William Morris Archive


When the sun was arisen on the morrow the three Champions went down to the landing-place, and there was none with them; for they had given command that no man should pry into their doings. Thither to them cometh Birdalone, clad no more in her gay attire, but in a strait black coat and with unshod feet; and she looked no sorrier than she was.

By Birdalone’s rede the Champions bore down in their own hands the victual and weapons and armour that they needed for the voyage; for she knew not but that the Sending Boat might take it amiss that any should touch her save the senders. And when they had done lading her, then all four stood together by the water’s edge, and Birdalone spake to her friends, and again bade them beware of the wiles of the Isle of Nothing; and again she told them of the woful images of the Isle of Kings and the Isle of Queens, and the strange folk of the Isle of the Young and the Old. Then she said: Now when ye come to the Isle of Increase Unsought, what think ye to do? Said the Green Knight: If I might rule, we should go straight up to the witch sitting in her hall, as thou toldest us, my dear, and then and there smite the head from off her. His eyes flashed and his brow knitted, and so fierce he looked that Birdalone shrank back from him; but the Black Squire smiled and said: It may come to the smiting off of heads in the end; yet must we so fashion our carving, that it avail us for the freeing of our friends; else may the witch die, and the secret of the prison-house die with her. How sayest thou, dear Birdalone?

She reddened at the caress of his voice, and answered: By my rede ye shall seek and find your speech-friends ere ye make open war upon the witch; else may her malice destroy them ere ye undo her. Her face flushed yet more as she spake again: But concerning all things, I deem that Atra may give you the best rede, when ye have met the loves; for that she knoweth more of the isle and its guiles than the others.

Quoth Baudoin: Herein is wisdom, sweet maiden, for as guileless as thou mayst be; and so far as we may we shall follow thy rede; but all lieth in the fathom of the coming time. And now this moment is the moment of sundering and farewell.

Came he then to Birdalone and took his two hands about her head, and lifted her face unto him, and kissed it kindly, as a father might kiss a daughter, and said: Farewell, dear child, and take heed to the word that Arthur spake yesterday, and go not from the castle even a little way save with good and sure company.

Then came Hugh to her, and took her hand somewhat timidly; but she put up her face to him in simple wise, and he kissed either cheek of her, and said no more than: Farewell, Birdalone!

Lastly came Arthur, and stood before her a little; and then he knelt down on the stones before her and kissed her feet many times, and she shuddered and caught her breath as they felt his kisses; but neither he nor she spake a word, and he stood up and turned away at once toward the Sending Boat, and boarded her first of the three; and the others followed straightway.

Thereafter the Champions bared each an arm, and let blood flow thence into a bowl, and reddened stem and stern of their barge, and then all three spake the spell together thus, as Birdalone had taught them:

The red raven-wine now Hast thou drunk, stern and bow: Wake then, and awake, And the northern way take! The way of the Wenders forth over the flood, For the will of the Senders is blent with the blood.

Went all as before thereafter, that the Sending Boat stirred under them, and then turned about and pointed her bows to the northward, and sped swiftly over the waters. It was a fair sunny day, with no cloud, nought save the summer haze lying on the lake far away. Birdalone stood watching the speeding of the boat, till she could see it no longer, not even as a fleck on the face of the waters. Then she turned away and went toward her chamber, saying to herself that the sundering was easier to bear than she had deemed it would be, and that she had a many things to do that day. But when she came into her chamber, and shut the door, she looked about her on the things which had grown so familiar to her in these few latter days, and she stood watching the bright sunshine that streamed across the floor and lay warm upon her feet; then she took three steps toward the window, and saw the lake lying all a-glitter under the sun, and her heart failed her withal, and she had no might so much as to think about her sorrow and caress it, but fell down where she was swooning on to the floor, and lay there, while all the house began to stir about her.

Here ends the Third Part of the Water of the Wondrous Isles, which is called Of the Castle of the Quest, and begins the fourth Part of the said tale, which is called Of the Days of Abiding.

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