IRISH FAIRY TALES
M. H. Gill & Son, Ltd., Dublin.
CONTENTS PAGE PREFACE, vii NOTE, xi Princess Finola and the Dwarf, 1 The House in the Lake, 19 The Little White Cat, 41 The Golden Spears, 63 The Fairy Tree of Dooros, 82 The Enchanted Cave, 101 The Huntsman's Son, 124 Notes, 145
The author of the tales contained in this volume was one of the brightest and most poetic spirits who have appeared in Ireland in the last half century. It is needless to say that he was also one of the most patriotic Irishmen of his generation—patriotic in the highest and widest sense of that term, loving with an ardent love his country, its people, its historic traditions, its hills and plains, its lakes and streams, its raths and mounds. Like all men of his type, he lived largely in the past, and his fancy revelled much in fairy scenes of childhood and youth.
The distractions of political life, into which he entered with characteristic enthusiasm, prevented Edmund Leamy from cultivating his favourite field of literature with that assiduity and sustained application necessary for the purpose of bringing out the really great intellectual powers with which he was endowed; otherwise, he would certainly have left to Ireland a large body of literature which would have been the delight of old and young. But in this volume he has given at least an indication of what he was capable of doing towards that end. No one can read these pages without feeling the charm of a fine and delicate fancy, a rare power of poetic expression, and a genuinely Irish instinct; without feeling also an intense regret that the mind and heart from which they proceeded were stilled in death long before the powers of his genius could have been exhausted.
To myself, as one of the most intimate friends of Edmund Leamy, it is a melancholy pleasure to have the privilege of writing these few words of introduction to a volume which, for the purpose of preserving his memory amongst his countrymen, needs no introduction at all. The claims of a long friendship, the knowledge of as stainless a life as has ever been lived, and admiration for moral and intellectual endowments of the rarest character, render it easy to praise. But I do not think that I indulge in undue expectation in predicting that the new audience to which this volume will come will rise from its perusal with something of the feelings of love, admiration, and regret which those who knew Edmund Leamy personally will ever cherish in their hearts.
J. E. REDMOND.
DUBLIN, June 2nd, 1906.
When the friends of the late Edmund Leamy were considering ways of honouring his memory they agreed that one way should be to republish this little book of Irish fairy tales. They knew that nothing would have been more grateful to himself, and that, in a manner, it would be an act of justice to his remarkable gifts. It would introduce a characteristic specimen of Leamy's work to a race of readers who have appeared since it was written and who ought to be in a mood more appreciative of such literature than the mood which prevailed in that day. For the book has long been out of print. These "Irish Fairy Tales" were written, and printed on Irish paper, and published through an Irish publisher—Leamy would not bring out a book in any other way—before the Celtic renaissance had arrived. This is one of the facts which make them interesting. Perhaps, as some would tell us, seventeen years ago was a benighted time; at any rate we must admit it was rather dark from an Irish literary, or even "Irish Ireland," point of view. It was before the Gaelic movement, and before we had such things as "intellectuals" and the "economic man," or even the Irish Literary Theatre. Leamy's gentle and loyal soul could have taken no influence from the asperity of some of the intervening ferment, "Parliamentarian" though he was. Had the impulse to write this volume come to him in this later period he would only have drawn from the time the nourishment which the atmosphere of sympathy always brings to the artist. But the impulse came to him before this period, in an atmosphere which held little that could nourish the sentiment so abundant among us to-day. O'Curry's and Dr. Joyce's books were almost the only sources of Gaelic inspiration open to a writer who was not a professed student. Douglas Hyde, though always at work, had not yet brought the fruits of his researches to light; Miss Eleanor Hull had not collected into a handy volume the materials of "The Cuchullin Saga"; Kuno Meyer we did not know; Standish O'Grady, though he had published his "Heroic Period," had not yet begun popularising the bardic tales in such volumes as "Finn and his Companions." No one was reading anything about Ireland but political matter. I think one may fairly claim some respect from this later day for a writer who seventeen years ago, of his own motion, with scarce a word of encouragement save from his wife and a friend or two—perhaps only one friend—turned to our Gaelic past and strove to give to Irish children something which would implant in them a love for the beauty and dignity of their country's traditions.
The modest author would never have claimed for these little tales the interest which I think they deserve. He wrote them for children, for he loved children, and one can detect the presence of the child listener at nearly every line. He was not thinking of a literary audience; the child at his knee was enough. This is why we hear (occasionally) a certain naive accent which will not, perhaps, please the contemporary critic; but (as there are many who again find pleasure in early Victorian furniture) it may please others; I confess it pleases me. And the absence of literary self-consciousness is itself pleasant; indeed, much of the charm of these stories is the charm of their unpremeditated art. But, though he did not write for the critics, Leamy was in spite of himself a man of letters. He was so genuinely an artist that he could not do the thing ill. Any one of these stories will prove his capacity: the first, for instance, about that princess on the "bare, brown, lonely moor" who was "as sweet and as fresh as an opening rosebud, and her voice was as musical as the whisper of a stream in the woods in the hot days of summer." There is not a flaw in it. It is so filled with simple beauty and tenderness, and there is so much of the genuine word-magic in its language, that one is carried away as by the spell of natural oratory. It has, too, that intimate sympathy with nature which is another racial note in these stories. The enchanted moor, with its silence, where no sound is heard—the wind which shouted beyond the mountains, "when it sped across the moor it lost its voice, and passed as silently as the dead"—is affected by the fortune of the tale equally with its human and its elfin personages. When the knight arrives at last, "wherever his horse's hoofs struck the ground, grass and flowers sprang up, and great trees with leafy branches rose on every side.... As they rode on beneath the leafy trees from every tree the birds sang out, for the spell of silence over the lonely moor was broken for ever." This unpretentious story, a child's story, is as engaging as a gem. And so, I think, are most of the others. One more example to illustrate the quality of Leamy's style—say, the description of the contest of the bards before the High King at the Feis of Tara in the story called "The Huntsman's Son." The King gives the signal, the chief bard of Erin ascends the mound in front of the royal enclosure, and is greeted with a roar of cheers; but at the first note of his harp there is silence like that of night.
"As he moved his fingers softly over the strings every heart was hushed, filled with a sense of balmy rest. The lark, soaring and singing above his head, paused mute and motionless in the still air, and no sound was heard over the spacious plain save the dreamy music. Then the bard struck another key, and a gentle sorrow possessed the hearts of his hearers, and unbidden tears gathered to their eyes. Then, with bolder hand, he swept his fingers across his lyre, and all hearts were moved to joy and pleasant laughter, and eyes that had been dimmed by tears sparkled as brightly as running waters dancing in the sun. When the last notes had died away a cheer arose, loud as the voice of the storm in the glen when the live thunder is revelling on the mountain tops."
As soon as the bard descends the mound the Skald from the northern lands takes his place, amid shouts of welcome.
"He touched his harp, and in the perfect silence was heard the strains of the mermaid's song, and through it the pleasant ripple of summer waters on the pebbly beach. Then the theme was changed, and on the air was borne the measured sweep of countless oars and the swish of waters around the prows of contending galleys, and the breezy voices of the sailors and the sea-bird's cry. Then his theme was changed to the mirth and laughter of the banquet hall, the clang of meeting drinking-horns and songs of battle. When the last strain ended, from the mighty host a great shout went up loud as the roar of winter billows breaking in the hollows of the shore."
Then comes the hero of the tale, Fergus, the huntsman's son.
"He touched his harp with gentle fingers, and a sound, low and soft as a faint summer breeze passing through forest trees, stole out, and then was heard the rustle of birds through the branches, and the dreamy murmur of waters lost in deepest woods, and all the fairy echoes whispering when the leaves are motionless in the noonday heat; then followed notes, cool and soft as the drip of summer showers on the parched grass, and then the song of the blackbird sounding as clearly as it sounds in long silent spaces of the evening, and then in one sweet jocund burst the multitudinous voices that hail the breaking of the morn. And the lark, singing and soaring above the minstrel, sank mute and motionless upon his shoulder, and from all the leafy woods the birds came thronging out and formed a fluttering canopy above his head.
"When the bard ceased playing no shout arose from the mighty multitude, for the strains of his harp, long after its chords were stilled, held their hearts spell-bound."
This passage reveals the poetry of the author's style, and it shows how charged it is with qualities that are peculiar to the Celtic temperament: a style in which expressions like "the song of the blackbird sounding as clearly as it sounds in long silent spaces of the evening," or "she answered his salute by a wave of her little hand, that was as white as a wild rose in the hedges in June," spring up naturally, like daisies in the grass, at every turn. I have said enough, too, to indicate the type of Celtic temperament to which Leamy's belonged. His habitual mood was the exquisitely sensitive, the tender, playful, reverent mood. He was, in this, the antithesis of the "cloudy and lightning" Standish O'Grady, whose temperament, equally Gaelic, is that of the fighting bard, delighting in battle, fierce, fuliginous, aristocratic, pagan, with the roll of Homeric hexameters in his martial style. If O'Grady recalls the Oisin who contended with Patrick and longed to be slaying with the Fianna, even though they were in hell, Leamy, anima naturaliter Christiana, reminds one rather of the Irish monk in a distant land moved to write lyrics in his missal by the song of the bird that makes him think of Erin, or Marban, the hermit, rejoicing to his brother, the king, in his "sheiling in the wood," his
"Tree of apples like a hostel vast, ... The music of the bright red-breasted men, ... Swarms of bees and chafers, the little musicians of the world, A gentle chorus."
It may not be amiss, in concluding this note, to add a word about the author other than as he appears in this book. These stories exhibit only one aspect of his gifts. They happen to be one of the things he wrote down. Most of the coinage of his mind, and I think the best of it, came forth in a form which does not permit of its being recalled, the form of the spoken and unrecorded word. He was by nature an improvisor. In the inclusive sense of the term, the sense which includes poetry, story-telling, description as well as pleading and exhortation, he was a born orator; and he was at his best when in the glow of pure improvisation. It thus happened that it was often a group of friends around a fireside, or a casual audience, who were the witnesses of the most brilliant play of his genius. He had a most observant and seeing eye. A walk in the street was fraught with surprise, and he would come back delighted with his adventures. Every little common incident—three little boys with their backs to a wall looking up at a church tower: he would catch snatches of their talk, speculations about deep things and strange; he would note that an old Irish apple-woman in a grimy English town left her basket, with all her stock-in-trade, outside in the street while she went into a church to commune with her heavenly friends; the conversation between a sapient publican, a friendly constable and a group of dubious bona fide travellers—such things were materials for his insight or his fancy or his delightful humour. Often when he returned in the evening full of his day's observations one wished there had been a shorthand-writer present to take down what fell from his lips. And just as it fell it would have been literature. He was urged to write these things. But Leamy had not readily the will or the power to compel his spirit when the favoured moment had passed. He was mostly passive, like an AEolian harp, under the visitation. Ill-health, too, extreme and distressing, burdened him. He bore his trials cheerfully, and strove manfully to write, especially in his later days when the power and the will seemed to come to him just as illness tightened its hold. But he was sustained by the most precious of blessings—a wife with a brave and bright soul, who appreciated him, and had a heart as romantic as his own. Their love, indeed, was an idyll, untouched by a shadow, through illness and pain and hardship, to the hour of his death.
One ventures to wish that this little book may make his kindly Irish spirit friends among a wider circle, and especially amongst the children.
T. P. G.
PRINCESS FINOLA AND THE DWARF.
A long, long time ago there lived in a little hut in the midst of a bare, brown, lonely moor an old woman and a young girl. The old woman was withered, sour-tempered, and dumb. The young girl was as sweet and as fresh as an opening rosebud, and her voice was as musical as the whisper of a stream in the woods in the hot days of summer. The little hut, made of branches woven closely together, was shaped like a beehive. In the centre of the hut a fire burned night and day from year's end to year's end, though it was never touched or tended by human hand. In the cold days and nights of winter it gave out light and heat that made the hut cosy and warm, but in the summer nights and days it gave out light only. With their heads to the wall of the hut and their feet towards the fire were two sleeping-couches—one of plain woodwork, in which slept the old woman; the other was Finola's. It was of bog-oak, polished as a looking-glass, and on it were carved flowers and birds of all kinds, that gleamed and shone in the light of the fire. This couch was fit for a princess, and a princess Finola was, though she did not know it herself.
Outside the hut the bare, brown, lonely moor stretched for miles on every side, but towards the east it was bounded by a range of mountains that looked to Finola blue in the daytime, but which put on a hundred changing colours as the sun went down. Nowhere was a house to be seen, nor a tree, nor a flower, nor sign of any living thing. From morning till night, nor hum of bee, nor song of bird, nor voice of man, nor any sound fell on Finola's ear. When the storm was in the air the great waves thundered on the shore beyond the mountains, and the wind shouted in the glens; but when it sped across the moor it lost its voice, and passed as silently as the dead. At first the silence frightened Finola, but she got used to it after a time, and often broke it by talking to herself and singing.
The only other person beside the old woman Finola ever saw was a dumb dwarf who, mounted on a broken-down horse, came once a month to the hut, bringing with him a sack of corn for the old woman and Finola. Although he couldn't speak to her, Finola was always glad to see the dwarf and his old horse, and she used to give them cake made with her own white hands. As for the dwarf he would have died for the little princess, he was so much in love with her, and often and often his heart was heavy and sad as he thought of her pining away in the lonely moor.
It chanced that he came one day, and she did not, as usual, come out to greet him. He made signs to the old woman, but she took up a stick and struck him, and beat his horse and drove him away; but as he was leaving he caught a glimpse of Finola at the door of the hut, and saw that she was crying. This sight made him so very miserable that he could think of nothing else but her sad face that he had always seen so bright, and he allowed the old horse to go on without minding where he was going. Suddenly he heard a voice saying: "It is time for you to come."
The dwarf looked, and right before him, at the foot of a green hill, was a little man not half as big as himself, dressed in a green jacket with brass buttons, and a red cap and tassel.
"It is time for you to come," he said the second time; "but you are welcome, anyhow. Get off your horse and come in with me, that I may touch your lips with the wand of speech, that we may have a talk together."
The dwarf got off his horse and followed the little man through a hole in the side of a green hill. The hole was so small that he had to go on his hands and knees to pass through it, and when he was able to stand he was only the same height as the little fairyman. After walking three or four steps they were in a splendid room, as bright as day. Diamonds sparkled in the roof as stars sparkle in the sky when the night is without a cloud. The roof rested on golden pillars, and between the pillars were silver lamps, but their light was dimmed by that of the diamonds. In the middle of the room was a table, on which were two golden plates and two silver knives and forks, and a brass bell as big as a hazelnut, and beside the table were two little chairs covered with blue silk and satin.
"Take a chair," said the fairy, "and I will ring for the wand of speech."
The dwarf sat down, and the fairyman rang the little brass bell, and in came a little weeny dwarf no bigger than your hand.
"Bring me the wand of speech," said the fairy, and the weeny dwarf bowed three times and walked out backwards, and in a minute he returned, carrying a little black wand with a red berry at the top of it, and, giving it to the fairy, he bowed three times and walked out backwards as he had done before.
The little man waved the rod three times over the dwarf, and struck him once on the right shoulder and once on the left shoulder, and then touched his lips with the red berry, and said: "Speak!"
The dwarf spoke, and he was so rejoiced at hearing the sound of his own voice that he danced about the room.
"Who are you at all, at all?" said he to the fairy.
"Who is yourself?" said the fairy. "But come, before we have any talk let us have something to eat, for I am sure you are hungry."
Then they sat down to table, and the fairy rang the little brass bell twice, and the weeny dwarf brought in two boiled snails in their shells, and when they had eaten the snails he brought in a dormouse, and when they had eaten the dormouse he brought in two wrens, and when they had eaten the wrens he brought in two nuts full of wine, and they became very merry, and the fairyman sang "Cooleen dhas," and the dwarf sang "The little blackbird of the glen."
"Did you ever hear the 'Foggy Dew?'" said the fairy.
"No," said the dwarf.
"Well, then, I'll give it to you; but we must have some more wine."
And the wine was brought, and he sang the "Foggy Dew," and the dwarf said it was the sweetest song he had ever heard, and that the fairyman's voice would coax the birds off the bushes.
"You asked me who I am?" said the fairy.
"I did," said the dwarf.
"And I asked you who is yourself?"
"You did," said the dwarf.
"And who are you, then?"
"Well, to tell the truth, I don't know," said the dwarf, and he blushed like a rose.
"Well, tell me what you know about yourself."
"I remember nothing at all," said the dwarf, "before the day I found myself going along with a crowd of all sorts of people to the great fair of the Liffey. We had to pass by the king's palace on our way, and as we were passing the king sent for a band of jugglers to come and show their tricks before him. I followed the jugglers to look on, and when the play was over the king called me to him, and asked me who I was and where I came from. I was dumb then, and couldn't answer; but even if I could speak I could not tell him what he wanted to know, for I remember nothing of myself before that day. Then the king asked the jugglers, but they knew nothing about me, and no one knew anything, and then the king said he would take me into his service; and the only work I have to do is to go once a month with a bag of corn to the hut in the lonely moor."
"And there you fell in love with the little princess," said the fairy, winking at the dwarf.
The poor dwarf blushed twice as much as he had done before.
"You need not blush," said the fairy; "it is a good man's case. And now tell me, truly, do you love the princess, and what would you give to free her from the spell of enchantment that is over her?"
"I would give my life," said the dwarf.
"Well, then, listen to me," said the fairy. "The Princess Finola was banished to the lonely moor by the king, your master. He killed her father, who was the rightful king, and would have killed Finola, only he was told by an old sorceress that if he killed her he would die himself on the same day, and she advised him to banish her to the lonely moor, and she said she would fling a spell of enchantment over it, and that until the spell was broken Finola could not leave the moor. And the sorceress also promised that she would send an old woman to watch over the princess by night and by day, so that no harm should come to her; but she told the king that he himself should select a messenger to take food to the hut, and that he should look out for some one who had never seen or heard of the princess, and whom he could trust never to tell anyone anything about her; and that is the reason he selected you."
"Since you know so much," said the dwarf, "can you tell me who I am, and where I came from?"
"You will know that time enough," said the fairy. "I have given you back your speech. It will depend solely on yourself whether you will get back your memory of who and what you were before the day you entered the king's service. But are you really willing to try and break the spell of enchantment and free the princess?"
"I am," said the dwarf.
"Whatever it will cost you?"
"Yes, if it cost me my life," said the dwarf; "but tell me, how can the spell be broken?"
"Oh, it is easy enough to break the spell if you have the weapons," said the fairy.
"And what are they, and where are they?" said the dwarf.
"The spear of the shining haft and the dark blue blade and the silver shield," said the fairy. "They are on the farther bank of the Mystic Lake in the Island of the Western Seas. They are there for the man who is bold enough to seek them. If you are the man who will bring them back to the lonely moor you will only have to strike the shield three times with the haft, and three times with the blade of the spear, and the silence of the moor will be broken for ever, the spell of enchantment will be removed, and the princess will be free."
"I will set out at once," said the dwarf, jumping from his chair.
"And whatever it cost you," said the fairy, "will you pay the price?"
"I will," said the dwarf.
"Well, then, mount your horse, give him his head, and he will take you to the shore opposite the Island of the Mystic Lake. You must cross to the island on his back, and make your way through the water-steeds that swim around the island night and day to guard it; but woe betide you if you attempt to cross without paying the price, for if you do the angry water-steeds will rend you and your horse to pieces. And when you come to the Mystic Lake you must wait until the waters are as red as wine, and then swim your horse across it, and on the farther side you will find the spear and shield; but woe betide you if you attempt to cross the lake before you pay the price, for if you do, the black Cormorants of the Western Seas will pick the flesh from your bones."
"What is the price?" said the dwarf.
"You will know that time enough," said the fairy; "but now go, and good luck go with you."
The dwarf thanked the fairy, and said good-bye! He then threw the reins on his horse's neck, and started up the hill, that seemed to grow bigger and bigger as he ascended, and the dwarf soon found that what he took for a hill was a great mountain. After travelling all the day, toiling up by steep crags and heathery passes, he reached the top as the sun was setting in the ocean, and he saw far below him out in the waters the island of the Mystic Lake.
He began his descent to the shore, but long before he reached it the sun had set, and darkness, unpierced by a single star, dropped upon the sea. The old horse, worn out by his long and painful journey, sank beneath him, and the dwarf was so tired that he rolled off his back and fell asleep by his side.
He awoke at the breaking of the morning, and saw that he was almost at the water's edge. He looked out to sea, and saw the island, but nowhere could he see the water-steeds, and he began to fear he must have taken a wrong course in the night, and that the island before him was not the one he was in search of. But even while he was so thinking he heard fierce and angry snortings, and, coming swiftly from the island to the shore, he saw the swimming and prancing steeds. Sometimes their heads and manes only were visible, and sometimes, rearing, they rose half out of the water, and, striking it with their hoofs, churned it into foam, and tossed the white spray to the skies. As they approached nearer and nearer their snortings became more terrible, and their nostrils shot forth clouds of vapour. The dwarf trembled at the sight and sound, and his old horse, quivering in every limb, moaned piteously, as if in pain. On came the steeds, until they almost touched the shore, then rearing, they seemed about to spring on to it. The frightened dwarf turned his head to fly, and as he did so he heard the twang of a golden harp, and right before him who should he see but the little man of the hills, holding a harp in one hand and striking the strings with the other.
"Are you ready to pay the price?" said he, nodding gaily to the dwarf.
As he asked the question, the listening water-steeds snorted more furiously than ever.
"Are you ready to pay the price?" said the little man a second time.
A shower of spray, tossed on shore by the angry steeds, drenched the dwarf to the skin, and sent a cold shiver to his bones, and he was so terrified that he could not answer.
"For the third and last time, are you ready to pay the price?" asked the fairy, as he flung the harp behind him and turned to depart.
When the dwarf saw him going he thought of the little princess in the lonely moor, and his courage came back, and he answered bravely:
"Yes, I am ready."
The water-steeds, hearing his answer, and snorting with rage, struck the shore with their pounding hoofs.
"Back to your waves!" cried the little harper; and as he ran his fingers across his lyre, the frightened steeds drew back into the waters.
"What is the price?" asked the dwarf.
"Your right eye," said the fairy; and before the dwarf could say a word, the fairy scooped out the eye with his finger, and put it into his pocket.
The dwarf suffered most terrible agony; but he resolved to bear it for the sake of the little princess. Then the fairy sat down on a rock at the edge of the sea, and, after striking a few notes, he began to play the "Strains of Slumber."
The sound crept along the waters, and the steeds, so ferocious a moment before, became perfectly still. They had no longer any motion of their own, and they floated on the top of the tide like foam before a breeze.
"Now," said the fairy, as he led the dwarf's horse to the edge of the tide.
The dwarf urged the horse into the water, and once out of his depth, the old horse struck out boldly for the island. The sleeping water-steeds drifted helplessly against him, and in a short time he reached the island safely, and he neighed joyously as his hoofs touched solid ground.
The dwarf rode on and on, until he came to a bridle-path, and following this, it led him up through winding lanes, bordered with golden furze that filled the air with fragrance, and brought him to the summit of the green hills that girdled and looked down on the Mystic Lake. Here the horse stopped of his own accord, and the dwarf's heart beat quickly as his eye rested on the lake, that, clipped round by the ring of hills, seemed in the breezeless and sunlit air—
"As still as death, And as bright as life can be."
After gazing at it for a long time, he dismounted, and lay at his ease in the pleasant grass. Hour after hour passed, but no change came over the face of the waters, and when the night fell sleep closed the eyelids of the dwarf.
The song of the lark awoke him in the early morning, and, starting up, he looked at the lake, but its waters were as bright as they had been the day before.
Towards midday he beheld what he thought was a black cloud sailing across the sky from east to west. It seemed to grow larger as it came nearer and nearer, and when it was high above the lake he saw it was a huge bird, the shadow of whose outstretched wings darkened the waters of the lake; and the dwarf knew it was one of the Cormorants of the Western Seas. As it descended slowly, he saw that it held in one of its claws a branch of a tree larger than a full-grown oak, and laden with clusters of ripe red berries. It alighted at some distance from the dwarf, and, after resting for a time, it began to eat the berries and to throw the stones into the lake, and wherever a stone fell a bright red stain appeared in the water. As he looked more closely at the bird the dwarf saw that it had all the signs of old age, and he could not help wondering how it was able to carry such a heavy tree.
Later in the day, two other birds, as large as the first, but younger, came up from the west and settled down beside him. They also ate the berries, and throwing the stones into the lake it was soon as red as wine.
When they had eaten all the berries, the young birds began to pick the decayed feathers off the old bird and to smooth his plumage. As soon as they had completed their task, he rose slowly from the hill and sailed out over the lake, and dropping down on the waters, dived beneath them. In a moment he came to the surface, and shot up into the air with a joyous cry, and flew off to the west in all the vigour of renewed youth, followed by the other birds.
When they had gone so far that they were like specks in the sky, the dwarf mounted his horse and descended towards the lake.
He was almost at the margin, and in another minute would have plunged in, when he heard a fierce screaming in the air, and before he had time to look up, the three birds were hovering over the lake.
The dwarf drew back frightened.
The birds wheeled over his head, and then, swooping down, they flew close to the water, covering it with their wings, and uttering harsh cries.
Then, rising to a great height, they folded their wings and dropped headlong, like three rocks, on the lake, crashing its surface, and scattering a wine-red shower upon the hills.
Then the dwarf remembered what the fairy told him, that if he attempted to swim the lake, without paying the price, the three Cormorants of the Western Seas would pick the flesh off his bones. He knew not what to do, and was about to turn away, when he heard once more the twang of the golden harp, and the little fairy of the hills stood before him.
"Faint heart never won fair lady," said the little harper. "Are you ready to pay the price? The spear and shield are on the opposite bank, and the Princess Finola is crying this moment in the lonely moor."
At the mention of Finola's name the dwarf's heart grew strong.
"Yes," he said; "I am ready—win or die. What is the price?"
"Your left eye," said the fairy. And as soon as said he scooped out the eye, and put it in his pocket.
The poor blind dwarf almost fainted with pain.
"It's your last trial," said the fairy, "and now do what I tell you. Twist your horse's mane round your right hand, and I will lead him to the water. Plunge in, and fear not. I gave you back your speech. When you reach the opposite bank you will get back your memory, and you will know who and what you are."
Then the fairy led the horse to the margin of the lake.
"In with you now, and good luck go with you," said the fairy.
The dwarf urged the horse. He plunged into the lake, and went down and down until his feet struck the bottom. Then he began to ascend, and as he came near the surface of the water the dwarf thought he saw a glimmering light, and when he rose above the water he saw the bright sun shining and the green hills before him, and he shouted with joy at finding his sight restored.
But he saw more. Instead of the old horse he had ridden into the lake he was bestride a noble steed, and as the steed swam to the bank the dwarf felt a change coming over himself, and an unknown vigour in his limbs.
When the steed touched the shore he galloped up the hillside, and on the top of the hill was a silver shield, bright as the sun, resting against a spear standing upright in the ground.
The dwarf jumped off, and, running towards the shield, he saw himself as in a looking-glass.
He was no longer a dwarf, but a gallant knight. At that moment his memory came back to him, and he knew he was Conal, one of the Knights of the Red Branch, and he remembered now that the spell of dumbness and deformity had been cast upon him by the Witch of the Palace of the Quicken Trees.
Slinging his shield upon his left arm, he plucked the spear from the ground and leaped on to his horse. With a light heart he swam back over the lake, and nowhere could he see the black Cormorants of the Western Seas, but three white swans floating abreast followed him to the bank. When he reached the bank he galloped down to the sea, and crossed to the shore.
Then he flung the reins upon his horse's neck, and swifter than the wind the gallant horse swept on and on, and it was not long until he was bounding over the enchanted moor. Wherever his hoofs struck the ground, grass and flowers sprang up, and great trees with leafy branches rose on every side.
At last the knight reached the little hut. Three times he struck the shield with the haft and three times with the blade of his spear. At the last blow the hut disappeared, and standing before him was the little princess.
The knight took her in his arms and kissed her; then he lifted her on to the horse, and, leaping up before her, he turned towards the north, to the palace of the Red Branch Knights, and as they rode on beneath the leafy trees from every tree the birds sang out, for the spell of silence over the lonely moor was broken for ever.
THE HOUSE IN THE LAKE.
A long, long time ago there lived in a little hut, in the midst of one of the inland lakes of Erin, an old fisherman and his son. The hut was built on stakes driven into the bed of the lake, and was so high above the waters that even when they were stirred into waves by the wind coming down from the mountains they did not reach the threshold of the door. Around, outside the hut, on a level with the floor, was a little wicker-work platform, and under the platform, close to the steps leading up to it from the water, the fisherman's curragh, made of willows, covered with skins, was moored, and it was only by means of the curragh that he and his son, Enda, could leave their lake dwelling.
On many a summer evening Enda lay stretched on the platform, watching the sunset fading from the mountain-tops, and the twilight creeping over the waters of the lake, and it chanced that once when he was so engaged he heard a rustle in a clump of sedge that grew close to one side of the hut. He turned to where the sound came from, and what should he see but an otter swimming towards him, with a little trout in his mouth. When the otter came up to where Enda was lying, he lifted his head and half his body from the water, and flung the trout on the platform, almost at Enda's feet, and then disappeared.
Enda took the little panting trout in his hand; but as he did so he heard, quite close to him, in the lake, a sound like that of water plashing upon water, and he saw the widening circles caused by a trout which had just risen to a fly; and he said to the little trout he held in his hand:
"I won't keep you, poor thing! Perhaps that was a little comrade come to look for you, and so I'll send you back to him."
And saying this, he dropped the little trout into the lake.
Well, when the next evening came, again Enda was lying stretched outside the hut, and once more he heard the rustle in the sedge, and once more the otter came and flung the little trout almost into his hands.
Enda, more surprised than ever, did not know what to do. He saw that it was the same little trout the otter had brought him the night before, and he said:
"Well, I gave you a chance last night. I'll give you another, if only to see what will come of it."
And he dropped the trout into the lake; but no sooner had it touched the waters than it was changed into a beautiful, milk-white swan. And Enda could hardly believe his eyes, as he saw it sailing across the lake, until it was lost in the sedges growing by the shore.
All that night he lay awake, thinking of what he had seen, and as soon as the morning stood on the hill-tops, and cast its shafts of golden light across the lake, Enda rose and got into his curragh.
He rowed all round the shores, beating the sedges with his oar, in pursuit of the swan; but all in vain; he could not catch a glimpse of her white plumage anywhere. Day after day he rowed about the lake in search of her, and every evening he lay outside the hut watching the waters. At long last, one night, when the full moon, rising above the mountains, flooded the whole lake with light, he saw the swan coming swiftly towards him, shining brighter than the moonbeams. The swan came on until it was almost within a boat's length of the hut; and what should Enda hear but the swan speaking to him in his own language:
"Get into your curragh, Enda, and follow me," said she, and, saying this, she turned round and sailed away.
Enda jumped into the curragh, and soon the water, dripping from his oar, was flashing like diamonds in the moonlight. And he rowed after the swan, who glided on before him, until she came to where the shadows of the mountains lay deepest on the lake. Then the swan rested, and when Enda came up to her:
"Enda," said she, "I have brought you where none may hear what I wish to say to you. I am Mave, the daughter of the king of Erin. By the magic arts of my cruel stepmother I was changed into a trout, and cast into this lake a year and a day before the evening when you restored me to the waters the second time. If you had not done so the first night the otter brought me to you I should have been changed into a hooting owl; if you had not done so the second night, I should have been changed into a croaking raven. But, thanks to you, Enda, I am now a snow-white swan, and for one hour on the first night of every full moon the power of speech is and will be given to me as long as I remain a swan. And a swan I must always remain, unless you are willing to break the spell of enchantment that is over me; and you alone can break it."
"I'll do anything I can for you. O princess!" said Enda. "But how can I break the spell?"
"You can do so," said the swan, "only by pouring upon my plumage the perfumed water that fills the golden bowl that is in the inmost room of the palace of the fairy queen, beneath the lake."
"And how can I get that?" said Enda.
"Well," said the swan, "you must dive beneath the lake, and walk along its bed, until you come to where the lake dragon guards the entrance of the fairy queen's dominions."
"I can dive like a fish," said Enda; "but how can I walk beneath the waters?"
"You can do it easily enough," said the swan, "if you get the water-dress of Brian, one of the three sons of Turenn, and his helmet of transparent crystal, by the aid of which he was able to walk under the green salt sea."
"And where shall I find them?"
"They are in the water-palace of Angus of the Boyne," said the swan; "but you should set out at once, for if the spell be not broken before the moon is full again, it cannot be broken for a year and a day."
"I'll set out in the first ray of the morning," said Enda.
"May luck and joy go with you," said the swan. "And now the hours of silence are coming upon me, and I have only time to warn you that dangers you little dream of will lie before you in your quest for the golden cup."
"I am willing to face all dangers for your sake, O princess," said Enda.
"Blessings be upon you, Enda," said the swan, and she sailed away from the shadow out into the light across the lake to the sedgy banks. And Enda saw her no more.
He rowed his curragh home, and he lay on his bed without taking off his clothes. And as the first faint glimmer of the morning came slanting down the mountains, he stepped into his curragh and pulled across the lake, and took the road towards the water-palace of Angus of the Boyne.
When he reached the banks of the glancing river a little woman, dressed in red, was standing there before him.
"You are welcome, Enda," said she. "And glad am I to see the day that brings you here to help the winsome Princess Mave. And now wait a second, and the water-dress and crystal helmet will be ready for you."
And, having said this, the little woman plucked a handful of wild grasses, and she breathed upon them three times and then flung them on the river, and a dozen fairy nymphs came springing up through the water, bearing the water-dress and crystal helmet and a shining spear. And they laid them down upon the bank at Enda's feet, and then disappeared.
"Now, Enda," said the fairy woman, "take these; by the aid of the dress and the helmet you can walk beneath the waters. You will need the spear to enable you to meet the dangers that lie before you. But with that spear, if you only have courage, you can overcome everything and everyone that may attempt to bar your way."
Having said this, she bid good-bye to Enda, and stepping off the bank, she floated out upon the river as lightly as a red poppy leaf. And when she came to the middle of the stream she disappeared beneath the waters.
Enda took the helmet, dress, and spear, and it was not long until he came to the sedgy banks where his little boat was waiting for him. As he stepped into the curragh the moon was rising above the mountains. He rowed on until he came to the hut, and having moored the boat to the door, he put on the water-dress and the crystal helmet, and taking the spear in his hand, he leaped over the side of the curragh, and sank down and down until he touched the bottom. Then he walked along without minding where he was going, and the only light he had was the shimmering moonlight, which descended as faintly through the waters as if it came through muffled glass. He had not gone very far when he heard a horrible hissing, and straight before him he saw what he thought were two flaming coals. After a few more steps he found himself face to face with the dragon of the lake, the guardian of the palace of the fairy queen. Before he had time to raise his spear, the dragon had wound its coils around him, and he heard its horrible teeth crunching against the side of his crystal helmet, and he felt the pressure of its coils around his side, and the breath almost left his body; but the dragon, unable to pierce the helmet, unwound his coils, and soon Enda's hands were free, and before the dragon could attempt to seize him again, he drove his spear through one of its fiery eyes, and, writhing with pain, the hissing dragon darted through a cave behind him. Enda, gaining courage from the dragon's flight, marched on until he came to a door of dull brass set in the rocks. He tried to push it in before him, but he might as well have tried to push away the rocks. While he was wondering what he should do, he heard again the fierce hissing of the dragon, and saw the red glare of his fiery eye dimly in the water.
Lifting his spear and hastily turning round to meet the furious monster, Enda accidently touched the door with the point of the spear, and the door flew open. Enda passed through, and the door closed behind him with a grating sound, and he marched along through a rocky pass which led to a sandy plain.
As he stepped from the pass into the plain the sands began to move, as if they were alive. In a second a thousand hideous serpents, almost the colour of the sand, rose hissing up, and with their forked tongues made a horrible, poisonous hedge in front of him. For a second he stood dismayed, but then, levelling his spear, he rushed against the hedge of serpents, and they, shooting poison at him, sank beneath the sand. But the poison did not harm him, because of his water-dress and crystal helmet.
When he had passed over the sandy plain, he had to climb a great steep, jagged rock. When he got to the top of the rock he saw spread out before him a stony waste without a tuft or blade of grass. At some distance in front of him he noticed a large dark object, which he took to be a rock, but on looking at it more closely he saw that it was a huge, misshapen, swollen mass, apparently alive. And it was growing bigger and bigger every moment. Enda stood amazed at the sight, and before he knew where he was the loathsome creature rose from the ground, and sprang upon him before he could use his spear, and, catching him in its horrid grasp, flung him back over the rocks on to the sandy plain. Enda was almost stunned, but the hissing of the serpents rising from the sand around him brought him to himself, and, jumping to his feet, once more he drove them down beneath the surface. He then approached the jagged rock, on the top of which he saw the filthy monster glaring at him with bloodshot eyes. Enda poised his spear and hurled it against his enemy. It entered between the monster's eyes, and from the wound the blood flowed down like a black torrent and dyed the plain, and the shrunken carcase slipped down the front of the rocks and disappeared beneath the sand. Enda once more ascended the rock, and without meeting or seeing anything he passed over the stony waste, and at last he came to a leafy wood. He had not gone far in the wood until he heard the sound of fairy music, and walking on he came upon a mossy glade, and there he found the fairies dancing around their queen. They were so small, and were all so brightly dressed, that they looked like a mass of waving flowers; but when he was seen by them they vanished like a glorious dream, and no one remained before him but the fairy queen. The queen blushed at finding herself alone, but on stamping her little foot three times upon the ground, the frightened fairies all crept back again.
"You are welcome, Enda," said the queen. "My little subjects have been alarmed by your strange dress and crystal helmet. I pray you take them off; you do not need them here."
Enda did as he was bidden, and he laid down his water-dress and helmet on the grass, and the little fairies, seeing him in his proper shape, got over their fright, and, unrestrained by the presence of the queen, they ran tumbling over one another to try and get a good look at the crystal helmet.
"I know what you have come for, Enda," said the queen. "The golden cup you shall have to-morrow; but to-night you must share our feast, so follow me to the palace."
Having said this, the queen beckoned her pages to her, and, attended by them and followed by Enda, she went on through the wood. When they had left it behind them Enda saw on a green hill before him the snow-white palace of the fairy queen.
As the queen approached the steps that led up to the open door, a band of tiny fairies, dressed in rose-coloured silk, came out, carrying baskets of flowers, which they flung down on the steps to make a fragrant carpet for her. They were followed by a band of harpers dressed in yellow silken robes, who ranged themselves on each side of the steps and played their sweetest music as the queen ascended.
When the queen, followed by Enda, entered the palace, they passed through a crystal hall that led to a banquet-room. The room was lighted by a single star, large as a battle-shield. It was fixed against the wall above a diamond throne.
The queen seated herself upon the throne, and the pages, advancing towards her, and bending low, as they approached the steps, handed her a golden wand.
The queen waved the wand three times, and a table laden with all kinds of delicacies appeared upon the floor. Then she beckoned Enda to her, and when he stood beside her the fairy table was no higher than his knee.
"I am afraid I must make you smaller, Enda," said the queen, "or you will never be able to seat yourself at my fairy table."
And having said this, she touched Enda with the golden wand, and at once he became as small as her tallest page. Then she struck the steps of her throne, and all the nobles of her court, headed by her bards, took their places at the festive board.
The feast went on right merrily, and when the tiny jewelled drinking-cups were placed upon the table, the queen ordered the harpers to play.
And the little harpers struck the chords, and as Enda listened to the music it seemed to him as if he was being slowly lifted from his seat, and when the music ended the fairies vanished, the shining star went out, and Enda was in perfect darkness.
The air blew keenly in his face, and he knew not where he was. At last he saw a faint grey light, and soon this light grew broader and brighter, and as the shadows fled before it, he could hardly believe his eyes when he found himself in his curragh on the lake, and the moonlight streaming down from the mountain-tops.
For a moment he thought he must have been dreaming; but there in the boat before him were the crystal helmet, and the water-dress, and the gleaming spear, and the golden bowl of perfumed water that was to remove the spell of enchantment from the white swan of the lake, and sailing towards him from the sedgy bank came the snow-white swan; and when she touched the boat, Enda put out his hands and lifted her in, and then over her plumage he poured the perfumed water from the golden bowl, and the Princess Mave in all her maiden beauty stood before him.
"Take your oar, Enda," she said, "and row to the southern bank."
Enda seized his oar, and the curragh sped across the waters swifter than a swallow in its flight. When the boat touched the shore Enda jumped out, and lifted the princess on to the bank.
"Send your boat adrift, Enda," she said; "but first take out your shining spear; the water-dress and the crystal helmet will take care of themselves."
Enda took out the spear, and then pushed the boat from the bank. It sped on towards the hut in the middle of the lake; but before it had reached halfway six nymphs sprang up from the water and seizing the helmet and dress, sank with them beneath the tide, and the boat went on until it pushed its prow against the steps of the little hut, where it remained.
Then Enda and the princess turned towards the south, and it was not long until they came to a deep forest, that was folding up its shadows and spreading out its mossy glades before the glancing footsteps of the morning. They had not gone far through the forest when they heard the music of hounds and the cries of huntsmen, and crashing towards them through the low branches they saw a fierce wild boar. Enda, gently pushing the princess behind him, levelled his spear, and when the boar came close to him he drove it into his throat. The brute fell dead at his feet, and the dogs rushing up began to tear it to pieces. The princess fainted at the sight, and while Enda was endeavouring to restore her, the king of Erin, followed by his huntsmen, appeared, and when the king saw the princess he started in amazement, as he recognised the features of his daughter Mave.
At that moment the princess came to herself, and her father, lifting her tenderly in his arms, kissed her again and again.
"I have mourned you as dead, my darling," said he, "and now you are restored to me more lovely than ever. I would gladly have given up my throne for this. But say who is the champion who has brought you hither, and who has slain the wild boar we have hunted so many years in vain?"
The princess blushed like a rose as she said:
"His name is Enda, father; it is he has brought me back to you."
Then the king embraced Enda and said:
"Forgive me, Enda, for asking any questions about you before you have shared the hospitality of my court. My palace lies beyond the forest, and we shall reach it soon."
Then the king ordered his huntsman to sound the bugle-horn, and all his nobles galloped up in answer to it, and when they saw the Princess Mave they were so dazzled by her beauty that they scarcely gave a thought to the death of the wild boar.
"It is my daughter, Mave, come back to me," said the king.
And all the nobles lowered their lances, and bowed in homage to the lady.
"And there stands the champion who has brought her home," said the king, pointing to Enda.
The nobles looked at Enda, and bowed courteously, but in their hearts they were jealous of the champion, for they saw he was already a favourite of the king's.
Then the pages came up, leading milk-white steeds with golden bridles, and the king, ordering Enda to mount one of them, lifted Mave on to his own, and mounted behind her. The pages, carrying the boar's head on a hollow shield, preceded by the huntsmen sounding their horns, set out towards the palace, and the royal party followed them.
As the procession approached the palace crowds came rushing out to see the trophies of the chase, and through the snow-white door the queen, Mave's cruel stepmother, attended by her maids-of-honour and the royal bards, came forth to greet the king. But when she saw seated before him the Princess Mave, who she thought was at the bottom of the lake under a spell of enchantment, she uttered a loud cry, and fell senseless to the ground.
The king jumped from his horse, and rushing to the queen, lifted her up and carried her in his arms to her apartments, for he had no suspicion of the wickedness of which she had been guilty.
And the court leeches were summoned to attend her, but she died that very night, and it was not until a green mound, worthy of a queen of Erin, had been raised over her grave that the Princess Mave told her father of the wickedness of her stepmother. And when she told him the whole story of how Enda had broken the spell of enchantment, and of the dangers which he had faced for her sake, the king summoned an assembly of all his nobles, and seated on his throne, wearing his golden helmet, the bards upon his right hand and the Druids upon his left, and the nobles in ranks before him with gleaming helmets and flashing spears, he told them the story of the princess, and of the service which Enda had rendered to her.
"And now," said the king, "if the princess is willing to take her deliverer for her husband, I am willing that she shall be his bride; and if you, my subjects, Bards and Druids and Nobles and Chiefs of Erin, have anything to say against this union, speak. But first, Mave," said the king, as he drew the blushing princess to him, "speak, darling, as becomes the daughter of a king—speak in the presence of the nobles of Erin, and say if it is your wish to become Enda's bride."
The princess flung her white arms around her father's neck, as she murmured:
"Father, it was Enda brought me back to you, and before all the princes and nobles of Erin I am willing to be his bride."
And she buried her head upon the king's breast, and as he stroked her silken hair falling to her feet, the bards struck their golden harps, but the sound of the joyous music could hardly drown the murmurs of the jealous nobles.
When the music ceased the king beckoned Enda to him, and was about to place his hand in Mave's when a Druid, whose white beard almost touched the ground, and who had been a favourite of the dead stepmother, and hated Mave for her sake, stepped forward and said:
"O King of Erin, never yet has the daughter of a king been freely given in marriage to any save a battle champion; and that stripling there has never struck his spear against a warrior's shield."
A murmur of approbation rose from the jealous princes, and Congal, the bravest of them all, stepped out from the ranks, and said:
"The Druid speaks the truth, O king! That stripling has never faced a battle champion yet, and, speaking for all the nobles of your land, I challenge him to fight any one of us; and as he is young and unused to arms, we are willing that the youngest and least experienced amongst us should be set against him."
When Congal had spoken, the nobles, in approval of his words, struck their shields with their swords, and the brazen sound ascended to the skies.
The face of the princess, blushing a moment before like a rose, became as white as a lily; but the colour returned to her cheeks when she heard Enda's voice ringing loud and clear.
"It is true, O king!" said he, "that I have never used my spear in battle yet. The Prince Congal has challenged me to meet the youngest and least experienced of the chiefs of Erin. I have risked my life already for your daughter's sake. I would face death a thousand times for the chance of winning her for my bride; but I would scorn to claim her hand if I dared not meet the boldest battle champion of the nobles of Erin, and here before you, O king, and bards, Druids, and nobles, and chiefs of Erin, and here, in the presence of the Lady Mave, I challenge the boldest of them all."
The king's eyes flashed with joy as he listened to the brave words of Enda.
"It is well," said the king; "the contest shall take place to-morrow on the lawn outside our palace gates; but before our assembly dissolves I call on you, nobles and chiefs of Erin, to name your boldest champion."
Loud cries of "Congal! Congal!" answered the king's speech.
"Are you willing, Congal?" asked the king.
"Willing, O king!" answered Congal.
"It is well," said the king. "We shall all meet again to-night in our banquet-hall."
And the king, with the Princess Mave on his arm, attended by his bards and Druids, entered the palace, and the chiefs and nobles went their several ways.
At the feast that night the princess sat beside the king, and Enda beside the princess, and the bards and Druids, nobles and chiefs, took their places in due order. And the bards sang songs of love and battle, and never merrier hours were spent than those which passed away that night in the banquet-hall of Erin's king.
When the feast was over Enda retired to his apartment to spend the night dreaming of the Princess Mave, and Congal went to his quarters; but not to sleep or dream, for the Druid who had provoked the contest came to him bringing his golden wand, and all night long the Druid was weaving spells to charm the shield and spear and helmet of Congal, to make them invulnerable in the battle of the morrow.
But while Enda lay dreaming of the Princess Mave, the little fairy woman who gave him the water-dress, and crystal helmet, and shining spear on the banks of the Boyne, slid into his room, and she placed beside his couch a silver helmet and a silver shield. And she rubbed the helmet, and the shield, and the blue blade and haft of his spear with the juice of the red rowan berries, and she let a drop fall upon his face and hands, and then she slid out as silently as she came.
When the morning broke, Enda sprang from his couch, and he could hardly believe his eyes when he saw the silver shield and helmet. At the sight of them he longed for the hour of battle, and he watched with eager gaze the sun climbing the sky; and, after hours of suspense, he heard the trumpet's sound and the clangour of the hollow shields, struck by the hard-pointed spears.
Putting on the helmet, and fastening the shield upon his left arm, and taking the spear in his right hand, he stepped out bravely to the fight. The edge of the lawn before the palace gates was ringed by the princes, nobles, and chiefs of Erin. And the palace walls were thronged by all the beauties of the Court and all the noble ladies of the land. And on his throne, surrounded by his Druids, his brehons, and his bards, was the king of Erin, and at his feet sat the lovely Lady Mave.
As Enda stepped out upon the lawn, he saw Congal advancing from the ranks of the nobles, and the two champions approached each other until they met right in front of the throne.
Then both turned towards the throne, and bowed to the king and the Princess Mave; and then facing each other again, they retired a space, and when their spears were poised, ready for battle, the king gave the signal, which was answered by the clang of stricken shields, and Congal and Enda launched their gleaming spears. They flashed like lightning in the sunlit air, and in a second Congal's had broken against Enda's shield; but Enda's, piercing Congal's helmet, hurled him senseless on the plain.
The nobles and chiefs could hardly realize that in that single second their boldest champion was overthrown; but when they saw him stretched motionless on the grassy sward, from out their ranks six warriors advanced to where the chieftain lay, and sadly they bore him away upon their battle-shields, and Enda remained victor upon the field.
And then the king's voice rang out clear as the sound of a trumpet in the still morning:
"Bards and brehons, princes and nobles, and chiefs of Erin, Enda has proved himself a battle champion, and who amongst you now will dare gainsay his right to claim my daughter for his bride?"
And no answer came.
But when he summoned Enda to his throne, and placed the lady's hand in his, a cheer arose from the great assembly, that proved that jealousy was extinguished in all hearts, and that all believed that Enda was worthy of the winsome bride; and never since that day, although a thousand years have passed, was there in all the world a brighter and gayer wedding than the wedding of Enda and the Princess Mave.
THE LITTLE WHITE CAT
A long, long time ago, in a valley far away, the giant Trencoss lived in a great castle, surrounded by trees that were always green. The castle had a hundred doors, and every door was guarded by a huge, shaggy hound, with tongue of fire and claws of iron, who tore to pieces anyone who went to the castle without the giant's leave. Trencoss had made war on the King of the Torrents, and, having killed the king, and slain his people, and burned his palace, he carried off his only daughter, the Princess Eileen, to the castle in the valley. Here he provided her with beautiful rooms, and appointed a hundred dwarfs, dressed in blue and yellow satin, to wait upon her, and harpers to play sweet music for her, and he gave her diamonds without number, brighter than the sun; but he would not allow her to go outside the castle, and told her if she went one step beyond its doors, the hounds, with tongues of fire and claws of iron, would tear her to pieces. A week after her arrival, war broke out between the giant and the king of the islands, and before he set out for battle, the giant sent for the princess, and informed her that on his return he would make her his wife. When the princess heard this she began to cry, for she would rather die than marry the giant who had slain her father.
"Crying will only spoil your bright eyes, my little princess," said Trencoss, "and you will have to marry me whether you like it or no."
He then bade her go back to her room, and he ordered the dwarfs to give her everything she asked for while he was away, and the harpers to play the sweetest music for her. When the princess gained her room she cried as if her heart would break. The long day passed slowly, and the night came, but brought no sleep to Eileen, and in the grey light of the morning she rose and opened the window, and looked about in every direction to see if there were any chance of escape. But the window was ever so high above the ground, and below were the hungry and ever watchful hounds. With a heavy heart she was about to close the window when she thought she saw the branches of the tree that was nearest to it moving. She looked again, and she saw a little white cat creeping along one of the branches.
"Mew!" cried the cat.
"Poor little pussy," said the princess. "Come to me, pussy."
"Stand back from the window," said the cat, "and I will."
The princess stepped back, and the little white cat jumped into the room. The princess took the little cat on her lap and stroked him with her hand, and the cat raised up its back and began to purr.
"Where do you come from, and what is your name?" asked the princess.
"No matter where I come from or what's my name," said the cat, "I am a friend of yours, and I come to help you?"
"I never wanted help worse," said the princess.
"I know that," said the cat; "and now listen to me. When the giant comes back from battle and asks you to marry him, say to him you will marry him."
"But I will never marry him," said the princess.
"Do what I tell you," said the cat. "When he asks you to marry him, say to him you will if his dwarfs will wind for you three balls from the fairy dew that lies on the bushes on a misty morning as big as these," said the cat, putting his right forefoot into his ear and taking out three balls—one yellow, one red, and one blue.
"They are very small," said the princess. "They are not much bigger than peas, and the dwarfs will not be long at their work."
"Won't they," said the cat. "It will take them a month and a day to make one, so that it will take three months and three days before the balls are wound; but the giant, like you, will think they can be made in a few days, and so he will readily promise to do what you ask. He will soon find out his mistake, but he will keep his word, and will not press you to marry him until the balls are wound."
"When will the giant come back?" asked Eileen.
"He will return to-morrow afternoon," said the cat.
"Will you stay with me until then?" said the princess. "I am very lonely."
"I cannot stay," said the cat. "I have to go away to my palace on the island on which no man ever placed his foot, and where no man but one shall ever come."
"And where is that island?" asked the princess, "and who is the man?"
"The island is in the far-off seas where vessel never sailed; the man you will see before many days are over; and if all goes well, he will one day slay the giant Trencoss, and free you from his power."
"Ah!" sighed the princess, "that can never be, for no weapon can wound the hundred hounds that guard the castle, and no sword can kill the giant Trencoss."
"There is a sword that will kill him," said the cat; "but I must go now. Remember what you are to say to the giant when he comes home, and every morning watch the tree on which you saw me, and if you see in the branches anyone you like better than yourself," said the cat, winking at the princess, "throw him these three balls and leave the rest to me; but take care not to speak a single word to him, for if you do all will be lost."
"Shall I ever see you again?" asked the princess.
"Time will tell," answered the cat, and, without saying so much as good-bye, he jumped through the window on to the tree, and in a second was out of sight.
The morrow afternoon came, and the giant Trencoss returned from battle. Eileen knew of his coming by the furious barking of the hounds, and her heart sank, for she knew that in a few moments she would be summoned to his presence. Indeed, he had hardly entered the castle when he sent for her, and told her to get ready for the wedding. The princess tried to look cheerful, as she answered:
"I will be ready as soon as you wish; but you must first promise me something."
"Ask anything you like, little princess," said Trencoss.
"Well, then," said Eileen, "before I marry you, you must make your dwarfs wind three balls as big as these from the fairy dew that lies on the bushes on a misty morning in summer."
"Is that all?" said Trencoss, laughing. "I shall give the dwarfs orders at once, and by this time to-morrow the balls will be wound, and our wedding can take place in the evening."
"And will you leave me to myself until then?"
"I will," said Trencoss.
"On your honour as a giant?" said Eileen.
"On my honour as a giant," replied Trencoss.
The princess returned to her rooms, and the giant summoned all his dwarfs, and he ordered them to go forth in the dawning of the morn and to gather all the fairy dew lying on the bushes, and to wind three balls—one yellow, one red, and one blue. The next morning, and the next, and the next, the dwarfs went out into the fields and searched all the hedgerows, but they could gather only as much fairy dew as would make a thread as long as a wee girl's eyelash; and so they had to go out morning after morning, and the giant fumed and threatened, but all to no purpose. He was very angry with the princess, and he was vexed with himself that she was so much cleverer than he was, and, moreover, he saw now that the wedding could not take place as soon as he expected.
When the little white cat went away from the castle he ran as fast as he could up hill and down dale, and never stopped until he came to the Prince of the Silver River. The prince was alone, and very sad and sorrowful he was, for he was thinking of the Princess Eileen, and wondering where she could be.
"Mew," said the cat, as he sprang softly into the room; but the prince did not heed him. "Mew," again said the cat; but again the prince did not heed him. "Mew," said the cat the third time, and he jumped up on the prince's knee.
"Where do you come from, and what do you want?" asked the prince.
"I come from where you would like to be," said the cat.
"And where is that?" said the prince.
"Oh, where is that, indeed! as if I didn't know what you are thinking of, and of whom you are thinking," said the cat; "and it would be far better for you to try and save her."
"I would give my life a thousand times over for her," said the prince.
"For whom?" said the cat, with a wink. "I named no name, your highness," said he.
"You know very well who she is," said the prince, "if you knew what I was thinking of; but do you know where she is?"
"She is in danger," said the cat. "She is in the castle of the giant Trencoss, in the valley beyond the mountains."
"I will set out there at once," said the prince "and I will challenge the giant to battle, and will slay him."
"Easier said than done," said the cat. "There is no sword made by the hands of man can kill him, and even if you could kill him, his hundred hounds, with tongues of fire and claws of iron, would tear you to pieces."
"Then, what am I to do?" asked the prince.
"Be said by me," said the cat. "Go to the wood that surrounds the giant's castle, and climb the high tree that's nearest to the window that looks towards the sunset, and shake the branches, and you will see what you will see. Then hold out your hat with the silver plumes, and three balls—one yellow, one red, and one blue—will be thrown into it. And then come back here as fast as you can; but speak no word, for if you utter a single word the hounds will hear you, and you shall be torn to pieces."
Well, the prince set off at once, and after two days' journey he came to the wood around the castle, and he climbed the tree that was nearest to the window that looked towards the sunset, and he shook the branches. As soon as he did so, the window opened and he saw the Princess Eileen, looking lovelier than ever. He was going to call out her name, but she placed her fingers on her lips, and he remembered what the cat had told him, that he was to speak no word. In silence he held out the hat with the silver plumes, and the princess threw into it the three balls, one after another, and, blowing him a kiss, she shut the window. And well it was she did so, for at that very moment she heard the voice of the giant, who was coming back from hunting.
The prince waited until the giant had entered the castle before he descended the tree. He set off as fast as he could. He went up hill and down dale, and never stopped until he arrived at his own palace, and there waiting for him was the little white cat.
"Have you brought the three balls?" said he.
"I have," said the prince.
"Then follow me," said the cat.
On they went until they left the palace far behind and came to the edge of the sea.
"Now," said the cat, "unravel a thread of the red ball, hold the thread in your right hand, drop the ball into the water, and you shall see what you shall see."
The prince did as he was told, and the ball floated out to sea, unravelling as it went, and it went on until it was out of sight.
"Pull now," said the cat.
The prince pulled, and, as he did, he saw far away something on the sea shining like silver. It came nearer and nearer, and he saw it was a little silver boat. At last it touched the strand.
"Now," said the cat, "step into this boat and it will bear you to the palace on the island on which no man has ever placed his foot—the island in the unknown seas that were never sailed by vessels made of human hands. In that palace there is a sword with a diamond hilt, and by that sword alone the giant Trencoss can be killed. There also are a hundred cakes, and it is only on eating these the hundred hounds can die. But mind what I say to you: if you eat or drink until you reach the palace of the little cat in the island in the unknown seas, you will forget the Princess Eileen."
"I will forget myself first," said the prince, as he stepped into the silver boat, which floated away so quickly that it was soon out of sight of land.
The day passed and the night fell, and the stars shone down upon the waters, but the boat never stopped. On she went for two whole days and nights, and on the third morning the prince saw an island in the distance, and very glad he was; for he thought it was his journey's end, and he was almost fainting with thirst and hunger. But the day passed and the island was still before him.
At long last, on the following day, he saw by the first light of the morning that he was quite close to it, and that trees laden with fruit of every kind were bending down over the water. The boat sailed round and round the island, going closer and closer every round, until, at last, the drooping branches almost touched it. The sight of the fruit within his reach made the prince hungrier and thirstier than he was before, and forgetting his promise to the little cat—not to eat anything until he entered the palace in the unknown seas—he caught one of the branches, and, in a moment, was in the tree eating the delicious fruit. While he was doing so the boat floated out to sea and soon was lost to sight; but the prince, having eaten, forgot all about it, and, worse still, forgot all about the princess in the giant's castle. When he had eaten enough he descended the tree, and, turning his back on the sea, set out straight before him. He had not gone far when he heard the sound of music, and soon after he saw a number of maidens playing on silver harps coming towards him. When they saw him they ceased playing, and cried out:
"Welcome! welcome! Prince of the Silver River, welcome to the island of fruits and flowers. Our king and queen saw you coming over the sea, and they sent us to bring you to the palace."
The prince went with them, and at the palace gates the king and queen and their daughter Kathleen received him, and gave him welcome. He hardly saw the king and queen, for his eyes were fixed on the princess Kathleen, who looked more beautiful than a flower. He thought he had never seen anyone so lovely, for, of course, he had forgotten all about poor Eileen pining away in her castle prison in the lonely valley. When the king and queen had given welcome to the prince a great feast was spread, and all the lords and ladies of the court sat down to it, and the prince sat between the queen and the princess Kathleen, and long before the feast was finished he was over head and ears in love with her. When the feast was ended the queen ordered the ballroom to be made ready, and when night fell the dancing began, and was kept up until the morning star, and the prince danced all night with the princess, falling deeper and deeper in love with her every minute. Between dancing by night and feasting by day weeks went by. All the time poor Eileen in the giant's castle was counting the hours, and all this time the dwarfs were winding the balls, and a ball and a half were already wound. At last the prince asked the king and queen for their daughter in marriage, and they were delighted to be able to say yes, and the day was fixed for the wedding. But on the evening before the day on which it was to take place the prince was in his room, getting ready for a dance, when he felt something rubbing against his leg, and, looking down, who should he see but the little white cat. At the sight of him the prince remembered everything, and sad and sorry he was when he thought of Eileen watching and waiting and counting the days until he returned to save her. But he was very fond of the princess Kathleen, and so he did not know what to do.
"You can't do anything to-night," said the cat, for he knew what the prince was thinking of, "but when morning comes go down to the sea, and look not to the right or the left, and let no living thing touch you, for if you do you shall never leave the island. Drop the second ball into the water, as you did the first, and when the boat comes step in at once. Then you may look behind you, and you shall see what you shall see, and you'll know which you love best, the Princess Eileen or the Princess Kathleen, and you can either go or stay."
The prince didn't sleep a wink that night, and at the first glimpse of the morning he stole from the palace. When he reached the sea he threw out the ball, and when it had floated out of sight, he saw the little boat sparkling on the horizon like a newly-risen star. The prince had scarcely passed through the palace doors when he was missed, and the king and queen and the princess, and all the lords and ladies of the court, went in search of him, taking the quickest way to the sea. While the maidens with the silver harps played sweetest music, the princess, whose voice was sweeter than any music, called on the prince by his name, and so moved his heart that he was about to look behind, when he remembered how the cat had told him he should not do so until he was in the boat. Just as it touched the shore the princess put out her hand and almost caught the prince's arm, but he stepped into the boat in time to save himself, and it sped away like a receding wave. A loud scream caused the prince to look round suddenly, and when he did he saw no sign of king or queen, or princess, or lords or ladies, but only big green serpents, with red eyes and tongues, that hissed out fire and poison as they writhed in a hundred horrible coils.
The prince, having escaped from the enchanted island, sailed away for three days and three nights, and every night he hoped the coming morning would show him the island he was in search of. He was faint with hunger and beginning to despair, when on the fourth morning he saw in the distance an island that, in the first rays of the sun, gleamed like fire. On coming closer to it he saw that it was clad with trees, so covered with bright red berries that hardly a leaf was to be seen. Soon the boat was almost within a stone's cast of the island, and it began to sail round and round until it was well under the bending branches. The scent of the berries was so sweet that it sharpened the prince's hunger, and he longed to pluck them; but, remembering what had happened to him on the enchanted island, he was afraid to touch them. But the boat kept on sailing round and round, and at last a great wind rose from the sea and shook the branches, and the bright, sweet berries fell into the boat until it was filled with them, and they fell upon the prince's hands, and he took up some to look at them, and as he looked the desire to eat them grew stronger, and he said to himself it would be no harm to taste one; but when he tasted it the flavour was so delicious he swallowed it, and, of course, at once he forgot all about Eileen, and the boat drifted away from him and left him standing in the water.
He climbed on to the island, and having eaten enough of the berries, he set out to see what might be before him, and it was not long until he heard a great noise, and a huge iron ball knocked down one of the trees in front of him, and before he knew where he was a hundred giants came running after it. When they saw the prince they turned towards him, and one of them caught him up in his hand and held him up that all might see him. The prince was nearly squeezed to death, and seeing this the giant put him on the ground again.
"Who are you, my little man?" asked the giant.
"I am a prince," replied the prince.
"Oh, you are a prince, are you?" said the giant. "And what are you good for?" said he.
The prince did not know, for nobody had asked him that question before.
"I know what he's good for," said an old giantess, with one eye in her forehead and one in her chin. "I know what he's good for. He's good to eat."
When the giants heard this they laughed so loud that the prince was frightened almost to death.
"Why," said one, "he wouldn't make a mouthful."
"Oh, leave him to me," said the giantess, "and I'll fatten him up; and when he is cooked and dressed he will be a nice dainty dish for the king."
The giants, on this, gave the prince into the hands of the old giantess. She took him home with her to the kitchen, and fed him on sugar and spice and all things nice, so that he should be a sweet morsel for the king of the giants when he returned to the island. The poor prince would not eat anything at first, but the giantess held him over the fire until his feet were scorched, and then he said to himself it was better to eat than to be burnt alive.
Well, day after day passed, and the prince grew sadder and sadder, thinking that he would soon be cooked and dressed for the king; but sad as the prince was, he was not half as sad as the Princess Eileen in the giant's castle, watching and waiting for the prince to return and save her.
And the dwarfs had wound two balls, and were winding a third.
At last the prince heard from the old giantess that the king of the giants was to return on the following day, and she said to him:
"As this is the last night you have to live, tell me if you wish for anything, for if you do your wish will be granted."
"I don't wish for anything," said the prince, whose heart was dead within him.
"Well, I'll come back again," said the giantess, and she went away.
The prince sat down in a corner, thinking and thinking, until he heard close to his ear a sound like "purr, purr!" He looked around, and there before him was the little white cat.
"I ought not to come to you," said the cat; "but, indeed, it is not for your sake I come. I come for the sake of the Princess Eileen. Of course, you forgot all about her, and, of course, she is always thinking of you. It's always the way—
"Favoured lovers may forget, Slighted lovers never yet."
The prince blushed with shame when he heard the name of the princess.
"'Tis you that ought to blush," said the cat; "but listen to me now, and remember, if you don't obey my directions this time you'll never see me again, and you'll never set your eyes on the Princess Eileen. When the old giantess comes back tell her you wish, when the morning comes, to go down to the sea to look at it for the last time. When you reach the sea you will know what to do. But I must go now, as I hear the giantess coming." And the cat jumped out of the window and disappeared.
"Well," said the giantess, when she came in, "is there anything you wish?"
"Is it true I must die to-morrow?" asked the prince.
"Then," said he, "I should like to go down to the sea to look at it for the last time."
"You may do that," said the giantess, "if you get up early."
"I'll be up with the lark in the light of the morning," said the prince.
"Very well," said the giantess, and, saying "good night," she went away.
The prince thought the night would never pass, but at last it faded away before the grey light of the dawn, and he sped down to the sea. He threw out the third ball, and before long he saw the little boat coming towards him swifter than the wind. He threw himself into it the moment it touched the shore. Swifter than the wind it bore him out to sea, and before he had time to look behind him the island of the giantess was like a faint red speck in the distance. The day passed and the night fell, and the stars looked down, and the boat sailed on, and just as the sun rose above the sea it pushed its silver prow on the golden strand of an island greener than the leaves in summer. The prince jumped out, and went on and on until he entered a pleasant valley, at the head of which he saw a palace white as snow.
As he approached the central door it opened for him. On entering the hall he passed into several rooms without meeting with anyone; but, when he reached the principal apartment, he found himself in a circular room, in which were a thousand pillars, and every pillar was of marble, and on every pillar save one, which stood in the centre of the room, was a little white cat with black eyes. Ranged round the wall, from one door-jamb to the other, were three rows of precious jewels. The first was a row of brooches of gold and silver, with their pins fixed in the wall and their heads outwards; the second a row of torques of gold and silver; and the third a row of great swords, with hilts of gold and silver. And on many tables was food of all kinds, and drinking horns filled with foaming ale.
While the prince was looking about him the cats kept on jumping from pillar to pillar; but seeing that none of them jumped on to the pillar in the centre of the room, he began to wonder why this was so, when, all of a sudden, and before he could guess how it came about, there right before him on the centre pillar was the little white cat.
"Don't you know me?" said he.
"I do," said the prince.
"Ah, but you don't know who I am. This is the palace of the Little White Cat, and I am the King of the Cats. But you must be hungry, and the feast is spread."
Well, when the feast was ended, the king of the cats called for the sword that would kill the giant Trencoss, and the hundred cakes for the hundred watch-dogs.
The cats brought the sword and the cakes and laid them before the king.
"Now," said the king, "take these; you have no time to lose. To-morrow the dwarfs will wind the last ball, and to-morrow the giant will claim the princess for his bride. So you should go at once; but before you go take this from me to your little girl."
And the king gave him a brooch lovelier than any on the palace walls.
The king and the prince, followed by the cats, went down to the strand, and when the prince stepped into the boat all the cats "mewed" three times for good luck, and the prince waved his hat three times, and the little boat sped over the waters all through the night as brightly and as swiftly as a shooting star. In the first flush of the morning it touched the strand. The prince jumped out and went on and on, up hill and down dale, until he came to the giant's castle. When the hounds saw him they barked furiously, and bounded towards him to tear him to pieces. The prince flung the cakes to them, and as each hound swallowed his cake he fell dead. The prince then struck his shield three times with the sword which he had brought from the palace of the little white cat.
When the giant heard the sound he cried out: "Who comes to challenge me on my wedding-day?"
The dwarfs went out to see, and, returning, told him it was a prince who challenged him to battle.
The giant, foaming with rage, seized his heaviest iron club, and rushed out to the fight. The fight lasted the whole day, and when the sun went down the giant said: