Childe Rowland and his brothers twain
Were playing at the ball.
Their sister, Burd Helen, she played
In the midst among them all.
For Burd Helen loved her brothers, and they loved her exceedingly. At play she was ever their companion and they cared for her as brothers should. And one day when they were at ball close to the churchyard—
Childe Rowland kicked it with his foot
And caught it on his knee.
At last as he plunged among them all,
O'er the church he made it flee.
Now Childe Rowland was Burd Helen's youngest, dearest brother, and there was ever a loving rivalry between them as to which should win. So with a laugh—
Burd Helen round about the aisle
To seek the ball is gone.
Now the ball had trundled to the right of the church; so, as Burd Helen ran the nearest way to get it, she ran contrary to the sun's course, and the light, shining full on her face, sent her shadow behind her. Thus that happened which will happen at times when folk forget and run widershins, that is against the light, so that their shadows are out of sight and cannot be taken care of properly.
Now what happened you will learn by and by; meanwhile, Burd Helen's three brothers waited for her return.
But long they waited, and longer still,
And she came not back again.
Then they grew alarmed, and—
They sought her east, they sought her west,
They sought her up and down.
And woe were the hearts of her brethren,
Since she was not to be found.
Not to be found anywhere—she had disappeared like dew on a May morning.
So at last her eldest brother went to Great Merlin the Magician, who could tell and foretell, see and foresee all things under the sun and beyond it, and asked him where Burd Helen could have gone.
"Fair Burd Helen," said the Magician, "must have been carried off with her shadow by the fairies when she was running round the church widershins; for fairies have power when folk go against the light. She will now be in the Dark Tower of the King of Elfland, and none but the boldest knight in Christendom will be able to bring her back.