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THE CLOCK STRIKES AND MAID-ALONE STAYS
AYS that made a year went by; the maidens went away
from the Castle, and Dame Dale married her two limping
daughters, Berry-bright and Buttercup, to the
kennel-master and the stable-master. But still the
King's son went searching for the MATCHLESS MAIDEN.
He made many journeys and he brought certain quests to
an end; but no Maid-alone did he find at the end of the
quest or the end of the journey. Often the falconers
saw him standing at the edge of the marsh, where, her
bare feet in the marsh
 water, he had seen Maid-alone with the white and grey
goose-flock around her.
It was his Muime who told him about the two starlings
that used to fly beside him when he rode abroad and
come back with him from his journeys. They had their
shelter beside her dormer window, and that is how she
had come to notice them. Well, the next time he rode
out he watched for the starlings and he followed where
they flew. Down winding laneways they brought him
where only elder-bushes and briers grew. On he rode
after them till he came to a small black house
deep-sunken in the ground.
He went to the door and looked into the house. There,
sitting by the fire and spinning grey threads on an old
spindle he saw a woman in a Cloak of Crow Feathers. He
left his horse standing and stepped into the house.
The old woman looked at him and said, "Tell me what you
have come to seek."
"The maiden who once wore the cloak you wear," said he.
 "Where did that maiden come to you from?" said she.
"She came from Ditch-land, by Old Shoe Garden," said
he, "and from Last-ember Moor, and from where a dog
lapped water out of her hands."
"And have you betaken yourself to all these places?"
said the old woman in the Cloak of Crow Feathers.
"I have. Many days did I spend searching for the shoe
that was thrown down there. I found it. And on
Last-ember Moor I spent days looking for the pot that
was brought there. I fought with a Giant and did not
come off scatheless. But I found and I have the pot.
Then I sat by the well from which one brought water for
a dog to lap his tongue in. Many days I was there, and
I brought water to all the dogs that went past."
The Woman of a Thousand Years rose up and brought the
King's son to the garden that was behind her little
house. And there he saw Maid-alone standing in a
little stream and gathering cresses.
 Not the bronze dress, nor the silver dress, nor the
gold dress had she on now. She was dressed in brown
wincey, and her feet were bare. But more than ever in
the King's son's eyes did she look the
Just as he laid his eyes on her one burst through the
hedge and came to her. It was the Chamberlain from the
Castle. He cried out, "I have found you at last. Come
with me to the King's Castle, and to one who is dying
for love of you."
She said, "Who is there that remembers me?"
"I, I, I!" cried the King's son.
Maid-alone came again to the King's Castle: she looked
on its stables and its kennels; its mews for the hawks
and its meres for the herons; its ponds for the swans
and parades for the peacocks; she looked on the little
door that the third under-stewardess had opened to her
on the morning she first came. By that little door she
entered now. She went softly past the scullery where
she used to eat her meal of scraps before she was
banished to the ashy hearths, and she went past
 the Ratcatcher who was standing by his cage of brown
rats, telling the outlandish servants that tallow was
the one thing in the Castle that rats would not eat.
She came to where the crooked passages and the winding
stairways led up to the main hallway. Before her was
the great, sweeping, scarlet staircase. All alone she
went up it, and there were no servitors standing there
in their velvets, with branched silver candle-sticks in
their hands. And all alone she entered the Solar
Gallery, and she found a cushioned seat before a fire
of peat, and she sat down on it.
And into the Solar Gallery, closing the door behind
him, came another. It was the King's son. Citrons and
pomegranates were on the table, and he brought them to
her, taking a place on a cushioned seat beside her.
Then into the gallery came a loud and a heavy sound.
It was the Clock in the Tower striking twelve.
Maid-alone let the citrons and the pomegranates fall.
But they did not roll far. Nor did she stand up to run
away, for she remembered that she and the King's son
were wed, and that two starlings had
 sung at their wedding, and that they had leave to be
together even though the clock struck twelve.