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The King of Ireland's Son by  Padraic Colum


 

 

[Illustration]

THE SWORD OF LIGHT AND THE UNIQUE TALE WITH AS MUCH OF THE ADVENTURES OF GILLY OF THE GOATSKIN AS IS GIVEN IN "THE CRANESKIN BOOK"

I

[93]

H E came to the house that was thatched with the one great wing of a bird, and, as before, the Little Sage of the Mountain asked him to do a day's work. The King's Son reaped the corn for the Little Sage, and as he was reaping it his two foster-brothers, Dermott and Downal, rode by on their fine horses. They did not know who the young fellow was who was reaping in the field and they shouted for the Little Sage of the Mountain to come out of the house and speak to them. "We want to know where to find the Gobaun Saor who is to give us the Sword of Light," said Dermott.

"Come in," said the Sage, "and help me with my day's work, and I'll search in my book for some direction."

"We can't do such an unprincely thing as take service [94] with you," said Downal. "Tell us now where we must go to find the Gobaun Saor."

"I think you have made a mistake," said the Little Sage. "I'm an ignorant man, and I can't answer such a question without study."

"Ride on, brother," said Downal, "he can tell us nothing."

Dermott and Downal rode off on their fine horses, the silver bells on their bridles ringing.

That night, when he had eaten his supper, the Little Sage told the King's Son where to go. It is forbidden to tell where the King of Ireland's Son found the Builder and Shaper for the Gods. In a certain place he came to where the Gobaun Saor had set up his forge and planted his anvil, and he saw the Gobaun Saor beating on a shape of iron.

"You want to find the Sword of Light," said the Gobaun, his eyes as straight as the line of a sword-blade, "but show me first your will, your mind and your purpose."

"How can I do that?" said the King of Ireland's Son.

"Guard my anvil for a few nights," said the Gobaun Saor. "A Fua comes out of the river sometimes and tries to carry it off."

The Gobaun Saor had to make a journey to look at trees that were growing in the forest, and the King's Son guarded his anvil. And at night a Fua came out of the river and flung great stones, striving to drive [97] him away from the anvil. He ran down to the river bank to drive it away, but the creature caught him in its long arms and tried to drown him in the deep water. The King of Ireland's Son was near his death, but he broke away from the Fua, and when the creature caught him again, he dragged it up the bank and held it against a tree. "I will give you the mastery of all arts because you have mastered me," said the Fua. "I do not want the mastery of arts, but maybe you can tell me where to find the Sword of Light." "You want to know that—do you?" said the Fua, and then it twisted from him and went into the river.


[Illustration]

The creature caught him in its long arms.

The Fua came the next night and flung stones as before, and the King's Son wrestled with it in the very middle of the river, and held him so that he could not get to the other bank. "I will give you heaps of wealth because you have mastered me," said the creature with the big eyes and the long arms. "Not wealth, but the knowledge of where to come on the Sword of Light is what I want from you," said the King of Ireland's Son. But the Fua twisted from him and ran away again.

The next night the Fua came again, and the King's Son wrestled with him in the middle of the river and followed him up the other bank, and held him against a tree. "I will give you the craft that will make you the greatest of Kings, because you have mastered me." "Not craft, but knowledge of where the Sword of Light is, I want from you," said the King's Son. "Only one [98] of the People of Light can tell you that," said the Fua. It became a small, empty sort of creature and lay on the ground like a shadow.

The Gobaun Saor came back to his forge and his anvil. "You have guarded my anvil for me," he said, "and I will tell you where to go for the Sword of Light. It is in the Palace of the Ancient Ones under the Lake. You have an enchanted steed that can go to that Lake. I shall turn his head, and he shall go straight to it. When you come to the edge of the Lake pull the branches of the Fountain Tree and give the Slight Red Steed the leaves to eat. Mount now and go."

The King of Ireland's Son mounted the Slight Red Steed and went traveling again.

II

F ROM all its branches, high and low, water was falling in little streams. This was the Fountain Tree indeed. He did not dismount, the King of Ireland's Son, but pulled the branches and he gave them to the Slight Red Steed to eat.

He ate no more than three mouthfuls. Then he stamped on the ground with his hooves, lifted his head high and neighed three times. With that he plunged into the water of the Lake and swam and swam as if he had the strength of a dragon. He swam while there was light on the water and he swam while there was [99] night on the water, and when the sun of the next day was a hand's breadth above the lake he came to the Black Island.

All on that Island was black and burnt, and there were black ashes up to the horse's knees. And no sooner had the Slight Red Steed put his hooves on the Island than he galloped straight to the middle of it. He galloped through an opening in the black rock and went through a hundred passages, each going lower than the other, and at last he came into the wide space of a hall.

The hall was lighted. When the King's Son looked to see where the light came from he saw a sword hanging from the roof. And the brightness of the Sword was such that the hall was well lighted. The King of Ireland's Son galloped the Slight Red Steed forward and made it rear up. His hand grasped the hilt of the Sword. As he pulled it down the Sword screeched in his hand.

He flashed it about and saw what other things were in the Cave. He saw one woman, and two women and three women. He came to them and he saw they were sleeping. And as he flashed the Sword about he saw other women sleeping too. There were twelve women in the Cave where the Sword of Light had been hanging and the women were sleeping.

And in the hands of each of the sleeping women was a great gemmed cup. The spirit of the King's [100] Son had grown haughty since he felt the Sword in his hands. "You have the sword, why should you not have the cup?" something within him said. He took a cup from the hands of one of the sleeping women and drank the bubbling water that it held. His spirit grew more haughty with that draught. From the hands of each of the twelve sleeping women he took the cup and he drank the draught of bubbling water that it held. And when he had drunk the twelve draughts of bubbling water he felt that with the Sword of Light in his hands he could cut his way through the earth.

He mounted the Slight Red Steed and rode it through the Cave and swam it across the Lake with No Name. He held the Sword of Light across his saddle. The Steed went as the current drew him, for it was long since he had eaten the leaves of the Fountain Tree, and the spirit that had made him vigorous coming was feeble now. The current brought them to the shore below where the Fountain Tree grew.

A ND there on the shore he saw a bunch of little men, little women and littler children, all with smoke-colored skins, all with but one eye in their heads, all crying and screaming at each other like sea-birds, and all sitting round a fire of dried water weeds, cooking and eating eels and crab-apples.

The King of Ireland's Son put his hands on the bridle-rein and drew the Slight Red Steed out of the [101] water. The women with one right eye and the men with one left eye, and the children in their bare smoky skins screamed at him, "What do you want, what do you want, man with the horse?"

"Feed and water my steed for me," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"We are the Swallow People, and no one commands us to do things," said an old fellow with a beard like knots of ropes.

"Feed my steed with red wheat and water it with pure spring water," said the King's Son fiercely. "I am the King of Ireland's Son and the Sword of Light is in my hands, and what I command must be done."

"We are the Swallow People and we are accounted a harmless people," said the old fellow.

"Why are ye harmless?" said the King's Son, and he flourished the sword at them.

"Come into our cave, King's Son," said the old fellow, "we will give you refreshment there, and the children will attend to your steed."

He went into the cave with certain of the Swallow People. They were all unmannerly. They kept screaming and crying to each other; they pulled at the clothes of the King's Son and pinched him. One of them bit his hands. When they came into the cave they all sat down on black stones. One pulled in a black ass loaded with nets. They took the nets off its back, and before the King's Son knew that anything [102] was about to happen they threw the nets around him. The meshes of the nets were sticky. He felt himself caught. He ran at the Swallow People and fell over a stone. Then they drew more nets around his legs.

The old fellow whom he had commanded took up the Sword of Light. Then the Swallow People pulled up the ass that had carried the nets and rubbed its hard hoof on the Sword. The King's Son did not know what happened to it. Then he heard them cry, "The brightness is gone off the thing now." They left the Sword on a black rock, and now no light came from it. Then all the Swallow People scrambled out of the cave.

They came back eating eels and crab-apples out of their hands. They paid no attention to the King of Ireland's Son, but climbed into a cave above where he was lying.

He broke the nets that were round him. He found the Sword on the black stones, with the brightness all gone from it because of the rubbing with the ass's hoof. He climbed up the wall of the other cave to punish the Swallow People. They saw him before he could see them in the darkness, and they all went into holes and hid themselves as if they were rats and mice.

With the blackened sword in his hands the King of Ireland's Son went out of the Cave, and the horse he had left behind, the Slight Red Steed, was not to be found.

III

[103]

W ITHOUT a steed and with a blackened sword the King of Ireland's Son came to where the Gobaun Saor had set up his forge and planted his anvil. No water nor sand would clean the Sword, but he left it down before the Gobaun Saor, hoping that he would show him a way to dean it. "The Sword must be bright that will kill the King of the Land of Mist and cut the tress that will awaken the Enchanter's daughter," said the Gobaun Saor. "You have let the Sword be blackened. Carry the blackened Sword with you now."

"Brighten it for me and I will serve you," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"It is not easy for me to brighten the Sword now," said the Gobaun Saor. "But find me the Unique Tale and what went before its beginning and what comes after its end, and I shall brighten the sword for you and show you the way to the Land of Mist. Go now, and search for the Unique Tale."

He went, and he had many far journeys, I can tell you, and he found no person who had any knowledge of the Unique Tale or who knew any way of coming to the Land of Mist. One twilight in a wood he saw a great bird flying towards him. It lighted on an old tree, and the King of Ireland's Son saw it was Laheen the Eagle.

[104] "Are you still a friend to me, Eagle?" said the King's Son.

"I am still a friend to you, King's Son," said Laheen.

"Then tell me where I should go to get knowledge of the Unique Tale," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"The Unique Tale—I never heard of it at all," said Laheen the Eagle, changing from one leg to the other. "I am old," she said, shaking her wings, "and I never heard of the Unique Tale."

The King's Son looked and saw that Laheen was really old. Her neck was bare of feathers and her wings were gray. "Oh, if you are so old," said the King's Son, "and have gone to so many places, and do not know of the Unique Tale, to whom can I go to get knowledge of it?"

"Listen," said Laheen the Eagle, "there are five of us that are called the Five Ancient Ones of Ireland, and it is not known which one of the five is the oldest. There is myself, Laheen the Eagle; there is Blackfoot the Elk of Ben Gulban, there is the Crow of Achill, the Salmon of Assaroe and the Old Woman of Beare. We do not know ourselves which of us is the oldest, but we know that we five are the most ancient of living things. I have never heard of the Unique Tale," said Laheen, "but maybe one of the other Ancients has heard of it."

"I will go to them," said the King's Son. "Tell me how I will find the Crow of Achill, the Elk of Ben Gulban, the Salmon of Assaroe and the Old Woman of Beare—tell me how to go to them, Laheen the Eagle."

[105] "You need not go to the Salmon of Assaroe," said the Eagle, "for the Salmon would not have heard any tale. I will get you means of finding the other three. Follow the stream now until you come to the river. Wait at the ford and I will fly to you there." Laheen the Eagle then shook her wings and flew slowly away. The King of Ireland's Son followed the stream until he came to the river—the River of the Ox it was.

IV

A ND having come to the River of the Ox he sought the ford and waited there for Laheen the Eagle. When it was high noon he saw the shadow of the Eagle in the water of the ford. He looked up. Laheen let something fall into the shallows. It was a wheel. Then Laheen lighted on the rocks of a waterfall above the ford and spoke to the King of Ireland's Son.

"Son of King Connal," she said, "roll this wheel before you and follow it where it goes. It will bring you first where Blackfoot the Elk abides. Ask the Elk has he knowledge of the Unique Tale. If he has no knowledge of it start the wheel rolling again. It will bring you then where the Crow of Achill abides. If the Crow cannot tell you anything of the Unique Tale, let the wheel bring you to where the Old Woman of Beare [106] lives. If she cannot tell you of the Unique Tale, I cannot give you any further help."

Laheen the Eagle then spread out her wings and rising above the mist of the waterfall flew away.

The King of Ireland's Son took the wheel out of the shallow water and set it rolling before him. It went on without his touching it again. Then he was going and ever going with the clear day going before him and the dark night coming behind him, going through scrubby fields and shaggy bog-lands, going up steep mountain sides and along bare mountain ridges, until at last he came to a high mound on a lonesome mountain. And as high as the mound and as lonesome as the mountain was the Elk that was standing there with wide, wide horns. The wheel ceased rolling.

"I am from Laheen the Eagle," said the King of Ireland's Son.

The Elk moved his wide-horned head and looked down at him. "And why have you come to me, son?" said the Elk.

"I came to ask if you had knowledge of the Unique Tale," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"I have no knowledge of the Unique Tale," said the Elk in a deep voice.

"And are you not Blackfoot, the Elk of Ben Gulban, one of the five of the oldest creatures in the world?" said the King of Ireland's Son.

"I am the Elk of Ben Gulban," said Blackfoot, "and [107] it may be that there is no creature in the world more ancient than I am. The Fianna hunted me with their hounds before the Sons of Milé came to the Island of Woods. If it was a Tale of Finn or Caelta or Goll, of Oscar or Oisin or Conan, I could tell it to you. But I know nothing of the Unique Tale."

Then Blackfoot the Elk of Ben Gulban turned his wide-horned head away and looked at the full old moon that was coming up in the sky. And the King of Ireland's Son took up the wheel and went to look for a shelter. He found a sheep-cote on the side of the mountain and lay down and slept between sheep.

V

W HEN the sun rose he lifted up the wheel and set it going before him. He was going and ever going down long hillsides and across spreading plains till he came to where old trees and tree-stumps were standing hardly close enough together to keep each other company. The wheel went through this ancient wood and stopped before a fallen oak-tree. And sitting on a branch of that oak, with a gray head bent and featherless wings gathered up to her neck was a crow.

"I come from Laheen the Eagle," said the King of Ireland's Son.

[108] "What did you say?" said the Crow, opening one eye.

"I come from Laheen the Eagle," said the King of Ireland's Son again.

"Oh, from Laheen," said the Crow and closed her eye again.

"And I came to ask for knowledge of the Unique Tale," said the King of Ireland's Son.

"Laheen," said the Crow, "I remember Laheen the Eagle." Keeping her eyes shut, she laughed and laughed until she was utterly hoarse. "I remember Laheen the Eagle," she said again. "Laheen never found out what I did to her once. I stole the Crystal Egg out of her nest. Well, and how is Laheen the Eagle?" she said sharply, opening one eye.

"Laheen is well," said the King of Ireland's Son. "She sent me to ask if you had knowledge of the Unique Tale."

"I am older than Laheen," said the Crow. "I remember Paralon's People. The Salmon of Assaroe always said he was before Paralon's People. But never mind! Laheen can't say that. If I could only get the feathers to stay on my wings I'd pay Laheen a visit some day. How are Laheen and her bird-flocks?"

"O Crow of Achill," said the King of Ireland's Son, "I was sent to ask if you had knowledge of the Unique Tale."

"The Unique Tale! No, I never heard of it," said the [109] Crow. She gathered her wings up to her neck again and bent her gray head.

"Think, O Crow of Achill," said the King of Ireland's Son. "I will bring you the warmest wool for your nest."

"I never heard of the Unique Tale," said the Crow. "Tell Laheen I was asking for her." Nothing would rouse the Crow of Achill again. The King of Ireland's Son set the wheel rolling and followed it. Then he was going and ever going with the clear day before him and the dark night coming behind him. He came to a wide field where there were field-fares or ground larks in companies. He crossed it. He came to a plain of tall daisies where there were thousands of butterflies. He crossed it. He came to a field of buttercups where blue pigeons were feeding. He crossed it. He came to a field of flax in blue blossom. He crossed it and came to a smoke-blackened stone house deep sunk in the ground. The wheel stopped rolling before it and he went into the house.

A N old woman was seated on the ground before the fire basting a goose. A rabbit-skin cap was on her hairless head and there were no eye-brows on her face. Three strange birds were eating out of the pot—a cuckoo, a corncrake and a swallow. "Come to the fire, gilly," said the old woman when she looked round.

[110] "I am not a gilly, but the King of Ireland's Son," said he.

"Well, let that be. What do you want of me?"

"Are you the Old Woman of Beare?"

"I have been called the Old Woman of Beare since your fore-great-grandfather's time."

"How old are you, old mother?"

"I do not know. But do you see the three birds that are picking out of my pot? For two score years the swallow was coming to my house and building outside. Then he came and built inside. Then for three score years he was coming into my house to build here. Now he never goes across the sea at all. and do you see the corncrake? For five score years she was coming to the meadow outside. Then she began to run into the house to see what was happening here. For two score years she was running in and out. Then she stayed here altogether. Now she never goes across the sea at all. And do you see the cuckoo there? For seven score years she used to come to a tree that was outside and sing over her notes. Then when the tree was gone, she used to light on the roof of my house. Then she used to come in to see herself in a looking glass. I do not know how many score years the cuckoo was going and coming, but I know it is many score years since she went across the sea."

"I went from Laheen the Eagle to Blackfoot the Elk, and from the Elk of Ben Gulban to the Crow of [111] Achill, and from the Crow of Achill, I come to you to ask if you have knowledge of the Unique Tale."

"The Unique Tale, indeed," said the Old Woman of Beare. "One came to me only last night to tell me the Unique Tale. He is the young man who is counting the horns."

"What young man is he and what horns is he counting?"

"He is no King's Son, but a gilly—Gilly of the Goat-skin he is called. He is counting the horns that are in two pits outside. When the horns are counted I will know the number of my half-years."

"How is that, old mother?"

"My father used to kill an ox every year on my birthday, and after my father's death, my servants, one after the other, used to kill an ox for me. The horns of the oxen were put into two pits, one on the right-hand side of the house and one on the left-hand side. If one knew the number of the horns one would know the number of my half-years, for every pair of horns goes to make a year of my life. Gilly of the Goatskin is counting the horns for me now, and when he finishes counting them I will let him tell the Unique Tale."

"But you must let me listen to the tale too, Old Woman of Beare."

"If you count the horns in one pit I will let you listen to the tale."

"Then I will count the horns in one pit."

[112] "Go outside then and count them."

The King of Ireland's Son went outside. He found on the right-hand side of the house a deep quarry-pit. Round the edge of it were horns of all kinds, black horns and white horns, straight horns and crooked horns. And below in the pit he saw a young man digging for horns that were sunk in the ground. He had on a jacket made of the skin of a goat.

"Who are you?" said the young man in the quarry-pit.

"I am the King of Ireland's Son. And who may you be?"

"Who I am I don't know," said the young man in the goatskin, "but they call me Gilly of the Goatskin. What have you come here for?"

"To get knowledge of the Unique Tale."

"And it was to tell the same Unique Tale that I came here myself. Why do you want to know the Unique Tale?"

"That would make a long story. Why do you want to tell it?"

"That would make a longer story. There is a quarry-pit at the left-hand side of the house filled with horns and it must be your task to count them."

"I will count them," said the King of Ireland's Son. "But you will be finished before me. Do not tell the Old Woman of Beare the Tale until we both sit down together."

[113] "If that suits you it will suit me," said Gilly of the Goatskin, and he began to dig again.

The King of Ireland's Son went to the left-hand side of the house. He found the quarry-pit and went into it to count the horns that were there—black horns and white horns, straight horns and crooked horns. And now, while the King of Ireland's Son is in the quarry-pit, I will tell you the adventures of Gilly—the Lad or the Servant—of the Goatskin, which adventures are written in "The Craneskin Book."

VI

H E never stirred out of the cradle till he was past twelve years of age, but lay there night and day, long days and short days; the only garment he ever put on was a goatskin; a hunter had once put it down on the floor beside his cradle and he reached out with his two hands, drew it in and put the goatskin on him. He got his name and his coat at the same time, for he was called ever afterwards "Gilly of the Goatskin."

But although he never stirred out of the cradle, Gilly of the Goatskin had ways of diverting himself. He used to shoot arrows with a bow out of the door of the house and hit a mark on a tree that was opposite him. And where did he get the bow and arrows?  The bow fell down from the roof of the house and into the [114] cradle. And as for arrows he used to make them out of the wands that the Hags brought in to make baskets with. But the Hags never saw him using the bow and sending off the arrows. All day they would be going along the streams gathering the willow wands for the baskets they made.

He knew nobody except the three Hags of the Long Teeth, and he had never heard the name of mother or father. Often, when she was peeling the wands with a black-handled knife, the Hag of the House used to tell Gilly of the Goatskin the troubles that were in store for him—danger from the sword and the spear and the knife, from water and fire, from the beasts of the earth and the birds of the air. She delighted to tell him about the evils that would befall him. And she used to laugh when she told him he was a hump-back and that people would throw stones at him.

O NE day when the Hags were away gathering willow wands, Gilly turned the cradle over and lay under it. He wanted to see what they would do when they did not see him sitting up in the cradle. They came in. Gilly looked through a crack in the cradle and saw the Hags—they were old and crooked and had long teeth that came down below their chins.

"He's gone, he's gone, he's gone!" screamed the Hag of the House, when she did not see Gilly in the cradle.

"He's gone," said one of the long-toothed Hags. "I [117] told you he would go away. Why didn't you cut out his heart yesterday, or the day before?"

"Mind what I tell you," said the other Hag of the Long Teeth. "Mind what I tell you. His father's son will grow into a powerful champion."

"Not he," said the Hag of the House, with great anger. "He'll never become a Champion. He's only a little hump-backed fellow with no weapons and with no garment but a goatskin."

"It would be better to kill him when he comes back," said the first of the Hags with the Long Teeth.

"And if he doesn't come back, tell the Giant Crom Duv," said the second.

Gilly of the Goatskin crept from under the cradle, put his bow resting on the bottom that was now turned uppermost, took up some of the rods that were on the floor and then shouted at the Hags. "Oh, if that's a hazel rod he has at his bow he will kill us all," they screamed out together.


[Illustration]

Oh, if that's a hazel rod he has at his bow he will kill us all!

He drew back the string, fired the willow rod and struck the middle Hag full on the breast. The three Hags fell down on the ground. The pot that was always hanging over the fire turned itself upside down and the house was filled with smoke. Gilly of the Goatskin, the bow in his hand, sprang across the cradle, over the threshold of the door, and out into the width and the height, the length and the breadth, the gloom and the gleam of the world.

VII

[118]

H E was out, as I have said, in the width and the height, the length and the breadth, the gloom and the gleam of the world. He fired arrows into the air. He leaped over ditches, he rolled down hillsides, he raced over level places until he came to what surprised him more than all the things in the world—a river. He had never seen such water before and he wondered to see it moving with swiftness. "Where is it going?" said Gilly of the Goatskin. "Does it go on like that in the night as well as in the day?" He ran by its side and shouted to the river. He saw a wide-winged bird flying across it. It was the bird that we call the crane or the heron. And as Gilly watched the great winged thing he saw that it held a little animal in its claws. Gilly fired an arrow and the crane dropped towards the ground. The little animal that was in its claws fell down. The crane rose up again and flew back across the river.

The little animal that had been in the claws of the crane came to Gilly of the Goatskin. It was smaller than the one-eyed cat that used to sit on the hearth of the Hag of the House. It kept its head up and was very bold-looking. "Good morning, Lad in the Goatskin," it said to Gilly, "you saved my life and I'm very thank- [119] ful to you." "What are you?" said Gilly of the Goatskin. "I'm the Weasel. I'm the boldest and bravest creature in this country. I'm the lion of these parts, I am. And," said the Weasel, "I never served anyone before, but I'll be your servant for a quarter of a year. Tell me what way you're going and I'll go with you." "I'm going the way he's going," said Gilly, nodding towards the river, "and I'll keep beside him till he wants to turn back." "Oh, then you'll have to go a long way," said the Weasel, "but I'll go with you no matter how far you go." The Weasel walked by Gilly's side very bravely and very independently.

"Oh, look," said Gilly to the Weasel, "what is that that's in the water?"

The Weasel looked and saw a crystal egg in the shallows.

"It's an egg," said the Weasel, "I often eat one myself. I'll bring it up from the bottom to you. I'm good at carrying eggs."

The Weasel went into the water and put his mouth to the egg and tried to lift it. He could not move it. He tried to lift it with his paws as well as with his mouth; but this did not do either. He came up the bank then, and said to Gilly, "You'll think I'm a poor sort of a servant because I can't take an egg out of the water. But if I can't win one way I'll win another way." He went into the reeds by the river and he said, "Hear me, frogs! There's a great army coming to take you out [120] of the reeds and eat you red and raw." Then Gilly saw the queer frogs lifting up their heads, "Oh, what will we do, what will we do?" they cried to the Weasel. "There's only one thing to be done," said the Weasel. "You gather up all the pebbles in the bed of the river and we'll make a big wall on the bank to defend you." The frogs dived into the water at once and dragged up pebbles. Gilly and the Weasel piled them on the bank. Then three frogs carried up the Crystal Egg. The Weasel took it from them when they left it on the bank. Then he climbed a tree and cried out to the frogs, "The army is frightened and is running away." "Oh, thank you, thank you," said the frogs, "we'll never forget your goodness to us." Then they sat down in the marsh and told each other what a narrow escape they all had.

The Weasel gave Gilly the Crystal Egg. It was heavy and he carried it for a while in his hand. They went on. After a while said Gilly of the Goatskin, "The night's coming on and the river shows no sign of turning back. I wish there was a nice place to shelter us." No sooner did he say the word than he and the Weasel found themselves standing before the open door of a nice little house. They went in. A clear fire was burning on the hearth, an arm chair was before it, and a bed was made at the other side of the fire. "This is good," said Gilly, "and now I wish that we had something to eat." No sooner did he say the words than a table appeared with bread and meat, fruit and wine on it. "Where do [121] these fine things come from, I wonder," said Gilly of the Goatskin. "It's my belief," said the Weasel, "that all these things come to us on account of the egg you have in your hand. It's a magic egg." Gilly of the Goatskin put the egg on the table and wished that he might see himself as he had seen himself in the river. Nothing appeared. Then he took the egg in his hand and wished again. And then there was a looking glass on the wall before him, and he saw himself in it better than he had seen himself in the river. Gilly of the Goatskin knew that he had only to hold the Crystal Egg in his hand and wish, to get all he could think of.

VIII

G ILLY of the Goatskin wished for wide windows in his house and he got them. He wished for a light within when there was darkness without, and he got a silver lamp that burned until he wished to sleep. He wished for the songs of birds and he had a blackbird singing upon his half-door, a lark over his chimney, a goldfinch and a green linnet within his window, and a shy wren in the evening singing from the top of his dresser. Then he wished to hear the conversation of the beasts and all the creatures of the fields and the wood and the mountain top came into his house.

[122] The hare used to come in early in the morning. He was always the first visitor and he never remained long, and always while he was there he kept running up and down the house, and he generally ended his visit by jumping through the open window. The martens, the beautiful wild cats of the wood, came in to see Gilly once; they were very proud and told him nothing. The little black rabbits were very much impressed by the martens, and all the time the martens were there they stayed under the bed and the chairs. Two or three times the King of the Wood himself—the Boar of the Bristles and the Long Tusks—came to see Gilly; he used to push open the door and then stand in the middle of the floor grunting and grunting. Once he brought his wife with him, and six or seven of their little pigs that went running over the floor, with their ears hanging over their eyes, came with them too. The hedgehogs used to come, but they always made themselves disagreeable. They just lay down by the fire and snored, and when they wakened up they quarrelled with each other. Everybody said that the hedgehogs' children were very badly brought up and very badly provided for. The squirrels who were so clean and careful, and so fond of their children, thought the hedgehogs were very bad creatures indeed. "It is just like them to have dirty sticky thorns around them instead of nice clean fur," said the squirrel's wife. "But, my dear," said the squirrel, "every animal can't have fur." "How well," [123] said she, "the rabbits have fur, though dear knows they're creatures of not much account. It's all just to let us see that they're some relation of that horrible, horrible boar that goes crashing and marching through the wood."

The deer never came into the house, and Gilly had a shed made for them outside. They would come into it and stay there for many nights and days, and Gilly used to go out and talk with them. They knew about far countries, and strange paths and passes, but they did not know so much about men and about the doings of other creatures as the Fox did.

The Fox used to come in the evening and stay until nearly morning whether Gilly fell asleep or kept awake. The Fox was a very good talker. He used to lie down at the hearth with his paws stretched out, and tell about this one and that one, and what she said and what he did. If the Fox came to see you, and if he was in good humor for talking, you would stay up all night to listen to him. I know I should. It was the Fox who told Gilly what the Crow of Achill did to Laheen the Eagle. She had stolen the Crystal Egg that Laheen was about to hatch—the Crystal Egg that the Crane had left on a bare rock. It was the Fox who told Gilly how the first cat came into the world. And it was the Fox who told Gilly about the generations of the eel. All I say is that it is a pity the Fox cannot be trusted, for a better one to talk and tell a story it would [124] be hard to find. He was always picking up and eating things that had been left over—a potato roasting in the ashes, an apple left upon a plate, a piece of meat under a cover. Gilly did not grudge these things to Rory the Fox and he always left something in a bag for him to take home to the young foxes.

I had nearly forgotten to tell you about Gilly's friend, the brave Weasel. He had made a home for himself under the roof. Sometimes he would go away for a day or so and he would never tell Gilly where he had been. When he was at home he made himself the door-keeper of Gilly's house. If any of the creatures made themselves disagreeable by quarrelling amongst each other, or by being uncivil to Gilly, the Weasel would just walk over to them and look them in the eyes. Then that creature went away. Always he held his head up and if Gilly asked him for advice he would say three words, "Have no fear; have no fear."

One day Gilly wanted to have a bunch of cherries with his dinner, and he went to find the Crystal Egg so that he might wish for it. The Crystal Egg was not in the place he had left it. He called the Weasel and the two of them searched the house. The Crystal Egg was nowhere to be found. "One of the creatures has stolen the Egg," said the Weasel, "but whoever stole it I will make bring it back. I'll soon find out who did it." The Weasel walked up to every creature that came in, [125] looked him or her in the eye and said, "Did you steal the Crystal Egg?" And every creature that came in said, "No, Little Lion, I didn't steal it." Next day they had examined every creature except the Fox. The Fox had not been in the night before nor the night before that again. He did not come in the evening they missed the Crystal Egg nor the evening after that evening. That night the Weasel said, "As sure as there are teeth in my head the Fox stole the Crystal Egg. As soon as there is light we'll search for him and make him give the Egg back to us."

IX

T HE Weasel was right; it was Rory the Fox who had stolen Gilly's Crystal Egg. One night, just as he was leaving Gilly's house, the moon shone full upon the Crystal Egg. In the turn of a hand Rory the Fox had made a little spring and had taken the Egg in his mouth. Then he slipped out by the door as quick and as quiet as a leaf blown in the wind.

He couldn't help himself stealing the Egg, when the chance came. He had had a dream about it. He dreamt that the Egg had been hatched and that out of it had come the most toothsome bird that a Fox had ever taken by the neck. He snapped his teeth in his sleep when he dreamt of it. The Fox told his young- [126] sters about the bird he had dreamt of—a bird as big as a goose and so fat on the neck and the breast that it could hardly stir from sitting. The youngsters had smacked their lips and snapped their teeth. Every time he came home now they used to say to him—"Father, have you brought us the Boobrie Bird?" No wonder that his eyes used to turn to the Crystal Egg when he sat in Gilly's house. And then because the moon shone on it just as he was leaving, and because he knew that Gilly's back was turned, he could not keep himself from making a little spring and taking the Crystal Egg softly in his mouth.

He went amongst the dark, dark trees with the soft and easy trot of a Fox. He knew well what he should do with the Egg. He had dreamt that it had been hatched by the Spae-Woman's old rheumatic goose. This goose was called Old Mother Hatchie and the Fox had never carried her off because he knew she was always hatching out goslings for his table. He went through the trees and across the fields towards the Spae-Woman's house.

The Spae-Woman lived by telling people their fortunes and reading them their dreams. That is why she was called the Spae-Woman. The people gave her goods for telling them their dreams and fortunes and she left her land and stock to whatever chanced. The fences of her fields were broken and rotted. Her hens had been carried off by the Fox. Her goat had gone [127] wild. She had neither ox nor ass nor sheep nor pig. The Fox went through her fence now as lightning would go through a gooseberry bush and he came out before her barn. There was a hole in the barn-door and he went through that. And in the north-west comer of the barn, he saw Old Mother Hatchie sitting on a nest of straw and he knew that there was a clutch of eggs under her. She cackled when she saw the Fox on the floor of the barn but she never stirred off the nest. Rory left what was in his mouth on the ground. Old Mother Hatchie put her head on one side and looked at the Egg that was clear in the full moonlight.

"This egg, Mistress Hatchie," said Rory the Fox, "is from the Hen-wife of the Queen of Ireland. The Queen asked the Hen-wife to ask me to leave it with you. She thinks there's no bird in the world but yourself that is worthy to hatch it and to rear the gosling that comes out of it."

"That's right, that's right," said Mother Hatchie. "Put it here, put it here." She lifted her wing and the Fox put the Crystal Egg into the brood-nest.

He went out of the barn, crossed the field again, and went amongst the dark, dark trees. He went along slowly now for he began to think that Gilly might find out who stole the Crystal Egg and be vexed with him. Then he thought of the Weasel. The Fox began to think he might be sorry for himself if the Weasel was set on his track.

[128] Rory did not go to Gilly's house the next night nor the night after. The third night, as he was going home from a ramble, the Owl hooted at him. "Why do you hoot at me, Big Moth?" said the Fox stopping in his trot. (He always called the Owl "Big Moth" to pretend that he thought she wasn't a bird at all, but a moth. He made this pretence because he was annoyed that he could never get an owl to eat). "Why do you hoot at me, Big Moth?" said he. "The Weasel's going to have your bones for his stepping-stones and your blood for his morning dram," said the Owl balefully as she went amongst the dark, dark trees. The Fox stopped long to consider. Then he went to his burrow and told his youngsters they would have to move house. He had them stirring at the first light. He gave them a frog each for their breakfast and took them across the country. They came to a burrow that Old-Fellow Badger had just left and Rory the Fox brought his youngsters into it and told them that it would be their new house.

X

T HE evening after when Rory the Fox was taking his nap he heard one of his youngsters give a sharp cry. They were playing outside the burrow, he looked out and he saw that his three youngsters were afraid of something that was between them and the burrow. He looked again and saw the Weasel.

[129] "Ahem," said Rory the Fox, "and how are we this morning?"

The Weasel had marked one of Rory's youngsters for attack. Although Rory spoke, he never took his eyes off the youngster he had marked.

"My dear friend," said the Fox, "I was just going to say—if you are looking for anything, perhaps I could tell you where it might be found."

"Crystal Egg," said the Weasel without ever taking away his blood-thirsty gaze from Rory's youngster.

"Oh, the Crystal Egg," said Rory the Fox. "Yes, to be sure. I could bring you at once to the place where the Crystal Egg is." He came out of the burrow and saw Gilly standing on the bank behind.

"I think it is time for my children to go back to their burrow," said Rory the Fox. "Please excuse them, my friends." The Weasel took his eyes off the youngster he had marked and the three little foxes scampered into the burrow.

"This way, friends," said the Fox, and he started off towards the Spae-Woman's house with the light and easy trot of a fox. Gilly and the Weasel went behind him. They crossed a field of flax, a field of hemp and a field of barley. They came to the broken fence before the Spae-Woman's house, and in front of the house they saw the Spae-Woman herself and she was crying and crying.

[130] The Fox hid behind the fence, the Weasel climbed up on the ditch and Gilly himself went to the woman.

"What ails you at all?" said Gilly to her.

"My goose—the only fowl left to me has been taken by robbers."

"Ask her where the clutch of eggs is that the goose was hatching," said Rory the Fox anxiously, putting his head over the fence.

"And where is the clutch of eggs, ma'am, that your goose was hatching?"

"The robbers took the nest with the goose and the eggs with the nest," said the Spae-Woman.

"And the Crystal Egg was with the other eggs," said the Fox to Gilly. He said no more. He made a quick turn and got clear away before the Weasel could spring on him. He ran back to his burrow. He told the little foxes they must change houses again. That night they lay in a wood and at the first light they crossed water and went to live on an island where the Weasel never came.

"Where did the robbers go with the goose, the nest, and the eggs?" said Gilly of the Goatskin.

"They went to the river," said the Spae-Woman. "I followed them every inch of the way. They got into a boat and they hoisted their sails. They rowed and they rowed, so that the hard gravel of the bottom was brought to the top, and the froth of the top was driven down to the bottom of the river. And wherever they [131] are," said the Spae-Woman, "they are far from us now."

"Will you come with me?" said Gilly to the Weasel, "we will track them down and take back the Crystal Egg."

"I engaged myself to be with you for a quarter of a year," said the Weasel, "and the three months are up now, Gilly. Winter is coming on and I must see to my own affairs."

"Then good-by, Weasel," said Gilly. "I will search for the Crystal Egg myself. But first I must ask the woman to let me rest in the house and to give me some provision for my journey."

The Weasel looked up into Gilly's face and said good-by to him. Then Gilly followed the Spae-Woman into her house. "Ocone," she was saying to herself, "my dream told me I was to lose my poor goose, and still I never did anything to make it hard for the robbers to take her from me."

XI

W ELL, in the Spae-Woman's house he stayed for three-quarters of a year. He often went in search of the robbers who had taken the Crystal Egg with the Spae-Woman's goose, but no trace of them nor their booty could he ever find. He met birds and beasts [132] who were his friends, but he could not have speech with them without the Egg that let him have anything he wished. He did work for the Spae-Woman—fixed her fences and repaired her barn and brought brosna  for her fire every evening from the wood. At night, before he went to sleep, the Spae-Woman used to tell him her dreams of the night before and tell him about the people who had come to her house to have their fortunes told.

One Monday morning she said to him, "I have had an inlook, son of my heart, and I know that my gossip, the Churl of the Townland of Mischance, is going to come and take you into his service."

"And what sort of a man is your gossip, the Churl of the Townland of Mischance?" Gilly asked.

"An unkind man. Two youths who served me he took away, one after the other, and miserable are they made by what he did to them. I'm in dread of your being brought to the Townland of Mischance."

"Why are you in dread of it, Spae-Woman?" said Gilly. "Sure, I'll be glad enough to see the world."

"That's what the other two youths said," said the Spae-Woman. "Now I'll tell you what my gossip the Churl of the Townland of Mischance does: he makes a bargain with the youth that goes into his service, telling him he will give him a guinea, a groat and a tester for his three months' service. And he tells the youth that if he says he is sorry for the bargain he must lose his wages and part with a strip of his skin, an inch wide, [135] from his neck to his heel. Oh, he is an unkind man, my gossip, the Churl of the Townland of Mischance."


[Illustration]

He rode on a bob-tailed, big-headed, spavined and spotted horse.

"And is there no way to get the better of him?" asked Gilly.

"There is, but it is a hard way," said the Spae-Woman. "If one could make him say that he, the master, is sorry for the bargain, the Churl himself would lose a strip of his skin an inch wide from his neck to his heel, and would have to pay full wages no matter how short a time the youth served him."

"It's a bargain anyway," said Gilly, "and if he comes I'll take service with the Churl of the Townland of Mischance."

The first wet day that came brought the Churl of the Townland of Mischance. He rode on a bob-tailed, big-headed, spavined and spotted horse. He carried an ash-plant in his hand to flog the horse and to strike at the dogs that crossed his way. He had blue lips, eyes looking crossways and eyebrows like a furze bush. He had a bag before him filled with boiled pigs' feet. Now when he rode up to the house, he had a pig's foot to his mouth and was eating. He got down off the bob-tailed, big-headed, spavined and spotted horse, and came in.

"I heard there was a young fellow at your house and I want him to take service with me," said he to the Spae-Woman.

"If the bargain is a good one I'll take service with you," said Gilly.

[136] "All right, my lad," said the Churl. "Here is the bargain, and it's as fair as fair can be. I'll give you a guinea, a groat and a tester for your three months' work with me."

"I believe it's good wages," said Gilly.

"It is. Howsoever, if you ever say you are sorry you made the bargain you will lose your wages, and besides that you will lose a strip of your skin an inch wide from your neck to your heel. I have to put that in or I'd never get work done for me at all. The serving boys are always saying 'I can't do that,' and 'I'm sorry I made the bargain with you.' "

"And if you say you're sorry you made the bargain?"

"Oh, then I'll have to lose a strip of my skin an inch wide from my neck to my heel, and besides that I'll have to give you full wages no matter how short a time you served me."

"Well, if that suits you it will suit me," said Gilly of the Goatskin.

"Then walk beside my horse and we'll get back to the Townland of Mischance to-night," said the Churl. Then he swished his ash-plant towards Gilly and ordered him to get ready. The Spae-Woman wiped the tears from her face with her apron, gave Gilly a cake with her blessing, and he started off with the Churl for the Townland of Mischance.

XII

[137]

W HAT did Gilly of the Goatskin do in the Townland of Mischance? He got up early and went to bed late; he was kept digging, delving and ditching until he was so tired that he could go to sleep in a furze bush; he ate a breakfast that left him hungry five hours before dinner-time, and he ate a dinner that made it seem long until supper-time. If he complained the Churl would say, "Well, then you are sorry for your bargain," and Gilly would say "No," rather than lose the wages he had earned and a strip of his skin into the bargain.

One day the Churl said to him, "Go into the town for salt for my supper, take the short way across the pasture-field, and be sure not to let the grass grow under your feet." "All right, master," said Gilly. "Maybe you would bring me my coat out of the house so that I needn't make two journeys." The Churl went into the house for Gilly's coat. When he came back he found Gilly standing in the nice grass of the pasture-field lighting a wisp of hay. "What are you doing that for?" said the Churl to him. "To burn the grass on the pasture-field," said Gilly. "To burn the grass on my pasture-field, you villain—the grass that is for my good race-horse's feeding! What do you mean, at all?" "Sure, you told me not to let the grass grow under my [138] feet," said Gilly. "Doesn't the world know that the grass is growing every minute, and how will I prevent it from growing under my feet if I don't burn it?" With that he stooped down to put the lighted hay to the grass of the pasture-field. "Stop, stop," said the Churl, "I meant that you were to go to the town, without loitering on the way." "Well, it's a pity you didn't speak more clearly," said Gilly, "for now the grass is a-fire." The Churl had to stamp on the grass to put the fire out. He burnt his shins, and that made him very angry. "O you fool," said he to Gilly, "I'm sorry—" "Are you sorry for the bargain you made with me, Master?" "No. I was going to say I was sorry I hadn't made my meaning clear to you. Go now to the town and bring me back salt for my supper as quickly as you can."

After that the Churl was very careful when he gave Gilly an order to speak to him very exactly. This became a great trouble to him, for the people in the Townland of Mischance used always to say, "Don't let the grass grow under your feet," when they meant "Make haste," and "Don't be there until you're back," when they meant "Go quickly" and "Come with horses' legs" when they meant "Come with great speed." He became tired of speaking to Gilly by the letter, so he made up his mind to give him an order that could not be carried out, so that he might have a chance of sending him away without the wages he had earned.

[139] One Monday morning he called Gilly to the door of the house and said to him, "Take this sheep-skin to the market and bring me back the price of it and the skin." "Very well, Master," said Gilly. He put the skin across his arm and went towards the town. The people on the road said to him, "What do you want for the sheep-skin, young fellow?" "I want the skin and the price of it," Gilly said. The people laughed at him and said, "You're going to give yourself a long journey, young fellow."

He went through the market asking for the skin and the price of it. Everyone joked about him. He went into the market-house and came to a woman who was buying things that no one else would buy. "What do you want, youth?" said she. "The price of the skin and the skin itself," said Gilly. She took the skin from him and plucked the wool out of it. She put the wool in her bag and put the skin back on the board. "There's the skin," said she, "and here's the price of it." She left three groats and a tester on top of the skin.

The Churl had finished his supper when Gilly came into the house. "Well, Master, I've come back to you," said Gilly. "Did you bring me the price of it and the skin itself?" said the Churl. "There is the skin," said Gilly, putting on the table the sheep-skin with the wool plucked out of it. "And here's the price of it—three groats and a tester," said he, leaving the money on top of the skin.

[140] After that the Churl of the Townland of Mischance began to be afraid that Gilly of the Goatskin would be too wise for him, and would get away at the end of the three months with his wages, a guinea, a groat and a tester, in his fist. This thought made the Churl very downcast, because, for many months now, he had got hard labor out of his serving-boys, without giving them a single cross for wages.

XIII

T HE day after Christmas the Churl said to Gilly, "This is Saint Stephen's Day. I'm going to such a man's barn to see the mummers perform a play. Foolish people give these idle fellows money for playing, but I won't do any such thing as that. I'll see something of what they are doing, drink a few glasses and get away before they start collecting money from the people that are watching them. They call this collection their dues, no less."

"And what can I do for you, Master?" said Gilly. "Run into the barn at midnight and shout out, 'Master, Master, your mill is on fire.' That will give me an excuse for running out. Do you understand now what I want you to do?"

"I understand, Master."

The Churl put on his coat and took his stick in his [141] hand. "Mind what I've said to you," said he. "Don't be a minute later than midnight. Be sure to come in with a great rush—come in with horse's legs—do you understand me?"

"I understand you, Master," said Gilly.

The mummers were dancing before they began the play when the Churl came into the barn. "That's a rich man," said one of them to another. "We must see that he puts a good handful into our bag." The Churl sat on the bench with the farmer who had a score of cows, with the blacksmith who shod the King's horses, and with the merchant who had been in foreign parts and who wore big silver rings in his ears. Half the people who were there I could not tell you, but there were there—

Biddie Early

Tatter-Jack Walsh

Aunt Jug

Lundy Foot

Matt the Thresher

Nora Criona

Conan Maol, and

Shaun the Omadhaun.

Some said that the King of Ireland's Son was there too. The play was

"The Unicorn from the Stars."

The mummers did it very well although they had no one to take the part of the Unicorn.

[142] They were in the middle of the play when Gilly of the Goatskin rushed into the barn. "Master, master," he shouted, "your mill—your mill is on fire." The Churl stood up, and then put his glass to his head and drained what was in it. "Make way for me, good people," said he. "Let me out of this, good people." Some people near the door began to talk of what Gilly held in his hands. "What have you there, my servant?" said the Churl. "A pair of horse's legs, Master. I could only carry two of them."

The Churl caught Gilly by the throat. "A pair of horse's legs," said he. "Where did you get a pair of horse's legs?"

"Off a horse," said Gilly. "I had trouble in cutting them off. Bad cess to you for telling me to come here with horse's legs."

"And whose horse did you cut the legs off?"

"Your own, Master. You wouldn't have liked me to cut the legs off any other person's horse. And I thought your race-horse's legs would be the most suitable to cut off."

The mummers and the people were gathered round them and they saw the Churl's face get black with vexation.

"O my misfortune, that ever I met with you," said the Churl.

"Are you sorry for your bargain, Master?" said Gilly.

[143] "Sorry—I'll be sorry every day and night of my life for it," said the Churl.

"You hear what my Master says, good people," said Gilly.

"Aye, sure. He says he's sorry for the bargain he made with you," said some of the people.

"Then," said Gilly, "strip him and put him across the bench until I cut a strip of his skin an inch wide from his neck to his heel."

N ONE of the people would consent to do that. "Well, I'll tell you something that will make you consent," said Gilly. "This man made two poor servant-boys work for him, paid them no wages, and took a strip of their skin, so that they are sick and sore to this day. Will that make you strip him and put him across the bench?"

"No," said some of the people.

"He ordered me to come here to-night and to shout 'Master, master, your mill is on fire,' so that he might be able to leave without paying the mummers their dues. His mill is not on fire at all."

"Strip him," said the first mummer.

"Put him across the bench," said another.

"Here's a skinner's knife for you," said a third.

The mummers seized the Churl, stripped him and put him across the bench. Gilly took the knife and began to sharpen it on the ground.

[144] "Have mercy on me," said the Churl.

"You did not have mercy on the other two poor servant-boys," said Gilly.

"I'll give you your wages in full."

"That's not enough."

"I'll give you double wages to give to the other servant-boys."

"And will you pay the mummers' dues for all the people here?"

"No, no, no. I can't do that."

"Stretch out your neck then until I mark the place where I shall begin to cut the skin."

"Don't put the knife to me. I'll pay the dues for all," said the Churl.

"You heard what he said," said Gilly to the people. "He will pay me wages in full, give me double wages to hand to the servant-boys he has injured, and pay the mummers' dues for everyone."

"We heard him say that," said the people.

"Stand up and dress yourself," said Gilly to the Churl. "What do I want with a strip of your skin? But I hope all here will go home with you and stand in your house until you have paid all the money that's claimed from you."

"We'll go home with him," said the mummers.

"We'll stand on his floor until he has paid all the money he has agreed to pay," said the others.

"And now I must tell you, neighbors," said Gilly, [145] "that I never cut the legs of a living horse—neither his horse nor anyone else's. This pair was taken off a poor dead horse by the skinners that were cutting it up."

Well, they all went to the Churl's house and there they stayed until he opened his stone chest and took out his money-box and paid to the mummers the dues of all the people with sixpence over, and paid Gilly his wages in full, one guinea, one groat and a tester, and handed him double wages to give to each of the servant-boys he had injured. Gilly took the money and left the house of the Churl of the Townland of Mischance, and the people and the mummers went to the road with him, and cheered him as he went on his way.

XIV

S O, without hap or mishap, Gilly came again to the house of the Spae-Woman. She was sitting at her door-step grinding corn with a quern when he came before her. She cried over him, not believing that he had come safe from the Townland of Mischance. And as long as he was with her she spoke to him of his "poor back."

He stayed with her for two seasons. He mended her fences and he cleaned her spring-well; he ground her corn and he brought back her swarm of bees; he trained a dog to chase the crows out of her field; he had the ass [146] shod, the sheep washed and the goat spancelled. The Spae-Woman was much beholden to him for all he did for her, and one day she said to him, "Gilly of the Goatskin you are called, but another name is due to you now." "And who will give me another name?" said Gilly of the Goatskin. "Who'll give it to you? Who but the Old Woman of Beare," said the Spae-Woman.

The next day she said to him, "I had a dream last night, and I know now what you are to do. You must go now to the Old Woman of Beare for the name that is due to you. And before she gives it to you, you must tell her and whoever else is in her house as much as you know of the Unique Tale."

"But I know nothing at ail of the Unique Tale," said Gilly of the Goatskin.

"There is always a blank before a beginning," said the Spae-Woman. "This evening, when I am grinding the corn at the quern I shall tell you the Unique Tale."

That evening when she sat at the door-step of her house and when the sun was setting behind the elder-bushes the Spae-Woman told Gilly the third part of the Unique Tale. Then she baked a cake and killed a cock for him and told him to start on the morrow's morning for the house of the Old Woman of Beare.

Well, he started off in the morning bright and early, leaving good health with the Spae-Woman behind him, and away he went, crossing high hills, passing low dales, and keeping on his way without halt or rest, the clear [147] day going and the dark night coming, taking lodgings each evening wherever he found them, and at last he came to the house of the Old Woman of Beare.

He went into the house and found her making marks in the ashes of her fire while her cuckoo, her corncrake and her swallow were picking grains off the table.

"And what can I do for you, good youth?" said the Old Woman of Beare.

"Give me a name," said Gilly, "and listen to the story I have to tell you."

"That I will not," said the Old Woman of Beare, "until you have done a task for me."

"What task can I do for you?" said Gilly of the Goatskin.

"I would know," said she, "which of us four is the oldest creature in the world—myself or Laheen the Eagle, Blackfoot the Elk or the Crow of Achill—I leave the Salmon of Assaroe out of account altogether."

"And how can a youth like me help you to know that?" said Gilly of the Goatskin.

"An ox was killed on the day I was born and on every one of my birthdays afterwards. The horns of the oxen are in two quarries outside. You must count them and tell me how much half of them amounts to and then I shall know my age."

"That I'll do if you feed me and give me shelter," said Gilly of the Goatskin.

"Eat as you like," said the Old Woman of Beare. [148] She pushed him a loaf of bread and a bottle of water. When he cut a slice of the loaf it was just as if nothing had been cut off, and when he took a cupful out of the bottle it was as if no water had been taken out of it at all. When he had drunk and eaten he left the complete loaf and the full bottle of water on the shelf, went outside and began to count the horns on the right-hand side.

On the second day a strange youth came to him and saluted him, and then went to count the horns in the quarry on the left-hand side. This youth was none other than the King of Ireland's Son.

On the third day they had the horns all counted. Then Gilly of the Goatskin and the King of Ireland's Son met together under a bush. "How many horns have you counted?" said the King of Ireland's Son. "So many," said Gilly of the Goatskin. "And how many horns have you counted?" "So many," said the King of Ireland's Son.

J UST as they were adding the two numbers together they both heard sounds in the air—they were like the sounds that Bards make chanting their verses. And when they looked up they saw a swan flying round and round above them. And the swan chanted the story of the coming of the Milesians to Eirinn, and as the two youths listened they forgot the number of horns they had counted. [149] And when the swan had flown away they looked at each other and as they were hungry they went into the house and ate slices of the unwasted loaf and drank cupfuls out of the inexhaustible bottle. Then the Old Woman of Beare wakened up and asked them to tell her the number of her years.

"We cannot tell you although we counted all the horns," said the King of Ireland's Son, "for just as we were putting the numbers together a swan sang to us and we forgot the number we had counted."

"You didn't do your task rightly," she said, "but as I promised to give this youth a name and to listen to the story he had to tell, I shall have to let it be. You may tell the story now, Gilly of the Goatskin."

They sat at the fire, and while the Old Woman of Beare spun threads on a very ancient spindle, and while the corncrake, the cuckoo and the swallow picked up grains and murmured to themselves, Gilly of the Goatskin told them the Unique Tale. And the story as Gilly of the Goatskin told it follows this.—


[Illustration]

[150]

A KING and a Queen were walking one day by the blue pool in their domain. The swan had come to the blue pool, and the bright yellow flowers of the broom were above the water. "Och," said the Queen, "if I might have a daughter that would show such colors—the blue of the pool in her [151] eyes, the bright yellow of the broom in her hair, and the white of the swan in her skin—I would let my seven sons go with the wild geese." "Hush," said the King. "You ask for a doom, and it may be sent you." A shivering came upon the Queen. They went back to the Castle, and that evening the nurse told them that a gray man had passed in a circle round her seven sons saying, "If it be as your mother desired, let it be as she has said."

Well, before the broom blossomed again and before the swan came to the blue pool, a child was born to the Queen. It was a girl. The King was sitting with his seven sons when the women came to tell him of the new birth. "O my sons," said he, "may ye be with me all my life." But his sons moved from him as he said it. Out through the door they went, and up the mound that was before the door. There they changed into gray wild geese, and the seven flew towards the empty hills.

No councillor that the King consulted could help to win them back again, and no hunter that he sent through the country could gain tale or tidings of them. The King and Queen were left with one child only, the girl just born. They called her "Sheen," a word that means "Storm," because her coming was a storm that swept away her seven brothers. The Queen died, my hearers. Then little Sheen was forgotten by her father, and she was reared and companioned by the servants of the house.

[152] One day, when she was the age her eldest brother was when he was changed from his human form, Sheen went with Mor, the Woodman's daughter, and Siav, the basket-maker's foster-child, to gather berries in the wood. Going here and there she got separated from Siav and Mor. She came to a place where there were lots of berries and went step after step to pick them. Her feet went down in a marsh. She cried to Mor and Siav, but no answers came from them. She cried and cried again. Her cries startled seven wild geese that rose up and flew round her. "Save me," she cried to them. Then one of the wild geese spoke to her. "Anyone but a girl we would save from the marsh, but such a one we cannot save, because it was a girl who lost us our human forms and the loving companionship of our father." Then Sheen knew—for the servants had often told her the story—that it was one of her seven brothers who spoke. "Since ever I knew of it," said she, "the whole of my trouble has been that I was the cause of your losing your human form and the companionship of our father who is now called the Lonely King. Believe me," said she, "that I would have striven and striven to win you back." There was so much feeling in her voice that her seven brothers, although they had been hardened by thinking about their misfortune, were touched at their hearts and they flew down to help her. They bore up her arms, they caught at her shoulders, they raised up her feet. They carried her beyond the [153] marsh. Then she knelt down and cried to them, "O my brothers dear, is there anything I can do to restore you to your human forms?" "There is," said the first of the seven wild geese. She begged them to tell it to her. "It's a long and a tiresome labor we would put on you," said one. "If you would gather the light down that grows on the bogs with your own hands," said another, "and if you spun that down into threads, and wove the threads into a cloth and sewed the cloth into a shirt, and did that over and over again until you had made seven shirts for us, all that time without laughing or crying or saying a word, you could save us. One shirt you could weave and spin and sew in a year. And it would not be until the seven shirts were put upon us that the human form would be restored to each of us." "I would be glad to do all that," said Sheen, "and I would cry no tear, laugh no laugh, and say no word all the time I was doing this task."

Then said the eldest brother, "The marsh is between you and our father's house, and between you and the companions who were with you to-day. If you would do the task that would restore us to our human forms, it were best you did not go back. Beyond the trees is the house of a lone woman, and there you may live until your task is finished." The seven wild geese then flew back to the marsh, and Sheen went to the house beyond the trees. The Spae-Woman lived there. She took Sheen to be a dumb girl, and she gave her food and shel- [154] ter for the services she did—bringing water from the well in the daytime and grinding corn at the quern at dusk. She had the rest of the day and night for her own task. She gathered the bog-down between noon and sunset and spun the thread at night. When she had lengths of thread spun she began to weave them on the loom. At the end of a year she had the first shirt made. In another year she made the second, then the third, then the fourth, the fifth and the sixth. And all the time she said no word, laughed no laugh and cried no tear.


S HE was gathering the bog-down for the seventh and last shirt. Once she went abroad on a day when the snow was melted and she felt her footsteps light. Hundreds of birds were on the ground eating plentifully and calling to one another. Sheen could hardly keep from her mouth the song that was in her mind. She would sing and laugh and talk when the last thread was spun and woven, when the last stitch was sewn, and when the shirts of bog-down she had made in silence would have brought back her brothers to their own human forms. She gathered the scarce heads of the cannavan or bog-down with one hand, while she held the other hand to her lips.

Something dropped down at her feet. It was a white grouse and it remained cowering on the ground. Sheen [155] looked up and she saw a hawk above. And when she looked round she saw a man coming across the bog. The hawk flew towards him and lighted on his shoulder.

Sheen held the white grouse to her breast. The man came near to her and spoke to her and his voice made her stand. He wore the dress of a hunter. His face was brown and lean and his eyes were bright-blue like gentian-flowers. No word did Sheen say to him and he passed on with the hawk on his shoulder. Then with the grouse held at her breast she went back to the Spae-Woman's house.

That night when she spun her thread she thought of the blue-eyed, brown-faced man. Would any of her brothers be like him, she wondered, when they were restored to their human shapes. She fed the white grouse with grains of corn and left it to rest in the window-niche above her bed. And then she lay awake and tried to know the meaning in the song the Spae-Woman sang when she sat spinning wool in the chimney corner—

You would not slumber

If laid at my breast!

Little sister,

I'll rock you to rest!


The flood on the river beats

The swan from its nest!

You would not slumber

If laid at my breast!


[156]

The rain-drops encumber

The hawthorn's crest:

My thoughts have no number:

You would not slumber

If laid at my breast,

Little sister,

I'll rock you to rest.

She passed the night between sleeping and waking, and when the light grew she saw the white grouse crouching against the window-opening. She opened the door and stepped outside to let the grouse fly from her hands.

And there, on the ground before her was a sword! Sheen knew it to be the sword of the man she had seen yesterday, and she knew the man had been before the door in the night-time. She knelt on the ground to look at the bright blue blade. O my listeners, if I was there I was in the crows that flew down heavily and cawed as they picked up something that pleased them, in the wood-cushats that cooed in the trees, in the small birds that quarreled in the thatch of the house, and in the breeze that blew round—the first breeze of the day.

The Spae-Woman came outside and saw what Sheen was looking at—the sword on the ground. "It is wrought with cunning that only the smiths of Kings possess," she said. She took the sword and hung it on the branch of a tree so that the dews of the ground might not rust it. "I think the one who owns it is the stranger [157] who is seen in the wild places hereabouts—the man whom the neighbors call the Hunter-King," she said to Sheen.


O N another day Sheen went to gather bog-down. This time she crossed the river by the stepping-stones and went into a country where there were many cattle. She stood wondering at their numbers and wishing that such a cow and such a calf might belong to the Spae-Woman. Then the next thing she saw was two black horses striving with each other. They showed their teeth at each other and bit and kicked. Then they came racing towards her. "Oh," said Sheen to herself, "they are Breogan's wild stallions." She ran, but the horses were able to make circles round her. "Breogan's wild stallions," said she, "they will rush in and trample me to death." Then she heard someone shouting commands to the horses. She saw a man strike one of the stallions with a staff, making him rear high. She saw him make the other stand with the command that was in his voice. She ran to the river, but she slipped on the stepping-stones; she fell down and she felt the water flowing upon her. The man came and lifting her up carried her to her own side of the river. Across the bog he carried her, and when she looked at him she saw the lean face and eyes blue like gentian-flowers—she saw the face of the man who was called the [158] Hunter-King. He left her on the ground when they passed the bog, and she went on her way without speaking.

Nothing of this no more than of anything else that happened to her, or anything that she thought of, did Sheen tell the Spae-Woman. But she wished and she wished that the Hunter-King might come past while there was a light in the house and step within and talk to the Spae-Woman, so that she herself, while spinning the thread, could hear his voice and listen to the things he talked about. She often stood at the door and watched across the bog to see if anything was coming to her.

A neighbor-woman came across the door-step one evening and Sheen went into the house after her, for she felt that something was going to be told. There was a dead man in a house. He had been found in the wood. He was known as the Hunter-King. Sheen stood at her bed and heard what the neighbor-woman said.

The Hunter-King was being waked in the neighbor-woman's house, and her eldest daughter had been the corpse-watcher the first night. In the morning they found that the girl's hand had been withered. The woman's second daughter was the corpse-watcher the second night and her right hand had been left trembling. This was the third and last night that the Hunter-King would be waked, and to-night there was no one to watch his corpse.

Sheen thought that nothing would ever happen in the [159] world again, now that the Hunter-King was dead. She thought that there was no loneliness so great as that of his corpse with no one to watch it on the last strange night it would be above ground. The neighbor-woman went from the Spae-Woman and Sheen went after her. She was standing on the door-step of her house. "Oh, colleen," said the neighbor-woman, "I am wanting a girl to watch a corpse in my house to-night—the third and the last night for watching. Will you watch and I will give you a comb for your hair?" Sheen showed that she would serve the woman and she went into the wake-house. At first she was afraid to look at the bed. Then she went over and saw the Hunter-King with his face still, his eyes closed down, and the plate of salt on his breast. His gray gaunt hound was stretched across his feet.


T HE woman and her daughters lighted candles and placed them in the window recesses and at the head of the corpse. Then they went into their dormer-room and left Sheen to her watching. She sat at the fire and made one fagot after another blaze up. She had brought her basket of bog-down and she began to spin a thread upon the neighbor-woman's wheel.

She finished the thread and put it round her neck. Then she began to search for more candles so that she [160] might be able to light one, as another went out. But as she rose up all the candles went out all at once. The hound started from the foot of the bed. Then she saw the corpse sitting up stiffly in the place where it had been laid.


[Illustration]

She saw the corpse sitting up stiffly.

Something in Sheen overcame her dread, and she went over to the corpse and took the salt that was on its breast and put it on its lips. Then a voice came from between the lips. "Fair Maid," said the voice, "have you the courage to follow me? The others failed me and they have been stricken. Are you faithful?" "I will follow you," said Sheen. "Then," said the corpse, "put your hands on my shoulders and come with me. I must go over the Quaking Bog, and through the Burning forest, and across the Icy Sea." Sheen put her hands on his shoulders. A storm came and they were swept through the roof of the house. They were carried through the night. Down they came on the ground and the dead man sprang away from Sheen. She went to follow him and found her feet upon a shaking sod. They were on the Quaking Bog, she knew. The corpse of the Hunter-King went ahead and she knew that she must keep it in sight. He went swiftly. The sod went under her feet and she was in the watery mud. She struggled out and jumped over a pool that was hidden with heather. All the time she was in dread that the figure that went before her so quickly would be lost to her. She sank and she struggled and she sprang across pools [163] and morasses. All the time what had been the corpse of the Hunter-King went before her.

Then she saw fires against the sky and she knew they were coming to the Burning Forest. The figure before her sprang across a ditch and went into the forest. Sheen sprang across it too. Burning branches fell across her path as she went on. Hot winds burnt her face. Flames dazzled and smoke dazed her. But the figure before her went straight on and Sheen went straight on too.

The forest ended on a cliff. Below was the sea. The figure before her dived down and Sheen dived too. The cold chilled her to the marrow. She thought the chill would drive the life out of her. But she saw the head of one swimming before her and she swam on.

And then they were on land again. "Fair Maid," said the corpse of the Hunter-King, "put your hands on my shoulders again." She put her hands on his shoulders. A storm came and swept them away. They were driven through the roof of the neighbor-woman's house. The candle-wicks fluttered and light came on them again. She saw the hound standing in the middle of the floor. She saw the corpse sitting where it had been laid and the eyes were now open.

"Fair Maid," said the voice of the Hunter-King, "you have brought me back to life. I am a man under enchantment. There is a witch-woman in the wood that I gave my love to. She enchanted me so that the [164] soul was out of my body, and wandering away. It was my soul you followed. And the enchantment was to be broken when I found a heart so faithful that it would follow my soul over the Quaking Bog, through the Burning Forest and across the Icy Sea. You have brought my soul and my life back to me." Then she ran out of the neighbor's house.

The night after, in the Spae-Woman's house she finished weaving the threads that were on the loom. The next night she stitched the cloth and made the sixth shirt. The day after she went into the bog to gather the bog-down for the seventh shirt. She had gathered her basketful and was going through the wood about the hour of sunset. At the edge of the thin wood she saw the Hunter-King standing. He took her hands and his were warm hands. His brown face and his gentian-blue eyes were high and noble. And Sheen felt a joy like the sharpness of a sword when he sang to her about the brightness of her hair and the blue of her eyes. "O Maid," said he, "is there anything that binds you to this place?" Sheen showed him the bog-down in the basket and the woven thread that was round her neck. "Come with me to my kingdom," said he, "and you shall be my wife and the love of my heart." The next evening Sheen went with him. She took the six shirts she had spun and woven and stitched. The Hunter-King lifted her before him on a black horse and they rode into his Kingdom.

[165]

A ND now Sheen was the wife of the Hunter-King. She would have been happy if her husband's sisters had been kind. But they were jealous and they made everything in the Castle unfriendly to her. And often they talked before her brother saying that Sheen was not noble at all, and that the reason she did not speak was because her language was a base one. They watched her when she went out to gather bog-down in the daytime, and they watched her when she spun by herself at night. Sheen longed for the days and nights to pass so that the last threads might be spun and woven and the last stitches put in the seventh shirt. Then her brothers would be with her. She could tell the King about herself and silence the bad talk of his sisters. But as she neared the end of her task she became more and more in dread.

The threads were spun and woven for the seventh shirt. The cloth was made and the first stitches were put in it. Then Sheen's little son was born. The King was away at the time, gathering his men together at far parts of the Kingdom, and he sent a message saying that Sheen and her baby were to be well-minded, and that his sisters were not to leave the chamber where she was until he returned.

On the third night, while Sheen was in her bed with her baby beside her, and while her sisters-in-law were in the room, a strange music was heard outside. It was [166] played all round the King's house. Whoever heard it fell into deep slumber. The kern that were on guard slept. The maids that were whispering together fell into a slumber. And a deep sleep came upon Sheen and her child and on her three sisters-in-law who watched in the chamber.

Then a gray wolf that had been seen outside sprang in through the window opening. He took Sheen's child in his mouth. He sprang back through the window opening and was seen about the place no more.

Her sisters-in-law wakened while Sheen still slept. They went to tend it and found the child was gone. Then they were afraid of what their brother would do to them for letting this happen. They made a plot to clear themselves, and before Sheen wakened they had killed a little beast and smeared its blood upon the pillows of the bed.

W HEN the King came into his wife's chamber he saw his sisters on the ground lamenting and tearing the hairs out of their heads. He went to where his wife was sleeping and saw blood upon her hands and upon the pillows. He turned on his sisters with his sword in his hand. They cried out that they could not have prevented the thing that had happened—that the Queen had laid hands on the child and having killed it had thrown its body to the gray wolf that had been watching outside.

[167] And while they were speaking Sheen awakened. She put out her arms but her child was not beside her. She found blood upon the pillows. Then she heard her sisters-in-law accuse her to the King of having killed her child and flung its body to the gray wolf outside. She fell into a swoon and when she came out of it her mind was lost to her.

The King knelt to her and begged her to tell him what had happened. But she only knew she was to say no word. Then he used to watch her and he wondered why she cried no tear. On the fourth day after she rose from her bed and searched the Castle for the piece of cloth she had spun and woven out of the bog-down. She found it and began to sew it for the seventh shirt. The King's sisters came to him and said, "The woman you brought here is of another race from ours. She has forgotten that a child was born to her, and that she killed it and flung its body to the gray wolf. She sits there now just stitching a garment." The King went and saw her stitching and stitching as if her life depended on each stitch she put into the cloth. He spoke to her and she looked up but did not speak. Then the King's heart was hardened. He took her and brought her outside the gate of the Castle. "Go back to the people you came from," said he, "for I cannot bear that you should be here, and not speak to me of what has happened." Sheen knew she was being sent from the house he had brought her to. A bitter cry came [168] from her. Then the stitched cloth that was in her hand became bog-down and was blown away on the breeze. When she saw this happen she turned from the King's Castle and ran through the woods crying and crying.

She went through the woods for many days, living on berries and the water of springs. At last she came to the Spae-Woman's house. The Spae-Woman was before the door and she welcomed Sheen back. She gave her drinks she had made from strange herbs, and in a season Sheen's mind and health came back to her, and she knew all that had happened.

She thought she would win back her seven brothers, and then, with their help, win back her child and her husband. But she knew she would have to gather the bog-down, spin the threads and weave them all over again, as her tears and cries had broken her task. She told her story to the Spae-Woman. Then she went into silence again, gathering the bog-down and spinning the thread.

B UT when the first thread was spun the memory of her child blew against her heart and she cried tears down. The thread she had spun became bog-down and was blown away. For days she wept and wept. Then the Spae-Woman said to her, "Commit the child you have lost to Diachbha—that is, to Destiny—and Diachbha may bring it about that [169] he shall be the one that will restore your seven brothers their human forms. And when you have committed your lost little son to Diachbha go back to your husband and tell him all you have lived through."

Sheen, believing in the Spae-Woman's wisdom, did what was told her. She made an image of her lost little son with leaves and left it on the top of the house where it was blown away by the winds. Then she was ready to go back to her husband and tell him all that had happened in her life. But on the day she was bringing the last pitcher of water from the well she met him on the path before her. "Do you remember that I carried you across the bog?" he said. "And do you remember that I followed your soul?" said she. These were the first words she ever spoke to him.

They went back together to the Spae-Woman's and she told him all that had been in her life. He told her how his sisters had acknowledged that they had spoken falsely against her.

He took her back to his own Kingdom, and there, as King and Queen they still live. But the name she bears is not Sheen or Storm now. Two sons more were born to her. But her seven brothers are still seven wild geese, and the Queen has found no trace of her first-born son. But the Spae-Woman has had a dream, and the dream has revealed this to her: the Son that Sheen lost is in the world, and if the maiden who will come to love him, will give seven drops of her heart's blood, [170] the Queen's seven brothers will regain their human forms.


S O that is the Unique Tale," said the Old Woman of Beare. "If you ever find out what went before it and what comes after it come back here and tell it to me. But I don't think you'll get the rest of it," said she, "seeing that the two of you weren't able to count the horns outside." She went on talking and talking, Gilly and the King's Son hearing what she said when she spoke in a sudden high voice, and not hearing when she murmured on as if talking to the ashes or to the pot or to the corncrake, the cuckoo or the swallow that were picking grains off the floor. "If you see Laheen the Eagle again, or Blackfoot the Elk or the Crow of Achill tell them to come and visit me sometime. I'm all alone here except for my swallow and cuckoo and corncrake. And mind you, great Kings and Princes used to come to see me." So she went on talking in low tones and in sudden high tones.

"You must come with me and help me to get the rest of the Unique Tale," said the King of Ireland's Son. "That I'll do," said Gilly of the Goatskin. "But I must get a name first. Old Mother," said he, to the Old Woman of Beare. "You must now give me a name."

"I'll give you a name," said the Old Woman of [171] Beare, "but you must stand before me and strip off the goatskin that covers you."

Gilly pulled at the strings and the goatskin fell on the ground. The Old Woman of Beare nodded her head. "You have the stars on your breast that denote the Son of a King," she said.

"The Son of a King—me!" said Gilly of the Goatskin.

"You have the stars on your breast," said the Old Woman of Beare.

Gilly looked at himself and saw the three stars on his breast. "If I am the Son of a King I never knew it until now," he said.

"You are the son of a King," said the Old Woman of Beare, "and I will give you a name when you come back to me. But I want you, first of all, to find out what happened to the Crystal Egg."

"The Crystal Egg!" said Gilly in great surprise.

"The Crystal Egg indeed," said the Old Woman of Beare. "You must know that it was stolen out of the nest of Laheen the Eagle, and the creature that stole it was the Crow of Achill. But what happened to the Crystal Egg after that no one knows."

"I myself had it after that," said Gilly, "and it was stolen from me by Rory the Fox. And then it was put under a goose to hatch."

"A goose to hatch the Crystal Egg after an Eagle had half-hatched it! Aye, aye, to be sure, that's right," said the Old Woman of Beare. "And now you must [172] go and find out what happened to it. Go now, and when you come back I will give you your name."

"I will do that," said Gilly of the Goatskin. Then he turned to the King's Son. "Three days before Midsummer's Day meet me on the road to the Town of the Red Castle, and I will go with you to find out what went before and what comes after the Unique Tale," he said.

"I will meet you," said the King of Ireland's Son.

The two youths went to the table and ate slices of the unwasted loaf and drank draughts from the inexhaustible bottle. "I shall stay here to practise sword-cuts and sword-thrusts," said the King's Son, "until four days before Midsummer's Day." The two youths went to the door.

"Seven waves of good-luck to you, Old Woman of Beare," said Gilly of the Goatskin.

"May your double be slain and yourself remain," said the King's Son.

Then they went out together, but not along the same path did the two youths go.

XV

[173]

G ILLY slept as he traveled that night, for he fell in with a man who was driving a load of hay to the fair, and when he got into the cart he lay against the hay and slept. When he parted with the carter he cut a holly stick and journeyed along the road by himself. At the fall of night he came to a place that made him think he had been there before: he looked around and then he knew that this was the place he had lived in when he had the Crystal Egg. He looked to see if the house was there: it was, and people were living in it, for he saw smoke coming out of the chimney. It was dark now and Gilly thought he could not do better than take shelter in that house.

He went to the door and knocked. There was a lot of rattling behind, and then a crooked old woman opened the door to him. "What do you want?" said she.

"Can I have shelter here for to-night, ma'am?" said Gilly.

"You can get no shelter hem," said the old woman, "and I'd advise you to begone."

"May I ask who lives here?" said Gilly, putting his foot inside the door.

"Six very honest men whose business keeps them out [174] until two and three in the morning," said the crooked old woman.

Gilly guessed that the honest men whose business kept them out until two and three in the morning were the robbers he had heard about. And he thought they might be the very men who had carried off the Spae-Woman's goose and the Crystal Egg along with it. "Would you tell me, good woman," said Gilly, "did your six honest men ever bring to this house an old hatching goose?"

"They did indeed," said the crooked woman, "and a heart-scald the same old hatching goose is. It goes round the house and round the house, trying to hatch the cups I leave out of my hands."

Then Gilly pushed the door open wide and stepped into the house.

"Don't stay in the house," said the crooked old woman. "I'll tell you the truth now. My masters are robbers, and they'll skin you alive if they find you here when they come back in the morning."

"It's more likely I'll skin them alive," said Gilly, and he looked so fierce that he fairly frightened the old woman. "And if you don't satisfy me with supper and a bed I'll leave you to meet them hanging from the door."

The crooked old woman was so terrified that she gave him a supper of porridge and showed him a bed to sleep in. He turned in and slept. He was roused by a [175] candle being held to his eyes. He wakened up and saw six robbers standing round him with knives in their hands.

"What brings you under our roof?" said the Captain. "Answer me now before we skin you as we would skin an eel."

"Speak up and answer the Captain," said the robbers.

"Why shouldn't I be under this roof?" said Gilly. "I am the Master-Thief of the World."

The robbers put their hands on their knees and laughed at that. Gilly jumped out of the bed. "I have come to show you the arts of thievery and roguery," said he. "I'll show you some tricks that will let you hold up your heads amongst the thieves and robbers of the world."

H E looked so bold and he spoke so bold that the robbers began to think he might have some reason for talking as he did. They left him and went off to their beds. Gilly slept again. At the broad noon they were all sitting at breakfast—Gilly and the six robbers. A farmer went past leading a goat to the fair.

"Could any of you steal that goat without doing any violence to the man who is driving it?" said Gilly.

"I couldn't," said one robber, and "I couldn't," said another robber, and "I'd be hardly able to do that myself," said the Captain of the Robbers.

[176] "I can do it," said Gilly. "I'll be back with the goat before you are through with your breakfast." He went outside.

Gilly knew that country well and he ran through the wood until he was a bend of the road ahead of the farmer who was leading his goat to the fair. He took off one shoe and left it in the middle of the road. He ran on then until he was round another bend of the road. He took off the other shoe and left it down. Then he hid behind the hedge and waited.

The farmer came to where the first shoe was. "That's not a bad shoe," said he, "and if there was a comrade for it, it would be worth picking up." He went on then and came to where the other shoe was lying. "Here is the comrade," said he, "and it's worth my while now to go back for the first." He tied the goat to the mile-stone and went back.

As soon as the farmer had turned his back, Gilly took the collar off the goat, left it on the milestone and took the goat through a gap in the hedge. He brought it to the house before the robbers were through with their breakfast. They were all terribly surprised. The Captain began to bite at his nails.

The farmer, with the two shoes under his arm, came to where he had left the goat. The goat was gone and its collar was left on the milestone. He knew that a robber had taken his goat. "And I had promised Ann, my wife, to buy her a new shawl at the fair," said [177] he. "She'll never stop scolding me if I go back to her now with one hand as long as the other. The best thing I can do is to take a sheep out of my field and sell that. Then when she is in good humor on account of getting the shawl I'll tell her about the loss of my goat." So the farmer went back to the field.

T HEY were sitting down to a game of cards after breakfast—the six robbers and Gilly—when they saw the farmer going past with the sheep. "I'll be bound that he'll watch that sheep more closely than he watched the goat," said one of the robbers. "Could any of you steal that sheep without doing him any violence?" said Gilly. "I couldn't," said one robber, and "I couldn't," said another robber. "I could hardly do that myself," said the Captain of the Robbers. "I'll bring the sheep here before you're through with the game of cards," said Gilly.

The farmer was just past the milestone when he saw a man hanging on a tree. "The saints between us and harm," said he, "do they hang men along this road?" Now the man hanging from the tree was Gilly. He had fastened himself to a branch with his belt, putting it under his arm-pits. He slipped down from the branch and ran till he was ahead of the farmer. The farmer saw another man hanging from a tree. "The saints preserve us," said he, "sure, it's not possible that they [178] hanged two men along this road?" Gilly slipped down from that tree too and ran on until he was ahead of the farmer again. The farmer saw a third man hanging from a tree. "Am I leaving my senses?" said he. "I'll go back and see if the other men are hanging there as I thought they were." He tied the sheep to a bush and went back. As soon as he turned, Gilly slipped down from the tree, took the sheep through a gap, and got back to the robbers before they were through with the game. All the robbers said it was a wonderful thing he had done. The Captain of the Robbers was left standing by himself scratching his head.

The farmer found no men hanging on trees and he thought he was out of his mind. He came back and he found his sheep gone. "What will I do now?" said he. "I daren't let Ann know I lost a goat and a sheep until I put her into good humor by showing the shawl I bought her at the fair. There's nothing to be done now, but take a bullock out of the field and sell it at the fair." He went to the field then, took a bullock out of it, and passed the house just as the robbers were lighting their pipes. "If he watched the goat and the sheep closely he'll watch the bullock nine times as closely," said one of the robbers.

"Which of you could take the bullock without doing the man any violence?" said Gilly. "I couldn't," said one robber, and "I couldn't," said another robber. "If you could do it," said the Captain of the Robbers to [179] Gilly, "I'll resign my command and give it to you." "Done," said Gilly, and he went out of the house again.

He went quickly through the wood, and when he came near where the farmer was he began to bleat like a goat. The farmer stopped and listened. Then Gilly began to baa like the sheep. "That sounds very like my goat and sheep," said the farmer. "Maybe they weren't taken at all, but just strayed off. If I can get them now, I needn't make any excuses to Ann my wife." He tied the bullock to a tree and went into the wood. As soon as he did, Gilly slipped out, took the bullock by the rope and hurried back to the house. The robbers were gathered at the door to watch for his coming back. When they saw him with the bullock they threw up their hats. "This man must be our Captain," they said. The Captain was biting his lips and his nails. At last he took off his hat with the feathers in it and gave it to Gilly. "You're our Captain now," said the robbers.

Gilly ordered that the goat, the sheep and the bullock be put into the byre, that the door be locked and the key be given to him. All that was done. Then said he to all the robbers, "I demand to know what became of the Crystal Egg that was with the goose you stole from the Spae-Woman." "The Crystal Egg," said one of the robbers. "It hatched, and a queer bird came out of it." "Where is that bird now?" said Gilly. "On the waves of the lake near at hand," said the robbers. "We [180] see it every day." "Take me to the lake till I see the Bird out of the Crystal Egg," said Gilly. They locked the door of the house behind them, and the seven, Gilly at their head, wearing the hat with feathers, marched down to the lake.

XVI

T HEN they showed him the bird that was on the waves of the lake—a swan she was and she floated proudly. The swan came towards them and as she drew nearer they could hear her voice. The sounds she made were not like any sound of birds, but like the sounds bards make chanting their verses. Words came on high notes and low notes, but they were like words in a strange language. And still the swan chanted as she drew near to the shore where Gilly and the six robbers stood.

She spread out her wings, and, raising her neck she curved it, while she stayed watching the men on the bank. "Hear the Swan of Endless Tales—the Swan of Endless Tales" she sang in words they knew. Then she raised herself out of the water, turned round in the air, and flew back to the middle of the lake.

"Time for us to be leaving the place when there is a bird on the lake that can speak like that," said Mogue, who had been the Captain of the Robbers. "To-night I'm leaving this townland."

[181] "And I am leaving too," said another robber. "And I too," said another. "And I may be going away from this place," said Gilly of the Goatskin.

The robbers went away from him and back to the house and Gilly sat by the edge of the lake waiting to see if the Swan of Endless Tales would come back and tell him something. She did not come. As Gilly sat there the farmer who had lost his goat, his sheep and his bullock came by. He was dragging one foot after the other and looking very downcast. "What is the matter with you, honest man?" said Gilly.

The farmer told him how he had lost his goat, his sheep and his bullock. He told him how he had thought he heard his goat bleating and his sheep ba'ing, and how he went through the wood to search for them, and how his bullock was gone when he came back to the road. "And what to say to my wife Ann I don't know," said he, "particularly as I have brought no shawl to put her in good humor. Heavy is the blame she'll give me on account of my losing a goat, a sheep and a bullock."

Gilly took a key out of his pocket. "Do you see this key?" said he. "Take it and open the byre door at such a place, and you'll find in that byre your goat, your sheep and your bullock. There are robbers in that house, but if they try to prevent your taking your own tell them that all the threshers of the country are coming to beat them with flails." The farmer took the [182] key and went away very thankful to Gilly. The story says that he got back his goat, his sheep and his bullock and made it an excuse that he had seen three magpies on the road for not going to the fair to buy a shawl for his wife Ann. The robbers were very frightened when he told them about the threshers coming and they went away from that part of the country.

As for Gilly, he thought he would go back to the Old Woman of Beare for his name. He took the path by the edge of the lake. And as he journeyed along with his holly-stick in his hand he heard the Swan of Endless Tales chanting.


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