|The King of Ireland's Son|
|by Padraic Colum|
|A romance of unusual beauty and simplicity, having all the traditional elements of the folk tale and all its magic and wonder. In vigorous and rhythmic prose, the author recounts the adventurous wooing of Fedelma, the enchanter's daughter, by the King of Ireland's son, and relates the many strange adventures they had on their journey home, weaving many short tales from the Gaelic tradition into the fabric of the narrative. A book of uncommon beauty in form and content, with illustrations and decorations in black and white by Willy Pogany. Ages 8-12 |
THE KING OF THE LAND OF MIST
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
"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
 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-  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.
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."
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."
 "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
 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.
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
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
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
 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
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
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
 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.
 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
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
"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
 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.
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
 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
 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
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
 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.
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
 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
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
 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
 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
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