The King of Ireland's Son
Part 1 out of 4
software or any other related product without express permission.]
This etext was prepared by A Elizabeth Warren MD, Sacramento,
THE KING OF IRELAND'S SON
by Padraic Colum
FEDELMA, THE ENCHANTER'S DAUGHTER
WHEN THE KING OF THE CATS CAME TO KING CONNAL'S DOMINION
THE SWORD OF LIGHT AND THE UNIQUE TALE, WITH AS MUCH OF THE ADVENTURES OF
GILLY OF THE GOAT-SKIN AS IS GIVEN IN "THE CRANESKIN BOOK"
THE TOWN OF THE RED CASTLE
THE KING OF THE LAND OF MIST
THE HOUSE OF CROM DUV
Connal was the name of the King who ruled over Ireland at that time. He had
three sons, and, as the fir-trees grow, some crooked and some straight, one of
them grew up so wild that in the end the King and the King's Councillor had to
let him have his own way in everything. This youth was the King's eldest son
and his mother had died before she could be a guide to him.
Now after the King and the King's Councillor left him to his own way the youth
I'm telling you about did nothing but ride and hunt all day. Well, one morning
he rode abroad--
His hound at his heel,
His hawk on his wrist;
A brave steed to carry him whither he list,
And the blue sky over him,
and he rode on until he came to a turn in the road. There he saw a gray old
man seated on a heap of stones playing a game of cards with himself. First he
had one hand winning and then he had the other. Now he would say "That's my
good right," and then he would say "Play and beat that, my gallant left." The
King of Ireland's Son sat on his horse to watch the strange old man, and as he
watched him he sang a song to himself
I put the fastenings on my boat
For a year and for a day,
And I went where the rowans grow,
And where the moorhens lay;
And I went over the stepping-stones
And dipped my feet in the ford,
And came at last to the Swineherd's house,--
The Youth without a Sword.
A swallow sang upon his porch
"Glu-ee, glu-ee, glu-ee,"
"The wonder of all wandering,
The wonder of the sea;"
A swallow soon to leave ground sang
"Glu-ee, glu-ee, glu-ee."
"Prince," said the old fellow looking up at him, "if you can play a game as
well as you can sing a song, I'd like if you would sit down beside me."
"I can play any game," said the King of Ireland's Son. He fastened his horse
to the branch of a tree and sat down on the heap of stones beside the old man.
"What shall we play for?" said the gray old fellow.
"Whatever you like," said the King of Ireland's Son.
"If I win you must give me anything I ask, and if you win I shall give you
anything you ask. Will you agree to that?"
"If it is agreeable to you it is agreeable to me," said the King of Ireland's
They played, and the King of Ireland's Son won the game. "Now what do you
desire me to give, King's Son?" said the gray old fellow.
"I shan't ask you for anything," said the King of Ireland's Son, "for I think
you haven't much to give."
"Never mind that," said the gray old fellow. "I mustn't break my promise, and
so you must ask me for something."
"Very well," said the King's Son. "Then there's a field at the back of my
father's Castle and I want to see it filled with cattle to-morrow morning. Can
you do that for me?"
"I can," said the gray old fellow.
"Then I want fifty cows, each one white with a red ear, and a white calf going
beside each cow."
"The cattle shall be as you wish."
"Well, when that's done I shall think the wager has been paid," said the King
of Ireland's son. He mounted his horse, smiling at the foolish old man who
played cards with himself and who thought he could bring together fifty white
kine, each with a red ear, and a white calf by the side of each cow. He rode
His hound at his heel,
His hawk on his wrist;
A brave steed to carry him whither he list,
And the green ground under him,
and he thought no more of the gray old fellow.
But in the morning, when he was taking his horse out of the stable, he heard
the grooms talking about a strange happening. Art, the King's Steward, had
gone out and had found the field at the back of the Castle filled with cattle.
There were fifty white red-eared kine there and each cow had a white calf at
her side. The King had ordered Art, his Steward, to drive them away. The King
of Ireland's Son watched Art and his men trying to do it. But no sooner were
the strange cattle put out at one side of the field than they came back on the
other. Then down came Maravaun, the King's Councillor. He declared they were
enchanted cattle, and that no one on Ireland's ground could put them away. So
in the seven-acre field the cattle stayed.
When the King of Ireland's Son saw what his companion of yesterday could do he
rode straight to the glen to try if he could have another game with him. There
at the turn of the road, on a heap of stones, the gray old fellow was sitting
playing a game of cards, the right hand against the left. The King of
Ireland's Son fastened his horse to the branch of a tree and dismounted.
"Did you find yesterday's wager settled?" said the gray old fellow.
"I did," said the King of Ireland's Son.
"Then shall we have another game of cards on the same understanding?" said the
gray old fellow.
"I agree, if you agree," said the King of Ireland's son. He sat under the bush
beside him and they played again. The King of Ireland's Son won.
"What would you like me to do for you this time?" said the gray old fellow.
Now the King's Son had a step-mother, and she was often cross-tempered, and
that very morning he and she had vexed each other. So he said, "Let a brown
bear, holding a burning coal in his mouth, put Caintigern the Queen from her
chair in the supper-room to-night."
"It shall be done," said the gray old fellow.
Then the King of Ireland's Son mounted his horse and rode away
His hound at his heel,
His hawk on his wrist;
A brave steed to carry him whither he list,
And the green ground under him,
and he went back to the Castle. That night a brown bear, holding a burning
coal in his mouth, came into the supper-room and stood between Caintigern the
Queen and the chair that belonged to her. None of the servants could drive it
away, and when Maravaun, the King's Councillor, came he said, "This is an
enchanted creature also, and it is best for us to leave it alone." So the
whole company went and left the brown bear in the supper-room seated 'in the
The next morning when he wakened the King's Son said, "That was a wonderful
thing that happened last night in the supper-room. I must go off and play a
third game with the gray old fellow who sits on a heap of stones at the turn
of the road." So, in the morning early he mounted and rode away
His hound at his heel,
His hawk on his wrist;
A brave steed to carry him whither he list,
And the green ground under him,
and he rode on until he came to the turn in the road. Sure enough the old gray
fellow was there. "So you've come to me again, King's Son," said he. "I have,"
said the King of Ireland's Son, "and I'll play a last game with you on the
same understanding as before." He tied his horse to the branch and sat down on
the heap of stones. They played. The King of Ireland's Son lost the game.
Immediately the gray old fellow threw the cards down on the stones and a wind
came up and carried them away. Standing up he was terribly tall.
"King's Son," said he, "I am your father's enemy and I have done him an
injury. And to the Queen who is your father's wife I have done an injury too.
You have lost the game and now you must take the penalty I put upon you. You
must find out my dwelling-place and take three hairs out of my beard within a
year and a day, or else lose your head."
With that he took the King of Ireland's Son by the shoulders and lifted him on
his horse, turning the horse in the direction of the King's Castle. The King's
Son rode on
His hound at his heel,
His hawk on his wrist;
A brave steed to carry him whither he list,
And the blue sky over him.
That evening the King noticed that his son was greatly troubled. And when he
lay down to sleep everyone in the Castle heard his groans and his moans. The
next day he told his father the story from beginning to end. The King sent for
Maravaun his Councillor and asked him if he knew who the Enchanter was and
where his son would be likely to find him.
"From what he said," said Maravaun, "we may guess who he is. He is the
Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands and his dwelling-place is hard to find.
Nevertheless your son must seek for him and take the three hairs out of his
beard or else lose his head. For if the heir to your kingdom does not
honorably pay his forfeit, the ground of Ireland won't give crops and the
cattle won't give milk." "And," said the Councillor, "as a year is little for
his search, he should start off at once, although I'm bound to say, that I
don't know what direction he should go in."
The next day the King's Son said good-by to his father and his foster-brothers
and started off on his journey. His step-mother would not give him her
blessing on account of his having brought in the brown bear that turned her
from her chair in the supper-room. Nor would she let him have the good horse
he always rode. Instead the Prince was given a horse that was lame in a leg
and short in the tail. And neither hawk nor hound went with him this time.
All day the King's Son was going, traveling through wood and waste until the
coming on of night. The little fluttering birds were going from the bush tops,
from tuft to tuft, and to the briar-roots, going to rest; but if they were, he
was not, till the night came on, blind and dark. Then the King's Son ate his
bread and meat, put his satchel under his head and lay down to take his rest
on the edge of a great waste.
In the morning he mounted his horse and rode on. And as he went across the
waste he saw an extraordinary sight--everywhere were the bodies of dead
creatures--a cock, a wren, a mouse, a weasel, a fox, a badger, a raven---all
the birds and beasts that the King's Son had ever known. He went on, but he
saw no living creature before him. And then, at the end of the waste he came
upon two living creatures struggling. One was an eagle and the other was an
eel. And the eel had twisted itself round the eagle, and the eagle had covered
her eyes with the black films of death. The King's Son jumped off his horse
and cut the eel in two with a sharp stroke of his sword.
The eagle drew the films from her eyes and looked full at the King's Son. "I
am Laheen the Eagle," she said, "and I will pay you for this service, Son of
King Connal. Know that there has been a battle of the creatures--a battle to
decide which of the creatures will make laws for a year. All were killed
except the eel and myself, and if you had not come I would have been killed
and the eel would have made the laws. I am Laheen the Eagle and always I will
be your friend. And now you must tell me how I can serve you."
"You can serve me," said the King's Son, "by showing me how I may come to the
dominion of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands."
"I am the only creature who can show you, King's Son. And if I were not old
now I would carry you there on my back. But I can tell you how you can get
there. Ride forward for a day, first with the sun before you and then with the
sun at your back, until you come to the shore of a lake. Stay there until you
see three swans flying down. They are the three daughters of the Enchanter of
the Black Back-Lands. Mark the one who carries a green scarf in her mouth. She
is the youngest daughter and the one who can help you. When the swans come to
the ground they will transform themselves into maidens and bathe in the lake.
Two will come out, put on their swanskins and transform themselves and fly
away. But you must hide the swanskin that belongs to the youngest maiden. She
will search and search and when she cannot find it she will cry out, 'I would
do anything in the world for the creature who would find my swanskin for me.'
Give the swanskin to her then, and tell her that the only thing she can do for
you is to show you the way to her father's dominion. She will do that, and so
you will come to the House of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands. And now
farewell to you, Son of King Connal."
Laheen the Eagle spread out her wings and flew away, and the King's Son
journeyed on, first with the sun before him and then with the sun at his back,
until he came to the shore of a wide lake. He turned his horse away, rested
himself on the ground, and as soon as the clear day came he began to watch for
the three swans.
They came, they flew down, and when they touched the ground they trans- formed
themselves into three maidens and went to bathe in the lake. The one who
carried the green scarf left her swanskin under a bush. The King's Son took it
and hid it in a hollow tree.
Two of the maidens soon came out of the water, put on their swanskins and flew
away as swans. The younger maiden stayed for a while in the lake. Then she
came out and began to search for her swanskin. She searched and searched, and
at last the King's Son heard her say, "I would do anything in the world for
the creature who would find my swanskin for me." Then he came from where he
was hiding and gave her the swanskin. "I am the Son of the King of Ireland,"
he said, "and I want you to show me the way to your father's dominion."
"I would prefer to do anything else for you," said the maiden. "I do not want
anything else," said the King of Ireland's Son.
"If I show you how to get there will you be content?"
"I shall be content."
"You must never let my father know that I showed you the way. And he must not
know when you come that you are the King of Ireland's Son."
"I will not tell him you showed me the way and I will not let him know who I
Now that she had the swanskin she was able to transform herself. She whistled
and a blue falcon came down and perched on a tree. "That falcon is my own
bird," said she. "Follow where it flies and you will come to my father's
house. And now good-by to you. You will be in danger, but I will try to help
you. Fedelma is my name." She rose up as a swan and flew away.
The blue falcon went flying from bush to bush and from rock to rock. The night
came, but in the morning the blue falcon was seen again. The King's Son
followed, and at last he saw a house before him. He went in, and there, seated
on a chair of gold was the man who seemed so tall when he threw down the cards
upon the heap of stones. The Enchanter did not recognize the King's Son
without his hawk and his hound and the fine clothes he used to wear. He asked
who he was and the King's Son said he was a youth who had just finished an
apprenticeship to a wizard. "And," said he, "I have heard that you have three
fair daughters, and I came to strive to gain one of them for a wife."
"In that case," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands, "you will have to
do three tasks for me. If you are able to do them I will give you one of my
three daughters in marriage. If you fail to do any one of them you will lose
your head. Are you willing to make the trial?"
"I am willing," said the King of Ireland's Son.
"Then I shall give you your first task to-morrow. It is unlucky that you came
to-day. In this country we eat a meal only once a week, and we have had our
meal this morning."
"It is all the same to me," said the King's Son, "I can do without food or
drink for a month without any hardship."
"I suppose you can do without sleep too?" said the Enchanter of the Black
"Easily," said the King of Ireland's Son.
"That is good. Come outside now, and I'll show you your bed." He took the
King's Son outside and showed him a dry narrow water-tank at the gable end of
the house. "There is where you are to sleep" said the Enchanter. "Tuck
yourself into it now and be ready for your first task at the rising of the
The King of Ireland's Son went into the little tank. He was uncomfortable
there you may be sure. But in the middle of the night Fedelma came and brought
him into a fine room where he ate and then slept until the sun was about to
rise in the morning. She called him and he went outside and laid himself down
in the water-tank.
As soon as the sun rose the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands came out of the
house and stood beside the water-tank. "Come now," said he, "and I will show
you the first task you have to perform." He took him to where a herd of goats
was grazing. Away from the goats was a fawn with white feet and little bright
horns. The fawn saw them, bounded into the air, and raced away to the wood as
quickly as any arrow that a man ever shot from a bow.
"That is Whitefoot the Fawn," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands. "She
grazes with my goats but none of my gillies can bring her into my goat-house.
Here is your first task--run down Whitefoot the Fawn and bring her with my
goats into the goat-shelter this evening." When he said that the Enchanter of
the Black Back-Lands went away laughing to himself.
"Good-by, my life," said the King of Ireland's Son, "I might as well try to
catch an eagle on the wing as to run down the deer that has gone out of sight
already." He sat down on the ground and his despair was great. Then his name
was called and he saw Fedelma coming towards him. She looked at him as though
she were in dread, and said, "What task has my father set you?" He told her
and then she smiled. "I was in dread it would be a more terrible task," she
said. "This one is easy. I can help you to catch Whitefoot the Fawn. But first
eat what I have brought you."
She put down bread and meat and wine, and they sat down and he ate and drank.
"I thought he might set you this task," she said, "and so I brought you
something from my father's store of enchanted things. Here are the Shoes of
Swiftness. With these on your feet you can run down Whitefoot the Fawn. But
you must catch her before she has gone very far away. Remember that she must
be brought in when the goats are going into their shelter at sunset. You will
have to walk back for all the time you must keep hold of her silver horns.
Hasten now. Run her down with the Shoes of Swiftness and then lay hold of her
horns. Above all things Whitefoot dreads the loss of her silver horns."
He thanked Fedelma. He put on the Shoes of Swiftness and went into the wood.
Now he could go as the eagle flies. He found Whitefoot the Fawn drinking at
the Raven's pool.
When she saw him she went from thicket to thicket. The Shoes of Swiftness were
hardly any use to him in these shut-in places. At last he beat her from the
last thicket. It was the hour of noon-tide then. There was a clear plain
before them and with the Shoes of Swiftness he ran her down. There were tears
in the Fawn's eyes and he knew she was troubled with the dread of losing her
He kept his hands on the horns and they went back over miles of plain and
pasture, bog and wood. The hours were going quicker than they were going. When
'he came within the domain of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands he saw the
goats going quickly before him. They were hurrying from their pastures to the
goat-shelter, one stopping, maybe, to bite the top of a hedge and another
giving this one a blow with her horns to hurry her on. "By your silver horns,
we must go faster," said the King of Ireland's Son to the Fawn. They went more
He saw the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands waiting at the goat-house, now
counting the goats that came along and now looking at the sun. When he saw the
King of Ireland's Son coming with his capture he was so angry that he struck
an old full-bearded goat that had stopped to rub itself. The goat reared up
and struck him with his horns. "Well," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-
Lands, "you have performed your first task, I see. You are a greater enchanter
than I thought you were. Whitefoot the Fawn can go in with my goats. Go back
now to your own sleeping-place. To-morrow I'll come to you early and give you
your second task."
The King of Ireland's Son went back and into the dry water-tank. He was tired
with his day's journey after Whitefoot the Fawn. It was his hope that Fedelma
would come to him and give him shelter for that night.
Until the white moon rose above the trees; until the hounds went out hunting
for themselves; until the foxes came down and hid in the hedges, waiting for
the cocks and hens to stir out at the first light--so long did the King of
Ireland's Son stay huddled in the dry water-tank.
By that time he was stiff and sore and hungry. He saw a great white owl flying
towards the tank. The owl perched on the edge and stared at the King's Son.
"Have you a message for me?" he asked. The owl shrugged with its wings three
times. He thought that meant a message. He got out of the tank and prepared to
follow the owl. It flew slowly and near the ground, so he was able to follow
it along a path through the wood.
The King's Son thought the owl was bringing him to a place where Fedelma was,
and that he would get food there, and shelter for the rest of the night. And
sure enough the owl flew to a little house in the wood. The King's Son looked
through the window and he saw a room lighted with candles and a table with
plates and dishes and cups, with bread and meat and wine. And he saw at the
fire a young woman spinning at a spinning wheel, and her back was towards him,
and her hair was the same as Fedelma's. Then he lifted the latch of the door
and went very joyfully into the little house.
But when the young woman at the spinning wheel turned round he saw that she
was not Fedelma at ail. She had a little mouth, a long and a hooked nose, and
her eyes looked cross-ways at a person. The thread she was spinning she bit
with her long teeth, and she said, "You are welcome here, Prince."
"And who are you?" said the King of Ireland's Son. "Aefa is my name," said
she, "I am the eldest and the wisest daughter of the Enchanter of the Black
Back-lands. My father is preparing a task for you," said she, "and it will be
a terrible task, and there will be no one to help you with it, so you will
lose your head surely. And what I would advise you to do is to escape out of
this country at once."
"And how can I escape?" said the King of Ireland's Son, "There's only one way
to escape," said she, "and that is for you to take the Slight Red Steed that
my father has secured under nine locks. That steed is the only creature that
can bring you to your own country. I ,rill show you how to get it and then I
will ride to your home with you."
"And why should you do that?" said the King of Ireland's Son.
"Because I would marry you," said Aefa.
"But," said he, "if I live at all Fedelma is the one I will marry."
No sooner did he say the words than Aefa screamed out, "Seize him, my cat-o'-
the-mountain. Seize him and hold him." Then the cat-o'-the-mountain that was
under the table sprang across the room and fixed himself on his shoulder. He
ran out of the house. All the time he was running the cat-o'-the-mountain was
trying to tear his eyes out. He made his way through woods and thickets, and
mighty glad he was when he saw the tank at the gable-end of the house. The
cat-'o-the-mountain dropped from his back then. He got into the tank and
waited and waited. No message came from Fedelma. He was a long time there,
stiff and sore and hungry, before the sun rose and the Enchanter of the Black
Back-Lands came out of the house.
I hope you had a good night's rest," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-
Lands, when he came to where the King of Ireland's Son was crouched, just at
the rising of the sun. "I had indeed," said the King's Son. "And I suppose you
feel fit for another task," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands. "More
fit than ever in my life before," said the King of Ireland's Son.
The Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands took him past the goat-house and to
where there was an open shelter for his bee-hives. "I want this shelter
thatched," said he, "and I want to have it thatched with the feathers of
birds. Go," said he, "and get enough feathers of wild birds and come back and
thatch the bee-hive shelter for me, and let it be done before the set of sun."
He gave the King's Son arrows and a bow and a bag to put the feathers in, and
advised him to search the moor for birds. Then he went back to the house.
The King of Ireland's Son ran to the moor and watched for birds to fly across.
At last one came. He shot at it with an arrow but did not bring it down. He
hunted the moor ail over but found no other bird. He hoped that he would see
Fedelma before his head was taken off.
Then he heard his name called and he saw Fedelma coming towards him. She
looked at him as before with dread in tier eyes and asked him what task her
father had set him. "A terrible task," he said, and he told her what it was.
Fedelma laughed. "I was in dread he would give you another task," she said. "I
can help you with this one. Sit down now and eat and drink from what I have
He sat down and ate and drank and he felt hopeful seeing Fedelma beside him.
When he had eaten Fedelma said, "My blue falcon will gather the birds and pull
the feathers off for you. Still, unless you gather them quickly there is
danger, for the roof must be thatched with feathers at the set of sun." She
whistled and her blue falcon came. He followed it across the moor. The blue
falcon flew up in the air and gave a bird-call. Birds gathered and she swooped
amongst them pulling feathers off their backs and out of their wings. Soon
there was a heap of feathers on the ground--pigeons' feathers and pie's
feathers, crane's and crow's, blackbird's and starling's. The King of
Ireland's Son quickly gathered them into his bag. The falcon flew to another
place and gave her bird-call again. The birds gathered, and she went amongst
them, plucking their feathers. The King's Son gathered them and the blue
falcon flew to another place. Over and over again the blue falcon called to
the birds and plucked out their feathers, and over and over again the King's
Son gathered them into his bag. When he thought he had feathers enough to
thatch the roof he ran back to the shelter. He began the thatching, binding
the feathers down with little willow rods. He had just finished when the sun
went down. The old Enchanter came up and when he saw what the King's Son had
done he was greatly surprised. "You surely learned from the wizard you were
apprenticed to," said he.. "But to-morrow I will try you with another task. Go
now and sleep in the place where you were last night." The King's Son, glad
that the head was still on his shoulders, went and lay down in the water-tank.
Until the white moon went out in the sky; until the Secret People began to
whisper in the woods--so long did the King of Ireland's Son remain in the dry
water-tank that night.
And then, when it was neither dark nor light, he saw a crane flying towards
him. It lighted on the edge of the tank. "Have you a message for me?" said the
King of Ireland's Son. The crane tapped three times with its beak. Then the
King's Son got out of the tank and prepared to follow the bird-messenger.
This was the way the crane went. It would fly a little way and then light on
the ground until the Prince came up to it. Then it would fly again. Over
marshes and across little streams the crane led him. And all the time the King
of Ireland's Son thought he was being brought to the place where Fedelma was--
to the place where he would get food and where he could rest until just before
the sun rose.
They went on and on till they came to an old tower. The crane lighted upon it.
The King's Son saw there was an iron door in the tower and he pulled a chain
until it opened. Then he saw a little room lighted with candles, and he saw a
young woman looking at herself in the glass. Her back was towards him and her
hair was the same as Fedelma's.
But when the young woman turned round he saw she was not Fedelma. She was
little, and she had a face that was brown and tight like a nut. She made
herself very friendly to the King of Ireland's Son and went to him and took
his hands and smiled into his face.
"You are welcome here," said she.
"Who are you?" he asked. "I am Gilveen," said she, "the second and the most
loving of the three daughters of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands." She
stroked his face and his hands when she spoke to him.
"And why did you send for me?"
"Because I know what great trouble you are in. My father is preparing a task
for you, and it will he a terrible one. You will never be able to carry it
"And what should you advise me to do, King's daughter?"
"Let me help you. In this tower," said she, "there are the wisest books in the
world. We'll surely find in one of them a way for you to get from this
country. And then I'll go back with you to your own land."
"Why would you do that?" asked the King of Ire-land's Son.
"Because I wish to be your wife," Gilveen said.
"But," said he, "if I live at all Fedelma is the one I'll marry."
When he said that Gilveen drew her lips together and her chin became like a
horn. Then she whistled through her teeth, and instantly everything in the
room began to attack the King's Son. The looking glass on the wall flung
itself at him and hit him on the back of the head. The leg of the table gave
him a terrible blow at the back of the knees. He saw the two candles hopping
across the floor to burn his legs. He ran out of the room, and when he got to
the door it swung around and gave him a blow that flung him away from the
tower. The crane that was waiting on the tower flew down, its neck and beak
outstretched, and gave him a blow on the back.
So the King of Ireland's Son went back over the marshes and across the little
streams, and he was glad when he saw the gable-end of the house again. Je went
into the tank. He knew that he had not long to wait before the sun would rise
and the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands would come to him and give him the
third and the most difficult of the three tasks. And he thought that Fedelma
was surely shut away from him and that she would not be able to help him that
At the rising of the sun the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands came to where
the King of Ireland's Son was huddled and said, "I am now going to set you the
third and last task. Rise up now and come with me."
The King's Son came out of the water-tank and fol-lowed the Enchanter. They
went to where there was a well. The King's Son looked down and he could not
see the bottom, so deep the well was. "At the bottom," said the Enchanter "is
the Ring of Youth. You must get it and bring it to me, or else you must lose
your head at the setting of that sun." That was all he said. He turned then
and went away.
The King's Son looked into the well and he saw no way of getting down its deep
smooth sides. He walked back towards the Castle. On his way he met Fedelma,
and she looked at him with deep dread in her eyes. "What task did my father
set you to-day?" said she. "He bids me go down into a well," said the King's
Son. "A well!" said Fedelma, and she became all dread. "I have to take the
Ring of Youth from the bot-tom and bring it to him," said the King's Son.
"Oh," said Fedelma,'"he has set you the task I dreaded."
Then she said, "You will lose your life if the Ring of Youth is not taken out
of the well. And if you lose yours I shall lose my life too. There is one way
to get down the sides of the well. You must kill me. Take my bones and make
them as steps while you go down the sides. Then, when you have taken the Ring
of Youth out of the water, put my bones as they were before, and put the Ring
above my heart. I shall be alive again. But you must be careful that you leave
every bone as it was."
The King's Son fell into a deeper dread than Fedelma when he heard what she
said. "This can never be," he cried. "It must be," said she, "and by all your
vows and promises I command that you do it. Kill me now and do as I have
bidden you. If it be done I shall live. If it be not done you will lose your
life and I will never regain mine."
He killed her. He took the bones as she had bidden him, and he made steps down
the sides of the well. He searched at the bottom, and he found the Ring of
Youth. He brought the bones together again. Down on his knees he went, and his
heart did not beat nor did his breath come or go until he had fixed them in
their places. Over the heart he placed the Ring. Life came back to Fedelma.
"You have done well," she said. "One thing only is not in its place--the joint
of my little finger." She held up her hand and he saw that her little finger
"I have helped you in everything," said Fedelma, "and in the last task I could
not have helped you if you had not been true to me when Aefa and Gilveen
brought you to them. Now the three tasks are done, and you can ask my father
for one of his daughters in marriage. When you bring him the Ring of Youth he
will ask you to make a choice. I pray that the one chosen will be myself."
"None other will I have but you, Fedelma, love of my heart," said the King of
The King of Ireland's Son went into the house before the setting of the sun.
The Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands was seated on his chair of gold. "Have
you brought me the Ring of Youth?" he asked.
"I have brought it," said the King's Son.
"Give it to me then," said the Enchanter.
"I will not," said the King's Son, "until you give what you promised me at the
end of my tasks--one of your three daughters for my wife."
The Enchanter brought him to a closed door. "My three daughters are within
that room," said he. "Put your hand through the hole in the door, and the one
whose hand you hold when I open it--it is she you will have to marry."
Then wasn't the mind of the King's Son greatly troubled? If he held the hand
of Aefa or Gilveen he would lose his love Fedelma. He stood without putting
out his hand. "Put your hand through the hole of the door or go away from my
house altogether," said the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands.
The King of Ireland's Son ventured to put his hand through the hole in the
door. The hands of the maidens inside were all held in a bunch. But no sooner
did he touch them than he found that one had a broken finger. This he knew was
Fedelma's hand, and this was the hand he held.
"You may open the door now," said he to the Enchanter. He opened the door and
the King of Ireland's Son drew Fedelma to him. "This is the maiden I choose,"
said he, "and now give her her dowry."
"The dowry that should go with me," said Fedelma, "is the Slight Red Steed."
"What dowry do you want with her, young man?" said the Enchanter.
"No other dowry but the Slight Red Steed."
"Go round to the stable then and get it. And I hope no well-trained wizard
like you will come this way again."
"No well-trained wizard am I, but the King of Ire-land's Son. And I have found
your dwelling-place within a year and a day. And now I pluck the three hairs
out of your heard, Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands."
The beard of the Enchanter bristled like spikes on a hedgehog, and the balls
of his eyes stuck out of his head. The King's Son plucked the three hairs of
his beard before he could lift a hand or say a word. "Mount the Slight Red
Steed and be off, the two of you," said the Enchanter.
The King of Ireland's Son and Fedelma mounted the Slight Red Steed and rode
off, and the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands, and his two daughters, Aefa
and Gilveen, in a rage watched them ride away.
They crossed the River of the Ox, and went over the Mountain of the Fox and
were in the Glen of the Badger before the sun rose. And there, at the foot of
the Hill of Horns, they found an old man gathering dew from the grass.
"Could you tell us where we might find the Little Sage of the Mountain?"
Fedelma asked the old man.
"I am the Little Sage of the Mountain," said he, "and what is it you want of
"To betroth us for marriage," said Fedelma.
"I will do that. Come to my house, the pair of you. And as you are both young
and better able to walk than I am it would be fitting to let me ride on your
The King's Son and Fedelma got off and the Little Sage of the Mountain got on
the Slight Red Steed. They took the path that went round the Hill of Horns.
And at the other side of the hill they found a hut thatched with one great
wing of a bird. The Little Sage got off the Slight Red Steed. "Now," said he,
"you're both young, and I'm an old man and it would be fitting for you to do
my day's work before you call upon me to do anything for you. Now would you,"
said he to the King of Ireland's Son, "take this spade in your hand and go
into the garden and dig my potatoes for me? And would you," said he to
Fedelma, "sit down at the quern-stone and grind the wheat for me?"
The King of Ireland's Son went into the garden and Fedelma sat at the quern-
stone that was just outside the door; he dug and she ground while the Little
Sage sat at the fire looking into a big book. And when Fedelma and the King's
Son were tired with their labor he gave them a drink of buttermilk.
She made cakes out of the wheat she had ground and the King's Son washed the
potatoes and the Little Sage boiled them and so they made their supper. Then
the Little Sage of the Mountain melted lead and made two rings; and one ring
he gave to Fedelma to give to the King's Son and one he gave to the King's Son
to give to Fedelma. And when the rings were given he said, "You are betrothed
for your marriage now."
They stayed with the Little Sage of the Mountain that night, and when the sun
rose they left the house that was thatched with the great wing of a bird and
they turned towards the Meadow of Brightness and the Wood of Shadows that were
between them and the King of Ireland's domain. They rode on the Slight Red
Steed, and the Little Sage of the Mountain went with them a part of the way.
He seemed downcast and when they asked him the reason he said, "I see dividing
ways and far journeys for you both." "But how can that be," said the King's
Son, "when, in a little while we will win to my father's domain?" "It may be I
am wrong," said the Little Sage, "and if I am not, remember that devotion
brings together dividing ways and that high hearts win to the end of every
journey." He bade them good-by then, and turned back to his hut that was
thatched with the great wing of a bird.
They rode across the Meadow of Brightness and Fedelma's blue falcon sailed
above them. "Yonder is a field of white flowers," said she, "and while we are
crossing it you must tell me a story."
"I know by heart," said the King's Son, "only the stories that Maravaun, my
father's Councillor, has put into the book he is composing--the book that is
called 'The Breastplate of Instruction.'"
"Then," said Fedelma, "tell me a story from 'The Breastplate of Instruction,'
while we are crossing this field of white flowers."
"I will tell you the first story that is in it," said the King's Son. Then
while they were crossing the field of white flowers the King's Son told
Fedelma the story of
The Ass and the Seal
A seal that had spent a curious fore-noon paddling around the island of Ilaun-
Beg drew itself up on a rock the better to carry on its investigations. It was
now within five yards of the actual island. On the little beach there were
three curraghs in which the island-men went over the sea; they were turned
bottom up and heavy stones were placed upon them to prevent their being
carried away by the high winds. The seal noted them as he rested upon the flat
rock. He noted too a little ass that was standing beyond the curraghs,
sheltering himself where the cliffs hollowed in.
Now this ass was as curious as the seal, and when he saw the smooth creature
that was moving its head about with such intelligence he came down to the
water's edge. Two of his legs were spancelled with a piece of straw rope, but
being used to such impediment he came over without any awkwardness. He looked
inquiringly at the seal.
The gray-headed crow of the cliff lighted on a spar of rock and made herself
an interpreter between the two. "Shaggy beast of the Island," said the seal,
"friend and follower of men, tell me about their fabulous existence."
"Do you mean the hay-getters?" said the ass.
"You know well whom he means," said the gray-headed crow viciously. "Answer
"You gravell me entirely when you ask about men," said the ass. "I don't know
much about them. They live to themselves and I live to myself. Their houses
are full of smoke and it blinds my eyes to go in. There used to be green
fields here and high grass that became hay, but there's nothing like that now.
I think men have given up eating what grows out of the ground. I see nothing,
I smell nothing, but fish, fish, fish."
The gray-headed crow had a vicious eye fixed on the ass all the time he was
speaking. "You're saying all that," said she, "because they let the little
horse stay all night in the house and beat you out of it."
"My friend," said the seal, "it is evident that men deceive you by
appearances. I know men. I have followed their boats and have listened to the
wonderful sounds they make with their voices and with instruments. Do they not
draw fish out of the depths by enchantments? Do they not build their
habitations with music? Do they not draw the moon out of the sea and set it
for a light in their houses? And is it not known that the fairest daughters of
the sea have loved men?"
"When I'm awake long o' moonlit nights I feel like that myself," said the ass.
Then the recollections of these long, frosty nights made him yawn. Then he
"What it is to live near men," said the seal in admiration. "What wonderful
"I'd cross the water and rub noses with you," said the ass, "only I'm afraid
"Crocodiles?" said the gray-headed crow.
"Yes," said the ass. "It's because I'm of a very old family, you know. They
were Egyptians. My people never liked to cross water in their own country.
There were crocodiles there."
"I don't want to waste any more time listening to nonsense," said the gray-
headed crow. She flew to the ass's back and plucked out some of the felt.
"I'll take this for my own habitation," she said, and flew back to the cliff.
The ass would have kicked up his heels only two of his legs were fastened with
the straw rope. He turned away, and without a word of farewell to the seal
went scrambling up the bank of the island.
The seal stayed for a while moving his head about intelligently. Then he
slipped into the water and paddled off. "One feels their lives in music," he
said; "great tones vibrate round the island where men live. It is very
"That," said the King's Son, "is the first story in 'The Breastplate of
Instruction,'--'The Ass and the Seal.' And now you must tell me a story while
we are crossing the field of blue flowers."
"Then it will be a very little story," said Fedelma. They crossed a little
field of blue flowers, and Fedelma told
The Sending of the Crystal Egg
The Kings of Murias heard that King Atlas had to bear
The world upon his back, so they sent him then and there
The Crystal Egg that would be the Swan of Endless Tales
That his burthen for a while might lie on his shoulder-scales
Fair-balanced while he heard the Tales the Swan poured forth--
North-world Tales for the while he watched the Star of the North;
And East-world Tales he would hear in the morning swart and cool,
When the Lions Nimrod had spared came up from the drinking pool;
West-world Tales for the King when he turned him with the sun;
Then whispers of magic Tales from Africa, his own.
But the Kings of Murias made the Crane their messenger--
The fitful Crane whose thoughts are always frightening her
She slipped from Islet to Isle, she sloped from Foreland to Coast;
She passed through cracks in the mountains and came over trees like a ghost;
And then fled back in dismay when she saw on the hollow plains
The final battle between the Pigmies and the Cranes.
Where is the Crystal Egg that was sent King Atlas then?
Hatched it will be one day and the Tales will be told to men:
That is if it be not laid in some King's old Treasury: That is if the fitful
Crane did not lose it threading the Sea!
They were not long going through the little field of blue flowers, and when
they went through it they came to another field of white flowers. Fedelma
asked the King's Son to tell her another story, and thereupon he told her the
second story in "The Breastplate of Instruction."
The Story of the Young Cuckoo
The young cuckoo made desperate attempts to get himself through the narrow
opening in the hollow tree. He screamed when he failed to get through.
His foster-parents had remained so long beside him that they were wasted and
sad while the other birds, their broods reared, were vigorous and joyful. They
heard the one that had been reared in their nest, the young cuckoo, scream,
but this time they did not fly towards him. The young cuckoo screamed again,
but there was something in that scream that reminded the foster-parents of
hawks. They flew away. They were miserable in their flight, these birds, for
they knew they were committing a treason.
They had built their nest in a hollow tree that had a little opening. A cuckoo
laid her egg on the ground and, carrying it in her beak, had placed it in the
nest. Their own young had been pushed out. They had worn themselves to get
provision for the terrible and fascinating creature who had remained in their
When the time came for him to make his flight he could not get his body
through the little opening. Yesterday he had begun to try. The two foster-
parents flew to him again and again with food. But now their own nesting place
had become strange to them. They would never go near it again. The young
cuckoo was forsaken.
A woodpecker ran round the tree. He looked into the hollow and saw the big
bird crumpled up.
"Hello," said the woodpecker. "How did you get here?"
"Born here," said the young cuckoo sulkily.
"Oh, were you?" said the woodpecker and he ran round the tree again.
When he came back to the opening the young cuckoo was standing up with his
"Feed me," said he.
"I've to rush round frightfully to get something for myself," said the
"At least, someone ought to bring me food," said the young cuckoo.
"How is that?" said the woodpecker.
"Well, oughtn't they to?" said the young cuckoo.
"I wouldn't say so," said the woodpecker, "you have the use of your wits,
haven't you?" He ran round the trunk of the tree again and devoured a lean
grub. The young cuckoo struggled at the opening and screamed again.
"Don't be drawing too much attention to yourself," advised the woodpecker when
he came to the opening again. "They might take you for a young hawk, you
"Who might?" said the cuckoo. "The neighbors. They would pull a young hawk to
"What am I to do?" said the young cuckoo.
"What's in your nature to do?"
"My nature?" said the young cuckoo. "It's my nature to swing myself on
branches high up in a tree. It's my nature to spread out my wings and fly over
pleasant places. It is my nature to be alone. But not alone as here. Alone
with the sound of my own voice." Suddenly he cried, "Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo!"
"I know you now," said the woodpecker. "There's going to be a storm," he said;
"trust a woodpecker to know that."
The young cuckoo strove towards the big sky again, and he screamed so
viciously that a rat that had just come out of the ditch fastened his eyes on
him. That creature looked bad to the young cuckoo. Rain plopped on the leaves.
Thunder crashed. A bolt struck the tree, and the part above the opening was
The young cuckoo flung himself out on the grass and went awkwardly amongst the
blue bells. "What a world," said he. "All this wet and fire and noise to get
me out of the nest. What a world!" The young cuckoo was free, and these were
the first words he said when he went into the world.
That was the last story the King's Son told from Maravaun's book, "The
Breastplate of Instruction." They had another little field of blue flowers to
cross, and as they went across it Fedelma told the King's Son
The Story of the Cloud-Woman
The Cloud-woman, Mor, was the daughter
Of Griann, the Sun,--well, and she
Made a marriage to equal that grandeur,
For her Goodman was Lir, the Sea.
The Cloud-woman Mor, she had seven
Strong sons, and the story-books say
Their inches grew in the night-time,
And grew over again in the day.
The Cloud-woman Mor,--as they grew in
Their bone, she grew in her pride,
Till her haughtiness turned away, men say,
Her goodman Lir from her side;
Then she lived in Mor's Home and she watched
With pride her sons and her crop,
Till one day the wish in her grew
To view from the mountain-top
All, all that she owned, so she
Traveled without any stop.
And what did she see? A thousand
Fields and her own fields small, small!
"What a fine and wide place is Eirinn," said she,
"I am Mor, but not great after all."
Then a herdsman came, and he told her
That her sons had stolen away:
They had left the calves in the hollow,
With the goose-flock they would not stay:
They had seen three ships on the sea
And nothing would do them but go:
Mor wept and wept when she heard it,
And her tears made runnels below.
Then her shining splendor departed:
She went, and she left no trace,
And the Cloud-woman, Mor, was never
Beheld again in that place.
The proud woman, Mor, who was daughter
Of Griann, the Sun, and who made
A marriage to equal that grandeur,
Passed away as a shade.
And that was the last story that Fedelma told, for they had crossed the
Meadows of Brightness and had come to a nameless place--a stretch of broken
ground where there were black rocks and dead grass and bare roots of trees
with here and there a hawthorn tree in blossom. "I fear this place. We must
not halt here," Fedelma said.
And then a flock of ravens came from the rocks, and flying straight at them
attacked Fedelma and the King of Ireland's Son. The King's Son sprang from the
steed and taking his sword in his hand he fought the ravens until he drove
them away. They rode on again. But now the ravens flew back and attacked them
again and the King of Ireland's Son fought them until his hands were wearied.
He mounted the steed again, and they rode swiftly on. And the ravens came the
third time and attacked them more fiercely than before. The King's Son fought
them until he had killed all but three and until he was covered with their
blood and feathers.
The three that had escaped flew away. "Oh, mount the Slight Red Steed and let
us ride fast," said Fedelma to the King's Son.
"I am filled with weariness," he said. "Bid the steed stay by the rock, lay my
sword at my side, and let me sleep with my head on your lap."
"I fear for us both if you slumber here," said Fedelma.
"I must sleep, and I pray that you let me lay my head on your lap."
"I know not what would awaken you if you slumber here."
"I will awaken," said the King's Son, "but now I must sleep, and I would
slumber with my head on your lap."
She got down from the Slight Red Steed and she bade it stay by a rock; she put
his sword by the place he would sleep and she took his head upon her lap. The
King's Son slept.
As she watched over him a great fear grew in Fedelma. Every hour she would say
to him, "Are you near waking, my dear, my dear?" But no flush of waking
appeared on the face of the King of Ireland's Son.
Then she saw a man coming across the nameless place, across the broken ground,
with its dead grass and black rocks and with its roots and stumps of trees.
The man who came near them was taller than any man she had seen before--he was
tall as a tree. Fedelma knew him from what she had heard told about him--she
knew him to be the King of the Land of Mist.
The King of the Land of Mist came straight to them. He stood before Fedelma
and he said, "I seek Fedelma, the daughter of the Enchanter of the Black Back-
Lands and the fairest woman within the seas of Eirinn."
"Then go to her father's house and seek Fedelma there," said she to him.
"I have sought her there," said the King of the Land of Mist, "but she left
her father's house to go with the King of Ireland's Son."
"Then seek her in the Castle of the King of Ireland," said Fedelma.
"That I will not. Fedelma is here, and Fedelma will come with me," said the
King of the Land of Mist.
"I will not leave him with whom I am plighted," said Fedelma.
Then the King of the Land of Mist took up the King of Ireland's Son. High he
held him--higher than a tree grows. "I will dash him down on the rocks and
break the life within him," said he.
"Do not so," said Fedelma. "Tell me. If I go with you what would win me back?"
"Nothing but the sword whose stroke would slay me--the Sword of Light," said
the King of the Land of Mist. He held up the King of Ireland's Son again, and
again he was about to dash him against the rocks. The blue falcon that was
overhead flew down and settled on the rock behind her. Fedelma knew that what
she and the King of the Land of Mist would say now would be carried some place
and told to someone. "Leave my love, the King's Son, to his rest," she said.
"If I do not break the life in him will you come with me, Fedelma?"
"I will go with you if you tell again what will win me back from you."
"The Sword of Light whose stroke will slay me."
"I will go with you if you swear by all your vows and promises not to make me
your wife nor your sweetheart for a year and a day."
"I swear by all my vows and promises not to make you my wife nor my sweetheart
for a year and a day."
"I will go with you if you let it be that I fall into a slumber that will last
for a year and a day."
"I will let that be, fairest maid within the seas of Eirinn."
"I will go with you if you will tell me what will take me out of that
"If one cuts a tress of your hair with a stroke of the Sword of Light it will
take you out of that slumber."
The blue falcon that was behind heard what the King of the Land of Mist said.
She rose up and remained overhead with her wings outspread. Fedelma took the
ring off her own finger and put it on the finger of the King of Ireland's Son,
and she wrote upon the ground in Ogham letters, "The King of the Land of
"If it be not you who wakens me, love," she said, "may it be that I never
"Come, daughter of the Enchanter," said the King of the Land of Mist.
"Pluck the branch of hawthorn and give it to me that I may fall into my
slumber here," said Fedelma.
The King of the Land of Mist plucked a flowering branch of hawthorn and gave
it to her. She held the flowers against her face and fell into slumber. For a
while she and the King of Ireland's Son were side by side in sleep.
Then the King of the Land of Mist took Fedelma in his arms and strode along
that nameless place, over the broken ground with its dead grass and its black
rocks and its stumps and roots of trees and the three ravens that had escaped
the sword of the King of Ire-land's Son followed where he went.
Long, long after Fedelma had been taken by the King of the Land of Mist the
King of Ireland's Son came out of his slumber. He saw around him that nameless
place with its black rocks and bare roots of trees. He remembered he had come
to it with Fedelma. He sprang up and looked for her, but no one was near him.
"Fedelma, Fedelma!" He searched and he called, but it was as if no one had
ever been with him. He found his sword; be searched for his steed, but the
Slight Red Steed was gone too.
He thought that the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands had followed them and
had taken Fedelma from him. He turned to go towards the Enchanter's country
and then he found what Fedelma had written upon the ground in Ogham letters
"The King of the Land of Mist"
He did not know what direction to take to get to the dominion of the King of
the Land of Mist. He crossed the broken ground and he found no trace of
Fedelma nor of him who had taken her. He found himself close to the Wood of
Shadows. He went through it. As he went on he saw scores and scores of
shadows. Nothing else was in the wood--no bird, no squirrel, no cricket. The
shadows had the whole wood to themselves. They ran swiftly from tree to tree,
and now and then one would stop at a tree and wait. Often the King of
Ireland's Son came close to a waiting shadow. One became like a small old man
with a beard. The King's Son saw this shadow again and again. What were they,
the shadows, he asked himself? Maybe they were wise creatures and could tell
him what he wanted to know.
He thought he heard them whispering together. Then one little shadow with
trailing legs went slowly from tree to tree. The King of Ireland's Son thought
he would catch and hold a shadow and make it tell him where he should go to
find the dominion of the King of the Land of Mist.
He went after one shadow and another and waited beside a tree for one to come.
Often he thought he saw the small old man with the beard and the little
creature with trailing legs. And then he began to see other shadows--men with
the heads of rooks and men with queer heavy swords upon their shoulders. He
followed them on and on through the wood and he heard their whispering
becoming louder and louder, and then he thought that as he went on the
shadows, instead of slipping before him, began to turn back and go past and
surround him. Then he heard a voice just under the ground at his feet say,
"Shout--shout out your own name, Son of King Connal!" Then the King's Son
shouted out his own name and the whispers ceased in the wood and the shadows
went backward and forward no more.
He went on and came to a stream within the wood and he went against its flow
all night as well as all day, hoping to meet some living thing that would tell
him how he might come to the dominion of the King of the Land of Mist. In the
forenoon of another day he came to where the wood grew thin and then he went
past the last trees.
He saw a horse grazing: he ran up to it and found that it was the Slight Red
Steed that had carried Fedelma and himself from the house of the Enchanter.
Then as he laid hold of the steed a hound ran up to him and a hawk flew down
and he saw that they were the hawk and the hound that used to be with him when
he rode abroad from his father's Castle.
He mounted and seeing his hound at his heel and his hawk circling above he
felt a longing to go back to his father's Castle which he knew to be near and
where he might find out where the King of the Land of Mist had his dominion.
So the King of Ireland's Son rode back to his father's Castle--
His hound at his heel,
His hawk on his wrist.
When the King of the Cats Came to King Connal's Dominion
The King of Ireland's Son was home again, but as he kept asking about a King
and a Kingdom no one had ever heard of, people thought he had lost his wits in
his search for the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands. He rode abroad every day
to ask strangers if they knew where the King of the Land of Mist had his
dominion and he came back to his father's every night in the hope that one
would be at the Castle who could tell him where the place that he sought was.
Maravaun wanted to relate to him fables from "The Breastplate of Instruction"
but the King's Son did not hear a word that Maravaun said. After a while he
listened to the things that Art, the King's Steward, related to him, for it
was Art who had shown the King's Son the leaden ring that was on his finger.
He took it off, remembering the betrothal ring that the Little Sage had made,
and then he saw that it was not his, but Fedelma's ring that he wore. Then he
felt as if Fedelma had sent a message to him, and he was less wild in his
Afterwards, in the evenings, when he came back from his ridings, he would
cross the meadows with Art, the King's Steward, or would stand with him while
the herdsmen drove the cattle into the byres. Then he would listen to what Art
related to him. And one evening he heard Art say, "The most remarkable event
that happened was the coming into this land of the King of the Cats."
"I will listen to what you tell me about it," said the King's Son. "Then,"
said Art, the King's Steward, "to your father's Son in all truth be it told"--
The King of the Cats stood up. He was a grand creature. His body was brown and
striped across as if one had burned on wood with a hot poker. Like all the
race of the Royal Cats of the Isle of Man he was without a tail. But he had
extraordinarily fine whiskers. They went each side of his face to the length
of a dinner-dish. He had such eyes that when he turned one of them upward the
bird that was flying across dropped from the sky. And when he turned the other
one down he could make a hole in the floor.
He lived in the Isle of Man. Once he had been King of the Cats of Ireland and
Britain, of Norway and Denmark, and the whole Northern and Western World. But
after the Norsemen won in the wars the Cats of Norway and Britain swore by
Thor and Odin that they would give him no more allegiance. So for a hundred
years and a day he had got allegiance only from the Cats of the Western World;
that is, from Ireland and the Islands beyond.
The tribute he received was still worth having. In May he was sent a boatful
of herring. In August he was let have two boatfuls of mackerel. In November he
was given five barrels of preserved mice. At other seasons he had for his
tribute one out of every hundred birds that flew across the Island on their
way to Ireland--tomtits, pee-wits, linnets, siskins, starlings, martins, wrens
and tender young barn owls. He was also sent the following as marks of
allegiance and respect: a salmon, to show his dominion over the rivers; the
skin of a marten to show his dominion in the woods; a live cricket to show his
dominion in the houses of men; the horn of a cow, to show his right to a
portion of the milk produced in the Western World.
But the tribute from the Western World became smaller and smaller. One year
the boat did not come with the herring. Mackerel was sent to him afterwards
but he knew it was sent to him because so much was being taken out of the sea
that the farmer-men were plowing their mackerel-catches into the land to make
their crops grow. Then a year came when he got neither the salmon nor the
marten skin, neither the live cricket nor the cow's horn. Then he got
righteously and royally indignant. He stood up on his four paws on the floor
of his palace, and declared to his wife that he himself was going to Ireland
to know what prevented the sending of his lawful tribute to him. He called for
his Prime Minister then and said, "Prepare for Us our Speech from the Throne."
The Prime Minister went to the Parliament House and wrote down "Oyez, Oyez,
Oyez!" But he could not remember any more of the ancient language in which the
speeches from the Throne were always written. He went home and hanged himself
with a measure of tape and his wife buried the body under the hearth-stone.
"Speech or no speech," said the King of the Cats, "I'm going to pay a royal
visit to my subjects in Ireland."
He went to the top of the cliff and he made a spring. He landed on the deck of
a ship that was bringing the King of Norway's daughter to be married to the
King of Scotland's son. The ship nearly sank with the crash of his body on it.
He ran up the sails and placed himself on the mast of the ship. There he
gathered his feet together and made another spring. This time he landed on a
boat that was bringing oak-timber to build a King's Palace in London. He stood
where the timber was highest and made another spring. This time he landed on
the Giant's Causeway that runs from Ireland out into the sea. He picked his
steps from boulder to boulder, and then walked royally and resolutely on the
ground of Ireland. A man was riding on horseback with a woman seated on the
saddle behind him. The King of the Cats waited until they came up.
"My good man," said he very grandly, "when you go back to your house, tell the
ash-covered cat in the comer that the King of the Cats has come to Ireland to
His manner was so grand that the man took off his hat and the woman made a
courtesy. Then the King of the Cats sprang into the branch of a tree of the
forest and slept till it was past the mid-day heat.
I nearly forgot to tell you that as he slept on the branch his whiskers stood
around his face the breadth of a dinner-dish either way.
The next day the King's Son rode abroad and where he went that day he saw no
man nor woman nor living creature in the land around;. But coming back he saw
a falcon sailing in the air above. He rode on and the falcon sailed above,
never rising high in the air, and never swooping down. The King's Son fitted
an arrow to his bow and shot at the falcon. Immediately it rose in the air and
flew swiftly away, but a feather from it fell before him. The King's Son
picked the feather up. It was a blue feather. Then the King's Son thought of
Fedelma's falcon--of the bird that flew above them when they rode across the
Meadows of Brightness. It might be Fedelma's falcon, the one he had shot at,
and it might have come to show him the way to the Land of Mist. But the falcon
was not to be seen now.
He did not go amongst the strangers in his father's Castle that evening; but
he stood with Art who was watching the herdsmen drive the cattle into the
byres. And Art after a while said, "I will tell you more about the coming of
the King of the Cats into King Connal's Dominion. And as before I say
"To your father's Son in all truth be it told "--
The King of the Cats waited on the branch of the tree until the moon was in
the sky like a roast duck on a dish of gold, and still neither retainer,
vassal nor subject came to do him service. He was vexed, I tell you, at the
want of respect shown him.
This was the reason why none of his subjects came to him for such a long time:
The man and woman he had spoken to went into their house and did not say a
word about the King of the Cats until they had eaten their supper. Then when
the man had smoked his second pipe, he said to the woman: "That was a
wonderful thing that happened to us to-day. A cat to walk up to two Christians
and say to them, 'Tell the ashy pet in your chimney corner at home that the
King of the Cats has come to see him.'"
No sooner were the words said than the lean, gray, ash-covered cat that lay on
the hearthstone sprang on the back of the man's chair.
"I will say this," said the man; "it's a bad time when two Christians like
ourselves are stopped on their way back from the market and ordered--ordered,
no less--to give a message to one's own cat lying on one's own hearthstone."
"By my fur and daws, you're a long time coming to his message," said the cat
on the back of the chair; "what was it, anyway?"
"The King of the Cats has come to Ireland to see you," said the man, very much
"It's a wonder you told it at all," said the cat, going to the door. "And
where did you see His Majesty?"
"You shouldn't have spoken," said the man's wife.
"And how did I know a cat could understand?" said the man.
"When you have done talking amongst yourselves," said the cat, "would you tell
me where you met His Majesty?"
"Nothing will I tell you," said the man, "until I hear your own name from
"My name," said the cat, "is Quick-to-Grab, and well you should know it."
"Not a word will we tell you," said the woman, "until we hear what the King of
the Cats is doing in Ireland. Is he bringing wars and rebellions into the
"Wars and rebellions,--no, ma'am," said Quick-to-Grab, "but deliverance from
oppression. Why are the cats of the country lean and lazy and covered with
ashes? It is because the cat that goes outside the house in the sunlight, to
hunt or to play, is made to suffer with the loss of an eye."
"And who makes them suffer with the loss of an eye?" said the woman. "One
whose reign is nearly over now," said Quick- to-Grab. "But tell me where you
saw His Majesty?"
"No," said the man. "No," said the woman, "for we don't like your
impertinence. Back with you to the hearthstone, and watch the mouse-hole for
Quick-to-Grab walked straight out of the door.
"May no prosperity come to this house," said he, "for denying me when I asked
where the King of the Cats was pleased to speak to you."
But he put his ear to the door when he went outside and he heard the woman
"The horse will tell him that we saw the King of the Cats a mile this side of
the Giant's Causeway." (That was a mistake. The horse could not have told it
at all, because horses never know the language that is spoken in houses--only
cats know it fully and dogs know a little of it.
Quick-to-Grab now knew where the King of the Cats might be found. He went
creeping by hedges, loping across fields, bounding through woods, until he
came under the branch in the forest where the King of the Cats rested, his
whiskers standing round his face the breadth of a dinner-dish.
When he came-under the branch Quick-to-Grab mewed a little in Egyptian, which
is the ceremonial language of the Cats. The King of the Cats came to the end
of the branch.
"Who are you, vassal?" said he in Phoenician.
"A humble retainer of my lord," said Quick-to-Grab in High-Pictish (this is a
language very suitable to cats but it is only their historians who now use
They continued their conversation in Irish.
"What sign shall I show the others that will make them know you are the King
of the Cats?" said Quick-to-Grab.
The King of the Cats chased up the tree and pulled down heavy branches. "There
is a sign of my royal prowess," said he.
"It's a good sign," said Quick-to-Grab. They were about to talk again when
Quick-to-Grab put down his tail and ran up another tree greatly frightened.
"What ails you?" said the King of the Cats. "Can you not stay still while you
are speaking to your lord and master?"
"Old-fellow Badger is coming this way," said Quick-to-Grab, "and when he puts
his teeth in one he never lets go."
Without saying a word the King of the Cats jumped down from the tree. Old-
fellow Badger was coming through the glade. When he saw the King of the Cats
crouching there he stopped and bared his terrible teeth. The King of the Cats
bent himself to spring. Then Old-fellow Badger turned round and went lumbering
"Oh, by my claws and fur," said Quick-to-Grab, "you are the real King of the
Cats. Let me be your Councillor. Let me advise your Majesty in the times that
will be so difficult for your subjects and yourself. Know that the Cats of
Ireland are impoverished and oppressed. They are under a terrible tyranny."
"Who oppresses my vassals, retainers and subjects?" said the King of the Cats.
"The Eagle-Emperor. He has made a law that no cat may leave a man's house as
long as the birds (he makes an exception in the case of owls) have any
"I will tear him to pieces," said the King of the Cats. "How can I reach him?"
"No cat has thought of reaching him," said Quick-to-Grab, "they only think of
keeping out of his way. Now let me advise your Majesty. None of our enemies
must know that you have come into this country. You must appear as a common
"What, me?" said the King of the Cats.
"Yes, your Majesty, for the sake of the deliverance of your subjects you will
have to appear as a common cat."
"And be submissive and eat scraps?"
"That will be only in the daytime," said Quick-to-Grab, "in the night-time you
will have your court and your feasts."
"At least, let the place I stay in be no hovel," said the King of the Cats. "I
shall refuse to go into a house where there are washing days--damp clothes
before a fire and all that."
"I shall use my best diplomacy to safeguard your comfort and dignity," said
Quick-to-Grab, "please invest me as your Prime Minister."
The King of the Cats invested Quick-to-Grab by biting the fur round his neck.
Then the King and his Prime Minister parted. The King of the Cats took up
quarters for a day or two in a round tower. Quick-to-Grab made a journey
through the country-side. He went into every house and whispered a word to
every cat that was there, and whether the cat was watching a mouse-hole, or
chasing crickets, or playing with kittens, when he or she heard that word they
sat up and considered.
Early, early, next day the King of Ireland's Son rode out in search of the
blue falcon, but although he rode from the ring of day to the gathering of the
dark clouds he saw no sign of it on rock or tree or in the air. Very wearily
he rode back, and after his horse was stabled he stood with Art in the meadows
watching the cattle being driven by. And Art, the King's Steward, said: "The
Coming of the King of the Cats into King Connal's dominion is a story still to
be told. "To your father's Son in all truth be it told"--
Quick-to-Grab, in consultation with the Seven Elders of the Cat-Kin decided
that the Blacksmith's forge would be a fit residence for the King of the Cats.
It was clean and commodious. But the best reason of all for his going there
was this: people and beasts from all parts came into the forge and the King of
the Cats might learn from their discussions where the Eagle-Emperor was and
how he might be destroyed.
His Majesty found that the Forge was not a bad residence for a King living
unbeknownst. It was dry and warm. He liked the look of the flames that mounted
up with the blowing of the bellows. He used to sit on a heap of old saddles on
the floor and watch the horses being shod or waiting to be shod. He listened
to the talk of the men. The people in the Forge treated him respectfully and
often referred to his size, his appearance and his fine manners.
Every night he went out to a feast that the cats had prepared for him. Quick-
to-Grab always walked back to the Forge with him to give a Prime Minister's
advice. He warned His Majesty not to let the human beings know that he
understood and could converse in their language--(all cats know men's
language, but men do not know that the cats know). He told him not to be too
haughty (as a King might be inclined to be) to any creature in the Forge.
The King of the Cats took this advice. He used even to twitch his ears as a
mark of respect to Mahon, the hound whose kennel was just outside the forge,
and to the hounds that Mahon had to visit him. He even made advances to the
Cock who walked up and down outside.
This Cock made himself very annoying to the King of the Cats. He used to strut
up and down saying to himself over and over again, "I'm Cock-o'-the-Walk, I'm
Cock-o'-the-Walk." Sometimes he would come into the Forge and say it to the
horses. The King of the Cats wondered how the human beings could put up with a
creature who was so stupid and so vain. He had a red comb that fell over one
eye. He had purple feathers on his tail. He had great spurs on his heels. He
used to put his head on one side and yawn when the King of the Cats appeared.
Cock-o'-the-Walk used to come into the Forge at night and sleep on the
bellows. And when the King of the Cats came back from the feasts he used to
waken up and say to himself," I'm Cock-o'-the-Walk, I'm Cock-o'-the-Walk. The
Cats are not a respectable people."
One noonday there were men in the Forge. They were talking to the Smith. Said
one, "Could you tell us, Smith, where iron came from?" The King of the Cats
knew but he said nothing. Cock-o'-the-Walk came to the door and held his head
as if he were listening.
"I can't tell where iron came from," said the Smith, "but if that Cock could
talk he could tell you. The world knows that the Cock is the wisest and the
most ancient of creatures."
"I'm Cock-o'-the-Walk," said the Cock to a rusty ass's shoe.
"Yes, the Cock is a wonderful creature," said the man who had asked the
"Not wonderful at all," said the King of the Cats, "and if you had asked me I
could have told you where iron came from."
"And where did iron come from?" said the Smith.
"From the Mountains of the Moon," said the King of the Cats.
The men in the Forge put their hands on their knees and looked down at him.
Mahon the hound came into the Forge with other hounds at his tail, and seeing
the men looking at the King of the Cats, Mahon put his nose to him. Cock-o'-
the-Walk flapped his wings insolently. The King of the Cats struck at the red
hanging comb with his paw. The Cock flew up in the air. The King of the Cats
sprang out of the window, and as he did, Mahon and the other hounds sprang
The King of Ireland's Son rode towards the East the next day, and in the first
hour's journey he saw the blue falcon sailing above. He followed where it went
and the falcon never lifted nor stooped, but sailed steadily on, only now and
again beating the air with its wings. Over benns and through glens and across
moors the blue falcon flew and the King of Ireland's Son followed. Then his
horse stumbled; he could not go any further, and he lost sight of the blue
Black night was falling down on the ground when he came back to the King's
Castle. Art, the King's Steward, was waiting for him and he walked beside his
limping horse. And Art said when they were a little way together, "The Coming
of the King of the Cats is a story still to be told.
"To your father's Son in all truth be it told "--
By the magic powers they possessed it was made known to all the cats in the
country that their King was being pursued by the hounds. Then on every
hearthstone a cat howled. Cats sprang to the doors, overturning cradles upon
children. They stood upon the thresholds and they all made the same curse--
"That ye may break your backs, that ye may break your backs before ye catch
the King of the Cats."
When he heard the howls of his vassals, retainers and subjects, the King of
the Cats turned over on his back and clawed at the first hound that came after
him. He stood up then. So firmly did he set himself on his four legs that
those that dashed at him did not overthrow him. He humped up his body and
lifted his forepaws. The hounds held back. A horn sounded and that gave them
an excuse to get away from the claws and the teeth, the power and the
animosity of the King of the Cats.
Then, even though it might cost each and every one of them the loss of an eye,
the cats that had sight of him came running up. "We will go with you, my lord,
we will help you, my lord," they cried all together.
"Go back to the hearthstones," said the King of the Cats. "Go back and be
civil and quiet again in the houses. You will hear of my deeds. I go to find
the tracks of our enemy, the Eagle-Emperor."
When they heard that announcement the cats lamented, and the noise of their
lamentation was so dreadful that horses broke their harnesses where they were
yoked; men and women lost the color of their faces thinking some dreadful
visitation was coming on the land; every bag of oats and rye turned five times
to the right and five times to the left with the fright it got; dishes were
broken, knives were hurled round, and the King's Castle was shaken to the
"It is not the time to seek the tracks of the Eagle-Emperor," said Quick-to-
Grab. "Stay for a while longer in men's houses."
"Never," said the King of the Cats. "Never will I stay by the hearthstone and
submit to be abused by cocks and hounds and men. I will range the world openly
now and seek out the enemy of the Cat-Kind, the Eagle-Emperor."
Without once turning his back he went towards the wood that was filled with
his enemies, the birds. The cats, when they saw their petitions were no use,
went everyone back to the house where he or she stayed. Each one sat before a
mouse-hole and pretended to be watching. But though mice stirred all round
them the cats of Ireland never turned a head that night.
It was the wren, the smallest of birds, that saw him and knew him for the King
of the Cats. The wren flew through the wood to summon the Hawk-Clan. But it
was towards sunset now and the hawks had taken up their stations at the edge
of the wood to watch that they might pick up the farmers' chickens. They
wouldn't turn an eye when the wren told them that a cat was in the wood during
the time forbidden to cats to be outside the houses of men. "It is the King of
the Cats," said the wren. None of the hawks lifted a wing. They were waiting
for the chickens that would stray about the moment after sunset.
But if the wren couldn't rouse the Hawk-Clan she was able to rouse the other
bird-tribes. "A cat, a cat, on your lives a cat," she called out as she flew
through the wood. The rooks that were going home now rose above the trees,
cawing threats. The blackbirds, thrushes and jays screamed as they flew before
the King of the Cats. The woodpeckers, hedge-sparrows, tom-tits, robins and
linnets chattered as they flew behind him. Sometimes the young rooks made a
great show of attacking him. They flew down from the flock. "He is here, here,
here," they cawed and flew up again. The rooks kept telling themselves and the
other birds in the wood what they were going to do with the King of the Cats.
But a single raven did more against him than the thousand rooks that made so
much noise. This raven was in a hole in the tree. She struck the King of the
Cats on the head with her beak as he went past.
The King of the Cats was annoyed by the uproar the birds were making and he
was angered by the raven's stroke, but he did not want to enter into a battle
with the birds. He was on his way to the house of the Hag of the Wood who was
then known as the Hag of the Ashes. Now as this is the first time you have
heard of the Hag of the Ashes, I'Il have to tell you how the King of the Cats
had heard of her and how he knew where her house was in the wood.
The next day the King's Son put a bridle on the Slight Red Steed and rode
towards the East again. He saw the blue falcon and he followed where it flew.
Over benns, and through glens and across mountains and moors the blue falcon
went and the Slight Red Steed neither swerved nor stumbled but went as the
bird flew. The falcon lighted on a pine tree that grew alone. The King's Son
rode up and put his hands to the tree to climb and put his head against it,
and as he did he heard speech from the tree. "The stroke of the Sword of Light
will slay the King of the Land of Mist and the stroke of the Sword of Light
that will cut a tress of her hair will awaken Fedelma." There was no more
speech from the tree and the falcon rose from its branches and flew high up in
the air. Then the King of Ireland's Son rode back towards his father's Castle.
He went to the meadow and stood with Art and listened to what Art had to tell
him. And as before the King's Steward began--
"To your father's Son in all truth be it told"--
Quick-to-Grab had said to the King of the Cats, "If ever you need the counsel
of a human being, go to no one else but the Hag of the Ashes who was once
called the Hag of the Wood. In the very centre of the wood four ash trees are
drawn together at the tops, wattles are woven round these ash trees, and in
the little house made in this way the Hag of the Ashes lives, with no one near
her since her nine daughters went away, but her goat that's her only friend."
The King of the Cats was now in the centre of the wood. He saw four ash trees
drawn together at the tops and he jumped to them.
Now the Hag of the Ashes had a bad neighbor. This was a crane that had built
her nest across the roof of the little house. The nest prevented the smoke
from coming out at the top and the house below was filled with it. The Hag
could hardly keep alive on account of the smoke and she could neither take
away the nest nor banish the bird.
The crane was there when the King of the Cats sprang on the roof. She was
sitting with her two legs stretched out, and when the King of the Cats came
down beside her she slipped away and sailed over the trees. "Time for me to be
going," said the crane. And from that day to this she never came back to the
house of the Hag of the Ashes.
"Oh, thanks to you, good creature," said the Hag of the Ashes, coming out of
the house. "Tear down her nest now and let the smoke rise up through the
The King of the Cats tore up the sticks and wool that the crane's nest was
made of, and the smoke came up through the top of the house. "Oh, thanks to
you, good creature, that has destroyed the cross crane's nest. Come down on my
floor now and I'll do everything that will serve you."
The King of the Cats jumped down on the floor of the Hag's house and saw the
Hag of the Ashes sitting in a corner, She was a little, little woman in a gray
cloak. All over the floor there were ashes in heaps, for she used to light a
fire in one corner and when it was burnt out light another beside the ashes of
the first. The smoke had never gone through the hole in the roof since the
crane had built her nest on the top of the house. Her face was yellow with the
smoke and her eyes were half closed on account of it.
"Do you know who I am, Hag of the Ashes?" said the King of the Cats when he
stood on the floor.
"You are a cat, honey," said the Hag of the Ashes. "I am the King of the
"The King of the Cats you are indeed. And it was you who let the smoke out of
the top of my little house by destroying the nest the cross crane had built on
"It was I who did that."
"Welcome to you then, King of the Cats. And what service can the Hag of the
Ashes do for you in return?"
"I would go to where the Eagle-Emperor is. You must show me the way."
"By my cloak I will do that. The Eagle-Emperor lives on the top of the Hill of
"And how can I get to the top of the Hill of Horns?"
"I don't know how you can get there at all. All over the Hill is bare
starvation. No four-footed thing can reach the top--no four-footed thing, I
mean, but my goat that's tied to the hawthorn bush outside."
"I will ride on the back of your goat to the top of the Hill of Horns."
"No, no, good King of the Cats. I have only my goat for company and how could
I bear to be parted from him?"
"Lend me your goat, and when I come back from the Hill of Horns I will plate
his horns with gold and shoe his hooves with silver."
"No, no, good King of the Cats. How could I bear my goat to be away from me,
and I having no other company?"
"If you do not let me ride on your goat to the top of the Hill of Horns I will
leave a sign on your house that will bring the cross crane to build her nest
on the top of it again."
"Then take my goat, King of the Cats, take my goat but let him come back to me
"I will. Come with me now and bid him take me to the top of the Hill of
The King of the Cats marched out of the house and the Hag of the Ashes hobbled
after him. The goat was lying under the hawthorn bush. He put his horns to the
ground when they came up to him.
"Will you go to the Hill of Horns?" said the Hag of the Ashes.
"Indeed, that I will not do," said the goat.
"Oh, the soft tops of the hedges on the way to the Hill of Horns--sweet in the
mouth of a goat they should be," said the Hag of the Ashes. "But my own poor
goat wants to stay here and eat the tops of the burnt-up thistles."
"Why didn't you tell me of the hedges on the way to the Hill of Horns before?"
said the goat, rising to his feet. "To the Hill of Horns I'll go."
"And will you let a cat ride on your back to the Hill of Horns?"
"Indeed, I will not do that."
"Then, my poor goat, I'll not untie the rope that's round your neck, for you
can't go to the Hill of Horns without this cat riding on your back."
"Let him sit on my back then and hold my horns, and I'll take no notice of
The Hag of the Ashes untied the rope that was round his neck, the King of the
Cats jumped up on the goat's back, and they started off on the path through
the wood. "Oh, how I'lI miss my goat, until he comes back to me with gold on
his horns and silver on his hooves," the Hag of the Ashes cried after them.
The King of Ireland's Son did not leave the Castle the next day, but stayed to
question those who came to it about the Sword of Light. And some had heard of
the Sword of Light and some had not heard of it. In the afternoon he was in
the chambers of the Castle and he watched his two foster-brothers, Dermott and
Downal, the sons of Caintigern, the Queen, playing chess. They played the game
upon his board and with his figures. And when he went up to them and told them
they had permission to use the board and the figures, they said, "We had
forgotten that you owned these things." The King's Son saw that everything in
the Castle was coming into the possession of his foster-brothers.
He found another board with other chess-men and he played a game with the
King's Steward. And Art said, "The coming of the King of the Cats into King
Connal's Dominion is a story still to be told.
"To your father's Son in all truth be it told "--
What should a goat do but ramble down laneways, wander across fields, stray
along hedges and stay to rest under shady trees? All this the Hag's goat did.
But at last he brought the King of the Cats to the foot of the Hill of Horns.
And what was the Hill of Horns like, asks my kind foster-child. It was hills
of stones on the top of a hill of stones. Only a goat could foot it from
pebble to stone, from stone to boulder, from boulder Ko crag, and from crag to
mountain-shoulder. It was well and not ill what the Hag's goat did. But then
thunder sounded; lightning struck fire out of the stones, the wind mixed
itself with the rain and the tempest pelted cat and goat. The goat stood on a
mountain-shoulder. The wind rushed up from the bottom and carried the
companions to the top of the Hill of Horns. Down sprang the cat. But the goat
stood on his hind-legs to butt back at the wind. The wind caught him between
the beard and the under-quarters and swept him from the top and down the other
side of the hill (and what happened to the Hag's goat after this I never
heard). The King of the Cats put his claws into the crevices of a standing
stone and held to it with great tenacity. And then, when the wind abated and
he looked across his shoulder, he found that he was standing beside the nest
of the Eagle-Emperor.
It was a hollow edged with rocks, and round that hollow were scattered the
horns of the deer and goats that the Eagle-Emperor had carried off. And in the
hollow there was a calf and a hare and a salmon. The King of the Cats sprang
into the Eagle-Emperor's nest. First he ate the salmon. Then he stretched
himself between the hare and the calf and waited for the Eagle-Emperor.
At last he appeared. Down he came to the nest making circles in the air. He
lighted on the rocky rim. The King of the Cats rose with body bent for the
spring, and if the Eagle-Emperor was not astonished at his appearance it was
because an Eagle can never be astonished.
A brave man would be glad if he could have seen the Eagle-Emperor as he
crouched there on the rock rim of his nest. He spread down his wings till they
were great strong shields. He bent down his outspread tail. He bent down his
neck so that his eyes might look into the creature that faced him. And his
cruel, curved, heavy beak was ready for the stroke.
But the King of the Cats sprang into the air. The Eagle lifted himself up but
the Cat came down on his broad back. The Eagle-Emperor screamed his war-scream
and flew off the hill. He struck at the King of the Cats with the backs of his
broad wings. Then he plunged down. On the stones below he would tear his enemy
with beak and claws.
It was the Cat that reached the ground. As the Eagle went to strike at him he
sprang again and tore the Eagle's breast. Then the Eagle-Emperor caught the
King of the Cats in his claws and flew up again, screaming his battle-scream.
Drops of blood from both fell on the ground. The Eagle had not a conqueror's
grip on his enemy and the King of the Cats was able to tear at him.
It happened that Curoi, King of the Munster Fairies, was marching at the head
of his troop to play a game of hurling with the Fianna of Ireland, captained
by Fergus, and for the hand of Aine', the daughter of Mananaun, the Lord of
the Sea. Just when the ball was about to be thrown in the air the Eagle-
Emperor and the King of the Cats were seen mixed together in their struggle.
One troop took the side of the Eagle and the other took the side of the Cat.
The men of the country came up and took sides too. Then the men began to fight
amongst themselves and some were left dead on the ground. And this went on
until there were hosts of the men of Ireland fighting each other on account of
the Eagle-Emperor and the King of the Cats. The King of the Fairies and the
Chief of the Fianna marched their men away to a hill top where they might
watch the battle in the air and the battles on the ground. "If this should go
on," said Curoi, "our troops will join in and men and Fairies will be
slaughtered. We must end the combat in the air." Saying this he took up the
hurling-ball and flung it at the Cat and Eagle. Both came down on the ground.
The Cat was about to spring, the Eagle was about to pounce, when Curoi darted
between them and struck both with his spear. Eagle and Cat became figures of
stone. And there they are now, a Stone Eagle with his wings outspread and a
Stone Cat with his teeth bared and his paws raised. And the Eagle-Emperor and
the King of the Cats will remain like that until Curoi strikes them again with
When the Cat and the Eagle were turned into stone the men of the country
wondered for a while and then they went away. And the Fairies of Munster and
the Fianna of Ireland played the hurling match for the hand of Aine' the
daughter of Mananaun who is Lord of the Sea, and what the result of that
hurling match was is told in another book.
And that ends my history of the coming into Ire-land of the King of the Cats.
The King of Ireland's Son left Art and went into an unused room in the Castle
to search for a little bell that he might put upon the Slight Red Steed. He
found the little bell, but it fell out of his hand and slipped through a crack
in the floor. He went and looked through the crack. He saw below a room and in
it was Caintigern, the Queen, and beside her were two women in the cloaks of
enchantresses. And when he looked again he knew the two of them--they were
Aefa and Gilveen, the daughters of the enchanter of the Black Back-Lands and
Fedelma's sisters. "And will my two sons come to rule over their father's
dominion?" he heard Caintigern ask.
"The Prince who gains the Sword of Light will rule over his father's
dominion," Aefa said.
"Then one of my sons must get the Sword of Light," Caintigern said. "Tell me
where they must go to get knowledge of where it is."
"Only the Gobaun Saor knows where the Sword of Light is," said Aefa.
"The Gobaun Saor! Can he be seen by men?" said Caintigern.
"He can be seen," said Aefa. "And there is one--the Little Sage of the
Mountain--who can tell what road to go to find the Gobaun Saor."
"Then," said Caintigern, "my two sons, Dermott and Downal, will ride out to-
morrow to find the Little Sage of the Mountain, and the Gobaun Saor, so that
one of them may find the Sword of Light and come to rule over his father's
When the King of Ireland's Son heard that, he went to the stable where the
Slight Red Steed was, and put the bridle upon him and rode towards the Hill of
Horns, on one side of which was the house thatched with the one great wing of
a bird, where the Little Sage of the Mountain lived.
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"
Back to Full Books