Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  William Morris  Index  Previous  Next 

The Water of the Wondrous Isles, by William Morris, [1897], at


Wore the days now, till on a night of October, toward the end thereof, the witch went a-night-tide to the Sending Boat, and Birdalone followed her as erst.  This time the night was wild and windy, but the moon was high aloft and big, and all cloud save a few flecks was blown from off the heavens; so that the night was as light as could be; and even at the tree-hung creek it was easy to see all that was done.  And so it was that the witch did and spake in all wise as she did before.

Another time, when November was well-nigh out, the dame arose for her lake-faring; but this night the snow lay deep betwixt house and water, and Birdalone thought that it would scarce do to follow. Forsooth she knew not whether her feet would the less leave their print in the snow because they were not to be seen.  When she asked Habundia thereof, she laughed and said:  Once more thou hast been wise, my child, for though it had been no harder to put this might into thy ring, that whoso wore it should not touch the ground, yet it hath not been done.

It must be told, that in this while Birdalone went oft to the Trysting Tree, and called on her mother (as now she called her) to come to her, and ever more and more of wisdom she won thereby. Though the witch was oft surly with her, and spared not her girding, yet, the needful work done, she meddled little with her.  But on a day she straightly banned her the wood, and Birdalone went notwithstanding, and when she was there with the wood-mother nought she told her thereof, but was blithe and merry beyond her wont.  She came back home thereafter empty handed, and stepped into the chamber proudly and with bright eyes and flushed cheeks, though she looked for nought save chastisement; yea, it might be even the skin- changing.  Forsooth the witch was sitting crouched in her chair with her hands on the elbows and her head thrust forward, like a wild beast at point to spring; but when her eye fell on Birdalone, she faltered and drew back into herself again, and muttered somewhat unheard; but to Birdalone spake nought of good or bad.

Now was winter-tide upon them, when there was nought to do in field and acre, and but a little in the byre.  In years bygone, and even in the last one, the witch had not spared Birdalone toil any the more, but had made errands for her amidst the snow and biting winds, or over the lake when it was laid with ice.  But now she bade her to nought save what she had a will to; whereby she lost but little, whereas Birdalone was well willing to strive against wind and weather and the roughness of the winter earth, and overcome if she might, so that all were well done that had to be done about the stead.

Still did the witch give her hard words and rail at her for the most part, but from the teeth outward only, and because she was wont thereto.  Inwardly indeed she began to fear Birdalone, and deemed that she would one day have the mastery; and this led her into fierce and restless moods; so that she would sit staring at the maiden's beauty handling her knife withal, and scarce able to forbear her. And in such a mood she once made occasion to chastise her as her wont had been erst, and looked to see Birdalone rebel against her; but it fell out otherwise, for Birdalone submitted herself to her meekly and with a cheerful countenance.  And this also was a terror to the witch, who deemed, as indeed it was, that the purpose was growing in her thrall.  So from that time she meddled with her no more.  All this while, as may be thought, Birdalone went yet oftener to the Oak of Tryst, despite frost and snow and wind, and gat much lore of her wood-mother, and learned wisdom abundantly.  And her days were happy.


Next: Chapter XVIII. Of Spring-Tide and the Mind of Birdalone