Axl wishes the sun would come out and warm Beatrice, whose shivering has grown progressively worse. Just as he’s about to suggest another rest, they spot the roof of a boathouse and walk over to it. Seeing a man inside, Axl tells him that he and Beatrice want to go downstream to visit their son. Noticing Beatrice shivering, the man asks if she’s alright. Axl says Beatrice is fine but is too tired to continue walking and asks if the man will take them downstream in his boat. The man says he can’t take them in the boat because he’s waiting for a load of barley that needs to be taken down. However, the man points out two large baskets and suggests that they tie them together so the two of them can float down to the next boathouse. Beatrice doesn’t like the idea of being separated from Axl, but Axl tells her this is the best solution and promises they won’t be separated.
It is becoming clear that Beatrice is seriously ill, which adds urgency to their desire to get to their son. Furthermore, Beatrice’s fear of being separated from Axl represents her growing fear that they will have to spend eternity away from each other because they will not be able to pass the boatman’s test since they still don’t know what their happiest and most cherished memory is.
As Axl reassures Beatrice that they won’t get separated, the man helps them into the baskets and gives Axl a large pole to help direct the baskets when needed. Axl asks the man if there is a covering that he can put over Beatrice, so the man gives her a large fur and instructs them to leave the baskets and fur at the lower boathouse. The river is icy and Axl continuously checks on Beatrice. Beatrice tells him that she has an image in her mind, either dreamed or remembered, of herself standing and waiting for him in their room in the middle of the night after he’d gone away from her. Axl says it was just a dream, but Beatrice says she knows that Axl left her that night and that their son had left a day or two before. Axl tells her it was just a dream brought on by a fever and Beatrice agrees.
Beatrice’s “image” of being alone indicates that whatever happened in their past, they had not always been together as they are now. This thought is deeply uncomfortable to Axl because, as he feared, it would mean he had left Beatrice and, therefore, she might decide to stop loving him because of whatever he had done. Furthermore, Beatrice’s memory could mean that this separation is the reason their son left them, which, to Axl, would also mean that it’s his fault they can’t find or remember their son.
Up ahead, Axl spots a small rowboat that he and Beatrice might be able to float in together, so he directs their baskets toward it. As they get closer, their baskets get stuck in the reeds, but Axl tells Beatrice that if the boat is in good shape then they can use that for the rest of their journey. Axl boards the boat and sees what looks like a “pile of rags” that is actually an old woman, who asks Axl to help her. Beatrice asks what’s going on and Axl tells her about the woman. Beatrice tells him not to forget her and Axl says he’d never forget her. The woman hears Axl and Beatrice talking and says they can all share her boat if Axl will help her.
Beatrice’s fears take a terrifying turn: if they have forgotten their son, Axl might forget her. Absence leads to forgetting, so Beatrice sees Axl’s decision to leave her in the basket, even though he’s just steps away, as him risking forgetting her. This would also condemn her to having to go to the island alone.
The woman tells Axl to “Show them a fierce face” as he reaches out to help her. Axl spots a small creature running in the boat. Axl asks the woman if rats are bothering her and turns around to investigate what the creature is. A sound makes him turn back around and he sees the woman covered in pixies. Axl reaches for a hoe in the boat but feels himself “enveloped by a sense of tranquility” and moves slowly. Swinging at the pixies with the hoe, Axl remembers that he had always been a better diplomat than a swordsman. Still, Axl is determined to fight the pixies off and protect them all, but wonders if Beatrice is safe.
As Beatrice grows weaker, Axl’s firm health and ability to fight off a horde of pixies is notable. The island they hope to go to is representative of the afterlife, which one typically only goes to when they die. If Axl is in such good health instead of growing ill along with Beatrice, then it could mean that he will be left on the shore to finish living while Beatrice is carried to the island alone.
Axl hears a voice telling him to “Leave her.” Fearfully, he turns around and sees pixies swarming Beatrice’s basket. Horrified, Axl lets out a “warrior’s bellow” and jumps into the water to wade to Beatrice’s basket. Axl feels and sees pixies climbing up all around them but he pushes on toward Beatrice. As he wades forward, Axl hears a voice telling him to let them have Beatrice because they can ease her suffering. The voice, which is coming from the pixies, tells Axl that Beatrice is only going to get sicker and it will get harder and harder to take care of her, but they can take responsibility for caring for her if Axl leaves her there. Axl refuses and charges toward her.
Axl is given the opportunity to leave Beatrice in that space that was made tranquil by the pixies. His “warrior’s bellow” shows just how unready Axl is to lose Beatrice and his unwillingness to let her go even if it will be less painful for her, as the pixies promise. The pixies have the ability to read the latent thoughts and desires of those who fall under their spell. It is, therefore, telling that what they choose to offer Axl is freedom from having to continue to care for Beatrice, indicating that they sense that, on some level, Axl wants to be free from the responsibility of having to care for an ailing wife. However, this could also be read as Axl having genuine concern that Beatrice would be better off being left with the pixies, who can ease any pain and suffering she’s experiencing. In that case, it would be out of concern for her and not for himself that Axl would consider leaving her there.
When Axl reaches Beatrice, he discovers that she is fast asleep even with pixies all over her. He throws the pixies out and pushes the basket to safety before lifting Beatrice out and carrying her to dry land. Beatrice wakes up and asks him what they’re doing. Without explaining, Axl says the spot is “evil” and they must walk, but that Beatrice can ride on his back.
The “evil” in that spot is the temptation to leave Beatrice behind rather than press on with her and face an uncertain future; a temptation that Axl is uncertain he’d be able to continue to resist. Axl’s anxiety to leave reveals that he is just as afraid of them forgetting each other as Beatrice was that he would forget her.