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The King of Ireland's Son by  Padraic Colum


 

 

[Illustration]

FEDELMA, THE ENCHANTER'S DAUGHTER

I

[5]

C ONNAL was the name of the King who ruled over Ireland at that time. He had three sons, and, as the fir-trees grow, some crooked and some straight, one of them grew up so wild that in the end the King and the King's Councillor had to let him have his own way in everything. This youth was the King's eldest son and his mother had died before she could be a guide to him.

Now after the King and the King's Councillor left him to his own way the youth I'm telling you about did nothing but ride and hunt all day. Well, one morning he rode abroad—

His hound at his heel,

His hawk on his wrist;

A brave steed to carry him whither he list,

And the blue sky over him,

and he rode on until he came to a turn in the road. There he saw a gray old man seated on a heap of stones playing a game of cards with himself. First he had one hand winning and then he had the other. Now he would say "That's my good right," and then he would say [6] "Play and beat that, my gallant left." The King of Ireland's Son sat on his horse to watch the strange old man, and as he watched him he sang a song to himself—

I put the fastenings on my boat

For a year and for a day,

And I went where the rowans grow,

And where the moorhens lay;


And I went over the stepping-stones

And dipped my feet in the ford,

And came at last to the Swineherd's house,—

The Youth without a Sword.


A swallow sang upon his porch

"Glu-ee, glu-ee, glu-ee,"

"The wonder of all wandering,

The wonder of the sea;"

A swallow soon to leave ground sang

"Glu-ee, glu-ee, glu-ee."

"Prince," said the old fellow looking up at him, "if you can play a game as well as you can sing a song, I'd like if you would sit down beside me."

"I can play any game," said the King of Ireland's Son. He fastened his horse to the branch of a tree and sat down on the heap of stones beside the old man.

"What shall we play for?" said the gray old fellow.

"Whatever you like," said the King of Ireland's Son.

[7] "If I win you must give me anything I ask, and if you win I shall give you anything you ask. Will you agree to that?"

"If it is agreeable to you it is agreeable to me," said the King of Ireland's Son.

They played, and the King of Ireland's Son won the game. "Now what do you desire me to give, King's Son?" said the gray old fellow.

"I shan't ask you for anything," said the King of Ireland's Son, "for I think you haven't much to give."

"Never mind that," said the gray old fellow. "I mustn't break my promise, and so you must ask me for something."

"Very well," said the King's Son. "Then there's a field at the back of my father's Castle and I want to see it filled with cattle to-morrow morning. Can you do that for me?"

"I can," said the gray old fellow.

"Then I want fifty cows, each one white with a red ear, and a white calf going beside each cow."

"The cattle shall be as you wish."

"Well, when that's done I shall think the wager has been paid," said the King of Ireland's son. He mounted his horse, smiling at the foolish old man who played cards with himself and who thought he could bring together fifty white kine, each with a red ear, and a white calf by the side of each cow. He rode away—

[8]

His hound at his heel,

His hawk on his wrist;

A brave steed to carry him whither he list,

And the green ground under him,

and he thought no more of the gray old fellow.


B UT in the morning, when he was taking his horse out of the stable, he heard the grooms talking about a strange happening. Art, the King's Steward, had gone out and had found the field at the back of the Castle filled with cattle. There were fifty white red-eared kine there and each cow had a white calf at her side. The King had ordered Art, his Steward, to drive them away. The King of Ireland's Son watched Art and his men trying to do it. But no sooner were the strange cattle put out at one side of the field than they came back on the other. Then down came Maravaun, the King's Councillor. He declared they were enchanted cattle, and that no one on Ireland's ground could put them away. So in the seven-acre field the cattle stayed.

When the King of Ireland's Son saw what his companion of yesterday could do he rode straight to the glen to try if he could have another game with him. There at the turn of the road, on a heap of stones, the gray old fellow was sitting playing a game of cards, the right hand against the left. The King of Ireland's Son [9] fastened his horse to the branch of a tree and dismounted.

"Did you find yesterday's wager settled?" said the gray old fellow.

"I did," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"Then shall we have another game of cards on the same understanding?" said the gray old fellow.

"I agree, if you agree," said the King of Ireland's son. He sat under the bush beside him and they played again. The King of Ireland's Son won.

"What would you like me to do for you this time?" said the gray old fellow.

Now the King's Son had a step-mother, and she was often cross-tempered, and that very morning he and she had vexed each other. So he said, "Let a brown bear, holding a burning coal in his mouth, put Caintigern the Queen from her chair in the supper-room to-night."

"It shall be done," said the gray old fellow.

Then the King of Ireland's Son mounted his horse and rode away—

His hound at his heel,

His hawk on his wrist;

A brave steed to carry him whither he list

And the green ground under him,

and he went back to the Castle. That night a brown bear, holding a burning coal in his mouth, came into the supper-room and stood between Caintigern the Queen and the chair that belonged to her. None of the [10] servants could drive it away, and when Maravaun, the King's Councillor, came he said, "This is an enchanted creature also, and it is best for us to leave it alone." So the whole company went and left the brown bear in the supper-room seated in the Queen's chair.

II

T HE next morning when he wakened the King's Son said, "That was a wonderful thing that happened last night in the supper-room. I must go off and play a third game with the gray old fellow who sits on a heap of stones at the turn of the road." So, in the morning early he mounted and rode away—

His hound at his heel,

His hawk on his wrist;

A brave steed to carry him whither he list,

And the green ground under him,

and he rode on until he came to the turn in the road. Sure enough the old gray fellow was there. "So you've come to me again, King's Son," said he. "I have," said the King of Ireland's Son, "and I'll play a last game with you on the same understanding as before." He tied his horse to the branch and sat down on the heap of stones. They played. The King of Ireland's Son lost the game. Immediately the gray old fellow [11] threw the cards down on the stones and a wind came up and carried them away. Standing up he was terribly tall.

"King's Son," said he, "I am your father's enemy and I have done him an injury. And to the Queen who is your father's wife I have done an injury too. You have lost the game and now you must take the penalty I put upon you. You must find out my dwelling-place and take three hairs out of my beard within a year and a day, or else lose your head."

With that he took the King of Ireland's Son by the shoulders and lifted him on his horse, turning the horse in the direction of the King's Castle. The King's Son rode on—

His hound at his heel,

His hawk on his wrist;

A brave steed to carry him whither he list,

And the blue sky over him.

That evening the King noticed that his son was greatly troubled. And when he lay down to sleep everyone in the Castle heard his groans and his moans. The next day he told his father the story from beginning to end. The King sent for Maravaun his Councillor and asked him if he knew who the Enchanter was and where his son would be likely to find him.

"From what he said," said Maravaun, "we may guess who he is. He is the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands and his dwelling-place is hard to find. Nevertheless [12] your son must seek for him and take the three hairs out of his beard or else lose his head. For if the heir to your kingdom does not honorably pay his forfeit, the ground of Ireland won't give crops and the cattle won't give milk." "And," said the Councillor, "as a year is little for his search, he should start off at once, although I'm bound to say, that I don't know what direction he should go in."

The next day the King's Son said good-by to his father and his foster-brothers and started off on his journey. His step-mother would not give him her blessing on account of his having brought in the brown bear that turned her from her chair in the supper-room. Nor would she let him have the good horse he always rode. Instead the Prince was given a horse that was lame in a leg and short in the tail. And neither hawk nor hound went with him this time.

A LL day the King's Son was going, traveling through wood and waste until the coming on of night. The little fluttering birds were going from the bush tops, from tuft to tuft, and to the briar-roots, going to rest; but if they were, he was not, till the night came on, blind and dark. Then the King's Son ate his bread and meat, put his satchel under his head and lay down to take his rest on the edge of a great waste.

[13] In the morning he mounted his horse and rode on. And as he went across the waste he saw an extraordinary sight—everywhere were the bodies of dead creatures—a cock, a wren, a mouse, a weasel, a fox, a badger, a raven—all the birds and beasts that the King's Son had ever known. He went on, but he saw no living creature before him. And then, at the end of the waste he came upon two living creatures struggling. One was an eagle and the other was an eel. And the eel had twisted itself round the eagle, and the eagle had covered her eyes with the black films of death. The King's Son jumped off his horse and cut the eel in two with a sharp stroke of his sword.

The eagle drew the films from her eyes and looked full at the King's Son. "I am Laheen the Eagle," she said, "and I will pay you for this service, Son of King Connal. Know that there has been a battle of the creatures—a battle to decide which of the creatures will make laws for a year. All were killed except the eel and myself, and if you had not come I would have been killed and the eel would have made the laws. I am Laheen the Eagle and always I will be your friend. And now you must tell me how I can serve you."

"You can serve me," said the King's Son, "by showing me how I may come to the dominion of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands."

"I am the only creature who can show you, King's Son. And if I were not old now I would carry you there [14] on my back. But I can tell you how you can get there. Ride forward for a day, first with the sun before you and then with the sun at your back, until you come to the shore of a lake. Stay there until you see three swans flying down. They are the three daughters of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands. Mark the one who carries a green scarf in her mouth. She is the youngest daughter and the one who can help you. When the swans come to the ground they will transform themselves into maidens and bathe in the lake. Two will come out, put on their swanskins and transform themselves and fly away. But you must hide the swanskin that belongs to the youngest maiden. She will search and search and when she cannot find it she will cry out, 'I would do anything in the world for the creature who would find my swanskin for me.' Give the swanskin to her then, and tell her that the only thing she can do for you is to show you the way to her father's dominion. She will do that, and so you will come to the House of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands. And now farewell to you, Son of King Connal."

Laheen the Eagle spread out her wings and flew away, and the King's Son journeyed on, first with the sun before him and then with the sun at his back, until he came to the shore of a wide lake. He turned his horse away, rested himself on the ground, and as soon as the clear day came he began to watch for the three swans.

III

[15]

T HEY came, they flew down, and when they touched the ground they transformed themselves into three maidens and went to bathe in the lake. The one who carried the green scarf left her swanskin under a bush. The King's Son took it and hid it in a hollow tree.

Two of the maidens soon came out of the water, put on their swanskins and flew away as swans. The younger maiden stayed for a while in the lake. Then she came out and began to search for her swanskin. She searched and searched, and at last the King's Son heard her say, "I would do anything in the world for the creature who would find my swanskin for me." Then he came from where he was hiding and gave her the swanskin. "I am the Son of the King of Ireland," he said, "and I want you to show me the way to your father's dominion."


[Illustration]

Then he came from where he was hiding and gave her the swanskin.

"I would prefer to do anything else for you," said the maiden.

"I do not want anything else," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"If I show you how to get there will you be content?"

"I shall be content."

"You must never let my father know that I showed [16] you the way. And he must not know when you come that you are the King of Ireland's Son."

"I will not tell him you showed me the way and I will not let him know who I am."


N OW that she had the swanskin she was able to transform herself. She whistled and a blue falcon came down and perched on a tree. "That falcon is my own bird," said she. "Follow where it flies and you will come to my father's house. And now good-by to you. You will be in danger, but I will try to help you. Fedelma is my name." She rose up as a swan and flew away.

The blue falcon went flying from bush to bush and from rock to rock. The night came, but in the morning the blue falcon was seen again. The King's Son followed, and at last he saw a house before him. He went in, and there, seated on a chair of gold was the man who seemed so tall when he threw down the cards upon the heap of stones. The Enchanter did not recognize the King's Son without his hawk and his hound and the fine clothes he used to wear. He asked who he was and the King's Son said he was a youth who had just finished an apprenticeship to a wizard. "And," said he, "I have heard that you have three fair daughters, and I came to strive to gain one of them for a wife."

[17] "In that case," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands, "you will have to do three tasks for me. If you are able to do them I will give you one of my three daughters in marriage. If you fail to do any one of them you will lose your head. Are you willing to make the trial?"

"I am willing," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"Then I shall give you your first task to-morrow. It is unlucky that you came to-day. In this country we eat a meal only once a week, and we have had our meal this morning."

"It is all the same to me," said the King's Son, "I can do without food or drink for a month without any hardship."

"I suppose you can do without sleep too?" said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands.

"Easily," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"That is good. Come outside now, and I'll show you your bed." He took the King's Son outside and showed him a dry narrow water-tank at the gable end of the house. "There is where you are to sleep" said the Enchanter. "Tuck yourself into it now and be ready for your first task at the rising of the sun."

The King of Ireland's Son went into the little tank. He was uncomfortable there you may be sure. But in the middle of the night Fedelma came and brought him into a fine room where he ate and then slept until the sun was about to rise in the morning. She called him [18] and he went outside and laid himself down in the water-tank.

As soon as the sun rose the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands came out of the house and stood beside the water-tank. "Come now," said he, "and I will show you the first task you have to perform." He took him to where a herd of goats was grazing. Away from the goats was a fawn with white feet and little bright horns. The fawn saw them, bounded into the air, and raced away to the wood as quickly as any arrow that a man ever shot from a bow.

"That is Whitefoot the Fawn," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands. "She grazes with my goats but none of my gillies can bring her into my goat-house. Here is your first task—run down Whitefoot the Fawn and bring her with my goats into the goat-shelter this evening." When he said that the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands went away laughing to himself.

"Good-by, my life," said the King of Ireland's Son, "I might as well try to catch an eagle on the wing as to run down the deer that has gone out of sight already."

He sat down on the ground and his despair was great. Then his name was called and he saw Fedelma coming towards him. She looked at him as though she were in dread, and said, "What task has my father set you?" He told her and then she smiled. "I was in dread it would be a more terrible task," she said. "This one is [19] easy. I can help you to catch Whitefoot the Fawn. But first eat what I have brought you.


S HE put down bread and meat and wine, and they sat down and he ate and drank. "I thought he might set you this task," she said, "and so I brought you something from my father's store of enchanted things. Here are the Shoes of Swiftness. With these on your feet you can run down Whitefoot the Fawn. But you must catch her before she has gone very far away. Remember that she must be brought in when the goats are going into their shelter at sunset. You will have to walk back for all the time you must keep hold of her silver horns. Hasten now. Run her down with the Shoes of Swiftness and then lay hold of her horns. Above all things Whitefoot dreads the loss of her silver horns."

He thanked Fedelma. He put on the Shoes of Swiftness and went into the wood. Now he could go as the eagle flies. He found Whitefoot the Fawn drinking at the Raven's pool.

When she saw him she went from thicket to thicket. The Shoes of Swiftness were hardly any use to him in these shut-in places. At last he beat her from the last thicket. It was the hour of noon-tide then. There was a clear plain before them and with the Shoes of Swiftness he ran her down. There were tears in the Fawn's [20] eyes and he knew she was troubled with the dread of losing her silver horns.

He kept his hands on the horns and they went back over miles of plain and pasture, bog and wood. The hours were going quicker than they were going. When he came within the domain of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands he saw the goats going quickly before him. They were hurrying from their pastures to the goat-shelter, one stopping, maybe, to bite the top of a hedge and another giving this one a blow with her horns to hurry her on. "By your silver horns, we must go faster," said the King of Ireland's Son to the Fawn. They went more quickly then.

He saw the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands waiting at the goat-house, now counting the goats that came along and now looking at the sun. When he saw the King of Ireland's Son coming with his capture he was so angry that he struck an old full-bearded goat that had stopped to rub itself. The goat reared up and struck him with his horns.

"Well," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands, "you have performed your first task, I see. You are a greater enchanter than I thought you were. Whitefoot the Fawn can go in with my goats. Go back now to your own sleeping-place. To-morrow I'll come to you early and give you your second task."

The King of Ireland's Son went back and into the dry water-tank. He was tired with his day's journey [21] after Whitefoot the Fawn. It was his hope that Fedelma would come to him and give him shelter for that night.

IV

U NTIL the white moon rose above the trees; until the hounds went out hunting for themselves; until the foxes came down and hid in the hedges, waiting for the cocks and hens to stir out at the first light—so long did the King of Ireland's Son stay huddled in the dry water-tank. By that time he was stiff and sore and hungry. He saw a great white owl flying towards the tank. The owl perched on the edge and stared at the King's Son. "Have you a message for me?" he asked. The owl shrugged with its wings three times. He thought that meant a message. He got out of the tank and prepared to follow the owl. It flew slowly and near the ground, so he was able to follow it along a path through the wood.

The King's Son thought the owl was bringing him to a place where Fedelma was, and that he would get food there, and shelter for the rest of the night. And sure enough the owl flew to a little house in the wood. The King's Son looked through the window and he saw a room lighted with candles and a table with plates and dishes and cups, with bread and meat and wine. And [22] he saw at the fire a young woman spinning at a spinning wheel, and her back was towards him, and her hair was the same as Fedelma's. Then he lifted the latch of the door and went very joyfully into the little house.

But when the young woman at the spinning wheel turned round he saw that she was not Fedelma at all. She had a little mouth, a long and a hooked nose, and her eyes looked cross-ways at a person. The thread she was spinning she bit with her long teeth, and she said, "You are welcome here, Prince."

"And who are you?" said the King of Ireland's Son.

"Aefa is my name," said she, "I am the eldest and the wisest daughter of the Enchanter of the Black Back-lands. My father is preparing a task for you," said she, "and it will be a terrible task, and there will be no one to help you with it, so you will lose your head surely. And what I would advise you to do is to escape out of this country at once."

"And how can I escape?" said the King of Ireland's Son.

"There's only one way to escape," said she, "and that is for you to take the Slight Red Steed that my father has secured under nine locks. That steed is the only creature that can bring you to your own country. I will show you how to get it and then I will ride to your home with you."

"And why should you do that?" said the King of Ireland's Son.

[23] "Because I would marry you," said Aefa.

"But," said he, "if I live at all Fedelma is the one I will marry."

No sooner did he say the words than Aefa screamed out, "Seize him, my cat-o'-the-mountain. Seize him and hold him." Then the cat-o'-the-mountain that was under the table sprang across the room and fixed himself on his shoulder. He ran out of the house. All the time he was running the cat-o'-the-mountain was trying to tear his eyes out. He made his way through woods and thickets, and mighty glad he was when he saw the tank at the gable-end of the house. The cat-'o-the-mountain dropped from his back then. He got into the tank and waited and waited. No message came from Fedelma. He was a long time there, stiff and sore and hungry, before the sun rose and the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands came out of the house.

V

I hope you had a good night's rest," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands, when he came to where the King of Ireland's Son was crouched, just at the rising of the sun. "I had indeed," said the King's Son. "And I suppose you feel fit for another task," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands. "More fit than ever in my life before," said the King of Ireland's Son.

[24] The Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands took him past the goat-house and to where there was an open shelter for his bee-hives. "I want this shelter thatched," said he, "and I want to have it thatched with the feathers of birds. Go," said he, "and get enough feathers of wild birds and come back and thatch the bee-hive shelter for me, and let it be done before the set of sun." He gave the King's Son arrows and a bow and a bag to put the feathers in, and advised him to search the moor for birds. Then he went back to the house.

The King of Ireland's Son ran to the moor and watched for birds to fly across. At last one came. He shot at it with an arrow but did not bring it down. He hunted the moor all over but found no other bird. He hoped that he would see Fedelma before his head was taken off.

Then he heard his name called and he saw Fedelma coming towards him. She looked at him as before with dread in her eyes and asked him what task her father had set him. "A terrible task," he said, and he told her what it was. Fedelma laughed. "I was in dread he would give you another task," she said. "I can help you with this one. Sit down now and eat and drink from what I have brought you."


[Illustration]

The King of Ireland's Son quickly gathered them into his bag.

He sat down and ate and drank and he felt hopeful seeing Fedelma beside him. When he had eaten Fedelma said, "My blue falcon will gather the birds and pull the feathers off for you. Still, unless you [27] gather them quickly there is danger, for the roof must be thatched with feathers at the set of sun." She whistled and her blue falcon came. He followed it across the moor. The blue falcon flew up in the air and gave a bird-call. Birds gathered and she swooped amongst them pulling feathers off their backs and out of their wings. Soon there was a heap of feathers on the ground—pigeons' feathers and pie's feathers, crane's and crow's, blackbird's and starling's. The King of Ireland's Son quickly gathered them into his bag. The falcon flew to another place and gave her bird-call again. The birds gathered, and she went amongst them, plucking their feathers. The King's Son gathered them and the blue falcon flew to another place. Over and over again the blue falcon called to the birds and plucked out their feathers, and over and over again the King's Son gathered them into his bag. When he thought he had feathers enough to thatch the roof he ran back to the shelter. He began the thatching, binding the feathers down with little willow rods. He had just finished when the sun went down. The old Enchanter came up and when he saw what the King's Son had done he was greatly surprised. "You surely learned from the wizard you were apprenticed to," said he. "But to-morrow I will try you with another task. Go now and sleep in the place where you were last night." The King's Son, glad that the head was still on his shoulders, went and lay down in the water-tank.

VI

[28]

U NTIL the white moon went out in the sky; until the Secret People began to whisper in the woods—so long did the King of Ireland's Son remain in the dry water-tank that night.

And then, when it was neither dark nor light, he saw a crane flying towards him. It lighted on the edge of the tank. "Have you a message for me?" said the King of Ireland's Son. The crane tapped three times with its beak. Then the King's Son got out of the tank and prepared to follow the bird-messenger.

This was the way the crane went. It would fly a little way and then light on the ground until the Prince came up to it. Then it would fly again. Over marshes and across little streams the crane led him. And all the time the King of Ireland's Son thought he was being brought to the place where Fedelma was—to the place where he would get food and where he could rest until just before the sun rose.

They went on and on till they came to an old tower. The crane lighted upon it. The King's Son saw there was an iron door in the tower and he pulled a chain until it opened. Then he saw a little room lighted with candles, and he saw a young woman looking at herself in the glass. Her back was towards him and her hair was the same as Fedelma's.

[29] But when the young woman turned round he saw she was not Fedelma. She was little, and she had a face that was brown and tight like a nut. She made herself very friendly to the King of Ireland's Son and went to him and took his hands and smiled into his face.

"You are welcome here," said she.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I am Gilveen," said she, "the second and the most loving of the three daughters of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands." She stroked his face and his hands when she spoke to him.

"And why did you send for me?"

"Because I know what great trouble you are in. My father is preparing a task for you, and it will be a terrible one. You will never be able to carry it out."

"And what should you advise me to do, King's daughter?"

"Let me help you. In this tower," said she, "there are the wisest books in the world. We'll surely find in one of them a way for you to get from this country. And then I'll go back with you to your own land."

"Why would you do that?" asked the King of Ireland's Son.

"Because I wish to be your wife," Gilveen said.

"But," said he, "if I live at all Fedelma is the one I'll marry."

When he said that Gilveen drew her lips together and her chin became like a horn. Then she whistled through [30] her teeth, and instantly everything in the room began to attack the King's Son. The looking glass on the wall flung itself at him and hit him on the back of the head. The leg of the table gave him a terrible blow at the back of the knees. He saw the two candles hopping across the floor to burn his legs. He ran out of the room, and when he got to the door it swung around and gave him a blow that flung him away from the tower. The crane that was waiting on the tower flew down, its neck and beak outstretched, and gave him a blow on the back.

So the King of Ireland's Son went back over the marshes and across the little streams, and he was glad when he saw the gable-end of the house again.

He went into the tank. He knew that he had not long to wait before the sun would rise and the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands would come to him and give him the third and the most difficult of the three tasks. And he thought that Fedelma was surely shut away from him and that she would not be able to help him that day.

VII

[31]

A T the rising of the sun the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands came to where the King of Ireland's Son was huddled and said, "I am now going to set you the third and last task. Rise up now and come with me."

The King's Son came out of the water-tank and followed the Enchanter. They went to where there was a well. The King's Son looked down and he could not see the bottom, so deep the well was. "At the bottom," said the Enchanter "is the Ring of Youth. You must get it and bring it to me, or else you must lose your head at the setting of that sun." That was all he said. He turned then and went away.

The King's Son looked into the well and he saw no way of getting down its deep smooth sides. He walked back towards the Castle. On his way he met Fedelma, and she looked at him with deep dread in her eyes. "What task did my father set you to-day?" said she. "He bids me go down into a well," said the King's Son. "A well!" said Fedelma, and she became all dread. "I have to take the Ring of Youth from the bottom and bring it to him," said the King's Son. "Oh," said Fedelma, "he has set you the task I dreaded."

Then she said, "You will lose your life if the Ring of Youth is not taken out of the well. And if you lose [32] yours I shall lose my life too. There is one way to get down the sides of the well. You must kill me. Take my bones and make them as steps while you go down the sides. Then, when you have taken the Ring of Youth out of the water, put my bones as they were before, and put the Ring above my heart. I shall be alive again. But you must be careful that you leave every bone as it was."

The King's Son fell into a deeper dread than Fedelma when he heard what she said. "This can never be," he cried. "It must be," said she, "and by all your vows and promises I command that you do it. Kill me now and do as I have bidden you. If it be done I shall live. If it be not done you will lose your life and I will never regain mine."

He killed her. He took the bones as she had bidden him, and he made steps down the sides of the well. He searched at the bottom, and he found the Ring of Youth. He brought the bones together again. Down on his knees he went, and his heart did not beat nor did his breath come or go until he had fixed them in their places. Over the heart he placed the Ring. Life came back to Fedelma.

"You have done well," she said. "One thing only is not in its place—the joint of my little finger." She held up her hand and he saw that her little finger was bent.

"I have helped you in everything," said Fedelma, "and in the last task I could not have helped you if [33] you had not been true to me when Aefa and Gilveen brought you to them. Now the three tasks are done, and you can ask my father for one of his daughters in marriage. When you bring him the Ring of Youth he will ask you to make a choice. I pray that the one chosen will be myself."

"None other will I have but you, Fedelma, love of my heart," said the King of Ireland's Son.

VIII

T HE King of Ireland's Son went into the house before the setting of the sun. The Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands was seated on his chair of gold. "Have you brought me the Ring of Youth?" he asked.

"I have brought it," said the King's Son.

"Give it to me then," said the Enchanter.

"I will not," said the King's Son, "until you give what you promised me at the end of my tasks—one of your three daughters for my wife."

The Enchanter brought him to a closed door. "My three daughters are within that room," said he. "Put your hand through the hole in the door, and the one whose hand you hold when I open it—it is she you will have to marry."

Then wasn't the mind of the King's Son greatly troubled? If he held the hand of Aefa or Gilveen he [34] would lose his love Fedelma. He stood without putting out his hand. "Put your hand through the hole of the door or go away from my house altogether," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands.

The King of Ireland's Son ventured to put his hand through the hole in the door. The hands of the maidens inside were all held in a bunch. But no sooner did he touch them than he found that one had a broken finger. This he knew was Fedelma's hand, and this was the hand he held.

"You may open the door now," said he to the Enchanter.

He opened the door and the King of Ireland's Son drew Fedelma to him. "This is the maiden I choose," said he, "and now give her her dowry."

"The dowry that should go with me," said Fedelma, "is the Slight Red Steed."

"What dowry do you want with her, young man?" said the Enchanter.

"No other dowry but the Slight Red Steed."

"Go round to the stable then and get it. And I hope no well-trained wizard like you will come this way again."

"No well-trained wizard am I, but the King of Ireland's Son. And I have found your dwelling-place within a year and a day. And now I pluck the three hairs out of your beard, Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands."

The beard of the Enchanter bristled like spikes on a hedgehog, and the balls of his eyes stuck out of his head. [35] The King's Son plucked the three hairs of his beard before he could lift a hand or say a word. "Mount the Slight Red Steed and be off, the two of you," said the Enchanter.

The King of Ireland's Son and Fedelma mounted the Slight Red Steed and rode off, and the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands, and his two daughters, Aefa and Gilveen, in a rage watched them ride away.

IX

T HEY crossed the River of the Ox, and went over the Mountain of the Fox and were in the Glen of the Badger before the sun rose. And there, at the foot of the Hill of Horns, they found an old man gathering dew from the grass.

"Could you tell us where we might find the Little Sage of the Mountain?" Fedelma asked the old man.

"I am the Little Sage of the Mountain," said he, "and what is it you want of me?"

"To betroth us for marriage," said Fedelma.

"I will do that. Come to my house, the pair of you. And as you are both young and better able to walk than I am it would be fitting to let me ride on your horse."

The King's Son and Fedelma got off and the Little Sage of the Mountain got on the Slight Red Steed. They took the path that went round the Hill of Horns. [36] And at the other side of the hill they found a hut thatched with one great wing of a bird. The Little Sage got off the Slight Red Steed. "Now," said he, "you're both young, and I'm an old man and it would be fitting for you to do my day's work before you call upon me to do anything for you. Now would you," said he to the King of Ireland's Son, "take this spade in your hand and go into the garden and dig my potatoes for me? And would you," said he to Fedelma, "sit down at the quern-stone and grind the wheat for me?"

The King of Ireland's Son went into the garden and Fedelma sat at the quern-stone that was just outside the door; he dug and she ground while the Little Sage sat at the fire looking into a big book. And when Fedelma and the King's Son were tired with their labor he gave them a drink of buttermilk.

She made cakes out of the wheat she had ground and the King's Son washed the potatoes and the Little Sage boiled them and so they made their supper. Then the Little Sage of the Mountain melted lead and made two rings; and one ring he gave to Fedelma to give to the King's Son and one he gave to the King's Son to give to Fedelma. And when the rings were given he said, "You are betrothed for your marriage now."

They stayed with the Little Sage of the Mountain that night, and when the sun rose they left the house that was thatched with the great wing of a bird and they turned towards the Meadow of Brightness and the [37] Wood of Shadows that were between them and the King of Ireland's domain. They rode on the Slight Red Steed, and the Little Sage of the Mountain went with them a part of the way. He seemed downcast and when they asked him the reason he said, "I see dividing ways and far journeys for you both." "But how can that be," said the King's Son, "when, in a little while we will win to my father's domain?" "It may be I am wrong," said the Little Sage, "and if I am not, remember that devotion brings together dividing ways and that high hearts win to the end of every journey." He bade them good-by then, and turned back to his hut that was thatched with the great wing of a bird.

They rode across the Meadow of Brightness and Fedelma's blue falcon sailed above them. "Yonder is a field of white flowers," said she, "and while we are crossing it you must tell me a story,"

"I know by heart," said the King's Son, "only the stories that Maravaun, my father's Councillor, has put into the book he is composing—the book that is called 'The Breastplate of Instruction.' "

"Then," said Fedelma, "tell me a story from 'The Breastplate of Instruction,' while we are crossing this field of white flowers."

"I will tell you the first story that is in it," said the King's Son.

Then while they were crossing the field of white flowers the King's Son told Fedelma the story of


[Illustration]

X

[38]

A SEAL that had spent a curious forenoon paddling around the island of Ilaun-Beg drew itself up on a rock the better to carry on its investigations. It was now within five yards of the actual island. On the little beach there were three cur- [39] raghs in which the island-men went over the sea; they were turned bottom up and heavy stones were placed upon them to prevent their being carried away by the high winds. The seal noted them as he rested upon the flat rock. He noted too a little ass that was standing beyond the curraghs, sheltering himself where the cliffs hollowed in.

Now this ass was as curious as the seal, and when he saw the smooth creature that was moving its head about with such intelligence he came down to the water's edge. Two of his legs were spancelled with a piece of straw rope, but being used to such impediment he came over without any awkwardness. He looked inquiringly at the seal.

The gray-headed crow of the cliff lighted on a spar of rock and made herself an interpreter between the two.

"Shaggy beast of the Island," said the seal, "friend and follower of men, tell me about their fabulous existence."

"Do you mean the hay-getters?" said the ass.

"You know well whom he means," said the gray-headed crow viciously. "Answer him now."

"You gravell me entirely when you ask about men," said the ass. "I don't know much about them. They live to themselves and I live to myself. Their houses are full of smoke and it blinds my eyes to go in. There used to be green fields here and high grass that became hay, but there's nothing like that now. I think men [40] have given up eating what grows out of the ground. I see nothing, I smell nothing, but fish, fish, fish."

The gray-headed crow had a vicious eye fixed on the ass all the time he was speaking. "You're saying all that," said she, "because they let the little horse stay all night in the house and beat you out of it."

"My friend," said the seal, "it is evident that men deceive you by appearances. I know men. I have followed their boats and have listened to the wonderful sounds they make with their voices and with instruments. Do they not draw fish out of the depths by enchantments? Do they not build their habitations with music? Do they not draw the moon out of the sea and set it for a light in their houses? And is it not known that the fairest daughters of the sea have loved men?"

"When I'm awake long o' moonlit nights I feel like that myself," said the ass. Then the recollections of these long, frosty nights made him yawn. Then he brayed.

"What it is to live near men," said the seal in admiration. "What wonderful sounds!"

"I'd cross the water and rub noses with you," said the ass, "only I'm afraid of crocodiles."

"Crocodiles?" said the gray-headed crow.

"Yes," said the ass. "It's because I'm of a very old family, you know. They were Egyptians. My people [41] never liked to cross water in their own country. There were crocodiles there."

"I don't want to waste any more time listening to nonsense said the gray-headed crow. She flew to the ass's back and plucked out some of the felt. "I'll take this for my own habitation," she said, and flew back to the cliff.

The ass would have kicked up his heels only two of his legs were fastened with the straw rope. He turned away, and without a word of farewell to the seal went scrambling up the bank of the island.

The seal stayed for a while moving his head about intelligently. Then he slipped into the water and paddled off. "One feels their lives in music," he said; "great tones vibrate round the island where men live. It is very wonderful."

"That," said the King's Son, "is the first story in 'The Breastplate of Instruction,'—'The Ass and the Seal.' And now you must tell me a story while we are crossing the field of blue flowers."

"Then it will be a very little story," said Fedelma. They crossed a little field of blue flowers, and Fedelma told


[Illustration]

XI

[42]

The Kings of Murias heard that King Atlas had to bear

The world upon his back, so they sent him then and there

The Crystal Egg that would be the Swan of Endless Tales

That his burthen for a while might lie on his shoulder-scales

[43]

Fair-balanced while he heard the Tales the Swan poured forth—

North-world Tales for the while he watched the Star of the North;

And East-world Tales he would hear in the morning swart and cool,

When the Lions Nimrod had spared came up from the drinking pool;

West-world Tales for the King when he turned him with the sun;

Then whispers of magic Tales from Africa, his own.


But the Kings of Murias made the Crane their messenger—

The fitful Crane whose thoughts are always frightening her:

She slipped from Islet to Isle, she sloped from Foreland to Coast;

She passed through cracks in the mountains and came over trees like a ghost;

And then fled back in dismay when she saw on the hollow plains

The final battle between the Pigmies and the Cranes.


Where is the Crystal Egg that was sent King Atlas then?

Hatched it will be one day and the Tales will be told to men:

That is if it be not laid in some King's old Treasury:

That is if the fitful Crane did not lose it threading the Sea!

They were not long going through the little field of blue flowers, and when they went through it they came to another field of white flowers. Fedelma asked the King's Son to tell her another story, and thereupon he told her the second story in "The Breastplate of Instruction."


[Illustration]

XII

[44]

T HE young cuckoo made desperate attempts to get himself through the narrow opening in the hollow tree. He screamed when he failed to get through.

His foster-parents had remained so long beside him that they were wasted and sad while the other birds, their broods reared, were [45] vigorous and joyful. They heard the one that had been reared in their nest, the young cuckoo, scream, but this time they did not fly towards him. The young cuckoo screamed again, but there was something in that scream that reminded the foster-parents of hawks. They flew away. They were miserable in their flight, these birds, for they knew they were committing a treason.

They had built their nest in a hollow tree that had a little opening. A cuckoo laid her egg on the ground and, carrying it in her beak, had placed it in the nest. Their own young had been pushed out. They had worn themselves to get provision for the terrible and fascinating creature who had remained in their nest.

When the time came for him to make his flight he could not get his body through the little opening. Yesterday he had begun to try. The two foster-parents flew to him again and again with food. But now their own nesting place had become strange to them. They would never go near it again. The young cuckoo was forsaken.

A woodpecker ran round the tree. He looked into the hollow and saw the big bird crumpled up.

"Hello," said the woodpecker. "How did you get here?"

"Born here," said the young cuckoo sulkily.

"Oh, were you?" said the woodpecker and he ran round the tree again.

[46] When he came back to the opening the young cuckoo was standing up with his mouth open.

"Feed me," said he.

"I've to rush round frightfully to get something for myself," said the woodpecker.

"At least, someone ought to bring me food," said the young cuckoo.

"How is that?" said the woodpecker.

"Well, oughtn't they to?" said the young cuckoo.

"I wouldn't say so," said the woodpecker, "you have the use of your wits, haven't you?" He ran round the trunk of the tree again and devoured a lean grub. The young cuckoo struggled at the opening and screamed again.

"Don't be drawing too much attention to yourself," advised the woodpecker when he came to the opening again. "They might take you for a young hawk, you know."

"Who might?" said the cuckoo.

"The neighbors. They would pull a young hawk to pieces."

"What am I to do?" said the young cuckoo.

"What's in your nature to do?"

"My nature?" said the young cuckoo. "It's my nature to swing myself on branches high up in a tree. It's my nature to spread out my wings and fly over pleasant places. It is my nature to be alone. But not alone as here. Alone with the sound of my [47] own voice." Suddenly he cried, "Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo!"

"I know you now," said the woodpecker. "There's going to be a storm," he said; "trust a woodpecker to know that."

The young cuckoo strove towards the big sky again, and he screamed so viciously that a rat that had just come out of the ditch fastened his eyes on him. That creature looked bad to the young cuckoo. Rain plopped on the leaves. Thunder crashed. A bolt struck the tree, and the part above the opening was torn away.

The young cuckoo flung himself out on the grass and went awkwardly amongst the blue bells. "What a world," said he. "All this wet and fire and noise to get me out of the nest. What a world!" The young cuckoo was free, and these were the first words he said when he went into the world.


That was the last story the King's Son told from Maravaun's book, "The Breastplate of Instruction." They had another little field of blue flowers to cross, and as they went across it Fedelma told the King's Son


[Illustration]

XIII

[48]

The Cloud-woman, Mor, was the daughter

Of Griann, the Sun,—well, and she

Made a marriage to equal that grandeur,

For her goodman was Lir, the Sea.


The Cloud-woman, Mor, she had seven

Strong sons, and the story-books say

Their inches grew in the night-time,

And grew over again in the day.


[49]

The Cloud-woman Mor,—as they grew in

Their bone, she grew in her pride,

Till her haughtiness turned away, men say,

Her goodman Lir from her side;


Then she lived in Mor's House and she watched

With pride her sons and her crop,

Till one day the wish in her grew

To view from the mountain-top

All, all that she owned, so she

Traveled without any stop.


And what did she see? A thousand

Fields and her own fields small, small!

"What a fine and wide place is Eirinn," said she,

"I am Mor, but not great after all."


Then a herdsman came, and he told her

That her sons had stolen away:

They had left the calves in the hollow,

With the goose-flock they would not stay:


They had seen three ships on the sea

And nothing would do them but go:

Mor wept and wept when she heard it,

And her tears made runnels below.


Then her shining splendor departed:

She went, and she left no trace,

And the Cloud-woman, Mor, was never

Beheld again in that place.


[50]

The proud woman, Mor, who was daughter

Of Griann, the Sun, and who made

A marriage to equal that grandeur,

Passed away as a shade.

XIV

A ND that was the last story that Fedelma told, for they had crossed the Meadows of Brightness and had come to a nameless place—a stretch of broken ground where there were black rocks and dead grass and bare roots of trees with here and there a hawthorn tree in blossom. "I fear this place. We must not halt here," Fedelma said.

And then a flock of ravens came from the rocks, and flying straight at them attacked Fedelma and the King of Ireland's Son. The King's Son sprang from the steed and taking his sword in his hand he fought the ravens until he drove them away. They rode on again. But now the ravens flew back and attacked them again and the King of Ireland's Son fought them until his hands were wearied. He mounted the steed again, and they rode swiftly on. And the ravens came the third time and attacked them more fiercely than before. The King's Son fought them until he had killed all but three and until he was covered with their blood and feathers.


[Illustration]

The ravens came the third time and attacked them more fiercely than before.

The three that had escaped flew away. "Oh, mount [51] the Slight Red Steed and let us ride fast," said Fedelma to the King's Son.

"I am filled with weariness," he said. "Bid the steed stay by the rock, lay my sword at my side, and let me sleep with my head on your lap."

"I fear for us both if you slumber here," said Fedelma.

"I must sleep, and I pray that you let me lay my head on your lap."

"I know not what would awaken you if you slumber here."

"I will awaken," said the King's Son, "but now I must sleep, and I would slumber with my head on your lap."

She got down from the Slight Red Steed and she bade it stay by a rock; she put his sword by the place he would sleep and she took his head upon her lap. The King's Son slept.

As she watched over him a great fear grew in Fedelma. Every hour she would say to him, "Are you near waking, my dear, my dear?" But no flush of waking appeared on the face of the King of Ireland's Son.

Then she saw a man coming across the nameless place, across the broken ground, with its dead grass and black rocks and with its roots and stumps of trees. The man who came near them was taller than any man she had seen before—he was tall as a tree. Fedelma knew him from what she had heard told about him—she knew him to be the King of the Land of Mist.

[52] The King of the Land of Mist came straight to them. He stood before Fedelma and he said, "I seek Fedelma, the daughter of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands and the fairest woman within the seas of Eirinn."

"Then go to her father's house and seek Fedelma there," said she to him.

"I have sought her there," said the King of the Land of Mist, "but she left her father's house to go with the King of Ireland's Son."

"Then seek her in the Castle of the King of Ireland," said Fedelma.

"That I will not. Fedelma is here, and Fedelma will come with me," said the King of the Land of Mist.

"I will not leave him with whom I am plighted," said Fedelma.

Then the King of the Land of Mist took up the King of Ireland's Son. High he held him—higher than a tree grows. "I will dash him down on the rocks and break the life within him," said he.

"Do not so," said Fedelma. "Tell me. If I go with you what would win me back?"

"Nothing but the sword whose stroke would slay me—the Sword of Light," said the King of the Land of Mist. He held up the King of Ireland's Son again, and again he was about to dash him against the rocks. The blue falcon that was overhead flew down and settled on the rock behind her. Fedelma knew that [53] what she and the King of the Land of Mist would say now would be carried some place and told to someone. "Leave my love, the King's Son, to his rest," she said.

"If I do not break the life in him will you come with me, Fedelma?"

"I will go with you if you tell again what will win me back from you."

"The Sword of Light whose stroke will slay me."

"I will go with you if you swear by all your vows and promises not to make me your wife nor your sweetheart for a year and a day."

"I swear by all my vows and promises not to make you my wife nor my sweetheart for a year and a day."

"I will go with you if you let it be that I fall into a slumber that will last for a year and a day."

"I will let that be, fairest maid within the seas of Eirinn."

"I will go with you if you will tell me what will take me out of that slumber."

"If one cuts a tress of your hair with a stroke of the Sword of Light it will take you out of that slumber."

The blue falcon that was behind heard what the King of the Land of Mist said. She rose up and remained overhead with her wings outspread. Fedelma took the ring off her own finger and put it on the finger of the King of Ireland's Son, and she wrote upon the ground in Ogham letters, "The King of the Land of Mist."

[54] "If it be not you who wakens me, love," she said, "may it be that I never waken."

"Come, daughter of the Enchanter," said the King of the Land of Mist.

"Pluck the branch of hawthorn and give it to me that I may fall into my slumber here," said Fedelma.

The King of the Land of Mist plucked a flowering branch of hawthorn and gave it to her. She held the flowers against her face and fell into slumber. For a while she and the King of Ireland's Son were side by side in sleep.

Then the King of the Land of Mist took Fedelma in his arms and strode along that nameless place, over the broken ground with its dead grass and its black rocks and its stumps and roots of trees and the three ravens that had escaped the sword of the King of Ireland's Son followed where he went.

XV

L ONG, long after Fedelma had been taken by the King of the Land of Mist the King of Ireland's Son came out of his slumber. He saw around him that nameless place with its black rocks and bare roots of trees. He remembered he had come to it with Fedelma. He sprang up and looked for her, but no one was near him. [55] "Fedelma, Fedelma!" He searched and he called, but it was as if no one had ever been with him. He found his sword; he searched for his steed, but the Slight Red Steed was gone too.

He thought that the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands had followed them and had taken Fedelma from him. He turned to go towards the Enchanter's country and then he found what Fedelma had written upon the ground in Ogham letters—


[Illustration]

"The King of the Land of Mist"

He did not know what direction to take to get to the dominion of the King of the Land of Mist. He crossed the broken ground and he found no trace of Fedelma nor of him who had taken her. He found himself close to the Wood of Shadows. He went through it. As he went on he saw scores and scores of shadows. Nothing else was in the wood—no bird, no squirrel, no cricket. The shadows had the whole wood to themselves. They ran swiftly from tree to tree, and now and then one would stop at a tree and wait. Often the King of Ireland's Son came close to a waiting shadow. One became like a small old man with a beard. The King's Son saw this shadow again and again. What were they, the shadows, he asked himself? Maybe they [56] were wise creatures and could tell him what he wanted to know.

He thought he heard them whispering together. Then one little shadow with trailing legs went slowly from tree to tree. The King of Ireland's Son thought he would catch and hold a shadow and make it tell him where he should go to find the dominion of the King of the Land of Mist.

He went after one shadow and another and waited beside a tree for one to come. Often he thought he saw the small old man with the beard and the little creature with trailing legs. And then he began to see other shadows—men with the heads of rooks and men with queer heavy swords upon their shoulders. He followed them on and on through the wood and he heard their whispering becoming louder and louder, and then he thought that as he went on the shadows, instead of slipping before him, began to turn back and go past and surround him. Then he heard a voice just under the ground at his feet say, "Shout—shout out your own name, Son of King Connal!" Then the King's Son shouted out his own name and the whispers ceased in the wood and the shadows went backward and forward no more.

He went on and came to a stream within the wood and he went against its flow all night as well as all day, hoping to meet some living thing that would tell him how he might come to the dominion of the King of the [57] Land of Mist. In the forenoon of another day he came to where the wood grew thin and then he went past the last trees.

He saw a horse grazing: he ran up to it and found that it was the Slight Red Steed that had carried Fedelma and himself from the house of the Enchanter. Then as he laid hold of the steed a hound ran up to him and a hawk flew down and he saw that they were the hawk and the hound that used to be with him when he rode abroad from his father's Castle.

He mounted and seeing his hound at his heel and his hawk circling above he felt a longing to go back to his father's Castle which he knew to be near and where he might find out where the King of the Land of Mist had his dominion.

So the King of Ireland's Son rode back to his father's Castle—

His hound at his heel,

His hawk on his wrist.


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