THE NEW BOY
“I to surrender, to fling away this! So owned by God and Man! so witnessed to! I had rather be rolled into my grave and buried with infamy.”—Battle-chaunt of a hero of the Saxons.
Once, struck sideways out of the press, the ball bounded into a clear space not far from Setanta. “Thou of the Javelins,” cried the captain of the distressed party, “the ball is with thee.” He roared mightily at Setanta. On a sudden Setanta, filled with all the glow and ardour of the mimic battle, cast his javelins to the ground, slipped the strap of his shield over his head, flung the shield beside his javelins on the grass and pursued the bounding ball. He out-ran the rest and took possession of the ball. Now to the right he urged it, now to the left. He played it deftly before every opponent who sought to check his career, and swiftly and cunningly carried it past each of these, and finally with a clear loud stroke sent it straight as a sling-bolt through the middle of the north goal. The boys of his adopted party shouted, and they praised his playing and that final victorious stroke. Setanta went back after that and stood by himself near the south goal. His face was flushed and his eyes sparkled, and he himself trembled with joy, yet was he not in the least exhausted or out of breath.
The captain of the northern company came down with his boys and all the boys who were chief in authority, and they surrounded Setanta and said, “Thou art here a stranger and on sufferance. We know thee not, but thou art a good hurler and not otherwise, as we think, unmeet to bear us company. Receive now our protection, and we will divide the sides again with a new division and continue the game, for thou art very swift and truly expert in the use of thy hurle.”
The boys regulated all things according to the laws and customs of their elders. And everywhere it was the custom that the weak should accept the protection of the strong and submit themselves to their command. So slaves received masters, so runaways and fugitives got to themselves lords, and sheltered themselves under their protection and paid dues. Setanta’s brow fell, and he answered, “Put not upon me, I pray you, these hard terms. I would be your friend and comrade, I cannot be your subject being what I am.”