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


Birdalone woke up in the morning, and arose and clad herself, and she saw not the witch-wife in the chamber, though her bed looked as if it had been slept in.  Birdalone accounted little thereof, whereas the dame would oft go on one errand or another much betimes in the morning.  Yet was she somewhat glad, for she was nowise wishful for a wrangle with her.  Withal, despite her valiancy, as may well be thought, she was all a-flutter with hopes and fears, and must needs refrain her body from overmuch quaking and restlessness if she might.

Now she mingled the tress of the wood-mother's hair with her own hair, but deemed it nought perilous to leave the ring yet sewn to her smock:  she set some deal of bread and flesh in her scrip, lest her voyage should be long, and then all simply stepped over the threshold of the House of her Captivity.

She went straight to the strand aforesaid, seeing nought of the witch-wife by the way; and when she came there, was about to turn straightway to her left hand down to the creek, when it came into her mind that she would first swim over to Green Eyot for this last of times.  For the eyot indeed she loved, and deemed it her own, since never had her evil dream, the witch, set foot thereon.  Moreover, she said to herself that the cool lake would allay the fever of her blood, and make her flesh firmer and less timorous for the adventure. And again, that if the witch should see her from afar, as she could scarce fail to do, she would deem the maiden was about her wonted morning swimming, and would be the less like to spy on her.

So now, when she had let her garments slip from off her on to the sand close to the water's edge, she stood a while, with her feet scarce covered by the little ripple of the bight, to be a token of safety to her mistress.  To say sooth, now it was come so nigh to the deed, she shrank aback a little, and was fain to dally with the time, and, if it might be, thrust something of no import betwixt her and the terror of the last moment.

Now she took the water, and rowed strongly with her lovely limbs till she came to the eyot, and there she went aland, and visited every place which had been kind to her; and kissed the trees and flowers that had solaced her, and once more drew the birds and rabbits to sport with her; till suddenly it came into her head that the time was wearing overfast.  Then she ran down to the water and plunged in, and swam over to the strand as fast as she might, and came aland there, thinking of nothing less than what had befallen.

For lo! when she looked around for her raiment and her scrip, it was nowhere to be seen; straightway then it came into her mind, as in one flash, that this was the witch's work; that she had divined this deed of the flight, and had watched her, and taken the occasion of her nakedness and absence that she might draw her back to the House of Captivity.  And this the more as the precious ring was sewn to Birdalone's smock, and the witch would have found it there when she handled the raiment.

Birdalone wasted no time in seeking for the lost; she looked down on to the smooth sand, and saw there footprints which were not her own, and all those went straight back home to the house.  Then she turned, and for one moment of time looked up toward the house, and saw plainly the witch come out adoors, and the sun flashed from something bright in her hand.

Then indeed she made no stay, but set off running at her swiftest along the water-side toward the creek and the Sending Boat.  As is aforesaid she was as fleet-foot as a deer, so but in a little space of time she had come to the creek, and leapt into the boat, panting and breathless.  She turned and looked hastily along the path her feet had just worn, and deemed she saw a fluttering and flashing coming along it, but some way off; yet was not sure, for her eyes were dizzy with the swiftness of her flight and the hot sun and the hurry of her heart.  Then she looked about a moment confusedly, for she called to mind that in her nakedness she had neither knife, nor scissors, nor bodkin to let her blood withal.  But even therewith close to hand she saw hanging down a stem of half-dead briar-rose with big thorns upon it; she hastily tore off a length thereof and scratched her left arm till the blood flowed, and stepped lightly first to stem and then to stern, and besmeared them therewith.  Then she sat down on the thwart and cried aloud:

The red raven-wine now
Hast thou drunk, stern and bow;
Then wake and awake
And the wonted way take!
The way of the Wender forth over the flood,
For the will of the Sender is blent with the blood.

Scarce had she time to wonder if the boat would obey her spell ere it began to stir beneath her, and then glided out into the lake and took its way over the summer ripple, going betwixt Green Eyot and the mainland, as if to weather the western ness of the eyot:  and it went not a stonecast from the shore of the said mainland.

Hither to meet it now cometh the witch, running along the bank, her skirts flying wild about her, and a heavy short-sword gleaming in her hand.  Her furious running she stayed over against the boat, and cried out in a voice broken for lack of breath:

Back over the flood
To the house by the wood!
Back unto thy rest
In the alder nest!
For the blood of the Sender lies warm on thy bow,
And the heart of the Wender is weary as now.

But she saw that the Sending Boat heeded her words nothing, whereas it was not her blood that had awakened it, but Birdalone's.  Then cried out the witch:  O child, child! say the spell and come back to me! to me, who have reared thee and loved thee and hoped in thee!  O come back!

But how should Birdalone heed her prayer?  She saw the sax; and withal had her heart forgotten, her flesh might well remember.  She sat still, nor so much as turned her head toward the witch-wife.

Then came wild yelling words from the witch's mouth, and she cried: Go then, naked and outcast!  Go then, naked fool! and come back hither after thou hast been under the hands of the pitiless!  Ah, it had been better for thee had I slain thee!  And therewith she whirled the sax over her head and cast it at Birdalone.  But now had the boat turned its head toward the ness of Green Eyot and was swiftly departing, so that Birdalone but half heard the last words of the witch-wife, and the sax fell flashing into the water far astern.

There the witch stood tossing her arms and screaming, wordless; but no more of her saw Birdalone, for the boat came round about the ness of Green Eyot, and there lay the Great Water under the summer heavens all wide and landless before her.  And it was now noon of day.

 Here ends the First Part of the Water of the Wondrous Isles, which is called Of the House of Captivity.  And now begins the Second Part, which is called Of the Wondrous Isles.

Next: Chapter I. The First Isle