CHAPTER I ~ THE FIRST ISLE
So glided Birdalone over the lake and was come forth from the House of Captivity; it might well be that she was but swimming unto death; naked as she was, fireless, foodless, and helpless, at the mercy of mere sorcery. Yet she called to mind the word of the wood-mother that they should meet again, and took heart thereby; and she was glad in that she had had her will, and shaken off the guile and thraldom of the witch. Much she thought of the wood-mother, and loved her, and wondered had she yet sought into and seen her welfare by the burning of a hair of that tress of hers; and therewith she looked on that tress of Habundia’s hair and kissed it.
All day the Sending Boat sped on, and she saw no land and nought to tell of. It was but wave and sky and the familiar fowl of the lake, as coot, and mallard, and heron, and now and then a swift wood-dove going her ways from shore to shore; two gerfalcons she saw also, an osprey, and a great ern on his errand high up aloft.
Birdalone waked in her loneliness till the day was spent, and somewhat worn of the night; then she fell asleep for weariness; but so it was, that before dusk she had deemed that a blue cloud lay before her in the offing which moved not.
She slept the short night through, and was awakened by the boat smiting against something, and when her eyes opened she saw that she was come aland and that the sun was just risen. She stood up, and for the first minute wondered where she was, and she beheld her nakedness and knew not what it meant; then she loosened her hair, and shook its abundance all about her, and thereafter she turned her eyes on this new land and saw that it was fair and goodly. The flowery grass came down to the very water, and first was a fair meadow-land besprinkled with big ancient trees; thence arose slopes of vineyard, and orchard and garden; and, looking down on all, was a great White House, carven and glorious. A little air of wind had awakened with the sunrise, and bore the garden sweetness down to her; and warm it was after the chill of the wide water. No other land could she see when she looked lakeward thence.
She stepped ashore, and stood ankle-deep in the sweet grass, and looked about her for a while, and saw no shape of man astir. She was yet weary, and stiff with abiding so long amongst the hard ribs of the boat, so she laid herself down on the grass, and its softness solaced her; and presently she fell asleep again.