| Our Little Celtic Cousin of Long Ago|
|by Evaleen Stein|
|The story of Ferdiad, a boy of Ireland, in the time of High King Brian Boru, when the Danes were pillaging the Irish countryside. How his foster-father Angus becomes poet to the High King and how Ferdiad himself recovers a lost treasure. Gives a glimpse into the customs and social life of the Celts, with special emphasis on their artistic achievements, including the Book of Kells and the stories of Cuculain. Ages 8-10 |
FERDIAD AND THE DANE PRISONER
 FERDIAD and Conn stood together in a group of soldiers
who were making campfires for the night, and many were
the stories they all had to tell of the day. But most
of all were they wondering how a single Dane had been
able to kill the king in spite of all the shield men.
"It was that heathen prophecy!" declared one soldier,
"and nobody could help it!"
"They say the Dane who struck him was a great sorcerer
and that no sword could bite his magic armor," said
another. And this explanation seemed to satisfy them
best; for they did not like to think an ordinary man
could have harmed the king they had taken such pains to
 "Did you know the flaith O'Brien was killed?" asked
"Yes," spoke up someone else, "his men say that at
first he was invisible because of the cloak from the
banshee of Craglea, but as the battle grew fiercer he
scorned not to be seen and threw it off. It was then a
Dane spear struck him, and they say his shield moaned
as he fell!"
"Did you see the war witches dancing on the tips of our
Celtic spears?" said another voice.
"To be sure!" came an answering one, "And look! they
are flying now over the battle field!"
"Do you see them, Ferdiad?" whispered Conn, in
"It looks like fog coming in from the sea," said
Ferdiad, gazing through the gathering dusk, "but I
suppose the witches are in it."
Just here some other boys came along on
 their way to see the prisoners, and Ferdiad and Conn
went with them to the rear of the camp where scores of
sullen-looking Danes were standing under guard waiting
their turn to be chained. Torches flared here and
there, and as their flickering light fell on the faces
of the prisoners all at once Ferdiad stopped short with
a long "Oh!" He was standing in front of a tall,
cruel-looking man with hands chained behind him and an
ugly red scar across his forehead.
HE WAS STANDING IN FRONT OF A TALL,
After his first gasp of surprise, "Conn," whispered
Ferdiad excitedly, "he is the man who killed the monk
in the raid on Kells! I would know his face in a
thousand. And he took what the monk had hid in his
robe and I have always thought it was the angel book of
Saint Columkille!" Here Ferdiad caught sight of the
wooden shield at the Dane's feet: in its center was a
pointed boss of iron which was thrust through, and
partly held in place,
 the fragment of a thin sheet of gold. The corners of
this were fastened to the wood by a few bronze nails,
and the gold was beautifully hammered in a curious
design of interlacing lines and queer animal forms with
long tails twisting in many intricate spirals.
"Look!" cried Ferdiad, as he examined this eagerly,
"now I know it was Saint Columkille's book he
got! That gold is part of its case, I've seen it and
remember the pattern! I suppose he put it on his
shield trying to imitate our handsome Celtic ones with
their gold ornaments."
Meantime the captive was staring sullenly at Ferdiad,
who was saying to Conn, "I wonder if he understands
Celtic? I wish I could ask him some questions."
"No, boy," said a soldier standing near by, "but if you
want to ask him something I can help you, for I know
 "Oh," said Ferdiad, "ask him where the book is
that was in that case. It was the angel book of the
blessed Saint Columkille!"
"It was?" exclaimed the soldier in surprise, for
almost every Celt had heard of that wonderful book.
But to the soldier's question the Dane only shrugged
his shoulders and would say nothing.
"I was at Kells when the Danes raided it and I saw him
kill the monk who was trying to save the book!" went on
At this the soldier began fiercely to threaten the man,
telling him they would kill him. But still the man
sullenly refused to speak; for he had been long enough
in Ireland to know that the Celtic law would not allow
prisoners to be killed.
Then Ferdiad thought of something. "Tell him," he
said, "that my foster-father is the chief poet of
Ireland and I will get him to compose a scornful poem
 Now do not laugh, for this was no idle threat of
Ferdiad's, and when he suggested it the soldier said
approvingly, "That will settle him!" For a Celt
dreaded nothing more than for a poet to chant scornful
verses about him. They had a peculiar reverence for
their poets and believed that by their songs they
could, if they wished, call down terrible misfortunes
or even death.
So the soldier took pains to impress this on the Dane,
who turned pale with fright and at last burst out in a
torrent of words to which the soldier listened
"He says," he interpreted, "that the book has been
trouble enough to him. When he was carrying it off to
Kells another Dane attacked him and tried to get it
away, and in the fight he killed the man, but not
before he had got a sword thrust that had blinded one
of his eyes,—which served him right! though the
wicked heathen was ugly enough already with
 that red-scarred forehead of his!"—put in the
soldier on his own account as he went on, "he says the
gold was what he wanted, and after his fight with the
man he tore the book out of its case and threw it away.
And may the blessed Saint Columkille send his soul to
everlasting torment for it!" added the soldier as he
piously crossed himself.
Ferdiad drew a long breath, "Well," he said at last,
"at least it wasn't burned!" For everybody knew the
Danes had made many a bonfire of the precious books and
manuscripts they had stolen from the Celts. "Perhaps
it may be found yet," he said to Conn as they walked
"But it would surely be spoiled if it had been lying on
the ground all this while!" said Conn.
And still discussing it they went over to the center of
the camp where every one was going. For Angus was
beginning to chant the
mourn-  ing song for the high king, who lay within his tent with
lighted candles at his head and feet and the royal
waxen one blazing at the door.
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