The Hollow Land by William Morris


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Page 1

Lady Swanhilda, Red Harald's mother, was a widow, with one son. Red
Harald; and when she had been in widowhood two years, being of
princely blood, and besides comely and fierce. King Urrayne sent to
demand her in marriage. And I remember seeing the procession leaving
the town, when I was quite a child; and many young knights and squires
attended the Lady Swanhilda as pages, and amongst them, Amald, my
eldest brother.

And as I gazed out of the window, I saw him walking by the side of her
horse, dressed in white and gold very delicately; but as he went it
chanced that he stumbled. Now he was one of those that held a golden
canopy over the lady's head, so that it now sunk into wrinkles, and
the lady had to bow her head full low, and even then the gold brocade
caught in one of the long slim gold flowers that were wrought round
about the crown she wore. She flushed up in her rage, and her smooth
face went suddenly into the carven wrinkles of a wooden water-spout,
and she caught at the brocade with her left hand, and pulled it away
furiously, so that the warp and woof were twisted out of their place,
and many gold threads were left dangling about the crown; but
Swanhilda stared about when she rose, then smote my brother across the
mouth with her gilded sceptre, and the red blood flowed all about his
garments; yet he only turned exceeding pale, and dared say no word,
though he was heir to the house of the Lilies: but my small heart
swelled with rage, and I vowed revenge, and, as it seems, he did too.

So when Swanhilda had been queen three years, she suborned many of
King Urrayne's knights and lords, and slew her husband as he slept,
and reigned in his stead. And her son, Harald, grew up to manhood, and
was counted a strong knight, and well spoken of, by then I first put
on my armour.

Then, one night, as I lay dreaming, I felt a hand laid on my face, and
starting up saw Arnald before me fully armed. He said, "Florian, rise
and arm."

I did so, all but my helm, as he was.

He kissed me on the forehead; his lips felt hot and dry; and when they
bought torches, and I could see his face plainly, I saw he was very
pale. He said: "Do you remember, Florian, this day sixteen years ago?
It is a long time, but I shall never forget it unless this night blots
out its memory."

I knew what he meant, and because my heart was wicked, I rejoiced
exceedingly at the thought of vengeance, so that I could not speak,
but only laid my palm across his lips.

"Good; you have a good memory, Florian. See now, I waited long and
long: I said at first, I forgive her; but when the news came
concerning the death of the king, and how that she was shameless, I
said I will take it as a sign, if God does not punish her within
certain years, that he means me to do so; and I have been watching and
watching now these two years for an opportunity, and behold it is come
at last; and I think God has certainly given her into OUR hands, for
she rests this night, this very Christmas eve, at a small walled town
on the frontier, not two hours' gallop from this; they keep little
ward there, and the night is wild: moreover, the prior of a certain
house of monks, just without the walls, is my fast friend in this
matter, for she has done him some great injury. In the courtyard below
a hundred and fifty knights and squires, all faithful and true, are
waiting for us: one moment and we shall be gone."

Then we both knelt down, and prayed God to give her into our hands: we
put on our helms, and went down into the courtyard.

It was the first time I expected to use a sharp sword in anger, and I
was full of joy as the muffled thunder of our horse-hoofs rolled
through the bitter winter night.

In about an hour and a half we had crossed the frontier, and in half
an hour more the greater part bad halted in a wood near the Abbey,
while I and a few others went up to the Abbey gates, and knocked
loudly four times with my sword-hilt, stamping on the ground meantime.
A long, low whistle answered me from within, which I in my turn
answered: then the wicket opened, and a monk came out, holding a
lantern. He seemed yet in the prime of life, and was a tall, powerful
man. He held the lantern to my face, then smiled, and said, "The
banners hang low." I gave the countersign, "The crest is lopped off."
"Good my son," said he; "the ladders are within here. I dare not trust
any of the brethren to carry them for you, though they love not the
witch either, but are timorsome."

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 5th Jun 2020, 22:54