The Water of the Wondrous Isles 6-21
CHAPTER XXI ~ HOW THE WOOD-WIFE ENTERED THE COT, AND A WONDER THAT BEFELL THEREON
But when it was the sixth day since those two had met, Birdalone arose in the morning and stood in the door of the house, and she looked toward the bent which went up to the wood and saw one coming down it, and knew it for Habundia clad in her huntress’ raiment and bearing something over the left arm, for her bow was in her right hand. So Birdalone ran to meet her, and embraced and kissed her, and was merry over her, and said: Dear mother, thou farest far from thy fastness today. Said Habundia: There is nought in the meadows now save the neat and the goats and thou; of none of that folk am I afraid. But mayhappen thou shalt be afraid to come with me into the depths of the wildwood, for thither would I lead thee. I will be afraid of nought with thee beside me, said Birdalone. But come now and look upon the house that I have won for me. And she took her hand and led her along; and the wood-wife said no more till they were across the brook and standing by the porch.
Then said Birdalone: Thou hast a green gown over thine arm; is that also for me? Yea, certes, said Habundia; the old rag which thou hast on thee, and which thou lovest so sore, is not fine enough for my company; and the glitter-gown I gave thee may be too fine for the thorns and the briars, and moreover thou mayst be over-easily seen if thou bear that broidered sunshine mid the boughs. Wherefore go in now and do on this other coat, though the faery have made it, and then come out to me with thy bow and thy quiver, and I shall find thee sandal-shoon and girdle withal.
Nay, wood-mother, said Birdalone, hallow my house by entering it, and eat a morsel with me and drink the wine of the horned folk ere we go our ways.
Habundia shook her head and knit her brows somewhat as she looked hard on the house; then she said: I know not, Adam’s daughter; I have little to do with houses, and doubt if a house be safe for me. And this one that the witch builded! and belike she buried some human being at one of its four corners. Tell me, fair child, sawest thou ever here at night-tide the shape of a youngling crowned with a garland straying about the house?
Nay, never at all, said Birdalone. Said the wood-wife: Then maybe thou hast hallowed it with the wisdom and love of thee, and I may venture; and moreover I note that it is all builded of trees and the grass of the earth; and thou art free to use them by my leave. But if aught befall of my coming under thy roof, heed it not too much, but think, whatsoever my aspect may be, I am thy wood-mother and wisdom-mother that loveth thee. And I bid thee also wish with all thy might that my aspect may not change to thee. Also, if I eat, thou wert best not to sign the meat as Adam’s sons are wont. Lead in then; for now am I grown wilful, and will enter whatever betide.
Birdalone marvelled at those words, but she fell to wishing strongly that her friend might not lose her lovely youthful shape either then or ever, and she took her hand, which trembled somewhat, and led her over the threshold; and when they were under the roof herseemed that the wood-mother dwindled in a wondrous way, though her face was as sweet and her limbs as shapely as ever; and she laughed shrilly yet sweetly, and spake in a thin clear voice: Birdalone, my dear, wish strongly, wish strongly! though thou shalt see nothing worse of me than this. And she was scarce three feet high, but as pretty as a picture.
Thereat indeed was Birdalone affrighted, but she wished all she might, and stooped down to kiss this little creature; and therewith again the wood-wife seemed to wax again as great and tall as ever she was, and her voice came full and strong again, as she laughed and said: Now is it all over for this time, and I see how well thou lovest me; and I pray thee love me no less for this wonder thou hast seen in me. But now it were better that I never go under a roof again. And she took her arms about Birdalone and clipped her lovingly; and glad was Birdalone to feel her so strong and solid again.
Then they sat to the board and ate a simple meal of bread and cheese and wood-berries, and drank milk withal; and the wood-mother was merry, and the smiles danced over her face as she looked on Birdalone with all loving-kindness, so that Birdalone wondered what was toward; but so light-hearted and happy she grew, that she deemed it might be nought save good.
But when they had eaten, then Birdalone did off her old coat, which she said was meet enough for her daily toil, and did on the fair green hunting-gown and the sandal-shoon, and girt her with the fair girdle which Habundia had fetched her, and drew up the laps of her gown therethrough till her legs were all free of the skirts. And Habundia looked on her, and laughed and said: Now are these white and smooth legs as bad as the gleam-gown for the lying hid; but it may no better be, and thou must draw thy skirts down and stumble, if needs must be, when we come to the ambushment.
Birdalone reddened as she laughed at the word, and took down her bow and hung her quiver at her back and thrust her sharp knife into her girdle, and forth they went both of them, and were presently past the bent which went up from the meadows and in amongst Habundia’s trees.