William Morris Archive


Said the witch-wife: When thou comest to thyself (for it is not my will that thou shouldest never have thine own shape again), doubtless the first thing which thou shalt do with thy new-gained voice and thy new-gained wit shall be to curse me, and curse me again. Do as thou wilt herein; but I charge thee, disobey me not, for that shall bring thee to thy bane. For if thou do not my bidding, and if thou pry into my matters, and lay bare that which I will have hidden, then will it be imputed unto thee for guilt, and will I, will I not, I must be avenged on thee even to slaying: and then is undone all the toil and pain I have had in rearing thee into a deft and lovely maiden. Deem thou, then, this present anguish kind to thee, to keep thee that thou come not to nought.

Now since I have begun speaking, I will go on; for little heretofore have I spoken to thee what was in mine heart. Well I wot that thou thinkest of me but as of an evil dream, whereof none can aught but long to awake from it. Yet I would have thee look to this at least; that I took thee from poverty and pinching, and have reared thee as faithfully as ever mother did to child; clemming thee never, smiting thee not so oft, and but seldom cruelly. Moreover, I have suffered thee to go whereso thou wouldest, and have compelled thee to toil for nought but what was needful for our two livelihoods. And I have not stayed thy swimmings in the lake, nor thy wanderings in the wood, and thou hast learned bowshot there, till thou art now a past-master in the craft: and, moreover, thou art swift-foot as the best of the deer, and mayest over-run any one of them whom thou wilt.

Soothly a merry life hast thou had as a child, and merry now would be thy life, save for thine hatred of me. Into a lovely lily-lass hast thou grown. That I tell thee now, though my wont has been to gird at thee for the fashion of thy body; that was but the word of the mistress to the thrall. And now what awaiteth thee? For thou mayst say: I am lonely here, and there is no man to look on me. Of what avail, therefore, is my goodliness and shapeliness? Child, I answer thee that the time is coming when thou shalt see here a many of the fairest of men, and then shalt thou be rather rose than lily, and fully come to womanhood; and all those shall love and worship thee, and thou mayst gladden whom thou wilt, and whom thou wilt mayst sadden; and no lack soever shalt thou have of the sweetness of love, or the glory of dominion.

Think of it then! All this is for thee if thou dwell here quietly with me, doing my will till thy womanhood hath blossomed. Wherefore I beseech and pray thee put out of thy mind the thought of fleeing from me. For if thou try it, one of two things shall be: either I shall bring thee back and slay thee, or make thee live in misery of torment; or else thou wilt escape, and then what will it be? Dost thou know how it shall go with thee, coming poor and nameless, an outcast, into the world of men? Lust shalt thou draw unto thee, but scarce love. I say an outcast shalt thou be, without worship or dominion; thy body shall be a prey to ribalds, and when the fine flower thereof hath faded, thou shalt find that the words of thy lovers were but mockery. That no man shall love thee, and no woman aid thee. Then shall Eld come to thee and find thee at home with Hell; and Death shall come and mock thee for thy life cast away for nought, for nought. This is my word to thee: and now I have nought to do to thee save to change thee thy skin, and therein must thou do as thou canst, but it shall be no ugly or evil shape at least. But another time maybe I shall not be so kind as to give thee a new shape, but shall let thee wander about seen by none but me. Then she took the cup and took water in the hollow of her hand and cast it into Birdalone’s face, and muttered words withal; and presently she saw herself indeed, that she was become a milk-white hind; and she heard and saw again, but not as she, the maiden, was wont to hear and see; for both her hearing and seeing and her thought was of a beast and not of a maiden.

Said the witch-wife: It is done now, till I give thee grace again; and now be off into the field; but if thou stray more than half a bowshot from the brook, it shall be the worse for thee. And now the day was done and night was come.

Return to Table of Contents ♦ Continue to Book 1 Chapter 13