The House of the Wolfings by William Morris


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Page 1

You must know that this great clearing in the woodland was not a matter
of haphazard; though the river had driven a road whereby men might fare
on each side of its hurrying stream. It was men who had made that Isle
in the woodland.

For many generations the folk that now dwelt there had learned the craft
of iron-founding, so that they had no lack of wares of iron and steel,
whether they were tools of handicraft or weapons for hunting and for war.
It was the men of the Folk, who coming adown by the river-side had made
that clearing. The tale tells not whence they came, but belike from the
dales of the distant mountains, and from dales and mountains and plains
further aloof and yet further.

Anyhow they came adown the river; on its waters on rafts, by its shores
in wains or bestriding their horses or their kine, or afoot, till they
had a mind to abide; and there as it fell they stayed their travel, and
spread from each side of the river, and fought with the wood and its wild
things, that they might make to themselves a dwelling-place on the face
of the earth.

So they cut down the trees, and burned their stumps that the grass might
grow sweet for their kine and sheep and horses; and they diked the river
where need was all through the plain, and far up into the wild-wood to
bridle the winter floods: and they made them boats to ferry them over,
and to float down stream and track up-stream: they fished the river's
eddies also with net and with line; and drew drift from out of it of far-
travelled wood and other matters; and the gravel of its shallows they
washed for gold; and it became their friend, and they loved it, and gave
it a name, and called it the Dusky, and the Glassy, and the
Mirkwood-water; for the names of it changed with the generations of man.

There then in the clearing of the wood that for many years grew greater
yearly they drave their beasts to pasture in the new-made meadows, where
year by year the grass grew sweeter as the sun shone on it and the
standing waters went from it; and now in the year whereof the tale
telleth it was a fair and smiling plain, and no folk might have a better

But long before that had they learned the craft of tillage and taken heed
to the acres and begun to grow wheat and rye thereon round about their
roofs; the spade came into their hands, and they bethought them of the
plough-share, and the tillage spread and grew, and there was no lack of

In such wise that Folk had made an island amidst of the Mirkwood, and
established a home there, and upheld it with manifold toil too long to
tell of. And from the beginning this clearing in the wood they called
the Mid-mark: for you shall know that men might journey up and down the
Mirkwood-water, and half a day's ride up or down they would come on
another clearing or island in the woods, and these were the Upper-mark
and the Nether-mark: and all these three were inhabited by men of one
folk and one kindred, which was called the Mark-men, though of many
branches was that stem of folk, who bore divers signs in battle and at
the council whereby they might be known.

Now in the Mid-mark itself were many Houses of men; for by that word had
they called for generations those who dwelt together under one token of
kinship. The river ran from South to North, and both on the East side
and on the West were there Houses of the Folk, and their habitations were
shouldered up nigh unto the wood, so that ever betwixt them and the river
was there a space of tillage and pasture.

Tells the tale of one such House, whose habitations were on the west side
of the water, on a gentle slope of land, so that no flood higher than
common might reach them. It was straight down to the river mostly that
the land fell off, and on its downward-reaching slopes was the tillage,
"the Acres," as the men of that time always called tilled land; and
beyond that was the meadow going fair and smooth, though with here and
there a rising in it, down to the lips of the stony waste of the winter

Now the name of this House was the Wolfings, and they bore a Wolf on
their banners, and their warriors were marked on the breast with the
image of the Wolf, that they might be known for what they were if they
fell in battle, and were stripped.

The house, that is to say the Roof, of the Wolfings of the Mid-mark stood
on the topmost of the slope aforesaid with its back to the wild-wood and
its face to the acres and the water. But you must know that in those
days the men of one branch of kindred dwelt under one roof together, and
had therein their place and dignity; nor were there many degrees amongst
them as hath befallen afterwards, but all they of one blood were brethren
and of equal dignity. Howbeit they had servants or thralls, men taken in
battle, men of alien blood, though true it is that from time to time were
some of such men taken into the House, and hailed as brethren of the

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Mon 20th May 2019, 18:50