The Water of the Wondrous Isles 3-3
CHAPTER III ~ HOW BIRDALONE DIGHT HER FOR MEETING THE CHAMPIONS OF THE QUEST
It was the birds beginning their first song once more that awakened Birdalone before the sun was up; but she had no will to stir a while, whereas she felt so happy and restful; and that all the more when she remembered where she was, and told herself that her errand was now like to be accomplished; and she thought of her friends whom she had left on the Isle of Increase Unsought, and blessed them for their kindness, and the love of them was sweet to her heart, and amidst such thoughts she fell asleep again.
When she awoke thereafter there was a flood of sunshine lying on the meadows, and she sprang up in haste lest she had overslept herself, but when she was come out of the bower, she soon saw that the sunbeams lay low on the land, and that it was yet the first hour of the sun; so she turned about, and went through the copse to the other side, and lo! a little clear stream running before her. So she spake to herself softly and said: Fie on it! I was weary with the boat and my hunger last night, and I went to bed unwashen; and this morn I am weary for the foulness of my unwashen body. Unseemly it were to me to show myself sluttish before these lords; let me find time for a bath at least.
Therewith she went swiftly down to the water, undoing her girdle and laces by the way. She came to the stream and found it running between blue-flowering mouse-ear and rushes, into a pool which deepened from a sandy shallow: so anon her borrowed raiment was lying on the grassy lip of the water, and she was swimming and disporting her in the pool, with her hair loose and wavering over her white back like some tress of the water-weed. Therein she durst not tarry long, but came hurrying out on to the grass, and clad herself in haste. But she covered not her shoulders with the golden gown, nor laced it over her bosom, so that Viridis’ smock might be the plainer to see: which smock was noteworthy, for the breast thereof was broidered with green boughs, whence brake forth little flames of fire, and all so dainty-wrought as if the faery had done it.
Withal she gathered up the gown into her girdle, and let the skirt-hem clear her ankles, so that Atra’s shoon might be seen at once; and they were daintily dight with window-work and broidery of gold and green stones, and blue. And forsooth it was little likely that any man should stand before her a minute ere his eyes would seek to her feet and ankles, so clean and kindly as they were fashioned.
Therewith she set her hands to her head, and trussed up her hair, and bound it closely to her head, so that it might hide no whit of her borrowed attire.
There she stood, with Aurea’s collar lying on her dear neck, and Viridis’ girdle about her shapen loins, and Atra’s ring on her lovesome finger. And she hearkened a while and heard no sound of coming men; and there came into her heart a gentle fear, which grieved her not. Over the water before her hung an eglantine bush, with its many roses either budding or but just out. Birdalone stole thither softly, and said, smiling: Nay, if I have nothing that is mine on my body, I will take this of the maiden’s bath and make it mine. And therewith she plucked a spray of the bush and turned it into a garland for her head; and then when she had stood shyly a while in that same place, she turned and went swiftly to her place beside her night-harbour, and stood there hearkening with that sweet fear growing upon her, her colour coming and going, and her heart beating fast.
Now the thought of that kind priest who had led her to the bower last night came into her mind, and she wondered why he had been so troubled. And she thought, would those others be so kind to her, or would they deem her an impudent wench or a foolish, or pass her by?
Forsooth if any had passed her by it had been not that he should miss seeing her beauty, but that he should fear it, and deem her some goddess of the Gentiles of old time come before him for his ensnaring.