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The Battle of the Birds
WILL tell you a story about the wren. There was once a farmer who
was seeking a servant, and the wren met him and said: "What
are you seeking?"
"I am seeking a servant," said the farmer to the wren.
"Will you take me?" said the wren.
"You, you poor creature, what good would you do?"
"Try me," said the wren.
So he engaged him, and the first work he set him to do was
threshing in the barn. The wren threshed (what did he thresh
with? Why a flail to be sure), and he knocked off one grain.
A mouse came out and she eats that.
"I'll trouble you not to do that again," said the wren.
He struck again, and he struck off two grains. Out came the
mouse and she eats them. So they arranged a contest to see
who was strongest, and the wren brings his twelve birds, and
the mouse her tribe.
 "You have your tribe with you," said the wren.
"As well as yourself," said the mouse, and she struck out
her leg proudly. But the wren broke it with his flail, and
there was a pitched battle on a set day.
When every creature and bird was gathering to battle, the
son of the king of Tethertown said that he would go to see
the battle, and that he would bring sure word home to his
father the king, who would be king of the creatures this
year. The battle was over before he arrived all but one
fight, between a great black raven and a snake. The snake
was twined about the raven's neck, and the raven held the
snake's throat in his beak, and it seemed as if the snake
would get the victory over the raven. When the king's son
saw this he helped the raven, and with one blow takes the
head off the snake. When the raven had taken breath, and saw
that the snake was dead, he said, "For thy kindness to me
this day, I will give thee a sight. Come up now on the root
of my two wings." The king's son put his hands about the
raven before his wings, and, before he stopped, he took him
over nine Bens, and nine Glens, and nine Mountain Moors.
"Now," said the raven, "see you that house yonder? Go now to
it. It is a sister of mine that makes her dwelling in it;
and I will go bail that you are welcome. And if she asks
you, Were you at the battle of the birds? say you were. And
if she asks, 'Did you see any one like me,' say you did, but
be sure that you meet me to-morrow morning here, in this
place." The king's son got good and right good treatment
that night. Meat of each meat, drink of each drink, warm
water to his feet, and a soft bed for his limbs.
 On the next day the raven gave him the same sight over six
Bens, and six Glens, and six Mountain Moors. They saw a
bothy far off, but, though far off, they were soon there. He
got good treatment this night, as before—plenty of meat and
drink, and warm water to his feet, and a soft bed to his
limbs-and on the next day it was the same thing, over three
Bens and three Glens, and three Mountain Moors.
On the third morning, instead of seeing the raven as at the
other times, who should meet him but the handsomest lad he
ever saw, with gold rings in his hair, with a bundle in his
hand. The king's son asked this lad if he had seen a big
Said the lad to him, "You will never see the raven again,
for I am that raven. I was put under spells by a bad druid;
it was meeting you that loosed me, and for that you shall
get this bundle. Now," said the lad, "you must turn back on
the self-same steps, and lie a night in each house as
before; but you must not loose the bundle which I gave ye,
till in the place where you would most wish to dwell."
The king's son turned his back to the lad, and his face to
his father's house; and he got lodging from the raven's
sisters, just as he got it when going forward. When he was
nearing his father's house he was going through a close
wood. It seemed to him that the bundle was growing heavy,
and he thought he would look what was in it.
When he loosed the bundle he was astonished. In a twinkling
he sees the very grandest place he ever saw. A great castle,
and an orchard about the castle, in which was every kind of
fruit and herb. He stood full of wonder and
 regret for
having loosed the bundle—for it was not in his power to
put it back again—and he would have wished this pretty
place to be in the pretty little green hollow that was
opposite his father's house; but he looked up and saw a
great giant coming towards him.
"Bad's the place where you have built the house, king's
son," says the giant.
"Yes, but it is not here I would wish it to be, though it
happens to be here by mishap," says the king's son.
"What's the reward for putting it back in the bundle as it
"What's the reward you would ask?" says the king's son.
"That you will give me the first son you have when he is
seven years of age," says the giant.
"If I have a son you shall have him," said the king's son.
In a twinkling the giant put each garden, and orchard, and
castle in the bundle as they were before.
"Now," says the giant, "take your own road, and I will take
mine; but mind your promise, and if you forget I will
The king's son took to the road, and at the end of a few
days he reached the place he was fondest of. He loosed the
bundle, and the castle was just as it was before. And when
he opened the castle door he sees the handsomest maiden he
ever cast eye upon.
"Advance, king's son," said the pretty maid; "everything is
in order for you, if you will marry me this very day."
"It's I that am willing," said the king's son. And on the
same day they married.
 But at the end of a day and seven years, who should be seen
coming to the castle but the giant. The king's son was
reminded of his promise to the giant, and till now he had
not told his promise to the queen.
"Leave the matter between me and the giant," says the queen.
"Turn out your son," says the giant; "mind your promise."
"You shall have him," says the king, "when his mother puts
him in order for his journey."
The queen dressed up the cook's son, and she gave him to the
giant by the hand. The giant went away with him; but he had
not gone far when he put a rod in the hand of the little
laddie. The giant asked him—
"If thy father had that rod
what would he do with it?"
"If my father had that rod he would beat the dogs and the
cats, so that they shouldn't be going near the king's meat,"
said the little laddie.
"Thou'rt the cook's son," said the giant. He catches him by
the two small ankles and knocks him against the stone that
was beside him. The giant turned back to the castle in rage
and madness, and he said that if they did not send out the
king's son to him, the highest stone of the castle would be
Said the queen to the king, "We'll try it yet; the butler's
son is of the same age as our son."
She dressed up the butler's son, and she gives him to the
giant by the hand. The giant had not gone far when he put
the rod in his hand.
"If thy father had that rod," says the giant, "what would
he do with it?"
 He would beat the dogs and the cats when they would be
coming near the king's bottles and glasses."
"Thou art the son of the butler," says the giant and dashed
his brains out too. The giant returned in a very great rage
and anger. The earth shook under the sole of his feet, and
the castle shook and all that was in it.
"OUT HERE WITH THY SON,"
says the giant, "or in a twinkling
the stone that is highest in the dwelling will be the
lowest." So they had to give the king's son to the giant.
When they were gone a little bit from the earth, the giant
showed him the rod that was in his hand and said: "What
would thy father do with this rod if he had it?"
The king's son said: "My father has a braver rod than
And the giant asked him, "Where is thy father when he has
that brave rod?"
And the king's son said: "He will be sitting in his kingly
Then the giant understood that he had the right one.
The giant took him to his own house, and he reared him as
his own son. On a day of days when the giant was from home,
the lad heard the sweetest music he ever heard in a room at
the top of the giant's house. At a glance he saw the finest
face he had ever seen. She beckoned to him to come a bit
nearer to her, and she said her name was Auburn Mary but she
told him to go this time, but to be sure to be at the same
place about that dead midnight.
And as he promised he did. The giant's daughter was at his
side in a twinkling, and she said, "To-morrow you will get
the choice of my two sisters to marry; but say
 that you
will not take either, but me. My father wants me to marry
the son of the king of the Green City, but I don't like
him." On the morrow the giant took out his three daughters,
and he said:
"Now, son of the king of Tethertown, thou hast not lost by
living with me so long. Thou wilt get to wife one of the two
eldest of my daughters, and with her leave to go home with
her the day after the wedding."
"If you will give me this pretty little one," says the
king's son, "I will take you at your word."
The giant's wrath kindled, and he said: "Before thou gett'st
her thou must do the three things that I ask thee to do."
"Say on," says the king's son.
The giant took him to the byre.
"Now," says the giant, "a hundred cattle are stabled here,
and it has not been cleansed for seven years. I am going
from home to-day, and if this byre is not cleaned before
night comes, so clean that a golden apple will run from end
to end of it, not only thou shalt not get my daughter, but
'tis only a drink of thy fresh, goodly, beautiful blood that
will quench my thirst this night."
He begins cleaning the byre, but he might just as well to
keep baling the great ocean. After midday when sweat was
blinding him, the giant's youngest daughter came where he
was, and she said to him:
"You are being punished, king's son."
"I am that," says the king's son.
"Come over," says Auburn Mary, "and lay down your
"I will do that," says he, "there is but death awaiting
 me, at any rate." He sat down near her. He was so tired that he
fell asleep beside her. When he awoke, the giant's daughter
was not to be seen, but the byre was so well cleaned that a
golden apple would run from end to end of it and raise no
stain. In comes the giant, and he said:
"Hast thou cleaned the byre, king's son?"
"I have cleaned it," says he.
"Somebody cleaned it," says the giant.
"You did not clean it, at all events," said the king's son.
"Well, well!" says the giant, "since thou wert so active
to-day, thou wilt get to this time to-morrow to thatch this
byre with birds' down, from birds with no two feathers of
The king's son was on foot before the sun; he caught up his
bow and his quiver of arrows to kill the birds. He took to
the moors, but if he did, the birds were not so easy to
take. He was running after them till the sweat was blinding
him. About mid-day who should come but Auburn Mary.
"You are exhausting yourself, king's son," says she.
"I am," said he.
"There fell but these two blackbirds, and both of one
"Come over and lay down your weariness on this pretty
hillock," says the giant's daughter.
"It's I am willing," said he.
He thought she would aid him this time, too, and he sat down
near her, and he was not long there till he fell asleep.
When he awoke, Auburn Mary was gone. He thought
 he would go
back to the house, and he sees the byre thatched with
feathers. When the giant came home, he said:
"Hast thou thatched the byre, king's son?"
"I thatched it," says he.
"Somebody thatched it," says the giant.
"You did not thatch it," says the king's son.
"Yes, yes!" says the giant. "Now," says the giant, "there is
a fir tree beside that loch down there, and there is a
magpie's nest in its top. The eggs thou wilt find in the
nest. I must have them for my first meal. Not one must be
burst or broken, and there are five in the nest."
Early in the morning the king's son went where the tree was,
and that tree was not hard to hit upon. Its match was not in
the whole wood. From the foot to the first branch was five
hundred feet. The king's son was going all round the tree.
She came who was always bringing help to him.
"You are losing the skin of your hands and feet."
"Ach! I am," says he. "I am no sooner up than down."
"This is no time for stopping," says the giant's daughter.
"Now you must kill me, strip the flesh from my bones, take
all those bones apart, and use them as steps for climbing
the tree. When you are climbing the tree, they will stick to
the glass as if they had grown out of it; but when you are
coming down, and have put your foot on each one, they will
drop into your hand when you touch them. Be sure and stand
on each bone, leave none untouched; if you do, it will stay
behind. Put all my flesh into this clean cloth by the side
of the spring at the
 roots of the tree. When you come to the
earth, arrange my bones together, put the flesh over them,
sprinkle it with water from the spring, and I shall be alive
before you. But don't forget a bone of me on the tree."
"How could I kill you," asked the king's son, "after what
you have done for me?"
"If you won't obey, you and I are done for," said Auburn
Mary. "You must climb the tree, or we are lost; and to climb
the tree you must do as I say."
The king's son obeyed. He killed Auburn Mary, cut the flesh
from her body, and unjointed the bones, as she had told him.
As he went up, the king's son put the bones of Auburn Mary's
body against the side of the tree, using them as steps, till
he came under the nest and stood on the last bone.
Then he took the eggs, and coming down, put his foot on
every bone, then took it with him, till he came to the last
bone, which was so near the ground that he failed to touch
it with his foot.
He now placed all the bones of Auburn Mary in order again at
the side of the spring, put the flesh on them, sprinkled it
with water from the spring. She rose up before him, and said:
"Didn't I tell you not to leave a bone of my body without
stepping on it? Now I am lame for life! You left my little
finger on the tree without touching it, and I have but nine
"Now," says she, "go home with the eggs quickly, and you
will get me to marry to-night if you can know me. I and my
two sisters will be arrayed in the same garments, and made
like each other, but look at me when my father
 says, 'Go to
thy wife, king's son;' and you will see a hand without a
He gave the eggs to the giant.
"Yes, yes!" says the giant, "be making ready for your
Then, indeed, there was a wedding, and it was a wedding!
Giants and gentlemen, and the son of the king of the Green
City was in the midst of them. They were married, and the
dancing began, that was a dance! The giant's house was
shaking from top to bottom.
But bed time came, and the giant said, "It is time for thee
to go to rest, son of the king of Tethertown; choose thy
bride to take with thee from amidst those."
She put out the hand off which the little finger was, and he
caught her by the hand.
"Thou hast aimed well this time too; but there is no knowing
but we may meet thee another way," said the giant.
But to rest they went. "Now," says she, "sleep not, or else
you are a dead man. We must fly quick, quick, or for certain
my father will kill you."
Out they went, and on the blue grey filly in the stable they
mounted. "Stop a while," says she, "and I will play a trick
to the old hero." She jumped in, and cut an apple into nine
shares, and she put two shares at the head of the bed, and
two shares at the foot of the bed, and two shares at the
door of the kitchen, and two shares at the big door, and one
outside the house.
The giant awoke and called, "Are you asleep?"
"Not yet," said the apple that was at the head of the bed.
 At the end of a while he called again.
"Not yet," said the apple that was at the foot of the bed.
A while after this he called again: "Are you
"Not yet," said the apple at the kitchen door.
The giant called again.
The apple that was at the big door answered.
"You are now going far from me," says the giant.
"Not yet," says the apple that was outside the house.
"You are flying," says the giant. The giant jumped on his
feet, and to the bed he went, but it was cold—empty.
"My own daughter's tricks are trying me," said the giant.
"Here's after them," says he.
At the mouth of day, the giant's daughter said that her
father's breath was burning her back.
"Put your hand, quick," said she, "in the ear of the grey
filly, and whatever you find in it, throw it behind us."
"There is a twig of sloe tree," said he.
"Throw it behind us," said she.
No sooner did he that, than there were twenty miles of
blackthorn wood, so thick that scarce a weasel could go
The giant came headlong, and there he is fleecing his head
and neck in the thorns.
"My own daughter's tricks are here as before," said the
giant; "but if I had my own big axe and wood knife here, I
would not be long making a way through this."
He went home for the big axe and the wood knife, and sure he
was not long on his journey, and he was the boy behind the
big axe. He was not long making a way through the
 "I will leave the axe and the wood knife here till I
return," says he.
"If you leave 'em, leave 'em," said a hoodie that was in a
tree, "we'll steal 'em, steal 'em."
"If you will do that," says the giant, "I must take them
home." He returned home and left them at the house.
At the heat of day the giant's daughter felt her father's
breath burning her back.
"Put your finger in the filly's ear, and throw behind
whatever you find in it."
He got a splinter of grey stone, and in a twinkling there
were twenty miles, by breadth and height, of great grey rock
The giant came full pelt, but past the rock he could not go.
"The tricks of my own daughter are the hardest things that
ever met me," says the giant; "but if I had my lever and my
mighty mattock, I would not be long in making my way through
this rock also."
There was no help for it, but to turn the chase for them;
and he was the boy to split the stones. He was not long in
making a road through the rock.
"I will leave the tools here, and I will return no more."
"If you leave 'em, leave 'em," says the hoodie, "we will
steal 'em, steal 'em."
"Do that if you will; there is no time to go back."
At the time of breaking the watch, the giant's daughter said
that she felt her father's breath burning her back.
"Look in the filly's ear, king's son, or else we are lost."
He did so, and it was a bladder of water that was in her
 ear this time. He threw it behind him and there was a
fresh-water loch, twenty miles in length and breadth, behind
The giant came on, but with the speed he had on him, he was
in the middle of the loch, and he went under, and he rose no
On the next day the young companions were come in sight of
his father's house. "Now," says she, "my father is drowned,
and he won't trouble us any more; but before we go further,"
says she, "go you to your father's house, and tell that you
have the likes of me; but let neither man nor creature kiss
you, for if you do, you will not remember that you have ever
Every one he met gave him welcome and luck, and he charged
his father and mother not to kiss him; but as mishap was to
be, an old greyhound was indoors, and she knew him, and
jumped up to his mouth, and after that he did not remember
the giant's daughter.
She was sitting at the well's side as he left her, but the
king's son was not coming. In the mouth of night she climbed
up into a tree of oak that was beside the well, and she lay
in the fork of that tree all night. A shoemaker had a house
near the well, and about mid-day on the morrow, the
shoemaker asked his wife to go for a drink for him out of
the well. When the shoemaker's wife reached the well, and
when she saw the shadow of her that was in the tree,
thinking it was her own shadow—and she never thought till
now that she was so handsome—she gave a cast to the dish
that was in her hand, and it was broken on the ground, and
she took herself to the house without vessel or water.
 "Where is the water, wife?" said the shoemaker.
"You shambling, contemptible old carle, without grace, I
have stayed too long your water and wood thrall."
"I think, wife, that you have turned crazy. Go you,
daughter, quickly, and fetch a drink for your father."
His daughter went, and in the same way so it happened to
her. She never thought till now that she was so lovable, and
she took herself home.
"Up with the drink," said her father.
"You home-spun shoe carle, do you think I am fit to be your
The poor shoemaker thought that they had taken a turn in
their understandings, and he went himself to the well. He
saw the shadow of the maiden in the well, and he looked up
to the tree, and he sees the finest woman he ever saw.
"Your seat is wavering, but your face is fair," said the
shoemaker. "Come down, for there is need of you for a short
while at my house."
The shoemaker understood that this was the shadow that had
driven his people mad. The shoemaker took her to his house,
and he said that he had but a poor bothy, but that she
should get a share of all that was in it.
One day, the shoemaker had shoes ready, for on that very day
the king's son was to be married. The shoemaker was going to
the castle with the shoes of the young people, and the girl
said to the shoemaker, "I would like to get a sight of the
king's son before he marries."
"Come with me," says the shoemaker, "I am well acquainted
with the servants at the castle, and you shall get a sight
of the king's son and all the company."
 And when the gentles saw the pretty woman that was here they
took her to the wedding-room, and they filled for her a
glass of wine. When she was going to drink what is in it, a
flame went up out of the glass, and a golden pigeon and a
silver pigeon sprang out of it. They were flying about when
three grains of barley fell on the floor. The silver pigeon
sprung, and ate that up.
Said the golden pigeon to him, "If you remembered when I
cleared the byre, you would not eat that without giving me a
Again there fell three other grains of barley, and the
silver pigeon sprung, and ate that up as before.
If you remembered when I thatched the byre, you would not
eat that without giving me my share," says the golden
Three other grains fell,
and the silver pigeon sprung, and
ate that up.
"If you remembered when I harried the magpie's nest, you
would not eat that without giving me my share," says the
golden pigeon; "I lost my little finger bringing it down,
and I want it still."
The king's son minded, and he knew who it was that was
"Well," said the king's son to the guests at the feast,
"when I was a little younger than I am now, I lost the key
of a casket that I had. I had a new key made, but after it
was brought to me I found the old one. Now, I'll leave it to
any one here to tell me what I am to do. Which of the keys
should I keep?"
My advice to you," said one of the guests, "is to keep
 the old key, for it fits the lock better and you're more used to
Then the king's son stood up and said: "I thank you for a
wise advice and an honest word. This is my bride the
daughter of the giant who saved my life at the risk of her
own. I'll have her and no other woman."
So the king's son married Auburn Mary and the wedding lasted
long and all were happy. But all I got was butter on a live
coal, porridge in a basket, and they sent me for water to
the stream, and the paper shoes came to an end.