The Water of the Wondrous Isles 2-7
CHAPTER VII ~ THE THREE DAMSELS TAKE BIRDALONE OUT OF THE WITCH'S PRISON
Birdalone thanked Atra much for her tale, and strange it was to her to hear of such new things and the deeds of folk; but the dealing of the witches with those three was familiar to her and was of her world.
Now they talked merrily, till there came a footstep to the door and one without knocked. Viridis paled thereat, and a pang of fear smote Birdalone, and she swiftly got from out the chair and sat down on a stool; but when Atra opened, it was but Aurea come from her service to bid Atra take her place. So she went, and again was there pleasant converse betwixt Aurea and the other twain; and certain matters did Aurea tell Birdalone which had been left untold by Atra. And chiefly, when Birdalone asked if any other folk had come into the isle while they dwelt there, she said yea; once had come a knight with a lady, his love, fleeing from war and mishap, and these had the witch overcome by wizardry, and destroyed them miserably: and that again another had strayed thither, and him also the witch undid, because he would not do her will and lie in her bed. Withal had come drifting there a young damsel, a castaway of the winds and waves; her the witch kept as a thrall, and after a while took to mishandling her so sorely, that at last, what for shame and what for weariness of life, she cast herself into the water and was drowned. None of these folk might the damsels help so as to do them any good, though they tried it, and went nigh to suffer therefor themselves.
Now the day wore, and in a while Atra came back, and Viridis must serve. At last the dusk and the dark was come. Then said Atra: Now must we twain begone to wait upon our lady, as the wont is: and that is now for our good hap, for if we be with her all three, and especially, to say sooth, if I be with her, we may well keep her from visiting thee here; since belike she shall yet dimly remember that thou art in her prison. Therefore thou must forgive it if I shackle thy wrists again. And now if thou wilt follow my rede, thou shalt try to sleep some deal, and it were well if thou might’st sleep till we come for thee in the grey dawn.
Therewith they left her there, and she nestled in the corner once more, and there did verily fall asleep, and slept till the key in the lock and the opening door awakened her, and Atra came stealing soft-footed into the prison. Eager she was and panting, and she kneeled before Birdalone and unlocked her leg-shackles, and then stood up and did the like by the irons on her wrists. Then she said: Look up, dear friend, to thy prison windows, and behold the dawn beginning to break on the day of thy deliverance, and ours maybe. But come now at once: and again, wilt thou pardon me, that we clothe thee not here for thy journey? For from our own bodies must we clothe thee, and if by any hap our lady were to see any one of us more or less unclad, it might draw her on to see what was toward, and we might yet be found out, for our undoing.
Therewith she took her hand, and led her forth of the prison, and locked the door behind her; and then downstairs they went, and out-a-doors by a little wicket at the stair-end. The dawn drew on apace now, and Birdalone saw at once the other twain lurking in the wall-nook hard by. No word was spoken between them, and with noiseless feet they went forth into the orchard, where the blackbirds and thrushes were beginning their first morning song, and ere they came out on to the meadow the full choir of them was a-singing.