Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  William Morris  Index  Previous  Next 

The Water of the Wondrous Isles, by William Morris, [1897], at


It was as before that Birdalone came to the shore of the isle while it was yet night; but the wizard keel was so loathsome to her, that she stepped out of it and laid her down on the land for what was left of the night; yet hard she found her bed, and neither grassy nor flowery.

For all that, she slept, for she was weary, and it was broad day and not very early when she awoke.  She stood up trembling, for she foreboded evil, so near as she was to the dwelling of her old mistress; and she looked up to where in time past was the fair and wicked house, and saw that all was changed indeed; for no longer was the isle goodly with meadow and orchard and garden, but was waste and bare, and nought grew on it save thin and wiry grass, already seeding even ere June was born, and here and there hard and ugly herbs, with scarce aught that might be called a flower amongst them.  Trees there were yet, but the most of them stark dead, and the best dying fast. No beasts she saw, nor fowl; nothing but lizards and beetles, and now and again a dry grey adder coiled up about a sun-burned stone.  But of great carrion flies, green and blue, were there a many, and whiles they buzzed about her head till she sickened with loathing of them. All this she found on her way as she went up toward the place where erst was the great perron.  But when she came to the top there was no sign either of the stairs or the house, or aught that ever was builded; there was nought but the bare bent top, ungrassed, parched by wind, scorched by sun, washed by rain.

She wandered about the isle, to places where she had not been herself, but which she deemed she might have known by the telling of the Green Knight's tale, had there been no change since those days; but now was all changed, and the whole isle was a mere waste, and withal poisonous of aspect to her mind, as if many corpses lay underneath the wretched stones of it.  Nevertheless, though it seemed so evil unto Birdalone, she lingered on it, wandering about till she was to-wearied, for she had no will to depart at such time as she would be like to come to her old abiding-place by night and cloud; wherefore she dallied with the time, and came not back to the haven of her ferry till it was nigh sunset, and the westering sun was in her eyes when she came there; and she said to herself that this was the cause why she might not see the Sending Boat.

So she cleared her eyes and looked on the thin grass awhile, and then down over the edge of the land, and still she saw not her boat.  She turned pale, and a pang of anguish went to her heart; but she walked a little east, deeming that perchance she had erred as to the place of the haven on that dull and empty shore; but yet there was no boat. Then she turned back wild with terror, and sought where erst she had missed it, and found neither boat nor the world's end.  And she deemed that there might be some devilish malice of the wight of the Sending Boat, to torment her with fear, and she walked along the land's edge up and down, and down and up, further each time, and still there was no boat.

Then she stood still and strove to think, and might not, nor might she do aught, but spread abroad her hands and moaned in her agony; for now indeed she felt herself in the trap; and she said that all her past life of hope and desire and love and honour was all for nought, and that she was but born to die miserably in that foul ruin of an isle envenomed with the memories of bygone cruelty and shame.

But in a little while she came somewhat to herself, and she said:  At least this hideous land shall not mock my dying anguish; I will give myself to the water and let it do with me as it will.

Therewith she cast off her helm and hauberk first, and her weapons, and her pouch with the treasure that could buy nought for her now, and thereafter all her raiment, till she was as naked as when she first came aland there that other time.  Again she moaned, and put up her hand to her bosom and felt a little gold box lying there betwixt the fragrant hills of her breasts, which hung to a thin golden thread about her neck; and a thought came into her mind, and she stooped adown and drew from her pouch flint and fire-steel, and then opened the said golden box and drew thence the tress which Habundia the wood-wife had given to her those years agone, and all trembling she drew two hairs from it, as erst she did on the Isle of Nothing, and struck fire and kindled tinder and burnt the said hairs, and then hung the golden box with the tress therein about her neck again; and she said:  O wood-mother, if only thou couldst know of me and see me, thou wouldst help me!

Thereafter she sought along the bank for bread which she had taken from her store that morning, and she found it, and compelled herself to eat of it for the strengthening of her body, and then she stood and abode tidings; and by then the sun had just sunk below the rim of the lake, and the stars began to twinkle, for the night was cloudless, and exceeding fair, and very warm.

No visible token came to her, but her heart grew stronger, and she seemed to see herself yet alive and in hope on the other side of the water; and she said:  Who wotteth what Weird may do, or where the waters may bear me? and there is no swimmer stronger than I.

So then without more ado Birdalone slipped into the water, which lay before her as calm and plain as a great sheet of glass, and fell to rowing with her arms and her legs as though she were but swimming from Green Eyot to the mainland, as so oft she had done in the other days.


Next: Chapter XV. Birdalone Lacketh Little of Drowning, but Cometh Latterly to the Green Eyot