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The Water of the Wondrous Isles

William Morris

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The Water of the Wondrous Isles is a fantasy novel by William Morris, first published in 1897. It is the story of Birdalone, who is stolen as a child from her weaver mother and grows up in the wood of Evilshaw as a servant to a witch. Eventually, with the help of the nature spirit Habundia, Birdalone escapes in a magical boat, and begins her journey of travels to some strange islands including the Isle of Increase Unsought. Along her journey, she meets three maidens who are being held prisoner by another witch, and who are waiting to be rescued by their loves. Birdalone goes out to meet these men and together, they set out to rescue the maidens, with varying results. Throughout the first part of the novel, the main character is naked, which for Victorian literature was a very unusual detail to include. Full chapter list.

This book has 282 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1897.

Production notes: This ebook of The Water of the Wondrous Isles was published by Global Grey on the 19th July 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'The Butterfly' by John Collier.

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Excerpt from 'The Water of the Wondrous Isles'

Whilom, as tells the tale, was a walled cheaping-town hight Utterhay, which was builded in a bight of the land a little off the great highway which went from over the mountains to the sea.

The said town was hard on the borders of a wood, which men held to be mighty great, or maybe measureless; though few indeed had entered it, and they that had, brought back tales wild and confused thereof.

Therein was neither highway nor byway, nor wood-reeve nor way-warden; never came chapman thence into Utterhay; no man of Utterhay was so poor or so bold that he durst raise the hunt therein; no outlaw durst flee thereto; no man of God had such trust in the saints that he durst build him a cell in that wood.

For all men deemed it more than perilous; and some said that there walked the worst of the dead; othersome that the Goddesses of the Gentiles haunted there; others again that it was the faery rather, but they full of malice and guile.  But most commonly it was deemed that the devils swarmed amidst of its thickets, and that wheresoever a man sought to, who was once environed by it, ever it was the Gate of Hell whereto he came.  And the said wood was called Evilshaw.

Nevertheless the cheaping-town throve not ill; for whatso evil things haunted Evilshaw, never came they into Utterhay in such guise that men knew them, neither wotted they of any hurt that they had of the Devils of Evilshaw.

Now in the said cheaping-town, on a day, it was market and high noon, and in the market-place was much people thronging; and amidst of them went a woman, tall, and strong of aspect, of some thirty winters by seeming, black-haired, hook-nosed and hawk-eyed, not so fair to look on as masterful and proud.  She led a great grey ass betwixt two panniers, wherein she laded her marketings.  But now she had done her chaffer, and was looking about her as if to note the folk for her disport; but when she came across a child, whether it were borne in arms or led by its kinswomen, or were going alone, as were some, she seemed more heedful of it, and eyed it more closely than aught else.

So she strolled about till she was come to the outskirts of the throng, and there she happened on a babe of some two winters, which was crawling about on its hands and knees, with scarce a rag upon its little body.  She watched it, and looked whereto it was going, and saw a woman sitting on a stone, with none anigh her, her face bowed over her knees as if she were weary or sorry.  Unto her crept the little one, murmuring and merry, and put its arms about the woman’s legs, and buried its face in the folds of her gown: she looked up therewith, and showed a face which had once been full fair, but was now grown bony and haggard, though she were scarce past five and twenty years.  She took the child and strained it to her bosom, and kissed it, face and hands, and made it great cheer, but ever woefully.  The tall stranger stood looking down on her, and noted how evilly she was clad, and how she seemed to have nought to do with that throng of thriving cheapeners, and she smiled somewhat sourly.

At last she spake, and her voice was not so harsh as might have been looked for from her face: Dame, she said, thou seemest to be less busy than most folk here; might I crave of thee to tell an alien who has but some hour to dwell in this good town where she may find her a chamber wherein to rest and eat a morsel, and be untroubled of ribalds and ill company?  Said the poor-wife: Short shall be my tale; I am over poor to know of hostelries and ale-houses that I may tell thee aught thereof.  Said the other: Maybe some neighbour of thine would take me in for thy sake?  Said the mother: What neighbours have I since my man died; and I dying of hunger, and in this town of thrift and abundance?

The leader of the ass was silent a while, then she said: Poor woman!  I begin to have pity on thee; and I tell thee that luck hath come to thee to-day.

Now the poor-wife had stood up with the babe in her arms and was turning to go her ways; but the alien put forth a hand to her, and said: Stand a while and hearken good tidings.  And she put her hand to her girdle-pouch, and drew thereout a good golden piece, a noble, and said: When I am sitting down in thine house thou wilt have earned this, and when I take my soles out thereof there will be three more of like countenance, if I be content with thee meanwhile.

The woman looked on the gold, and tears came into her eyes; but she laughed and said: Houseroom may I give thee for an hour truly, and therewithal water of the well, and a mouse’s meal of bread.  If thou deem that worth three nobles, how may I say thee nay, when they may save the life of my little one.  But what else wouldst thou of me?  Little enough, said the alien; so lead me straight to thine house.

So went they forth of the market-place, and the woman led them, the alien and the ass, out of the street through the west gate of Utterhay, that, to wit, which looked on Evilshaw, and so into a scattering street without the wall, the end of which neared a corner of the wood aforesaid: the houses there were nought so evil of fashion, but whereas they were so nigh unto the Devil’s Park, rich men might no longer away with them, and they were become wares for poor folk.

Now the townswoman laid her hand on the latch of the door that was hers, and threw the door open; then she put forth her palm to the other, and said: Wilt thou give me the first gold now, since rest is made sure for thee, as long as thou wilt?  The ass-leader put it into her hand, and she took it and laid it on her baby’s cheek, and then kissed both gold and child together; then she turned to the alien and said: As for thy way-beast, I have nought for him, neither hay nor corn: thou wert best to leave him in the street.  The stranger nodded a yeasay, and the three went in together, the mother, the child, and the alien.

Not right small was the chamber; but there was little therein; one stool to wit, a yew-chair, a little table, and a coffer: there was no fire on the hearth, nought save white ashes of small wood; but it was June, so that was of no account.

The guest sat down in the yew-chair, and the poor-wife laid her child down gently on the floor and came and stood before the stranger, as if abiding her bidding.

Spake the alien: Nought so uncomely or strait is thy chamber; and thy child, which I see is a woman, and therefore belike shall long abide with thee, is lovely of shape, and fair of flesh.  Now also thou shalt have better days, as I deem, and I pray them on thine head.

She spake in a kind wheedling voice, and the poor-wife’s face grew softer, and presently tears fell down on to the table from her, but she spake no word.  The guest now drew forth, not three nobles, but four, and laid them on the table, and said: Lo, my friend, the three nobles which I behight thee! now are they thine; but this other thou shalt take and spend for me.  Go up into the town, and buy for me white bread of the best; and right good flesh, or poulaine if it may be, already cooked and dight; and, withal, the best wine that thou mayst get, and sweetmeats for thy baby; and when thou comest back, we will sit together and dine here.  And thereafter, when we be full of meat and drink, we shall devise something more for thy good speed.

Chapter List for 'The Water of the Wondrous Isles'


Chapter 1. Catch At Utterhay

Chapter 2. Now Shall Be Told Of The House By The Water-Side

Chapter 3. Of Skin-Changing

Chapter 4. Of The Waxing Of The Stolen Child

Chapter 5. Of Birdalone, And How She Is Grown Into Maidenhood

Chapter 6. Herein Is Told Of Birdalone’s Raiment

Chapter 7. Birdalone Hath An Adventure In The Wood

Chapter 8. Of Birdalone And The Witch-Wife

Chapter 9. Of Birdalone’s Swimming

Chapter 10. Birdalone Comes On New Tidings

Chapter 11. Of Birdalone’s Guilt And The Chastisement Thereof

Chapter 12. The Words Of The Witch-Wife To Birdalone

Chapter 13. Birdalone Meeteth The Wood-Woman Again

Chapter 14. Of Birdalone’s Fishing

Chapter 15. Birdalone Weareth Her Serpent-Ring

Chapter 16. Birdalone Meeteth Habundia Again…

Chapter 17. The Passing Of The Year Into Winter

Chapter 18. Of Spring-Tide And The Mind Of Birdalone

Chapter 19. They Bid Farewell, Birdalone And The Wood-Mother

Chapter 20. Of Birdalone And The Sending Boat


Chapter 1. The First Isle

Chapter 2. Birdalone Falleth In With New Friends

Chapter 3. Birdalone Is Brought Before The Witch-Wife’s Sister

Chapter 4. Of The Witch’s Prison In The Wailing-Tower

Chapter 5. They Feast In The Witch’s Prison

Chapter 6. Atra Tells Of How They Three Came Unto The Isle Of Increase Unsought

Chapter 7. The Three Damsels Take Birdalone Out Of The Witch’s Prison

Chapter 8. In What Wise Birdalone Was Clad, And How She Went Her Ways…

Chapter 9. How Birdalone Came To The Isle Of The Young And The Old

Chapter 10. Birdalone Comes To The Isle Of The Queens

Chapter 11. And Now She Comes To The Isle Of The Kings

Chapter 12. Of Birdalone, How She Came Unto The Isle Of Nothing


Chapter 1. Birdalone Comes To The Castle Of The Quest

Chapter 2. Of Birdalone, And How She Rested The Night…

Chapter 3. How Birdalone Dight Her For Meeting The Champions Of The Quest

Chapter 4. And Now She Meets The Champions

Chapter 5. Birdalone Has True Tokens From The Champions Of The Quest

Chapter 6. How The Champions Would Do Birdalone To Be Clad Anew…

Chapter 7. Of Birdalone, How She Told The Champions All Her Tale

Chapter 8. In The Meanwhile Of The Departing Of The Champions…

Chapter 9. Birdalone Cometh Before The Champions In Her New Array

Chapter 10. The Champions Go Their Ways In The Sending Boat


Chapter 1. Of Birdalone’s Grief; And Of Leonard The Chaplain

Chapter 2. Birdalone Learneth Lore Of The Priest. Ten Days Of Waiting Wear

Chapter 3. Now Would Birdalone Ride Abroad

Chapter 4. Of Birdalone’s Faring Abroad

Chapter 5. Sir Aymeris Showeth Birdalone The Mountains Afar Off

Chapter 6. Birdalone Heareth Tell Tales Of The Black Valley Of The Greywethers

Chapter 7. Birdalone Beguileth The Priest To Help Her To Outgoing

Chapter 8. Birdalone Fares On Her Adventure

Chapter 9. Birdalone Comes To The Black Valley

Chapter 10. How Birdalone Fell In With A Man In The Black Valley Of The Greywethers

Chapter 11. Birdalone Is Led Up The Black Valley

Chapter 12. How Those Twain Get Them From Out Of The Black Valley…

Chapter 13. Now They Rest For The Night In The Strait Pass

Chapter 14. The Black Knight Tells The Truth Of Himself

Chapter 15. The Black Knight Brings Birdalone To The Bower In The Dale

Chapter 16. Yet A Day And A Night They Tarry In The Dale


Chapter 1. Of Sir Leonard’s Trouble And The Coming Of The Quest

Chapter 2. Now Ask They Of Birdalone, And Sir Leonard Speaks

Chapter 3. How They Follow The Slot Of Birdalone And The Black Knight

Chapter 4. Of The Slaying Of Friend And Foe

Chapter 5. They Come Home To The Castle Of The Quest

Chapter 6. Of The Talk Betwixt Birdalone And Viridis

Chapter 7. Birdalone Telleth The Tale Of Her Wandering Up The Valley…

Chapter 8. Atra And Birdalone Talk Together…

Chapter 9. Hugh Tells The Story Of The Quest’s Ending

Chapter 10. How It Fared With The Three Ladies After The Escape Of Birdalone

Chapter 11. Birdalone And The Black Squire Talk Together In The Hall…

Chapter 12. The Knights And Their Fellows Betake Them To The Assaulting…

Chapter 13. Birdalone Bethinks Her To Fulfil The Promise Made Unto Atra

Chapter 14. Birdalone Leaves The Castle Of The Quest


Chapter 1. Birdalone Rides To Greenford And There Takes Leave Of Arnold…

Chapter 2. Of Birdalone And Her Fellowship, Their Faring…

Chapter 3. They Come To The City Of The Five Crafts, And Birdalone Meets…

Chapter 4. Of The Love Of Gerard’s Sons And Of Jacobus For Birdalone

Chapter 5. Of The Death Of Audrey, Mother To Birdalone

Chapter 6. Of The Sundering Of Birdalone From Gerard And His Sons

Chapter 7. Birdalone Cometh To Greenford…

Chapter 8. Birdalone Cometh To The Castle Of The Quest

Chapter 9. Birdalone Findeth The Isle Of Nothing Greatly Bettered

Chapter 10. Of Birdalone’s Flitting From The Isle Of Nothing

Chapter 11. Coming To The Isle Of Kings Birdalone…

Chapter 12. Birdalone Cometh Again To The Isle Of Queens…

Chapter 13. Coming To The Isle Of The Young And The Old…

Chapter 14. The Sending Boat Disappeareth From The Isle…

Chapter 15. Birdalone Lacketh Little Of Drowning…

Chapter 16. Birdalone Findeth Her Witch-Mistress Dead

Chapter 17. Birdalone Layeth To Earth The Body Of The Witch…

Chapter 18. The Wood-Mother Cometh To Birdalone And Heareth Her Story

Chapter 19. Habundia Hideth Birdalone’s Nakedness With Faery Raiment

Chapter 20. Birdalone Telleth Habundia Of Her Love For Arthur…

Chapter 21. How The Wood-Wife Entered The Cot, And A Wonder That Befell Thereon

Chapter 22. Birdalone Wendeth The Wildwood In Fellowship With Habundia

Chapter 23. The Wood-Wife Bringeth Birdalone To The Sight Of Arthur In The Wildwood

Chapter 24. The Wood-Mother Changeth Her Form To That Of A Woman Stricken In Years

Chapter 25. The Wood-Wife Healeth And Tendeth The Black Squire

Chapter 26. The Black Squire Telleth The Wood-Wife Of His Doings….

Chapter 27. Sir Arthur Cometh To The House Under The Wood

Chapter 28. Fair Days In The House Of Love

Chapter 29. Those Twain Will Seek The Wisdom Of The Wood-Wife

Chapter 30. They Have Speech With Habundia Concerning The Green Knight And His Fellows

Chapter 31. Habundia Cometh With Tidings Of Those Dear Friends

Chapter 32. Of The Fight In The Forest And The Rescue Of Those Friends…

Chapter 33. Viridis Telleth The Tale Of Their Seeking


Chapter 1. Sir Hugh Asketh Birdalone Where She Would Have The Abode…

Chapter 2. Birdalone Taketh Counsel With Her Wood-Mother Concerning The Matter Of Sir Hugh

Chapter 3. Of The Journeying Through The Forest Of Evilshaw Unto The Town Of Utterhay

Chapter 4. Of The Abiding In Utterhay In Love And Contentment

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