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The King of Ireland's Son by  Padraic Colum

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THE KING OF THE LAND OF MIST

I

[225]

T HE King of Ireland's Son came to the place where the river that he followed takes the name of the River of the Broken Towers. It is called by that name because the men of the old days tried to build towers across its course. The towers were built a little way across the river that at this place was tremendously wide.

"The Glashan will carry you across the River of the Broken Towers to the shore of the Land of Mist," the Gobaun Saor had said to the King of Ireland's Son. And now he was at the River of the Broken Towers but the Glashan-creature was not to be seen.

Then he saw the Glashan. He was leaning his back against one of the Towers and smoking a short pipe. The water of the river was up to his knees. He was covered with hair and had a big head with horse's ears. And the Glashan twitched his horse's ears as he smoked in great contentment.

"Glashan, come here," said the King of Ireland's Son.

But the Glashan gave him no heed at all.

"I want you to carry me across the River of [226] the Broken Towers," shouted the King of Ireland's Son.

The Glashan went on smoking and twisting his ears. And the King of Ireland's Son might have known that the whole clan of the Gruagachs and Glashans are fond of their own ease and will do nothing if they can help it. He twitched his ears more sharply when the King's Son threw a pebble at him. Then after about three hours he came slowly across the river. From his big knees down he had horse's feet.

"Take me on your big shoulders, Glashan," said the King of Ireland's Son, "and carry me across to the shore of the Land of Mist."

"Not carrying any more across," said the Glashan.

The King of Ireland's Son drew the Sword of Light and flashed it.

"Oh, if you have that, you'll have to be carried across," said the Glashan. "But wait until I rest myself."

"What did you do that you should rest?" said the King of Ireland's Son. "Take me on your shoulders and start off."

"Musha," said the Glashan, "aren't you very anxious to lose your life?"

"Take me on your shoulders."

"Well, come then. You're not the first living dead man I carried across." The Glashan put his pipe into his ear. The King of Ireland's Son mounted his shoul- [227] ders and laid hold of his thick mane. Then the Glashan put his horse's legs into the water and started to cross the River of the Broken Towers.


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Then the Glashan started to cross the River of the Broken Towers

"The Land of Mist has a King," said the Glashan, when they were in the middle of the river.

"That, Glashan, I know," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"All right," said the Glashan.

Then said he when they were three-quarters of the way across, "Maybe you don't know that the King of the Land of Mist will kill you?"

"Maybe 'tis I who will kill him," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"You'd be a hardy little fellow if you did that," said the Glashan. "But you won't do it."

T HEY went on. The water was up to the Glashan's waist but that gave him no trouble. So broad was the river that they were traveling across it all day. The Glashan threw the King's Son in once when he stooped to pick up an eel. Said the King of Ireland's Son, "What way is the Castle of the King of the Land of Mist guarded, Glashan?"

"It has seven gates," said the Glashan.

"And how are the gates guarded?"

"I'm tired," said the Glashan, "and I can't talk."

"Tell me, or I'll twist the horse's ears off your head."

[228] "Well, the first gate is guarded by a plover only. It sits on the third pinnacle over the gate, and when anyone comes near it rises up and flies round the Castle crying until its sharp cries put the other guards on the watch."

"And what other guards are there?"

"Oh, I'm tired, and I can talk no more."

The King of Ireland's Son twisted his horse's ears, and then the Glashan said—

"The second gate is guarded by five spear-men."

"And how is the third gate guarded?"

"The third gate is guarded by seven swordsmen."

"And how is the fourth gate guarded?"

"The fourth gate is guarded by the King of the Land of Mist himself."

"And the fifth gate?"

"The fifth gate is guarded by the King of the Land of Mist himself."

"And the sixth gate?"

"The sixth gate is guarded by the King of the Land of Mist."

"And how is the seventh gate guarded?"

"The seventh gate is guarded by a Hag."

"By a Hag only?"

"By a Hag with poisoned nails. But I'm tired now, and I'll talk no more to you. If I could strike a light now I'd smoke a pipe."

Still they went on, and just at the screech of the day [229] they came to the other shore of the River of the Broken Towers. The King of Ireland's Son sprang from the shoulders of the Glashan and went into the mist.

II

H E came to where turrets and pinnacles appeared above the mist. He climbed the rock upon which the Castle was built. He came to the first gate, and as he did the plover that was on the third pinnacle above rose up and flew round the Castle with sharp cries.

He raised a fragment of the ground-rock and flung it against the gate. He burst it open. He dashed in then and through the first courtyard of the Castle.

As he went towards the second gate it was flung open, and the five spear-men ran upon him. But they had not counted on what was to face them—the Sword of Light in the hands of the King of Ireland's Son.

Its stroke cut the spear heads from the spear-holds, and its quick glancing dazzled the eyes of the spear-men. On each and every one of them it inflicted the wound of death. He dashed through the second gate and into the third courtyard.

But as he did the third gate was flung open and seven swordsmen came forth. They made themselves like a half circle and came towards the King of Ireland's [230] Son. He dazzled their eyes with a wide sweep of his sword. He darted it swiftly at each of them and on the seven swordsmen too he inflicted wounds of death.

He went through the third courtyard and towards the fourth gate. As he did it opened slowly and a single champion came forth. He closed the gate behind him and stood with a long gray sword in his hand. This was the King of the Land of Mist. His shoulders were where a tall man's head would be. His face was like a stone, and his eyes had never looked except with scorn upon a foe.

When his enemy began his attack the King of Ireland's Son had power to do nothing else but guard himself from that weighty sword. He had the Sword of Light for a guard and well did that bright, swift blade guard him. The two fought across the courtyard making hard places soft and soft places hard with their trampling. They fought from when it was early to when it was noon, and they fought from when it was noon until it was long afternoon. And not a single wound did the King of Ireland's Son inflict upon the King of the Land of Mist, and not a single wound did the King of the Land of Mist inflict upon him.

But the King of Ireland's Son was growing faint and weary. His eyes were worn with watching the strokes and thrusts of the sword that was battling against him. His arms could hardly bear up his own sword. His [231] heart became a stream of blood that would have gushed from his breast.

And then, as he was about to fall down with his head under the sword of the King of the Land of Mist a name rose above all his thoughts—"Fedelma." If he sank down and the sword of the King of the Land of Mist fell on him, never would she be saved. The will became strong again in the King of Ireland's Son. His heart became a steady beating thing. The weight that was upon his arms passed away. Strongly he held the sword in his hand and he began to attack the King of the Land of Mist.

And now he saw that the sword in the hand of his enemy was broken and worn with the guard that the Sword of Light had put against it. And now he made a strong attack. As the light was leaving the sky and as the darkness was coming down he saw that the strength was waning in the King of the Land of Mist. The sword in his hand was more worn and more broken. At last the blade was only a span from the hilt. As he drew back to the gate of the fourth courtyard the King of Ireland's Son sprang at him and thrust the Sword of Light through his breast. He stood with his face becoming exceedingly terrible. He flung what remained of his sword, and the broken blade struck the foot of the King of Ireland's Son and pierced it. Then the King of the Land of Mist fell down on the ground before the fourth gate.

[232] So weary from his battles, so pained with the wound of his foot was the King of Ireland's Son that he did not try to cross the body and go towards the fifth gate. He turned back. He climbed down the rock and went towards the River of the Broken Towers.

The Glashan was broiling on a hot stone the eel he had taken out of the river. "Wash my wound and give me refreshment, Glashan," said the King of Ireland's Son.

The Glashan washed the wound in his foot and gave him a portion of the broiled eel with cresses and water.

"To-morrow's dawn I shall go back," said the King of Ireland's Son, "and go through the fifth and sixth and seventh gate and take away Fedelma."

"If the King of the Land of Mist lets you," said the Glashan.

"He is dead," said the King of Ireland's Son, "I thrust my sword through his breast."

"And where is his head?" said the Glashan.

"It is on his corpse," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"Then you will have another fight to-morrow. His life is in his head, and his life will come back to him if you did not cut it off. It is he, I tell you, who will guard the fourth and fifth and sixth gate."

"That I do not believe, Glashan," said the King of Ireland's Son. "There is no one to guard the gates now but the Hag you spoke of. To-morrow I shall take [233] Fedelma out of her captivity, and we will both leave the Land of Mist. But I must sleep now."

He laid the Sword of Light beside him, stretched himself on the ground and went to sleep. The Glashan drew his horse's legs under him, took the pipe out of his ear, and smoked all through the night.

III

T HE King of Ireland's Son rose in the morning but he was in pain and weariness on account of his wounded foot. He ate the cresses and drank the water that the Glashan gave him, and he started off for the Castle of the King of the Mist. " 'Tis only an old woman I shall have to deal with to-day," he said, "and then I shall awaken Fedelma, my love."

He passed through the first gate and the first courtyard, through the second gate and the second courtyard, through the third gate and the third courtyard. The fourth gate was closed, and as he went towards it, it opened slowly, and the King of the Land of Mist stood there—as high, as stone-faced, and as scornful as before, and in his hand he had a weighty gray sword.

They fought as they fought the day before. But the guard the King of Ireland's Son made against the sword of the King of the Land of Mist was weaker than before, [234] because of the pain and weariness that came from his wound. But still he kept the Sword of Light before him and the Sword of the King of the Land of Mist could not pass it. They fought until it was afternoon. The heart in his body seemed turned to a jet of blood that would gush forth. His eyes were straining themselves out of their sockets. His arms could hardly bear up his sword. He fell down upon one knee, but he was able to hold the sword so that it guarded his head.

Then the image of Fedelma appeared before him. He sprang up and his arms regained their power. His heart became steady in his breast. And as he made an attack upon the King of the Land of Mist, he saw that the blade in his hand was broken and worn because of its strokes against the Sword of Light.

They fought with blades that seemed to kindle each other into sparks and flashes of light. They fought until the blade in the hand of the King of the Land of Mist was worn to a hand breadth above the hilt. He drew back towards the gate of the fifth courtyard. The King of Ireland's Son sprang at him and thrust the Sword of Light through his breast. Down on the stones before the fifth gate of his Castle fell the King of the Land of Mist.

The King of Ireland's Son stepped over the body and went towards the fifth gate. Then he remembered what the Glashan had said, "His life is in his head." He went back to where the King of the Land of Mist had [235] fallen. With a clean sweep of his sword he cut the head off the body.

Then out of the mist that was all around three ravens came. With beak and claws they laid hold of the head and lifted it up. They fluttered heavily away, keeping near the ground.

With his sword in his hand the King of Ireland's Son chased the ravens. He followed them through the fourth courtyard, the third courtyard, the second and the first. They flew off the rock on which the Castle was built and disappeared in the mist.

He knew he would have to watch by the body of the King of the Land of Mist, so that the head might not be placed upon it. He sat down before the fifth gate. Pain and weariness, hunger and thirst oppressed him.

He longed for something that would allay his hunger and thirst. But he knew that he could not go to the river to get refreshment of water and cresses from the Glashan.

Something fell beside him in the courtyard. It was a beautiful, bright-colored apple. He went to pick it up, but it rolled away towards the third courtyard. He followed it. Then, as he looked back he saw that the ravens had lighted near the body of the King of the Land of Mist, holding the head in their beaks and claws. He ran back and the ravens lifted the head up again and flew away.

He watched for another long time, and his hunger [236] and his thirst made him long for the bright-colored apple he had seen.

Another apple fell down. He went to pick it up and it rolled away. But now the King of Ireland's Son thought of nothing hut that bright-colored apple. He followed it as it rolled.

It roiled through the third courtyard, and the second and the first. It rolled out of the first gate and on to the rock upon which the Castle was built. It rolled off the rock. The King of Ireland's Son sprang down and he saw the apple become a raven's head and beak.

He climbed up the rock and ran back. And when he came into the first courtyard he saw that the three ravens had come back again. They had brought the head to the body, and body and head were now joined. The King of the Land of Mist stood up again, and his head was turned towards his left shoulder. He went to the sixth gate and took up a sword that was beside it.

IV

T HEY fought their last battle before the sixth gate. The guard that the King of Ireland's Son made was weak, and if the King of the Land of Mist could have turned fully upon him, he could have disarmed and killed him. But his head had been so placed upon his body that it looked [237] over his left shoulder. He was able to draw his sword down the breast of the King of Ireland's Son, wounding him. The King's Son whirled his sword around his head and flung it at his wry-headed enemy. It swept his head off, and the King of the Land of Mist fell down.

The King of Ireland's Son saw on the outstretched neck the mark of the other beheading. He took up the Sword of Light again and prepared to hold the head against all that might come for it.

But no creature came. And then the hair on the severed head became loose and it was blown away by the wind. And the bones of the head became a powder and the flesh became a froth, and all was blown away by the wind.

Then the King of Ireland's Son went through the sixth courtyard and came to the seventh gate. And before it he saw the last of the sentinels. A Hag, she was seated on the top of a water-tank taking white doves out of a basket and throwing them to ravens that flew down from the walls and tore the doves to pieces.

When the Hag saw the King of Ireland's Son she sprang down from the water-tank and ran towards him with outstretched arms and long poisoned nails. With a sweep of his sword he cut the nails from her hands. Ravens picked up the nails, and then, as they tried to fly away, they fell dead.

"The Sword of Light will take off your head if you [238] do not take me on the moment to where Fedelma is," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"I am sorry to do it," said the Hag, "but come, since you are the conqueror."

He followed the Hag into the Castle. In a net, hanging across a chamber, he saw Fedelma. She was still, but she breathed. And the branch of hawthorn that put her asleep was fresh beside her. Strands of her bright hair came through the meshes of the net and were fastened to the wall. With a sweep of the Sword of Light he cut the strands.

Her eyes opened. She saw the King of Ireland's Son, and the full light came back to her eyes, and the full life into her face.

He cut the net from where it hung and laid it on the ground. He cut open the meshes. Fedelma rose out of it and went into his arms.

He lifted her up and carried her out into the seventh courtyard. Then the Hag who had been one of the sentinels came out of the Castle, closed the door behind her and ran away into the mist, three ravens flying after her.

And as for Fedelma and the King of Ireland's Son, they went through the courtyards of the Castle and through the mists of the country and down to the River of the Broken Towers. They found the Glashan broiling a salmon upon hot stones. Salmon were coming from the sea and the Glashan went in and caught more, [239] broiled and gave them to the King of Ireland's Son and Fedelma to eat. The little black water-hen came out of the river and they fed it. The next day the King of Ireland's Son bade the Glashan take Fedelma on his shoulders and carry her to the other shore of the River of the Broken Towers. And he himself followed the little black water-hen who showed him all the shallow places in the river so that he crossed with the water never above his waist. But he was nearly dead from cold and weariness, and from the wounds on breast and foot when he came to the other side and found the Glashan and Fedelma waiting for him.

They ate salmon again and rested for a day. They bade good-by to the Glashan, who went back to the river to hunt for salmon. Then they went along the bank of the river hand in hand while the King of Ireland's Son told Fedelma of all the things that had happened to him in his search for her.

They came to where the river became known as the River of the Morning Star. And then, in the distance, they saw the Hill of Horns. Towards the Hill of Horns they went, and, at the near side of it, they found a house thatched with the wing of a bird. It was the house of the Little Sage of the Mountain. To the house of the Little Sage of the Mountain Fedelma and the King's Son now went.


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