William Morris Archive


When morning was, Birdalone arose, and longed sore to go into the wood to seek Habundia again, but durst not, lest the witch-wife should come to hand again earlier than might be looked for. So she abode quiet and did what was toward near about the house. All that day the witch came not back, nor the next; but the morrow thereafter, when Birdalone arose, she found the wonted aspect of her mistress in the wonted place, who, when she saw the maiden, greeted her, and was somewhat blithe with her; and Birdalone would have asked her leave to go to the wood, but she trusted little in her unwonted soft mood; which yet lasted so long that on the third day she herself bade Birdalone go take her pleasure in the wood, and bear back with her what of venison she might.

Forthwith went Birdalone as glad as might be, and met her friend at the Oak of Tryst, and told her closely how all had betid; and Habundia said: Here, then, thou hast learned how to sail the lake. But hast thou learned enough to try the adventure and not to fail? Even so I deem, said Birdalone; but this I would say, that meseemeth it better that I follow the witch down to the boat one more time at least; for this first time it was dark; and moreover shall I not be surer of the spell if I hear it said oftener, lest it be not ever the same words? What sayest thou? She said: Thou art right herein, and, since the adventure may not be tried till next June is at hand, there is time enough and to spare. And now for this hour that is we need talk no more of it. Only, my sweet, I beseech thee be wary; and above all suffer not the witch-wife to set eye or hand on the ring. Truly mine heart oft aches sorely for thy peril; for therein the image of thee abideth rather as of my daughter than my friend. Yea, now thou laughest, but kindly, so that the sound of thy laughter is as sweet music. But know that though thou art but a young maiden, and I in all wise like unto thee of aspect, yet have I dwelt many and many a year upon the earth, and much wisdom have learned. Trowest thou me?

Yea, yea, said Birdalone, with all my heart. Then she hung her head a while and kept silence, and thereafter looked up and spake: I would ask thee a thing and crave somewhat of thee, as if thou wert verily my mother; wilt thou grant it me? Yea, surely, child, said Habundia. Said Birdalone: This it is then, that thou wilt learn me of thy wisdom. Habundia smiled full kindly on her, and said: This of all things I would have had thee ask; and this day and now shall we begin to open the book of the earth before thee. For therein is mine heritage and my dominion. Sit by me, child, and hearken!

So the maiden sat down by her likeness under the oak, and began to learn her lesson. Forsooth forgotten is the wisdom, though the tale of its learning abideth, wherefore nought may we tell thereof.

When it was done, Birdalone kissed her wood-mother and said: This is now the best day of my life, this and the day when first I saw thee. I will come hither now many times before the day of my departure. Yea, but, sweet child, said Habundia, beware of the witch and her cruelty; I fear me she shall yet be grim toward thee. So will I be wary, said Birdalone, but I will venture some little peril of pain but if thou forbid me, mother. And I pray thee by thy love to forbid me not. And this I pray thee the more, because after one of these grim times then mostly doth she meddle the less with me for a while, wherefore I shall be the freer to come hither. Habundia kissed her and embraced her, and said: Valiant art thou for a young maiden, my child, and I would not refrain thee more than a father would refrain his young son from the strokes of the tilt-yard. But I pray thee to forget not my love, and my sorrow for thy grief.

Therewith they sundered, and it was drawing toward evening. Birdalone sought catch, and brought home venison to the dame, who was yet blithe with her, and spake that evening as she eyed her: I cannot tell how it is, but thou seemest changed unto me, and lookest more towards thy womanhood than even yesterday. I mean the face of thee, for wert thou stripped, lean enough I should see thee, doubtless. But now look to it, I beseech thee, to be both deft and obedient, so that I may be as kind to thee as I would be, and kinder than I have been heretofore.

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