The Water of the Wondrous Isles 2-8
CHAPTER VIII ~ IN WHAT WISE BIRDALONE WAS CLAD, AND HOW SHE WENT HER WAYS FROM THE ISLE OF INCREASE UNSOUGHT
When they were all clear of the orchard trees the three damsels kept Birdalone between them closely, so that her white body should not be seen if the lady were awake and looking forth. Thus they brought her to where a few thorn-bushes made a cover for them close to the water’s edge, some twenty yards from the Sending Boat. There they stood together, and Atra said:
Now, dear guest, and dearest messenger, it is our matter to clothe thee from our very bodies; and do thou, Viridis, begin.
Viridis came forward blushing, as her wont was, and took off her green gown and laid it on the grass; then she set her hand to her smock, and did it off, and stood naked, knee set to knee, and swaying like the willow branch; and then was seen all the dainty fashion of her body, and how lovely of hue and sweet of flesh she was.
But she said: Dear sister Birdalone, here is my smock, which I lend thee, but as to my love, I give it thee therewith; therefore grudge it not, though thou give me back the linen, for happy will be the day to me when I have it again; for now none may do it on me save the Green Knight, my own love. Therewith she gave her the smock, and kissed her, and Birdalone did it on, and felt the valianter and mightier when she had a garment upon her.
Then Aurea did off her golden gown, and stood in smock alone, so that her naked arms shone more precious than the golden sleeves that had covered them. And she spake: Birdalone, dear messenger, take now my golden gown, and send it back to me when thou hast found the man unto whom it is due; and think meanwhile that, when thou wearest it, thou wearest my love, and that when thou pullest it off, thou art clad with my love instead of it.
So Birdalone did on the gown, and became to look on as the daintiest of the queens of the earth; and she turned her head about to look on her gold-clad flanks, and wondered.
Thereafter Atra knit up her skirts into her girdle, and then did off her shoon, so that her slim feet shone like pearls on the green grass; and she said:
Birdalone, sweet friend! wilt thou be my messenger to bear these shoon to my Black Squire, and meanwhile put my love for thee under thy feet, to speed thee and to bear thee up? Wherefore be good to me.
Birdalone then shod herself, and though pity it were to hide her feet from the eyes of Earth, yet felt she the stouter-hearted thereby, and her cheeks flushed and her eyes brightened.
Thereafter Aurea gave her withal a golden collar for the neck, and Viridis a girdle of silver well-wrought, and Atra a gold finger-ring set with a sapphire stone; and all these she did on her; but yet she knew that they were tokens to be delivered to the three lovers according as was due.
Then spake Atra: Lo, sister, we pray thee to bear these lendings on thy body in such wise that when thou comest to the mainland they may be seen by knights seeking adventures, and that thou mayst answer to any who may challenge thee thereof and say that thou bearest this raiment and these jewels from Aurea and Viridis and Atra to Baudoin the Golden Knight, and to Hugh the Green Knight, and to Arthur the Black Squire. And if thou deem that thou hast found these, then shall they tell thee a token, such as we shall tell thee, that they be truly these and none other; and thereafter, when thou art made sure, they shall take of thee the raiment, the gems, and the Sending Boat, and come hither if they may. And God look to the rest! But as for the token to be told aforesaid, we have determined that each of us shall tell thee privily what question thou shalt ask for her, and what answer thou must look for.
When she had done speaking, each came up to Birdalone and spake something into her ear amidst blushes enough forsooth. And what they said will be seen hereafter. Then again said Atra: Now by this errand shall we be well paid for the care we have had of thee. It may be, forsooth, that thou shalt not find our speech-friends; for they may be dead, or they may deem us untrue, and may have forsaken us and their land; and in any such case thou art free of our errand; but whatsoever may betide us, God speed thee!
Then Viridis drew forth a basket from under a bush, and said: We know not how long thy voyage may be, but some little provision for the way we may at least give thee: now wilt thou bear this aboard thyself; for we dare not touch thy craft, nay, nor come nigh it, no one of us. And she set down the basket and cast her arms about her, and kissed her and wept over her; and the other twain, they also kissed her lovingly. Birdalone wept even as Viridis, and said: May ye do well, who have been so kind to me; but now am I both so glad and so sorry, that the voice of me will not make due words for me. O farewell!
Therewith she took up her basket, and turned and went speedily to the Sending Boat; and they beheld her how she stepped aboard and bared her arm, and drew blood from it with the pin of her girdle-buckle, and therewith reddened stem and stern; and a pang of fear smote into their hearts lest their lady had banned it for Birdalone as for them. But Birdalone sat down on the thwart, and turned her face south, and spake:
The red raven-wine now Hast thou drunk, stern and bow; Awake then, awake! And the southward way take: The way of the Wender forth over the flood, For the will of the Sender is blent with the blood.
No cloud barred the gateway of the sun as she spoke; no wave rose upon the bosom of the lake; no clatter nor tumult was there; but the Sending Boat stirred, and then shot out swiftly into the wide water; and the sun arose as they looked, and his path of light flashed on Birdalone’s golden gown for a moment, and then it grew grey again, and presently she was gone from before their eyes.
So they turned up into the orchard: and now was Viridis of good cheer, and Aurea no less; but Atra lagged behind, and as she went, some passion took her, she knew not wherefore; her bosom swelled, her shoulders heaved therewith, and she wept.