|The King of Ireland's Son|
|by Padraic Colum|
|A romance of unusual beauty and simplicity, having all the traditional elements of the folk tale and all its magic and wonder. In vigorous and rhythmic prose, the author recounts the adventurous wooing of Fedelma, the enchanter's daughter, by the King of Ireland's son, and relates the many strange adventures they had on their journey home, weaving many short tales from the Gaelic tradition into the fabric of the narrative. A book of uncommon beauty in form and content, with illustrations and decorations in black and white by Willy Pogany. Ages 8-12 |
WHEN THE KING OF THE CATS CAME TO KING CONNAL'S DOMINION
HE King of Ireland's Son was home again, but as he
kept asking about a King and a Kingdom no one had ever
heard of, people thought he had lost his wits in his
search for the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands. He
rode abroad every day to ask strangers if they knew
where the King of the Land of Mist had his dominion and
he came back to his father's every night in the hope
that one would be at the Castle who could tell him
where the place that he sought was. Maravaun wanted to
relate to him fables from "The Breastplate of
Instruction" but the King's Son did not hear a word
that Maravaun said. After a while he listened to the
things that Art, the King's Steward, related to him,
for it was Art who had shown the King's Son the leaden
ring that was on his finger. He took it off,
remembering the betrothal ring that the Little Sage had
made, and then he saw that it was not his, but
Fedelma's ring that he wore. Then he felt as if
 Fedelma had sent a message to him, and he was less wild
in his thoughts.
Afterwards, in the evenings, when he came back from his
ridings, he would cross the meadows with Art, the
King's Steward, or would stand with him while the
herdsmen drove the cattle into the byres. Then he would
listen to what Art related to him. And one evening he
heard Art say, "The most remarkable event that happened
was the coming into this land of the King of the Cats."
"I will listen to what you tell me about it," said the
"Then," said Art, the King's Steward, "to your father's
Son in all truth be it told"—
HE King of the Cats stood up. He was a grand creature.
His body was brown and striped across as if one had
burned on wood with a hot poker. Like all the race of
the Royal Cats of the Isle of Man he was without a
tail. But he had extraordinarily fine whiskers. They
went each side of his face to the length of a
dinner-dish. He had such eyes that when he turned one
of them upward the bird that was flying across dropped
from the sky. And when he turned the other one down he
could make a hole in the floor.
He lived in the Isle of Man. Once he had been King of
the Cats of Ireland and Britain, of Norway and
 Denmark, and the whole Northern and Western World. But
after the Norsemen won in the wars the Cats of Norway
and Britain swore by Thor and Odin that they would give
him no more allegiance. So for a hundred years and a
day he had got allegiance only from the Cats of the
Western World; that is, from Ireland and the Islands
The tribute he received was still worth having. In May
he was sent a boatful of herring. In August he was let
have two boatfuls of mackerel. In November he was given
five barrels of preserved mice. At other seasons he had
for his tribute one out of every hundred birds that
flew across the Island on their way to
Ireland—tomtits, pee-wits, linnets, siskins,
starlings, martins, wrens and tender young barn owls.
He was also sent the following as marks of allegiance
and respect: a salmon, to show his dominion over the
rivers; the skin of a marten to show his dominion in
the woods; a live cricket to show his dominion in the
houses of men; the horn of a cow, to show his right to
a portion of the milk produced in the Western World.
UT the tribute from the Western World became smaller
and smaller. One year the boat did not come with the
herring. Mackerel was sent to him afterwards but he
knew it was sent to him because so much was being taken
out of the sea that the farmer-men were plowing their
mackerel-catches into the land
 to make their crops grow. Then a year came when he got
neither the salmon nor the marten skin, neither the
live cricket nor the cow's horn. Then he got
righteously and royally indignant. He stood up on his
four paws on the floor of his palace, and declared to
his wife that he himself was going to Ireland to know
what prevented the sending of his lawful tribute to
him. He called for his Prime Minister then and said,
"Prepare for Us our Speech from the Throne."
The Prime Minister went to the Parliament House and
wrote down "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!" But he could not
remember any more of the ancient language in which the
speeches from the Throne were always written. He went
home and hanged himself with a measure of tape and his
wife buried the body under the hearth-stone.
"Speech or no speech," said the King of the Cats, "I'm
going to pay a royal visit to my subjects in Ireland."
He went to the top of the cliff and he made a spring.
He landed on the deck of a ship that was bringing the
King of Norway's daughter to be married to the King of
Scotland's son. The ship nearly sank with the crash of
his body on it. He ran up the sails and placed himself
on the mast of the ship. There he gathered his feet
together and made another spring. This time he landed
on a boat that was bringing oak-timber to build a
King's Palace in London. He stood where
 the timber was highest and made another spring. This
time he landed on the Giant's Causeway that runs from
Ireland out into the sea. He picked his steps from
boulder to boulder, and then walked royally and
resolutely on the ground of Ireland. A man was riding
on horseback with a woman seated on the saddle behind
him. The King of the Cats waited until they came up.
"My good man," said he very grandly, "when you go back
to your house, tell the ash-covered cat in the corner
that the King of the Cats has come to Ireland to see
His manner was so grand that the man took off his hat
and the woman made a courtesy. Then the King of the
Cats sprang into the branch of a tree of the forest and
slept till it was past the mid-day heat.
I nearly forgot to tell you that as he slept on the
branch his whiskers stood around his face the breadth
of a dinner-dish either way.
HE next day the King's Son rode abroad and where he
went that day he saw no man nor woman nor living
creature in the land around. But coming back he saw a
falcon sailing in the air above. He rode on and the
falcon sailed above, never rising high in the air, and
 swooping down. The King's Son fitted an arrow to his
bow and shot at the falcon. Immediately it rose in the
air and flew swiftly away, but a feather from it fell
before him. The King's Son picked the feather up. It
was a blue feather. Then the King's Son thought of
Fedelma's falcon—of the bird that flew above them
when they rode across the Meadows of Brightness. It
might be Fedelma's falcon, the one he had shot at, and
it might have come to show him the way to the Land of
Mist. But the falcon was not to be seen now.
He did not go amongst the strangers in his father's
Castle that evening; but he stood with Art who was
watching the herdsmen drive the cattle into the byres.
And Art after a while said, "I will tell you more about
the coming of the King of the Cats into King Connal's
Dominion. And as before I say
"To your father's Son in all truth be it told"—
HE King of the Cats waited on the branch of the tree
until the moon was in the sky like a roast duck on a
dish of gold, and still neither retainer, vassal nor
subject came to do him service. He was vexed, I tell
you, at the want of respect shown him.
This was the reason why none of his subjects came to
him for such a long time: The man and woman he
 had spoken to went into their house and did not say a
word about the King of the Cats until they had eaten
their supper. Then when the man had smoked his second
pipe, he said to the woman:
"That was a wonderful thing that happened to us to-day.
A cat to walk up to two Christians and say to them,
'Tell the ashy pet in your chimney corner at home that
the King of the Cats has come to see him.' "
No sooner were the words said than the lean, gray,
ash-covered cat that lay on the hearthstone sprang on
the back of the man's chair.
"I will say this," said the man; "it's a bad time when
two Christians like ourselves are stopped on their way
back from the market and ordered—ordered, no
less—to give a message to one's own cat lying on
one's own hearthstone."
"By my fur and claws, you're a long time coming to his
message," said the cat on the back of the chair; "what
was it, anyway?"
"The King of the Cats has come to Ireland to see you,"
said the man, very much surprised.
"It's a wonder you told it at all," said the cat, going
to the door. "And where did you see His Majesty?"
"You shouldn't have spoken," said the man's wife.
"And how did I know a cat could understand?" said the
"When you have done talking amongst yourselves,"
 said the cat, "would you tell me where you met His
"Nothing will I tell you," said the man, "until I hear
your own name from you."
"My name," said the cat, "is Quick-to-Grab, and well
you should know it."
"Not a word will we tell you," said the woman, "until
we hear what the King of the Cats is doing in Ireland.
Is he bringing wars and rebellions into the country?"
"Wars and rebellions,—no, ma'am," said
Quick-to-Grab, "but deliverance from oppression. Why
are the cats of the country lean and lazy and covered
with ashes? It is because the cat that goes outside the
house in the sunlight, to hunt or to play, is made to
suffer with the loss of an eye."
"And who makes them suffer with the loss of an eye?"
said the woman.
"One whose reign is nearly over now," said
Quick-to-Grab. "But tell me where you saw His Majesty?"
"No," said the man.
"No," said the woman, "for we don't like your
impertinence. Back with you to the hearthstone, and
watch the mouse-hole for us."
Quick-to-Grab walked straight out of the door.
"May no prosperity come to this house," said he, "for
denying me when I asked where the King of the Cats was
pleased to speak to you."
 But he put his ear to the door when he went outside and
he heard the woman say,—
"The horse will tell him that we saw the King of the
Cats a mile this side of the Giant's Causeway."
(That was a mistake. The horse could not have told it
at all, because horses never know the language that is
spoken in houses—only cats know it fully and dogs
know a little of it.)
UICK-TO-GRAB now knew where the King of the Cats might
be found. He went creeping by hedges, loping across
fields, bounding through woods, until he came under the
branch in the forest where the King of the Cats rested,
his whiskers standing round his face the breadth of a
When he came under the branch Quick-to-Grab mewed a
little in Egyptian, which is the ceremonial language of
the Cats. The King of the Cats came to the end of the
"Who are you, vassal?" said he in Phœnician.
"A humble retainer of my lord," said Quick-to-Grab in
High-Pictish (this is a language very suitable to cats
but it is only their historians who now use it).
They continued their conversation in Irish.
"What sign shall I show the others that will make them
know you are the King of the Cats?" said
 The King of the Cats chased up the tree and pulled down
heavy branches. "There is a sign of my royal prowess,"
"It's a good sign," said Quick-to-Grab.
They were about to talk again when Quick-to-Grab put
down his tail and ran up another tree greatly
"What ails you?" said the King of the Cats. "Can you
not stay still while you are speaking to your lord and
"Old-fellow Badger is coming this way," said
Quick-to-Grab, "and when he puts his teeth in one he
never lets go."
Without saying a word the King of the Cats jumped down
from the tree. Old-fellow Badger was coming through the
glade. When he saw the King of the Cats crouching there
he stopped and bared his terrible teeth. The King of
the Cats bent himself to spring. Then Old-fellow Badger
turned round and went lumbering back.
"Oh, by my claws and fur," said Quick-to-Grab, "you are
the real King of the Cats. Let me be your Councillor.
Let me advise your Majesty in the times that will be so
difficult for your subjects and yourself. Know that the
Cats of Ireland are impoverished and oppressed. They
are under a terrible tyranny."
"Who oppresses my vassals, retainers and subjects?"
said the King of the Cats.
"The Eagle-Emperor. He has made a law that no cat
 may leave a man's house as long as the birds (he makes
an exception in the case of owls) have any business
"I will tear him to pieces," said the King of the Cats.
"How can I reach him?"
"No cat has thought of reaching him," said
Quick-to-Grab, "they only think of keeping out of his
way. Now let me advise your Majesty. None of our
enemies must know that you have come into this country.
You must appear as a common cat."
"What, me?" said the King of the Cats.
"Yes, your Majesty, for the sake of the deliverance of
your subjects you will have to appear as a common cat."
"And be submissive and eat scraps?"
"That will be only in the daytime," said Quick-to-Grab,
"in the night-time you will have your court and your
"At least, let the place I stay in be no hovel," said
the King of the Cats. "I shall refuse to go into a
house where there are washing days—damp clothes
before a fire and all that."
"I shall use my best diplomacy to safeguard your
comfort and dignity," said Quick-to-Grab, "please
invest me as your Prime Minister."
The King of the Cats invested Quick-to-Grab by biting
the fur round his neck. Then the King and his Prime
Minister parted. The King of the Cats took
 up quarters for a day or two in a round tower.
Quick-to-Grab made a journey through the country-side.
He went into every house and whispered a word to every
cat that was there, and whether the cat was watching a
mouse-hole, or chasing crickets, or playing with
kittens, when he or she heard that word they sat up and
ARLY, early, next day the King of Ireland's Son rode
out in search of the blue falcon, but although he rode
from the ring of day to the gathering of the dark
clouds he saw no sign of it on rock or tree or in the
air. Very wearily he rode back, and after his horse was
stabled he stood with Art in the meadows watching the
cattle being driven by. And Art, the King's Steward,
said: "The Coming of the King of the Cats into King
Connal's dominion is a story still to be told.
father's Son in all truth be it told"—
UICK-TO-GRAB, in consultation with the Seven Elders of
the Cat-Kin decided that the Blacksmith's forge would
be a fit residence for the King of the Cats. It was
clean and commodious. But the best reason of all for
his going there was this: people
 and beasts from all parts came into the forge and the
King of the Cats might learn from their discussions
where the Eagle-Emperor was and how he might be
His Majesty found that the Forge was not a bad
residence for a King living unbeknownst. It was dry and
warm. He liked the look of the flames that mounted up
with the blowing of the bellows. He used to sit on a
heap of old saddles on the floor and watch the horses
being shod or waiting to be shod. He listened to the
talk of the men. The people in the Forge treated him
respectfully and often referred to his size, his
appearance and his fine manners.
Every night he went out to a feast that the cats had
prepared for him. Quick-to-Grab always walked back to
the Forge with him to give a Prime Minister's advice.
He warned His Majesty not to let the human beings know
that he understood and could converse in their
language—(all cats know men's language, but men do
not know that the cats know). He told him not to be too
haughty (as a King might be inclined to be) to any
creature in the Forge.
The King of the Cats took this advice. He used even to
twitch his ears as a mark of respect to Mahon, the
hound whose kennel was just outside the forge, and to
the hounds that Mahon had to visit him. He even made
advances to the Cock who walked up and down outside.
 This Cock made himself very annoying to the King of the
Cats. He used to strut up and down saying to himself
over and over again, "I'm Cock-o'-the-Walk, I'm
Cock-o'-the-Walk." Sometimes he would come into the
Forge and say it to the horses. The King of the Cats
wondered how the human beings could put up with a
creature who was so stupid and so vain. He had a red
comb that fell over one eye. He had purple feathers on
his tail. He had great spurs on his heels. He used to
put his head on one side and yawn when the King of the
Cock-o'-the-Walk used to come into the Forge at night
and sleep on the bellows. And when the King of the Cats
came back from the feasts he used to waken up and say
to himself, "I'm Cock-o'-the-Walk, I'm
Cock-o'-the-Walk. The Cats are not a respectable
One noonday there were men in the Forge. They were
talking to the Smith. Said one, "Could you tell us,
Smith, where iron came from?"
The King of the Cats knew but he said nothing.
Cock-o'-the-Walk came to the door and held his head as
if he were listening.
"I can't tell where iron came from," said the Smith,
"but if that Cock could talk he could tell you. The
world knows that the Cock is the wisest and the most
ancient of creatures."
"I'm Cock-o'-the-Walk, said the Cock to a rusty ass's
 "Yes, the Cock is a wonderful creature," said the man
who had asked the question.
"Not wonderful at all," said the King of the Cats, "and
if you had asked me I could have told you where iron
"And where did iron come from?" said the Smith.
"From the Mountains of the Moon," said the King of the
The men in the Forge put their hands on their knees and
looked down at him. Mahon the hound came into the Forge
with other hounds at his tail, and seeing the men
looking at the King of the Cats, Mahon put his nose to
him. Cock-o'-the-Walk flapped his wings insolently. The
King of the Cats struck at the red hanging comb with
his paw. The Cock flew up in the air. The King of the
Cats sprang out of the window, and as he did, Mahon and
the other hounds sprang after him—
HE King of Ireland's Son rode towards the East the
next day, and in the first hour's journey he saw the
blue falcon sailing above. He followed where it went
and the falcon never lifted nor stooped, but sailed
steadily on, only now and again beating the air with
its wings. Over benns and through glens and across
moors the blue
 falcon flew and the King of Ireland's Son followed.
Then his horse stumbled; he could not go any further,
and he lost sight of the blue falcon.
Black night was falling down on the ground when he came
back to the King's Castle. Art, the King's Steward, was
waiting for him and he walked beside his limping horse.
And Art said when they were a little way together, "The
Coming of the King of the Cats is a story still to be
"To your father's Son in all truth be it told"—
Y the magic powers they possessed it was made known to
all the cats in the country that their King was being
pursued by the hounds. Then on every hearthstone a cat
howled. Cats sprang to the doors, overturning cradles
upon children. They stood upon the thresholds and they
all made the same curse—"That ye may break your
backs, that ye may break your backs before ye catch the
King of the Cats."
When he heard the howls of his vassals, retainers and
subjects, the King of the Cats turned over on his back
and clawed at the first hound that came after him. He
stood up then. So firmly did he set himself on his four
legs that those that dashed at him did not overthrow
him. He humped up his body and lifted his forepaws. The
hounds held back. A horn sounded
 and that gave them an excuse to get away from the claws
and the teeth, the power and the animosity of the King
of the Cats.
Then, even though it might cost each and every one of
them the loss of an eye, the cats that had sight of him
came running up. "We will go with you, my lord, we will
help you, my lord," they cried all together.
"Go back to the hearthstones," said the King of the
Cats. "Go back and be civil and quiet again in the
houses. You will hear of my deeds. I go to find the
tracks of our enemy, the Eagle-Emperor."
When they heard that announcement the cats lamented,
and the noise of their lamentation was so dreadful that
horses broke their harnesses where they were yoked; men
and women lost the color of their faces thinking some
dreadful visitation was coming on the land; every bag
of oats and rye turned five times to the right and five
times to the left with the fright it got; dishes were
broken, knives were hurled round, and the King's Castle
was shaken to the bottom stone.
"It is not the time to seek the tracks of the
Eagle-Emperor," said Quick-to-Grab. "Stay for a while
longer in men's houses."
"Never," said the King of the Cats. "Never will I stay
by the hearthstone and submit to be abused by cocks and
hounds and men. I will range the world openly now and
seek out the enemy of the Cat-Kind, the Eagle-Emperor."
 Without once turning his back he went towards the wood
that was filled with his enemies, the birds. The cats,
when they saw their petitions were no use, went
everyone back to the house where he or she stayed. Each
one sat before a mouse-hole and pretended to be
watching. But though mice stirred all round them the
cats of Ireland never turned a head that night.
It was the wren, the smallest of birds, that saw him
and knew him for the King of the Cats. The wren flew
through the wood to summon the Hawk-Clan. But it was
towards sunset now and the hawks had taken up their
stations at the edge of the wood to watch that they
might pick up the farmers' chickens. They wouldn't turn
an eye when the wren told them that a cat was in the
wood during the time forbidden to cats to be outside
the houses of men. "It is the King of the Cats," said
the wren. None of the hawks lifted a wing. They were
waiting for the chickens that would stray about the
moment after sunset.
But if the wren couldn't rouse the Hawk-Clan she was
able to rouse the other bird-tribes. "A cat, a cat, on
your lives a cat," she called out as she flew through
the wood. The rooks that were going home now rose above
the trees, cawing threats. The blackbirds, thrushes and
jays screamed as they flew before the King of the Cats.
The woodpeckers, hedge-sparrows, tom-tits, robins and
linnets chattered as they flew behind him. Sometimes
the young rooks made a great
 show of attacking him. They flew down from the flock.
"He is here, here, here," they cawed and flew up again.
The rooks kept telling themselves and the other birds
in the wood what they were going to do with the King of
the Cats. But a single raven did more against him than
the thousand rooks that made so much noise. This raven
was in a hole in the tree. She struck the King of the
Cats on the head with her beak as he went past.
The King of the Cats was annoyed by the uproar the
birds were making and he was angered by the raven's
stroke, but he did not want to enter into a battle with
the birds. He was on his way to the house of the Hag of
the Wood who was then known as the Hag of the Ashes.
Now as this is the first time you have heard of the Hag
of the Ashes, I'll have to tell you how the King of the
Cats had heard of her and how he knew where her house
was in the wood.
HE next day the King's Son put a bridle on the Slight
Red Steed and rode towards the East again. He saw the
blue falcon and he followed where it flew. Over benns,
and through glens and across mountains and moors the
blue falcon went and the Slight Red Steed neither
 swerved nor stumbled but went as the bird flew. The
falcon lighted on a pine tree that grew alone. The
King's Son rode up and put his hands to the tree to
climb and put his head against it, and as he did he
heard speech from the tree. "The stroke of the Sword of
Light will slay the King of the Land of Mist and the
stroke of the Sword of Light that will cut a tress of
her hair will awaken Fedelma." There was no more speech
from the tree and the falcon rose from its branches and
flew high up in the air. Then the King of Ireland's Son
rode back towards his father's Castle.
He went to the meadow and stood with Art and listened
to what Art had to tell him. And as before the King's
"To your father's Son in all truth be it told"—
UICK-TO-GRAB had said to the King of the Cats, "If
ever you need the counsel of a human being, go to no
one else but the Hag of the Ashes who was once called
the Hag of the Wood. In the very centre of the wood
four ash trees are drawn together at the tops, wattles
are woven round these ash trees, and in the little
house made in this way the Hag of the Ashes lives, with
no one near her since her nine daughters went away, but
her goat that's her only friend." The King of the Cats
was now in the
 centre of the wood. He saw four ash trees drawn
together at the tops and he jumped to them.
Now the Hag of the Ashes had a bad neighbor. This was a
crane that had built her nest across the roof of the
little house. The nest prevented the smoke from coming
out at the top and the house below was filled with it.
The Hag could hardly keep alive on account of the smoke
and she could neither take away the nest nor banish the
The crane was there when the King of the Cats sprang on
the roof. She was sitting with her two legs stretched
out, and when the King of the Cats came down beside her
she slipped away and sailed over the trees. "Time for
me to be going," said the crane. And from that day to
this she never came back to the house of the Hag of the
"Oh, thanks to you, good creature," said the Hag of the
Ashes, coming out of the house. "Tear down her nest now
and let the smoke rise up through the roof."
The King of the Cats tore up the sticks and wool that
the crane's nest was made of, and the smoke came up
through the top of the house. "Oh, thanks to you, good
creature, that has destroyed the cross crane's nest.
Come down on my floor now and I'll do everything that
will serve you."
The King of the Cats jumped down on the floor of the
Hag's house and saw the Hag of the Ashes sitting in a
corner. She was a little, little woman in a gray cloak.
 All over the floor there were ashes in heaps, for she
used to light a fire in one corner and when it was
burnt out light another beside the ashes of the first.
The smoke had never gone through the hole in the roof
since the crane had built her nest on the top of the
house. Her face was yellow with the smoke and her eyes
were half closed on account of it.
"Do you know who I am, Hag of the Ashes?" said the King
of the Cats when he stood on the floor.
"You are a cat, honey," said the Hag of the Ashes.
"I am the King of the Cats."
"The King of the Cats you are indeed. And it was you
who let the smoke out of the top of my little house by
destroying the nest the cross crane had built on it."
"It was I who did that."
"Welcome to you then, King of the Cats. And what
service can the Hag of the Ashes do for you in return?"
"I would go to where the Eagle-Emperor is. You must
show me the way."
"By my cloak I will do that. The Eagle-Emperor lives on
the top of the Hill of Horns."
"And how can I get to the top of the Hill of Horns?"
"I don't know how you can get there at all. All over
the Hill is bare starvation. No four-footed thing can
reach the top—no four-footed thing, I mean, but my
goat that's tied to the hawthorn bush outside."
 "I will ride on the back of your goat to the top of the
Hill of Horns."
"No, no, good King of the Cats. I have only my goat for
company and how could I bear to be parted from him?"
"Lend me your goat, and when I come back from the Hill
of Horns I will plate his horns with gold and shoe his
hooves with silver."
"No, no, good King of the Cats. How could I bear my
goat to be away from me, and I having no other
"If you do not let me ride on your goat to the top of
the Hill of Horns I will leave a sign on your house
that will bring the cross crane to build her nest on
the top of it again."
"Then take my goat, King of the Cats, take my goat but
let him come back to me soon."
"I will. Come with me now and bid him take me to the
top of the Hill of Horns."
The King of the Cats marched out of the house and the
Hag of the Ashes hobbled after him. The goat was lying
under the hawthorn bush. He put his horns to the ground
when they came up to him.
"Will you go to the Hill of Horns?" said the Hag of the
"Indeed, that I will not do," said the goat.
"Oh, the soft tops of the hedges on the way to the Hill
of Horns—sweet in the mouth of a goat they
 should be," said the Hag of the Ashes. "But my own poor
goat wants to stay here and eat the tops of the
"Why didn't you tell me of the hedges on the way to the
Hill of Horns before?" said the goat, rising to his
feet. "To the Hill of Horns I'll go."
"And will you let a cat ride on your back to the Hill
"Indeed, I will not do that."
"Then, my poor goat, I'll not untie the rope that's
round your neck, for you can't go to the Hill of Horns
without this cat riding on your back."
"Let him sit on my back then and hold my horns, and
I'll take no notice of him."
The Hag of the Ashes untied the rope that was round his
neck, the King of the Cats jumped up on the goat's
back, and they started off on the path through the
Wood. "Oh, how I'll miss my goat, until he comes back
to me with gold on his horns and silver on his hooves,"
the Hag of the Ashes cried after them.
HE King of Ireland's Son did not leave the Castle the
next day, but stayed to question those who came to it
about the Sword of Light. And some had heard of the
Sword of Light and some had not heard of it. In the
afternoon he was in the chambers of the Castle and he
 his two foster-brothers, Dermott and Downal, the sons
of Caintigern, the Queen, playing chess. They played
the game upon his board and with his figures. And when
he went up to them and told them they had permission to
use the board and the figures, they said, "We had
forgotten that you owned these things." The King's Son
saw that everything in the Castle was coming into the
possession of his foster-brothers.
He found another board with other chess-men and he
played a game with the King's Steward. And Art said,
"The coming of the King of the Cats into King Connal's
Dominion is a story still to be told.
"To your father's Son in all truth be it told"—
HAT should a goat do but ramble down laneways, wander
across fields, stray along hedges and stay to rest,
under shady trees? All this the Hag's goat did. But at
last he brought the King of the Cats to the foot of the
Hill of Horns.
And what was the Hill of Horns like, asks my kind
foster-child. It was hills of stones on the top of a
hill of stones. Only a goat could foot it from pebble
to stone, from stone to boulder, from boulder to crag,
and from crag to mountain-shoulder. It was well and not
ill what the Hag's goat did. But then thunder sounded;
lightning struck fire out of the stones, the wind mixed
 itself with the rain and the tempest pelted cat and
goat. The goat stood on a mountain-shoulder. The wind
rushed up from the bottom and carried the companions to
the top of the Hill of Horns. Down sprang the cat. But
the goat stood on his hind-legs to butt back at the
wind. The wind caught him between the beard and the
under-quarters and swept him from the top and down the
other side of the hill (and what happened to the Hag's
goat after this I never heard). The King of the Cats
put his claws into the crevices of a standing stone and
held to it with great tenacity. And then, when the wind
abated and he looked across his shoulder, he found that
he was standing beside the nest of the Eagle-Emperor.
It was a hollow edged with rocks, and round that hollow
were scattered the horns of the deer and goats that the
Eagle-Emperor had carried off. And in the hollow there
was a calf and a hare and a salmon. The King of the
Cats sprang into the Eagle-Emperor's nest. First he ate
the salmon. Then he stretched himself between the hare
and the calf and waited for the Eagle-Emperor.
T last he appeared. Down he came to the nest making
circles in the air. He lighted on the rocky rim. The
King of the Cats rose with body bent for the spring,
and if the Eagle-Emperor was not astonished at his
appearance it was because an Eagle can never be
 A brave man would be glad if he could have seen the
Eagle-Emperor as he crouched there on the rock rim of
his nest. He spread down his wings till they were great
strong shields. He bent down his outspread tail. He
bent down his neck so that his eyes might look into the
creature that faced him. And his cruel, curved, heavy
beak was ready for the stroke.
But the King of the Cats sprang into the air. The Eagle
lifted himself up but the Cat came down on his broad
back. The Eagle-Emperor screamed his war-scream and
flew off the hill. He struck at the King of the Cats
with the backs of his broad wings. Then he plunged
down. On the stones below he would tear his enemy with
beak and claws.
It was the Cat that reached the ground. As the Eagle
went to strike at him he sprang again and tore the
Eagle's breast. Then the Eagle-Emperor caught the King
of the Cats in his claws and flew up again, screaming
his battle-scream. Drops of blood from both fell on the
ground. The Eagle had not a conqueror's grip on his
enemy and the King of the Cats was able to tear at him.
It happened that Curoi, King of the Munster Fairies,
was marching at the head of his troop to play a game of
hurling with the Fianna of Ireland, captained by
Fergus, and for the hand of Ainé, the daughter of
Mananaun, the Lord of the Sea. Just when the ball was
about to be thrown in the air the Eagle-Emperor and the
 King of the Cats were seen mixed together in their
struggle. One troop took the side of the Eagle and the
other took the side of the Cat. The men of the country
came up and took sides too. Then the men began to fight
amongst themselves and some were left dead on the
ground. And this went on until there were hosts of the
men of Ireland fighting each other on account of the
Eagle-Emperor and the King of the Cats. The King of the
Fairies and the Chief of the Fianna marched their men
away to a hill top where they might watch the battle in
the air and the battles on the ground. "If this should
go on," said Curoi, "our troops will join in and men
and Fairies will be slaughtered. We must end the combat
in the air." Saying this he took up the hurling-ball
and flung it at the Cat and Eagle. Both came down on
the ground. The Cat was about to spring, the Eagle was
about to pounce, when Curoi darted between them and
struck both with his spear. Eagle and Cat became
figures of stone. And there they are now, a Stone Eagle
with his wings outspread and a Stone Cat with his teeth
bared and his paws raised. And the Eagle-Emperor and
the King of the Cats will remain like that until Curoi
strikes them again with his fairy-spear.
When the Cat and the Eagle were turned into stone the
men of the country wondered for a while and then they
went away. And the Fairies of Munster and the Fianna of
Ireland played the hurling match for the
 hand of Ainé the daughter of Mananaun who is Lord
of the Sea, and what the result of that hurling match
was is told in another book.
And that ends my history of the coming into Ireland of
the King of the Cats.
HE King of Ireland's Son left Art and went into an
unused room in the Castle to search for a little bell
that he might put upon the Slight Red Steed. He found
the little bell, but it fell out of his hand and
slipped through a crack in the floor. He went and
looked through the crack. He saw below a room and in it
was Caintigern, the Queen, and beside her were two
women in the cloaks of enchantresses. And when he
looked again he knew the two of them—they were Aefa
and Gilveen, the daughters of the enchanter of the
Black Back-Lands and Fedelma's sisters. "And will my
two sons come to rule over their father's dominion?" he
heard Caintigern ask.
"The Prince who gains the Sword of Light will rule over
his father's dominion," Aefa said.
"Then one of my sons must get the Sword of Light,"
Caintigern said. "Tell me where they must go to get
knowledge of where it is."
"Only the Gobaun Saor knows where the Sword of Light
is," said Aefa.
 "The Gobaun Saor! Can he be seen by men?" said
"He can be seen," said Aefa. "And there is one—the
Little Sage of the Mountain—who can tell what road
to go to find the Gobaun Saor."
"Then," said Caintigern, "my two sons, Dermott and
Downal, will ride out to-morrow to find the Little Sage
of the Mountain, and the Gobaun Saor, so that one of
them may find the Sword of Light and come to rule over
his father's dominion."
When the King of Ireland's Son heard that, he went to
the stable where the Slight Red Steed was, and put the
bridle upon him and rode towards the Hill of Horns, on
one side of which was the house thatched with the one
great wing of a bird, where the Little Sage of the
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