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Title: The Folk of the Mountain Door Author: William Morris (1834-1896)* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0700691h.html 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. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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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.
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