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The King of Ireland's Son by  Padraic Colum


 

 

[Illustration]

THE HOUSE OF CROM DUV

I

[243]

T HE story is now about Flann. He went through the East gate of the Town of the Red Castle and his journey was to the house of the Hags of the Long Teeth where he might learn what Queen and King were his mother and his father. It is with the youth Flann, once called the Gilly of the Goatskin, that we will go if it be pleasing to you, Son of my Heart. He went his way in the evening, when, as the bard said:—

The blackbird shakes his metal notes

Against the edge of day,

And I am left upon my road

With one star on my way.

And he went his way in the night, when, as the same bard said:—

The night has told it to the hills,

And told the partridge in the nest,

And left it on the long white roads,

She will give light instead of rest.

And he went on between the dusk and the dawn, when, as the same bard said again:—

[244]

Behold the sky is covered,

As with a mighty shroud:

A forlorn light is lying

Between the earth and cloud.

And he went on in the dawn, when as the bard said (and this is the last stanza he made, for the King said there was nothing at all in his adventure):—

In the silence of the morning

Myself, myself went by,

Where lonely trees sway branches

Against spaces of the sky.

And then, when the sun was looking over the first high hills he came to a river. He knew it was the river he followed before, for no other river in the country was so wide or held so much water. As he had gone with the flow of the river then he thought he would go against the flow of the river now, and so he might come back to the glens and ridges and deep boggy places he had traveled from.

H E met a Fisherman who was drying his nets and he asked him what name the river had. The Fisherman said it had two names. The people on the right [245] bank called it the Day-break River and the people on the left bank called it the River of the Morning Star. And the Fisherman told him he was to be careful not to call it the River of the Morning Star when he was on the right bank nor the Daybreak River when he was on the left, as the people on either side wanted to keep to the name their fathers had for it and were ill-mannered to the stranger who gave it a different name. The Fisherman told Flann he was sorry he had told him the two names for the River and that the best thing he could do was to forget one of the names and call it just the River of the Morning Star as he was on the left bank.

Flann went on with the day widening before him and when the height of the noon was past he came to the glens and ridges and deep boggy places he had traveled from. He went on with the bright day going before him and the brown night coming behind him, and at dusk he came to the black and burnt place where the Hags of the Long Teeth had their house of stone.

He saw the house with a puff of smoke coming through every crevice in the stones. He went to the shut door and knocked on it with the knocking-stone.

"Who's without?" said one of the Hags.

"Who's within?" said Flann.

"The Three Hags of the Long Teeth," said one of the Hags, "and if you want to know it," said she, "they are the runners and summoners, the brewers and candle-makers for Crom Duv, the Giant."

Flann struck a heavier blow with the knocking-stone and the door broke in. He stepped into the smoke-filled house.

[246] "No welcome to you, whoever you are," said one of the three Hags who were seated around the fire.

"I am the lad who was called Gilly of the Goatskin, and whom you reared up here," said he, "and I have come back to you."

The three Hags turned from the fire then and screamed at him.

"And what brought you back to us, humpy fellow?" said the first Hag.

"I came back to make you tell me what Queen and King were my mother and father."

"Why should you think a King and Queen were your father and mother?" they said to him.

"Because I have on my breast the stars of a son of a King," said Flann, "and," said he, "I have in my hand a sword that will make you tell me."

He came towards them and they were afraid. Then the first Hag bent her knee to him, and, said she, "Loosen the hearthstone with your sword and you will find a token that will let you know who your father was."

Flann put his sword under the hearthstone and pried it up. But if it were a token, what was under the hearthstone was an evil thing—a cockatrice. It had been hatched out of a serpent's egg by a black cock of nine years. It had the head and crest of a cock and the body of a black serpent. The cockatrice lifted itself up on its tail and looked at him with red eyes. The sight [247] of that head made Flann dizzy and he fell down on the floor. Then it went down and the Hags put the hearthstone above it.

"What will we do with the fellow?" said one of the Hags, looking at Flann who was in a swoon on the floor.

"Cut off his head with the sword that he threatened us with," said another.

"No," said the third Hag. "Crom Duv the Giant is in want of a servant. Let him take this fellow. Then maybe the Giant will give us what he has promised us for so long—a Berry to each of us from the Fairy Rowan Tree that grows in his courtyard."

"Let it be, let it be," said the other Hags. They put green branches on the fire so that Crom Duv would see the smoke and come to the house. In the morning he came. He brought Flann outside, and after awhile Flann's senses came back to him. Then the Giant tied a rope round his arms and drove him before him with a long iron spike that he had for a staff.

II

C ROM Duv's arms stretched down to his twisted knees; he had long, yellow, overlapping horse's teeth in his mouth, with a fall-down under-lip and a drawn-back upper-lip; he had a matted rug of hair on his head. He was as high as a haystack. He [248] carried in his twisted hand an iron spike pointed at the end. And wherever he was going he went as quickly as a running mule.

He tied Flann's hands behind his back and drew the rope round Flann's body. Then he started off. Flann was dragged on as if at the tail of a cart. Over ditches and through streams; up hillsides and down into hollows he was hauled. Then they came into a plain as round as the wheel of a cart. Across the plain they went and into a mile-deep wood. Beyond the wood there were buildings— such walls and such heaps of stones Flann never saw before.


[Illustration]

Flann was dragged on.

But before they had entered the wood they had come to a high grassy mound. And standing on that grassy mound was the most tremendous bull that Flann had ever seen.

"What bull is that, Giant?" said Flann.

"My own bull," said Crom Duv, "the Bull of the Mound. Look back at him, little fellow. If ever you try to escape from my service my Bull of the Mound will toss you into the air and trample you into the ground." Crom Duv blew on a horn that he had across his chest. The Bull of the Mound rushed down the slope snorting. Crom Duv shouted and the bull stood still with his tremendous head bent down.

Flann's heart, I tell you, sank, when he saw the bull that guarded Crom Duv's house. They went through the deep wood then, and came to the gate of the Giant's [251] Keep. Only a chain was across it, and Crom Duv lifted up the chain. The courtyard was filled with cattle black and red and striped. The Giant tied Flann to a stone pillar. "Are you there, Morag, my byre-maid?" he shouted.

"I am here," said a voice from the byre. More cattle were in the byre and someone was milking them.

There was straw on the ground of the courtyard and Crom Duv lay down on it and went to sleep with the cattle trampling around him.

A great stone wall was being built all round the Giant's Keep—a wall six feet thick and built as high as twenty feet in some places and in others as high as twelve. The wall was still being built, for heaps of stones and great mixing-pans were about. And just before the door of the Keep was a Rowan Tree that grew to a great height. At the very top of the tree were bunches of red berries. Cats were lying around the stems of the tree and cats were in its branches—great yellow cats. More yellow cats stepped out of the house and came over to him. They looked Flann all over and went back, mewing to each other.

The cattle that were in the courtyard went into the byre one by one as they were called by the voice of the byre-maid. Crom Duv still slept. By and by a little red hen that was picking about the courtyard came near him and holding up her head looked Flann all over.

When the last cow had gone in and the last stream of [252] milk had sounded in the milking-vessel the byre-maid came into the courtyard. Flann thought he would see a long-armed creature like Crom Duv himself. Instead he saw a girl with good and kind eyes, whose disfigurements were that her face was pitted and her hair was bushy. "I am Morag, Crom Duv's byre-maid," said she.

"Will Crom Duv kill me?" said Flann.

"No. He'll make you serve him," said the byre-maid.

"And what will he make me do for him?"

"He will make you help to build his wall. Crom Duv goes out every morning to bring his cattle to pasture on the plain. And when he comes back he builds the wall round his house. He'll make you mix mortar and carry it to him, for I heard him say he wants a servant to do that."

"I'll escape from this," said Flann, "and I'll bring you with me."

"Hush," said Morag, and she pointed to seven yellow cats that were standing at Crom Duv's door, watching them. "The cats," said she, "are Crom Duv's watchers here and the Bull of the Mound is his watcher outside."

"And is this Little Red Hen a watcher too?" said Flann, for the Little Red Hen was watching them sideways.

"The Little Red Hen is my friend and adviser," said [253] Morag, and she went into the house with two vessels of milk.

C ROM Duv wakened up. He untied Flann and left him free. "You must mix mortar for me now," he said. He went into the byre and came out with a great vessel of milk. He left it down near the mixing-pan. He went to the side of the house and came back with a trough of blood.

"What are these for, Crom Duv?" said Flann.

"To mix the mortar with, gilly," said the Giant. "Bullock's blood and new milk is what I mix my mortar with, so that nothing can break down the walls that I'm building round the Fairy Rowan Tree. Every day I kill a bullock and every day my byre-maid fills a vessel of milk to mix with my mortar. Set to now, and mix the mortar for me."

Flann brought lime and sand to the mixing-pan and he mixed them in bullock's blood and new milk. He carried stones to Crom Duv. And so he worked until it was dark. Then Crom Duv got down from where he was building and told Flann to go into the house.

The yellow cats were there and Flann counted sixteen of them. Eight more were outside, in the branches or around the stem of the Rowan Tree. Morag came in, bringing a great dish of porridge. Crom Duv took up a wooden spoon and ate porridge out of vessel after vessel of milk. Then he shouted for his beer and Morag [254] brought him vessel after vessel of beer. Crom Duv emptied one after the other. Then he shouted for his knife and when Morag brought it he began to sharpen it, singing a queer song to himself.

"He's sharpening a knife to kill a bullock in the morning," said Morag. "Come now, and I'll give you your supper."

She took him to the kitchen at the back of the house. She gave him porridge and milk and he ate his supper. Then she showed him a ladder to a room above, and he went up there and made a bed for himself. He slept soundly, although he dreamed of the twenty-four yellow cats within, and the tremendous Bull of the Mound outside Crom Duv's Keep.

III

T HIS is how the days were spent in the house of Crom Duv. The Giant and his two servants, Flann and Morag, were out of their beds at the mouth of the day. Crom Duv sounded his horn and the Bull of the Mound bellowed an answer. Then he started work on his wall, making Flann carry mortar to him. Morag put down the fire and boiled the pots. Pots of porridge, plates of butter and pans of milk were on the table when Crom Duv and Flann came in to their breakfasts. [255] Then, when the Giant had driven out his cattle to the pasture Flann cleaned the byre and made the mortar, mixing lime and sand with bullock's blood and new milk. In the afternoon the Giant came back and he and Flann started work on the wall.

All the time the twenty-four yellow cats lay on the branches of the Rowan Tree or walked about the courtyard or lapped up great crocks of milk. Morag's Little Red Hen went hopping round the courtyard. She seemed to be sleepy or to be always considering something. If one of the twenty-four yellow cats looked at her the Little Red Hen would waken up, murmur something, and hop away.

One day the cattle came home without Crom Duv. "He has gone on one of his journeys," said Morag, "and will not be back for a night and a day."

"Then it is time for me to make my escape," said Flann.

"How can you make your escape, my dear, my dear?" said Morag. "If you go by the front the Bull of the Mound will toss you in the air and then trample you into the ground."

"But I have strength and cunning and activity enough to climb the wall at the back."

"But if you climb the wall at the back," said Morag, "you will only come to the Moat of Poisoned Water."

"The Moat of Poisoned Water?"

"The Moat of Poisoned Water," said Morag. "The [256] water poisons the skin of any creature that tries to swim across the Moat."

Flann was downcast when he heard of the Moat of Poisoned Water. But his mind was fixed on climbing the wall. "I may find some way of crossing the poisoned water," he said, "so bake my cake and give me provision for my journey."

Morag baked a cake and put it on the griddle. And when it was baked she wrapped it in a napkin and gave it to him. "Take my blessing with it," said she, "and if you escape, may you meet someone who will be a better help to you than I was. I must keep the twenty-four cats from watching you while you are climbing the wall."

"And how will you do that?" said Flann.

She showed him what she would do. With a piece of glass she made on the wall of the byre the shadows of flying birds. Birds never flew across the House of Crom Duv and the cats were greatly taken with the appearances that Morag made with the piece of glass. Six cats watched, and then another six came, and after them six more, and after them the six that watched in the Rowan Tree. And the twenty-four yellow cats sat round and watched with burning eyes the appearances of birds that Morag made on the byre-wall. Flann looked back and saw her seated on a stone, and he thought the Byre-Maid looked lonesome.

He tried with all his activity, all his cunning and all [257] his strength, and at last he climbed the wall at the back of Crom Duv's house. He gave a whistle to let Morag know he was over. Then he went through a little wood and came to the Moat of Poisoned Water.

V ERY ugly the dead water looked. Ugly stakes stuck up from the mud to pierce any creature that tried to leap across. And here and there on the water were patches of green poison as big as cabbage leaves. Flann drew back from the Moat. Leap it he could not, and swim it he dare not. And just as he drew back he saw a creature he knew come down to the bank opposite to him. It was Rory the Fox. Rory carried in his mouth the skin of a calf. He dropped the skin into the water and pushed it out before him. Then he got into the water and swam very cautiously, always pushing the calf's skin before him. Then Rory climbed up on the bank where Flann was, and the skin, all green and wrinkled, sank down into the water.

Rory was going to turn tail, but then he recognized Flann. "Master," said he, and he licked the dust on the ground.

"What are you doing here, Rory?" said Flann.

"I won't mind telling you if you promise to tell no other creature," said Rory.

"I won't tell," said Flann.

"Well then," said Rory, "I have moved my little [258] family over here. I was being chased about a good deal, and my little family wasn't safe. So I moved them over here." The fox turned and looked round at the country behind him. "It suits me very well," said he; "no creature would think of crossing this moat after me."

"Well," said Flann, "tell me how you are able to cross it."

"I will," said the fox, "if you promise never to hunt me nor any of my little family."

"I promise," said Flann.

"Well," said Rory, "the water poisons every skin. Now the reason that I pushed the calf's skin across was that it might take the poison out of the water. The water poisons every skin. But where the skin goes the poison is taken out of the water for a while, and a living creature can cross behind it if he is cautious."

"I thank you for showing me the way to cross the moat," said Flann.

"I don't mind showing you," said Rory the Fox, and he went off to his burrow.

There were deer-skins and calf-skins both sides of the moat. Flann took a calf's skin. He pushed it into the water with a stick. He swam cautiously behind it. When he reached the other side of the moat, the skin, all green and wrinkled, sank in the water.

Flann jumped and laughed and shouted when he found himself in the forest and clear of Crom Duv's [259] house. He went on. It was grand to see the woodpecker hammering on the branch, and to see him stop, busy as he was to say "Pass, friend." Two young deer came out of the depths of the wood. They were too young and too innocent to have anything to tell him, but they bounded alongside of him as he raced along the Hunter's Path. He jumped and he shouted again when he saw the river before him—the river that was called the Daybreak River on the right bank and the River of the Morning Star on the left. He said to himself, "This time, in troth, I will go the whole way with the river. A moving thing is my delight. The river is the most wonderful of all the things I have seen on my travels."

Then he thought he would eat some of the cake that Morag had baked for him. He sat down and broke it. Then as he ate it the thought of Morag came into his mind. He thought he was looking at her putting the cake on the griddle. He went a little way along the river and then he began to feel lonesome. He turned back, "I'll go to Crom Duv's House," said he, "and show Morag the way to escape. And then she and I will follow the river, and I won't be lonesome while she's with me."

So back along the Hunter's Path Flann went. He came to the Moat of Poisoned Water. He found a deer-skin and pushed it into the water and then swam cautiously across the moat. He climbed the wall then, [260] and when he put his head above it he saw Morag. She was watching for him.

"Crom Duv has not come back yet," said she, "but oh, my dear, my dear, I can't prevent the yellow cats from watching you come over the wall."

First six cats came and then another six and they sat round and watched Flann come down the wall. They did nothing to him, but when he came down on the ground they followed him wherever he went.

"You crossed the moat," said Morag, "then why did you come back?"

"I came back," said Flann, "to bring you with me."

"But," said she, "I cannot leave Crom Duv's house."

"I'll show you how to cross the moat," said he, "and we'll both be glad to be going by the moving river."

Tears came into Morag's eyes. "I'd go with you, my dear," said she, "but I cannot leave Crom Duv's house until I get what I came for."

"And what did you come for, Morag?" said he.

"I came," said she, "for two of the rowan berries that grow on the Fairy Rowan Tree in Crom Duv's courtyard. I know now that to get these berries is the hardest task in the world. Come within," said she, "and if we sit long enough at the supper-board I will tell you my story."

They sat at the supper-board long, and Morag told—


[Illustration]

IV

[261]

I WAS reared in the Spae-Woman's house with two other girls, Baun and Deelish, my foster-sisters. The Spae-Woman's house is on the top of a knowe, away from every place, and few ever came that way.

One morning I went to the well for water. When I looked into it I saw, not my own image, but the [262] image of a young man. I drew up my pitcher filled with water, and went back to the Spae-Woman's house. At noontide Baun went to the well for water. She came back and her pitcher was only half-filled. Before dark Deelish went to the well. She came back without a pitcher, for it fell and broke on the flags of the well.

The next day Baun and Deelish each plaited their hair, and they said to her who was foster-mother for the three of us: "No one will come to marry us in this far-away place. We will go into the world to seek our fortunes. So," said they, "bake a cake for each of us before the fall of the night."

The Spae-Woman put three cakes on the griddle and baked them. And when they were baked she said to Baun and Deelish: "Will you each take the half of the cake and my blessing, or the whole of the cake without my blessing?" And Baun and Deelish each said, "The whole of the cake will be little enough for our journey."

Each then took her cake under her arm and went the path down the knowe. Then said I to myself, "It would be well to go after my foster-sisters for they might meet misfortune on the road." So I said to my foster-mother, "Give me the third cake on the griddle until I go after my foster-sisters."

"Will you have half of the cake and my blessing or the whole of the cake without my blessing?" said she to me.

"The half of the cake and your blessing, mother," said I.

[263] She cut the cake in two with a black-handled knife and gave me the even half of it. Then said she:—

May the old sea's

Seven Daughters—

They who spin

Life's longest threads,

Protect and guard you!

She put salt in my hand then, and put the Little Red Hen under my arm, and I went off.

I went on then till I came in sight of Baun and Deelish. Just as I caught up on them I heard one say to the other, "This ugly, freckled girl will disgrace us if she comes with us." They tied my hands and feet with a rope they found on the road and left me in a wood.

I GOT the rope off my hands and feet and ran and ran until I came in sight of them again. And when I was coming on them I heard one say to the other, "This ugly, freckled girl will claim relationship with us wherever we go, and we will get no good man to marry us." They laid hold of me again and put me in a lime-kiln, and put beams across it, and put heavy stones on the beams. But my Little Red Hen showed me how to get out of the lime-kiln. Then I ran and I ran until I caught up with Baun and Deelish again.

"Let her come with us this evening," said one to the other, "and to-morrow we'll find some way of getting rid of her."

[264] The night was drawing down now, and we had to look for a house that would give us shelter. We saw a hut far off the road and we went to the broken door. It was the house of the Hags of the Long Teeth. We asked for shelter. They showed us a big bed in the dormer-room, and they told us we could have supper when the porridge was boiled.

The three Hags sat round the fire with their heads together. Baun and Deelish were in a corner plaiting their hair, but the Little Red Hen murmured that I was to listen to what the Hags said.

"We will give them to Crom Duv in the morning," one said. And another said, "I have put a sleeping-pin in the pillow that will be under each, and they will not waken."

When I heard what they said I wanted to think of what we could do to make our escape. I asked Baun to sing to me. She said she would if I washed her feet. I got a basin of water and washed Baun's feet, and while she sang, and while the Hags thought we were not minding them, I considered what we might do to escape. The Hags hung a pot over the fire and the three of them sat around it once more.

When I had washed my foster-sister's feet I took a besom and began to sweep the floor of the house. One of the Hags was very pleased to see me doing that. She said I would make a good servant, and after a while she asked me to sit at the fire. I sat in the corner of the chimney. They had put meal in the water, and I began [265] to stir it with a pot-stick. Then the Hag that had asked me to the fire said, "I will give you a good share of milk with your porridge if you keep stirring the pot for us." This was just what I wanted to be let do. I sat in the chimney-corner and kept stirring the porridge while the Hags dozed before the fire.

First, I got a dish and ladle and took out of the pot some half-cooked porridge. This I left one side. Then I took down the salt-box that was on the chimney-shelf and mixed handfuls of salt in the porridge left in the pot.

W HEN it was all cooked I emptied it into another dish and brought the two dishes to the table. Then I told the Hags that all was ready. They came over to the table and they gave my foster-sisters and myself three porringers of goat's milk. We ate out of the first dish and they ate out of the second. "By my sleep to-night," said one Hag, "this porridge is salty." "Too little salt is in it for my taste," said my foster-sister Deelish. "It is as salt as the depths of the sea," said another of the Hags. "My respects to you, ma'am," said Baun, "but I do not taste any salt on it at all." My foster-sisters were so earnest that the Hags thought themselves mistaken, and they ate the whole dishful of porridge.

The bed was made for us, and the pillows were laid on the bed, and I knew that the slumber-pin was in each of [266] the pillows. I wanted to put off the time for going to bed so I began to tell stories. Baun and Deelish said it was still young in the night, and that I should tell no short ones, but the long story of Eithne, Balor's daughter. I had just begun that story, when one of the Hags cried out that she was consumed with thirst.

She ran to the pitcher, and there was no water in it. Then another Hag shouted out that the thirst was strangling her. The third one said she could not live another minute without a mouthful of water. She took the pitcher and started for the well. No sooner was she gone than the second Hag said she couldn't wait for the first one to come back and she started out after her. Then the third one thought that the pair would stay too long talking at the well, and she started after them. Immediately I took the pillows off our bed and put them on the Hags' bed, taking their pillows instead.

The Hags came back with a half-filled pitcher, and they ordered us to go to our bed. We went, and they sat for a while drinking porringers of water. "Crom Duv will be here the first thing in the morning," I heard one of them say. They put their heads on the pillows and in the turn of a hand they were dead-fast-sound asleep. I told my foster-sisters then what I had done and why I had done it. They were very frightened, but seeing the Hags so sound asleep they composed themselves and slept too.

[267] Before the screech of day Crom Duv came to the house. I went outside and saw the Giant. I said I was the servant of the Hags, and that they were sleeping still. He said, "They are my runners and summoners, my brewers, bakers and candle-makers, and they have no right to be sleeping so late." Then he went away.

I knew that the three Hags would slumber until we took the pillows from under their heads. We left them sleeping while we put down a fire and made our breakfast. Then, when we were ready for our journey, we took the pillows from under their heads. The three Hags started up then, but we were out on the door, and had taken the first three steps of our journey.

V

W ITHOUT hap or mishap we came at last to the domain of the King of Senlabor. Baun went to sing for the King's foster-daughters, and Deelish went to work at the little loom in the King's chamber. We were not long at the court of the King of Senlabor when two youths came there from the court of the King of Ireland—Dermott and Downal were their names. There was a famous sword-smith with the King of Senlabor and these two came to learn the trade from him. And my two foster-sisters fell so deeply in love with the two [268] youths that every night the pillow on each side of me was wet with their tears.

I went to work in the King's kitchen. Now the King had a dish of such fine earthware and with such beautiful patterns upon it that he never let it be carried from the Kitchen to the Feast-Hall, nor from the Feast-Hall to the Kitchen without going himself behind the servant who carried it. One day the servant brought it into the Kitchen to be washed and the King came behind the servant. I took the dish and cleaned it with thrice-boiled water and dried it with cloths of three different kinds. Then I covered it with sweet-smelling herbs and left it in a bin where it was sunk in soft bran. The King was pleased to see the good care I took of his dish, and he said before his servant that he would do me any favor I would ask. There and then I told him about my two foster-sisters Baun and Deelish, and how they were in love with the two youths Dermott and Downal who had come from the court of the King of Ireland. I asked that when these two youths were being given wives, that the King should remember my foster-sisters.

The King was greatly vexed at my request. He declared that the two youths had on their breasts the stars that denoted the sons of Kings and that he intended they should marry his own two foster-daughters when the maidens were of age to wed. "It may be," he said, "that these two youths will bring what my Queen longs [269] for—a berry from the Fairy Rowan Tree that is guarded by the Giant Crom Duv."

The next day the King's Councillor was feeding the birds and I was sifting the corn. I asked him what was the history of the Fairy Rowan Tree that the Giant Crom Duv guarded and why it was that the Queen longed for a berry of it. There and then he told me this story:—


[Illustration]

[270]

T HE history of the Fairy Rowan Tree (said the King's Councillor) begins with Ainé, the daughter of Mananaun who is Lord of the Sea. Curoi, the King of the Munster Fairies loved Ainé and sought her in marriage. But the desire of the girl's heart was set upon Fergus [271] who was a mortal, and one of the Fianna of Ireland. Now when Mananaun MacLir heard Curoi's proposals and learned how his daughter's heart was inclined, he said, "Let the matter be settled in this way: we will call a hurling-match between the Fairies of Munster and the Fianna of Ireland with Curoi to captain one side and Fergus to captain the other, and if the Fairies win, Ainé will marry Curoi and if the Fianna have the victory she will have my leave to marry this mortal Fergus."

So a hurling-match was called for the first day of Lunassa, and it was to be played along the strand of the sea. Mananaun himself set the goal-marks, and Ainé was there to watch the game. It was played from the rising of the sun until the high tide of noon, and neither side won a goal. Then the players stopped to eat the refreshment that Mananaun had provided.

This is what Mananaun had brought from his own country, Silver-Cloud Plain: a branch of bright-red rowan berries. Whoever ate one of these rowan berries his hunger and his weariness left him in a moment. The berries were to be eaten by the players, Mananaun said, and not one of them was to be taken into the world of the mortals or the world of the Fairies.

When they stopped playing at the high tide of noon the mortal Fergus saw Ainé and saw her for the first time. A spirit that he had never felt before flowed into him at the sight of Mananaun's daughter. He forgot to [272] eat the berry he was given and held it in his mouth by the stalk.

He went into the hurling-match again and now he was like a hawk amongst small birds. Curoi defended the goal and drove the ball back. Fergus drove it to the goal again; the two champions met and Curoi's hurl, made out of rhinoceros' horn, did not beat down Fergus's hurl made out of the ash of the wood. The hosts stood aside and left the game to Fergus and Curoi. Curoi's hurl jerked the ball upward; then Fergus gave it the double stroke—first with the handle and then with the weighted end of the hurl and drove it, beautifully as a flying bird, between the goal-marks that Mananaun had set up. The match was won by the goal that Fergus had gained.

The Fianna then invited the Fairies of Munster to a feast that they were giving to Fergus and his bride. The Fairies went, and Mananaun and Ainé went before them all. Fergus marched at the head of his troop with the rowan berry still hanging from his mouth. And as he went he bit the stalk and the berry fell to the ground. Fergus never heeded that.

When the feast was over he went to where Mananaun stood with his daughter. Ainé gave him her hand. "And it is well," said Conan, the Fool of the Fianna, "that this thick-witted Fergus has at last dropped the berry out of his mouth." "What berry?" said Curoi, who was standing by. "The rowan berry," said Conan, [273] "that he carried across two townlands the same as if he were a bird."

When Mananaun heard this he asked about the berry that Fergus had carried. It was not to be found. Then the Fianna and the Fairies of Munster started back to look for a trace of it. What they found was a wonderful Rowan Tree. It had grown out of the berry that Fergus had let fall, but as yet there were no berries on its branches.

Mananaun, when he saw the tree said, "No mortal may take a berry that grows on it. Hear my sentence now. Fergus will have to guard this tree until he gets one who will guard it for him. And he may not see nor keep company with Ainé his bride until he finds one who will guard it better than he can guard it himself." Then Mananaun wrapped his daughter in his cloak and strode away in a mist. The Fairy Host went in one direction and the Fianna in another, and Fergus was left standing sorrowfully by the Fairy Rowan Tree.


N EXT day (said Morag), when the King's Councillor was feeding the birds and I was sifting the corn, he told me the rest of the history of the Fairy Rowan Tree. Fergus thought and thought how he might leave off watching it and be with Ainé, his bride. At last he bethought him of a Giant who lived on a rocky island with only a flock of goats for [274] his possessions. This Giant had begged Finn, the Chief of the Fianna, for a strip of the land of Ireland, even if it were only the breadth of a bull's hide. Finn had refused him. But now Fergus sent to Finn and asked him to bring the Giant to be the guardian of the Fairy Rowan Tree and to give him the land around it. "I mislike letting this giant Crom Duv have any portion of the land of Ireland," said Finn, "nevertheless we cannot refuse Fergus."

So Finn sent some of the Fianna to the Giant and they found him living on a bare rock of an island with only a flock of goats for his possessions. Crom Duv lay on his back and laughed when he heard what message the men of the Fianna brought to him. Then he put them and his flock of goats into his big boat and rowed them over to Ireland.

Crom Duv swore by his flock of goats he would guard the Fairy Rowan Tree until the red berries ceased to come on its branches. Fergus left his place at the tree then and went to Ainé, and it may be that she and he are still together.

Well did Crom Duv guard the tree, never going far from it and sleeping at night in its branches. And one year a heifer came and fed with his flock of goats and another year a bullock came. And these were the beginning of his great herd of cattle. He has become more and more greedy for cattle, said the King's Councillor, and now he takes them away to far pastures. [275] But still the Fairy Rowan Tree is well guarded. The Bull that is called the Bull of the Mound is on guard near by, and twenty-four fierce yellow cats watch the tree night and day.

The Queen of Senlabor and many another woman besides desires a berry from the Fairy Rowan Tree that stands in Crom Duv's courtyard. For the woman who is old and who eats a berry from that tree becomes young again, and the maid who is young and who eats a berry gets all the beauty that should be hers of right. And now, my maid, said the King's Councillor to me, I have told you the history of the Fairy Rowan Tree.


W HEN I heard all this (said Morag), I made up my mind to get a berry for the Queen and maybe another berry besides from the Fairy Rowan Tree in Crom Duv's courtyard. When the King came into the kitchen again, I asked him would he permit my foster-sisters to marry Downal and Dermott if I brought to his Queen a berry from the Fairy Rowan Tree. He said he would give permission heartily. That night when I felt the tears of Baun and Deelish I told them I was going to search for such a dowry for them that when they had it the King would let them marry the youths they had set their hearts on. They did not believe I could do anything to help them, but they gave me leave to go.

[276] The next day I told the Queen I was going to seek for a berry from the Fairy Rowan Tree. She told me that if I could bring back one berry to her she would give me all the things she possessed. I said good-by to my foster-sisters and with the Little Red Hen under my arm I went towards the house of the Hags of the Long Teeth. I built a shelter and waited till Crom Duv came that way. One early morning he came by. I stood before him and I told him that I wanted to take service in his house.

Crom Duv had never had a servant in his house. But I told him that he should have a byre-maid and that I was well fitted to look after his cattle. He told me to follow him. I saw the Bull of the Mound and I was made wonder how I could get away with the berry from the Fairy Rowan Tree. Then I saw the twenty-four fierce yellow cats and I was made wonder how I could get the berry from the tree. And after that I found out about the Moat of Poisoned Water that is behind the high wall at the back of Crom Duv's house. And so now (said Morag), you know why I have come here and how hard the task is I have taken on myself.

VI

[277]

N OW that he had heard the history of the Fairy Rowan Tree, Flann often looked at the clusters of scarlet berries that were high up on its branches. The Tree could be climbed, Flann knew. But on the top of the tree and along its branches were the fierce yellow cats—the cats that the Hags of the Long Teeth had reared for Crom Duv, thinking that he would some time give each of them the berry that would make them young again. And at the butt of the tree there were more cats. And all about the courtyard the Hags' fierce cats paraded themselves.

The walls round the Giant's Keep were being built higher by Crom Duv, helped by his servant Flann. The Giant's herd was now increased by many calves, and Morag the byre-maid had much to do to keep all the cows milked. And day and night Morag and Flann heard the bellowing of the Bull of the Mound.

Now one day while Crom Duv was away with his herd, Flann and Morag were in the courtyard. They saw the Little Red Hen rouse herself up, shake her wings and turn a bright eye on them. "What dost thou say, my Little Red Hen?" said Morag.

"The Pooka," murmured the Little Red Hen. "The Pooka rides a fierce horse, but the Pooka himself is a [278] timid little fellow." Then the Little Red Hen drooped her wings again, and went on picking in the courtyard.

"The Pooka rides a fierce horse," said Morag, "if the Pooka rides a fierce horse he might carry us past the Bull of the Mound."

"And if the Pooka himself is a timid little fellow we might take the fierce horse from him," said Flann.

"But this does not tell us how to get the berries off the Fairy Rowan Tree," said Morag.

"No," said Flann, "it does not tell us how to get the berries off the tree the cats guard."

The next day Morag gave grains to the Little Red Hen and begged for words. After a while the Little Red Hen murmured, "There are things I know, and things I don't know, but I do know what grows near the ground, and if you pull a certain herb, and put it round the necks of the cats they will not be able to see in the light nor in the dark. And to-morrow is the day of Sowain," said the Little Red Hen. She said no more words. She had become sleepy and now she flew down and roosted under the table. There she went on murmuring to herself—as all hens murmur—where the Children of Dana hid their treasures—they know, for it was the Children of Dana who brought the hens to Ireland.

"To-morrow," said Morag to Flann, "follow the Little Red Hen, and if she makes any sign when she touches an herb that grows near the ground, pluck that herb and bring it to me."

[279] That night Morag and Flann talked about the Pooka and his fierce horse. On Sowain night—the night before the real short days begin—the Pooka rides through the countryside touching any fruit that remains, so that it may bring no taste into winter. The blackberries that were good to eat the day before are no good on November day, because the Pooka touched them the night before. What else the Pooka does no one really knows. He is a timid fellow as the Little Red Hen said, and he hopes that the sight of his big black horse and the sound of its trampling and panting as he rides by will frighten people out of his way, for he has a great fear of being seen.

The next day the Little Red Hen stayed in the courtyard until Crom Duv left with his herd. Flann followed her. She went here and there between the house and the wall at the back, now picking a grain of sand and now an ant or spider or fly. And as she went about the Little Red Hen murmured a song to herself:—

When sleep would settle on me

Like the wild bird down on the nest,

The wind comes out of the West:

It tears at the door, maybe,

And frightens away my rest—

When sleep would come upon me

Like the wild bird down on the nest.

The cock is aloft with his crest:

The barn-owl comes from her quest

[282]

She fixes an eye upon me

And frightens away my rest

When sleep would settle on me

Like the wild bird down on its nest.

Flann watched all the Little Red Hen did. He saw her put her head on one side and look down for a while at a certain herb that grew near the ground. Flann plucked that herb and brought it to Morag.

The cattle had come home, but Crom Duv was not with them. Morag milked the cows and brought all the milk within, leaving no milk for the cats to drink outside. Six came into the kitchen to get their supper there. One after another they sprang up on the table, one more proud and overbearing than the other. Each cat ate without condescending to make a single mew. "Cat of my heart," said Morag to the first, when he had finished drinking his milk. "Cat of my heart! How noble you would look with this red around your neck." She held out a little satchel in which a bit of the herb was sewn. The first cat gave a look that said, "Well, you may put it on me." Morag put the red satchel around his neck and he jumped off the table.

It was so with all the other cats. They finished lapping their milk and Morag showed them the red ribbon satchel. They let her put it round each of their necks and then they sprang off the table, and marched off more scornful and overbearing than before.

[281]

S IX of the fierce yellow cats climbed into the branches of the Fairy Rowan Tree; six stayed in the kitchen; six went into Crom Duv's chamber, and six went to march round the house, three taking each side. No sound came from the cats that were within or without. Morag drew a ball of cotton across the floor, and the cats that were in the kitchen gave no sign of seeing it. "The sight has left their eyes," said Morag. "Then," said Flann, "I will climb the Fairy Rowan Tree and bring down two berries." "Be sure you bring down two, my dear, my dear," said Morag.

They went out to the courtyard and Flann began to climb the Fairy Rowan Tree with all suppleness, strength and cunning. The cats that were below felt him going up the tree and the cats that were above humped themselves up. Flann passed the first branch on which a cat was crouched. He went above where the rowan berries were, and bending down he picked two of them and put them into his mouth.

He came down quickly with the cats tearing at him. Others had come out of the house and were mewing and spitting in the courtyard. Only one had fastened itself on Flann's jerkin, and this one would not let go. "Come into the wood, come into the wood," said Morag. "Now we must stand between the house and the mound, and wait till the Pooka rides by." Flann put [282] the two berries into her hand, they jumped across the chain, and ran from the house of the Giant Crom Duv.

VII

T HEY went into the wood, Flann and Morag, and the Little Red Hen was under Morag's arm. They thought they would hide behind trees until they heard the coming of the Pooka and his horse. But they were not far in the wood when they heard Crom Duv coming towards his house. He came towards them with the iron spike in his hand. Flann and Morag ran. Then from tree to tree Crom Duv chased them, shouting and snorting and smashing down branches with the iron spike in his hand. Morag and Flann came to a stream, and as they ran along its bank they heard the trampling and panting of a horse coming towards them. Up it came, a great black horse with a sweeping mane. "Halt, Pooka," said Flann in a commanding voice. The black horse halted and the Pooka that was its rider slipped down to its tail.


[Illustration]

Up it came, a great black horse with a sweeping mane.

Flann held the snorting horse and Morag got on its back. Then Flann sprang up between Morag and the horse's head. Crom Duv was just beside them. "Away, Pooka, away," said Flann, and the horse started through the wood like the wind of March.

[285] And then Crom Duv blew on the horn that was across his breast and the Bull of the Mound bellowed in answer. As they went by the mound the Bull charged down and its horns tossed the tail of the Pooka's horse. The Bull turned and swept after them with his head down and hot breath coming out of his nostrils. And when they were in the hollow he was on the height, and when they were on the height he was in the hollow. And a hollow or a height behind his Bull came Crom Duv himself.

Then the breath of the Bull became hot upon Morag and Flann and the Pooka. "Oh, what shall we do now?" said Morag to the Pooka who was hanging on to the horse's tail, his little face all twisted up with fear.


P UT your hand into my horse's ear and fling behind what you will find there," said the Pooka, his teeth chattering. Flann put his hand into the horse's right ear and found a twig of ash. He flung it behind them. Instantly a tangled wood sprang up. They heard the Bull driving through the tangle of the wood and they heard Crom Duv shouting as he smashed his way through the brakes and branches. But the Bull and the man got through the wood and again they began to gain on the Pooka's horse. Again the breath of the Bull became hot upon them. "Oh, Pooka, what shall we do now?" said Morag.

[286] Put your hand into my horse's ear and fling behind what you will find there," said the Pooka, his teeth chattering with fear as he held on to his horse's tail. Flann put his hand into the horse's left ear and he found a bubble of water. He flung it behind them. Instantly it spread out as a lake and as they rode on, the lake waters spread behind them.

Morag and Flann never knew whether the Giant and the Bull went into that lake, or if they did, whether they ever came out of it. They crossed the river that marked the bounds of Crom Duv's domain and they were safe. Flann pulled up the horse and jumped on to the ground. Morag sprang down with the Little Red Hen. Then the Pooka swung forward and whispered into his horse's ear. Instantly it struck fire out of its hooves and sprang down the side of a hill. From that day to this Morag nor Flann ever saw sight of the Pooka and his big, black, snorting and foaming horse.

"Dost thou know where we are, my Little Red Hen?" said Morag when the sun was in the sky again.

"There are things I know and things I don't know," said the Little Red Hen, "but I know we are near the place we started from."

"Which way do we go to come to that place, my Little Red Hen?" said Morag.

"The way of the sun," said the Little Red Hen. So Morag and Flann went the way of the sun and the Little Red Hen hopped beside them. Morag had in a [287] weasel-skin purse around her neck the two rowan berries that Flann had given her.

They went towards the house of the Spae-Woman. And as they went Morag told Flann of the life she had there when she and her foster-sisters were growing up, and Flann told Morag of the things he did when he was in the house of the Spae-Woman after she and her foster-sisters had left it.

They climbed the heather-covered knowe on which was the Spae-Woman's house and the Little Red Hen went flitting and fluttering towards the gate. The Spae-Woman's old goat was standing in the yard, and its horns went down and its beard touched its knees and it looked at the Little Red Hen. Then the Little Red Hen flew up on its back. "We're here again, here again," said the Little Red Hen.

And then the Spae-Woman came to the door and saw who the comers were. She covered them with kisses and watered them with tears, and dried them with cloths silken and with the hair of her head.

VIII

F LANN told the Spae-Woman all his adventures. And when he had told her all he said—"What Queen is my mother, O my fosterer?"

"Your mother," said the Spae-Woman, "is Caintigern, the Queen of the King of Ireland."

[288] "And is my mother then not Sheen whose story has been told me?"

"Her name was changed to Caintigern when her husband who was called the Hunter-King made himself King over Ireland and began to rule as King Connal."

"Then who is my comrade who is called the King of Ireland's Son?"

"He too is King Connal's son, born of a queen who died at his birth and who was wife to King Connal before he went on his wanderings and met Sheen your mother."

And as the Spae-Woman said this someone came and stood at the doorway. A girl she was and wherever the sun was it shone on her, and wherever the breeze was it rippled over her. White as the snow upon a lake frozen over was the girl, and as beautiful as flowers and as alive as birds were her eyes, while her cheeks had the red of fox-gloves and her hair was the blending of five bright soft colors. She looked at Flann happily and her eyes had the kind look that was always in Morag's eyes. And she came and knelt down, putting her hands on his knees.

"I am Morag, Flann," she said.

"Morag indeed," said he, "but how have you become so fair?"

"I have eaten the berry from the Fairy Rowan Tree," said she, "and now I am as fair as I should be."

All day they were together and Flann was happy that [289] his friend was so beautiful and that so beautiful a being was his friend. And he told her of his adventures in the Town of the Red Castle and of the Princess Flame-of-Wine and his love for her. "And if you love her still I will never see you again," said Morag.

"But," said Flann, "I could not love her after the way she mocked at me."

"When did she mock at you?"

"When I took her a message that the Spae-Woman told me to give her."

"And what was that message?"

" 'Ask her,' said the Spae-Woman, 'for seven drops of her heart's blood—she can give them and live—so that the spell may be taken from the seven wild geese and the mother who longs for you may be at peace again.' This was the message the Spae-Woman told me to give Flame-of-Wine. And though I had given her wonderful gifts she laughed at me when I took it to her. And by the way she laughed I knew she was hard of heart."

"Yet seven drops of heart's blood are hard to give," said Morag sadly.

"But the maiden who loves can give them," said the Spae-Woman who was behind.

"It is true, foster-mother," said Morag.

That evening Morag said, "To-morrow I must prepare for my journey to the Queen of Senlabor. You, Flann, may not come with me. The Spae-Woman has sent a message to your mother, and you must be here [290] to meet her when she comes. A happy meeting to her and you, O Flann of my heart. And I shall leave you a token to give to her. So to-morrow I go to the Queen of Senlabor with the Rowan Berry and I shall bring my Little Red Hen for company, and shall stay only until my sisters are wed to Dermott and Downal, your brothers."

The next day when he came into the house he saw Morag dressed for her journey but seated at the fire. She was pale and ill-looking. "Do not go to-day, Morag," said he. "I shall go to-day," said Morag. She put her hand into the bosom of her dress and took out a newly-woven handkerchief folded. "This is a token for your mother," she said. "I have woven it for her. Give her this gift from me when you have welcomed her."

"That I will do, Morag, my heart," said Flann.

The Spae-Woman came in and kissed Morag good-by and said the charm for a journey over her.

May my Silver-

Shielded Magian

Shed all lights

Across your path.

Then Morag put the Little Red Hen under her arm and started out. "I shall find you," said she to Flann, "at the Castle of the King of Ireland, for it is there I shall go when I part from my foster-sisters and the Queen of Senlabor. Kiss me now. But if you kiss anyone until [291] you kiss me again you will forget me. Remember that."

"I will remember," said Flann, and he kissed Morag and said, "When you come to the King of Ireland's Castle we will be married."

"You gave me the Rowan Berry," said Morag, "and the Rowan Berry gave me all the beauty that should be mine. But what good will my beauty be to me if you forget me?"

"But, Morag," said he, "how could I forget you?"

She said nothing but went down the side of the knowe and Flann watched and watched until his eyes had no power to see any more.


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