had been no night but early day. And the king looked up from the board
and those two old folk, and beheld the hall, that there were few folk
therein, save those that lay along by the walls of the aisles, so swiftly
had the night gone and all folk were departed or asleep. Then was he like
a man newly wakened from a dream, and he turned about to the two ancients
almost looking to see their places empty. But they abode there yet beside
him on the right hand and on the left; so he said: "Guests, I give you
all thanks for your company and the good words and noble tales wherewith
ye have beguiled this night of winter, and surely tomorrow shall I rise
up wiser than I was yesterday. And now me seemeth ye are old and doubtless
weary with the travel and the noisy mirth of the feast-hall, nor may I
ask you to abide bedless any longer, though it be great joy to me to
hearken to your speech. Come then to the bower aloft and I will show you
the best of beds and the soft and kind place to abide the uprising of
tomorrow's sun; and late will he arise, for this is now the very
midwinter, and the darkest of all days in the year."

Then answered the old man: "I thank thee, O son of the Kindred; but so it
is that we have further to wend than thou mightest deem; yea, back to the
land whence we came many a week of years ago and before the building of
houses in the land, between the mountain and the sea. Wherefore if thou
wouldest do aught to honour us, come thou a little way on the road and
see us off in the open country without the walls of thy Burg: then shall
we depart in such wise that we shall be dear friends as long as we live,
thou and thine, and I and mine."

"This is not so great an asking," said the king, "but that I would do
more for thee; yet let it be as thou wilt."

And he arose from table and they with him, and they went down the hall
amidst the sleeping folk and the benches that had erst been so noisy and
merry, and out a-doors they went all three and into the street of the
Burg. Open were the Burg-gates and none watched there, for there was none
to break the Yule-tide peace; so the king went forth clad in his
feasting-raiment, and those twain went, one on either side of him. The
mid-winter frost was hard upon the earth, so that few waters were
running, and all the face of the world was laid under snow: high was the
moon and great and round in a cloudless sky, so that the stars looked but
little.

The king set his face toward the mountains and strode with great strides
over the white highway betwixt the hidden fruitfulness of the acres, and
he was as one wending on an errand which he may not forego; but at last
he said: "Whither wend we and how far?" Then spake the old man: "Whither
should we wend save to the Mountain Door, and the entrance to the land
whence the folk came forth, when great were its warriors and little was
the tale of them."

Then the king spake no more, but it seemed to him as if his feet sped on
faster than their wont was, and as if those twain bore him up so that his
feet were but light on the face of the earth.

Thuswise they passed the plain and the white-clad ridges at the mountain
feet in no long while, and were come before the yawning gap and strait
way into the heart of the mountains, and there was no other way thereinto
save this; for otherwhere, the cliffs rose like a wall from the
plain-country. Grim was that pass, and high were the sides of it beneath
the snow, which lay heaped up high, so now there were smooth white slopes
on either side of the narrow road of the pass; while the wind had
whistled the said road in most places well nigh clear of snow, which even
now went whirling and drifting about beneath the broad moon. For the wind
yet blew though the night was old, and the sound of it in the clefts of
the rocks and the windings of the pass was like the rolling of the summer
thunder.

Up the pass they went till it widened, and there was a wide space before
them, the going up whereto was as by stairs, and also the going up from
it to the higher pass; and all around it the rocks were high and sheer,
so that there was no way over them save for the fowl flying; and were it
not winter there had been a trickling stream running round about the
eastern side of the cliff wall which lost itself in the hollow places of
the rocks at the lower end of that round hall of the mountain, unroofed
and unpillared. Amid most the place the snow was piled up high; for there
in summer was a grassy mound amidst of a little round meadow of sweet
grass, treeless, bestrewn here and there with blocks that had been borne
down thitherward by the waters from the upper mountain; and for ages
beyond what the memory of men might tell of this had been the Holy place
and Motestead of the Folk of the Door.

Now all three went up on to the snow-covered mound, and those two turned
about and faced the king and he saw their faces clearly, so bright as the
moon was, and now it was so that they were no more wrinkled and
hollow-cheeked and sunken-eyed, though scarce might a man say that they
looked young, but exceeding fair they were, and they looked on him with
eyes of love, and the carle said: "Lord of the Folk of the Door, father
of the son new born whom the Folk this night have taken for their father,
and the image of those that have been, we have brought thee to the Holy
Place that we might say a word to thee and give thee a warning of the
days to come, so that if it may be thou mightest eschew the evil and
ensue the good. For thou art our dear son, and thy son is yet dearer to
us, since his days shall be longer if weird will so have it. Hearken to
this by the token that under the grass, beneath this snow, lieth the
first of the Folk of the Door of those that come on the earth and go
thence; and this was my very son begotten on this woman that here
standeth. For wot thou that I am Host-lord of the Ancient Days, and from
me is all the blood of you come; and dear is the blood of my sons and my
name even as that which I have seen spilt on field and in fold, on grass
and in grange, without the walls of the watches and about the lone wells
of the desert places. Hearken then, Host-lord the Father of Host-lord,
for we have looked into the life of thy son; and this we say is the weird
of him; childless shall he be unless he wed as his will is; for of all
his kindred none is wilfuller than he. Who then shall he wed, and where
is the House that is lawful to him that thou hast not heard of? For as to
wedding with his will in the House whereof thou wottest, and the Line of
the Sea-dwellers, look not for it. Where then is the House of his
wedding, lest the Folk of the Door lose their Chieftain and become the
servants of those that are worser than they? I may not tell thee; and if
I did, it would help thee nought. But this I will tell thee, when thy
fair son is of fifteen winters, until the time that he is twenty winters
and two, evil waylayeth on him: evil of the sword, evil of the cord, evil
of the shaft, evil of the draught, evil of the cave, evil of the wave. O
Son and father of my son, heed my word and let him be so watched that
while as none hath been watched and warded of all thy kindred who have
gone before, lest when his time come and he depart from this land he
wander about the further side of the bridge that goeth to the Hall of the
Gods, for very fear of shaming amongst the bold warriors and begetters of
kindred and fathers of the sons that I love, that shall one day sit and
play at the golden tables in the Plains of Ida."

So he spake, but the king spake: "O Host-lord of the Ancients I had a
deeming of what thou wert, and that thou hadst a word for me. Wilt thou
now tell me one thing more? In what wise shall I ward our son from the
evil till his soul is strengthened, and the Wise-wights and the Ancients
are become his friends, and the life of the warrior is in his hands and
the days of a chieftain of our folk?"

Then the carle smiled on him and sang:

Wide is the land
Where the houses stand,
There bale and bane
Ye scarce shall chain;
There the sword is ground
And wounds abound;
And women fair
Weave the love-nets there.

Merry hearts in the Mountain
Dales shepherd-men keep,
And about the Fair Fountain
Need more than their sheep.
Of the Dale of the Tower
Where springeth the well
In the sun-slaying hour
They talk and they tell;

And often they wonder
Whence cometh the name
And what tale lies thereunder
For honour or shame.
For beside the fount welling
No castle now is;
Yet seldom foretelling
Of weird wends amiss.

Quoth the king, "I have heard tell of the Fair Fountain and the Dale of
the Tower; though I have never set eyes thereon, and I deem it will be
hard to find. But dost thou mean that our son who is born the Father of
the Folk shall dwell there during that while of peril?"

Again sang the carle:

Good men and true,
They deal and do
In the grassy dales
Of that land of the tales;
Where dale and down
Yet wears the crown
Of the flower and fruit
From our kinship's root.
There little man sweateth
In trouble and toil,
And in joy he forgetteth
The feud and the foil.
The weapon he wendeth
Achasing the deer,
And in peace the moon endeth
That endeth the year.
Yet there dwell our brothers,
And should they but know
They thy stem of all others
Were planted to grow
Beside the Fair Fountain,
How fain were those men
Of the God of the Mountain
So come back again.

Then the king said: "Shall I fulfill the weird and build a Tower in the
Dale for our Son? And deemest thou he shall dwell there happily till the
time of peril is overpast?"

But the carle cried out, "Look, look! Who is the shining one who cometh
up the pass?"

And the king turned hastily and drew his sword, but beheld neither man
nor mare in the mountain, and when he turned back again to those twain,
lo! they were clean gone, and there was nought in the pass save the snow
and the wind, and the long shadows cast by the sinking moon. So he turned
about again and went down the pass; and by then he was come into the
first of the plain-country once more, the moon was down and the stars
shone bright and big; but even in the dead mid-winter there was a scent
abroad of the coming of the dawn. So went the king as speedily as he
might back to the Burg and his High House; and he was glad in his inmost
heart that he had seen the God and Father of his Folk.



THE END



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