The Water of the Wondrous Isles 2-5
CHAPTER V ~ THEY FEAST IN THE WITCH'S PRISON
Birdalone was awakened by the sound of the key in the lock, and the door opened, and there was Atra bearing dishes and platters, and behind her Viridis with the like gear, and beakers and a flagon to boot, and both they were smiling and merry.
Birdalone’s heart leapt up to meet them, and in especial was she gladdened by the coming of Viridis, who had seemed to be the kindest of them all.
Viridis spake: Now is come the meat for the dear sister, and it is time, for surely thou art famished, and it is now long past high noon. Do off her irons, Atra. Said Atra: Maybe it were well to let the fetters abide on her ankles, lest the mistress should come; but for the wrists, reach out thine hands, wayfarer. So did Birdalone, and Atra laid her things on the ground, and unlocked the hand-shackles, and did them off: and meanwhile Viridis spread forth the banquet, partly on the floor, and partly on that ill-omened coffer. Then she went up to Birdalone and kissed her, and said: Now shalt thou sit in our lady’s throne, and we shall serve thee, and thou shalt deem thee a great one.
Nought else would they have, and Birdalone laid her nakedness on the purple cushions, and then they fell all three to the feast. The victual was both plenteous and dainty, of venison and fowl, and cream and fruits and sweetmeats, and good wine they had withal: never had Birdalone feasted in like manner, and the heart came back unto her, and her cheeks grew rosy and her eyes glittered. But she said: How if your lady were to come upon us here, and we so merry? Said Atra: Out of the chair must thou when thou hearest the key in the lock, and then is all well, and she would have nought against us; for she herself bade us, and me in special, to keep thee company here, and talk with thee; and Aurea also would have been here, but that she is serving the lady as now. Hath she then some pity on me, said Birdalone, that she hath bidden thee do by me what is most to my pleasure?
Laughed Viridis thereat, and Atra said: She hath no pity, nor ever shall have; but so hard of heart is she, that she may not deem that we could love thee, a stranger, and unhappy, who can serve us in nowise; so she feareth not the abatement of thy grief from any compassion of us. Rather she hath sent us, and me in especial, not to comfort thee, but to grieve thee by words; for she biddeth me tell thee fair tales, forsooth, of what tomorrow shall be to thee, and the day after; and of how she shall begin on thee, and what shall follow the beginning, and what thou mayst look for after that. For by all this she deemeth to lower thy pride and abate thy valour, and to make every moment of today a terror to thy flesh and thy soul, so that thereby thou mayest thole the bitterness twice over. Such is her pity for thee! And yet belike this cruelty hath saved thee, for but for that she had not refrained her from thee today, and tomorrow thou shalt be far away from her.
Meanwhile, said Viridis, in her soft sweet voice, none of all these things will we talk over with thee, but things comfortable and kind; and we will tell each to each of our story. Will we not, Atra? Yea, verily, said she.
Birdalone looked upon them and said: Wondrous is your compassion and loving-kindness unto me, and scarce do I know how to bear the burden thereof. But tell me one thing truly; will ye not suffer in my place when this witch cometh to know that ye have stolen me away from her?
Nay, said Atra, I have told thee that by tomorrow she will have altogether, or at least almost, forgotten thee and thy coming hither. Moreover, she is foreseeing, and hath come to know that if she raise a hand against any of us three, it will lead her to her bane, save it be for heavy guilt clearly proven against us. Forsooth, in the earlier days of our captivity such a guilt we fell into, and did not wholly escape, as Viridis can bear me witness. But we are now grown wiser, and know our mistress better, and will give her no such joy.
Viridis cast her eyes down at those words and Atra’s smile, and turned red and then pale, and Birdalone looked on her wondering what ailed her; then she said: Do ye sisters work in the field and the garden? I mean at milking the kine and the goats, and digging the earth, and sowing and reaping, and the like. Nay, said Atra; either our mistress or someone else who is of marvellous might, hath so ordained, that here everything waxeth of itself without tillage, or sowing or reaping, or any kind of tending; and whatso we need of other matters the mistress taketh it for us from out of her Wonder-coffer, or suffereth us to take it for ourselves. For thou must know that this land is one of the Isles of the Lake, and is called the Isle of Increase Unsought.
Meseemeth then, said Birdalone, were the mistress of you to gainsay you the gifts of the Wonder-coffer, ye were undone. Yea, verily, said Atra; then would be but the fruits of the earth and the wild creatures for our avail, and these, we have not learned how to turn them into dinner and supper. And they all laughed thereat; but Birdalone said: See ye then how I was right to offer myself unto you as a servant, for in all matters of the house and the byre and the field have I skill. But since ye would not or could not have me, I wonder not that ye be ill at ease here, and long to be gone, for as plenteous and lovely as the isle is, and though ye live here without present mishandling or pining. For, sooth to say, ye have over you a tyrant and a fool.
Viridis answered: Yet is there something else, dear friend, that whets our longing to depart. Tell her thereof, Atra.
Atra smiled and said: Simple it is: there are they who long for us and for whom we long, and we would be together. Said Birdalone: Be these kinsfolk of yours, as fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, or the like?
Reddened Viridis again; but Atra spake, and she also blushed somewhat, though she smiled: Those whom we love, and who love us, be not queans, but carles; neither be they of our blood, but aliens, till love overcometh them and causeth them to long to be of one flesh with us; and their longing is beyond measure, and they desire our bodies, which they deem far fairer than belike they be. And they would bed us, and beget children on us. And all this we let them do with a good will, because we love them for their might, and their truth, and the hotness of their love toward us.
Looked up Viridis thereat, and her eyes gleamed amidst the flushing of her cheeks, and she said: Sister, sister! even in such wise, and no other, as they desire us do we desire them; it is no mere good will toward them from us, but longing and hot love.
Now must Atra blush no less than Viridis; yet she but said: I have told thee hereof, Birdalone, because I deem that thou hast lived simply and without the sight of men; but it is what all know in the world of the sons of Adam. Said Birdalone: Thou sayest sooth concerning me. Yet about this love have I learned somewhat even ere today, and now, as ye speak and I, meseems the lore of it comes pouring in on me and fills my heart with its sweetness. And O, to have such love from any, and with such love to be loved withal!
Dear sister, said little Viridis, fear not; such as thou shall not fail of the love of some man whom thou must needs love. Is it not so, sister Atra? Said Atra: Yea; such love shall come unto her as surely as death.
They were silent now a little, and it was as if some sweet incense had been burned within the chamber. For Birdalone the colour came and went in her cheeks, her flesh quaked, her heart beat quick, and she was oppressed by the sweetness of longing. More daintily she moved her limbs, and laid foot to foot and felt the sleekness of her sides; and tender she was of her body as of that which should one day be so sorely loved.
Now she spake timidly to the others, and said: Each one of you then has a man who loves her, and longs for her and for none else? So it is, said Viridis. How sweet that shall be! said Birdalone; and now all the more I wonder that ye could trouble yourselves over me, or think of me once; and the kinder I think it of you.
Said Atra smiling on her: Nay, now must the cat be out of the bag, and I must tell thee that thou art to think of us as chapmen who with our kindness would buy something of thee, to wit, that thou wouldst do an errand for us to those three lovers of ours. Surely, said Birdalone, it were a little payment to set against your saving of my life and my soul; and had I to go barefoot over red gleeds I would do it. And yet, if I may go hence to your lovers, why not all three of you along with me?
Said Atra: For this reason; thy ferry, the Sending Boat, wherein ye came hither, is even somewhat akin to thy mistress and ours; and the mistress here hath banned it against bearing us; and now, were we so much as to touch it, such sore turmoil would arise, and such hideous noise as if earth and heaven were falling together; and the lady would be on us straightway, and we should be undone; and, as thou shalt hear presently, this hath been proved. But thou, thou art free of the said ferry. Forsooth I wot not why thy mistress banned it not against thee; maybe because she deemed not that thou wouldst dare to use it or even go anigh it.
Birdalone considered, and thought that even so it was; that the witch deemed that she would not dare use the Sending Boat, nor know how to, even if she came upon it, and that if she did so find it, she would sicken her of the road thereto. So now she told her friends the whole tale thereof more closely than she had afore, save again what pertained to Habundia; withal she told every word of what her mistress had said to her at that time when she changed her into a hind. And Viridis heard and wondered, and pitied her. But Atra sat somewhat downcast a while. Then she said: However this may be, we will send thee forth tomorrow in the dawn, and take the risk of what may befall thereafter; and thou shalt bear a token for each of those three that love us. For we deem that they have not forgotten aught, but are still seeking us.
Birdalone said: Whatsoever ye bid me; that will I do, and deem me your debtor still. But now I pray you, pleasure a poor captive somewhat more. Wherein? said they both; we be all ready thereto. Said the maiden: Would ye do so much as to tell me the tale of how ye came hither, and then how it hath been with you from your first coming until now? With a good will, said Atra; hearken!