by Joseph Jacobs
MORRAHA rose in the morning and washed his hands and face, and said his prayers, and ate his food; and he asked God to prosper the day for him. So he went down to the brink of the sea, and he saw a currach, short and green, coming towards him; and in it there was but one youthful champion, and he was playing hurly from prow to stern of the currach. He had a hurl of gold and a ball of silver; and he stopped not till the currach was in on the shore; and he drew her up on the green grass, and put fastenings on her for a year and a day, whether he should be there all that time or should only be on land for an hour by the clock. And Morraha saluted the young man courteously; and the other saluted him in the same fashion, and asked him would he play a game of cards with him; and Morraha said that he had not the wherewithal; and the other answered that he was never without a candle or the making of it; and he put his hand in his pocket and drew out a table and two chairs and a pack of cards, and they sat down on the chairs and went to card-playing. The first game Morraha won, and the Slender Red Champion bade him make his claim; and he asked that the land above him should be filled with stock of sheep in the morning. It was well; and he played no second game, but home he went.
The next day Morraha went to the brink of the sea, and the young man came in the currach and asked him would he play cards; they played, and Morraha won. The young man bade him make his claim; and he asked that the land above should be filled with cattle in the morning. It was well; and he played no other game, but went home.
On the third morning Morraha went to the brink of the sea, and he saw the young man coming. He drew up his boat on the shore and asked him would he play cards. They played, and Morraha won the game; and the young man bade him give his claim. And he said he would have a castle and a wife, the finest and fairest in the world; and they were his. It was well; and the Red Champion went away.
On the fourth day his wife asked him how he had found her. And he told her. "And I am going out," said he, "to play again today."
"I forbid you to go again to him. If you have won so much, you will lose more; have no more to do with him."
But he went against her will, and he saw the currach coming; and the Red Champion was driving his balls from end to end of the currach; he had bails of silver and a hurl of gold, and he stopped not till he drew his boat on the shore, and made her fast for a year and a day. Morraha and he saluted each other; and he asked Morraha if he would play a game of cards, and they played, and he won. Morraha said to him, "Give your claim now."
Said he, "You will hear it too soon. I lay on you bonds of the art of the Druid, not to sleep two nights in one house, nor finish a second meal at the one table, till you bring me the sword of light and news of the death of Anshgayliacht."
He went home to his wife and sat down in a chair, and gave a groan, and the chair broke in pieces.
"That is the groan of the son of a king under spells," said his wife; "and you had better have taken my counsel than that the spells should be on you."
He told her he had to bring news of the death of Anshgayliacht and the sword of light to the Slender Red Champion.
"Go out," said she, "in the morning of the morrow, and take the bridle in the window. and shake it; and whatever beast, handsome or ugly, puts its head in it, take that one with you. Do not speak a word to her till she speaks to you ; and take with you three pint bottles of ale and three sixpenny loaves, and do the thing she tells you; and when she runs to my father's land, on a height above the castle, she will shake herself, and the bells will ring, and my father will say, ' Brown Allree is in the land. And if the son of a king or queen is there, bring him to me on your shoulders; but if it is the son of a poor man, let him come no further.' "
He rose in the morning, and took the bridle that was in the window, and went out and shook it; and Brown Allree came and put her head in it. He took the three loaves and three bottles of ale, and went riding; and when he was riding she bent her head down to take hold of her feet with her mouth, in hopes he would speak in ignorance; but he spoke not a word during the time, and the mare at last spoke to him, and told him to dismount and give her her dinner. He gave her the sixpenny loaf toasted, and a bottle of ale to drink.
"Sit up now riding, and take good heed of yourself: there are three miles of fire I have to clear at a leap."
She cleared the three miles of fire at a leap, and asked if he were still riding, and he said he was. Then they went on, and she told him to dismount and give her a meal; and he did so, and gave her a sixpenny loaf and a bottle ; she consumed them and said to him there were before them three miles of hill covered with steel thistles, and that she must clear it. She cleared the hill with a leap, and she asked him if he were still riding, and he said he was. They went on, and she went not far before she told him to give her a meal, and he gave her the bread and the bottleful. She went over three miles of sea with a leap, and she came then to the land of the King of France; she went up on a height above the castle, and she shook herself and neighed, and the bells rang; and the king said that it was Brown Allree was in the land.
"Go out," said he; "and if it is the son of a king or queen, carry him in on your shoulders; if it is not, leave him there."
They went out; and the stars of the son of a king were on his breast; they lifted him high on their shoulders arid bore him in to the king. They passed the night cheerfully, playing and drinking, with sport and with diversion, till the whiteness of the day came upon the morrow morning.
Then the young king told the cause of his journey, and he asked the queen to give him counsel and good luck, and she told him everything he was to do.
"Go now," said she, "and take with you the best mare in the stable, and go to the door of Rough Niall of the Speckled Rock, and knock, and call on him to give you news of the death of Anshgayliacht and the sword of light : and let the horse's back be to the door, and apply the spurs, and away with you."
In the morning he did so, and he took the best horse from the stable and rode to the door of Niall, and turned the horse's back to the door, and demanded news of the death of Anshgayliacht and the sword of light; then he applied the spurs, and away with him. Niall followed him hard, and, as he was passing the gate, cut the horse in two. His wife was there with a dish of puddings and flesh, and she threw it in his eyes and blinded him, and said, "Fool ! whatever kind of man it is that's mocking you, isn't that a fine condition you have got your father's horse into?"
On the morning of the next day Morraha rose, and took another horse from the stable, and went again to the door of Niall, and knocked and demanded news of the death of Anshgayliacht and the sword of light, and applied the spurs to the horse and away with him. Niall followed, and as Morraha was passing, the gate cut the horse in two and took half the saddle with him ; but his wife met him and threw flesh in his eyes and blinded him.
On the third day, Morraha went again to the door of Niall; and Niall followed him, and as he was passing the gate cut away the saddle from under him and the clothes from his back, then his wife said to Niall: "The fool that's mocking you, is out yonder in the little currach, going home; and take good heed to yourself; and don't sleep one wink for three days."
For three days the little currach kept in sight, but then Niall's wife came to him and said :
"Sleep as much as you want now. He is gone."
He went to sleep, and there was heavy sleep on him, and Morraha went in and took hold of the sword that was on the bed at his head. And the sword thought to draw itself out of the hand of Morraha ; but it failed. Then it gave a cry, and it wakened Niall, and Niall said it was a rude and rough thing to come into his house like that ; and said Morraha to him :
"Leave your much talking, or I will cut the head off you. Tell me the news of the death of Anshgayliacht."
"Oh, you can have my head."
"But your head is no good to me; tell me the story."
"Oh," said Niall's wife, "you must get the story."
"Well," said Niall, "let us sit down together till I tell the story. I thought no one would ever get it ; but now it will be heard by all."
When I was growing up, my mother taught me the language of the birds ; and when I got married, I used to be listening to their conversation ; and I would be laughing; and my wife would be asking me what was the reason of my laughing, but I did not like to tell her, as women are always asking questions. We went out walking one fine morning, and the birds were arguing with one another. One of them said to another:
"Why should you be comparing yourself with me, when there is not a king nor knight that does not come to look at my tree?"
"What advantage has your tree over mine, on which there are three rods of magic mastery growing ?"
When I heard them arguing, and knew that the rods were there, I began to laugh.
"Oh," asked my wife, " why are you always laughing? I believe it is at myself you are jesting, and I'll walk with you no more."
"Oh, it is not about you I am laughing. It is because I understand the language of the birds."
Then I had to tell her what the birds were saying to one another; and she was greatly delighted, and she asked me to go home, and she gave orders to the cook to have breakfast ready at six o'clock in the morning. I did not know why she was going out early, and breakfast was ready in the morning at the hour she appointed. She asked me to go out walking. I went with her. She went to the tree, and asked me to cut a rod for her.
"Oh, I will not cut it. Are we not better without it?"
"I will not leave this until I get the rod, to see if there is any good in it."
I cut the rod and gave it to her. She turned from me and struck a blow on a stone, and changed it; and she struck a second blow on me, and made of me a black raven, and she went home and left me after her. I thought she would come back; she did not come, and I had to go into a tree till morning. In the morning, at six o'clock, there was a bellman out, proclaiming that every one who killed a raven would get a fourpenny-bit.
At last you could not find man or boy without a gun, nor, if you were to walk three miles, a raven that was not killed. I had to make a nest in the top of the parlour chimney, and hide myself all day till night came, and go out to pick up a bit to support me, till I spent a month. Here she is herself to say if it is a lie I am telling.
"It is not," said she.
Then I saw her out walking. I went up to her, and I thought she would turn me back to my own shape, and she struck me with the rod and made of me an old white horse, and she ordered me to be put to a cart with a man, to draw stones from morning till night. I was worse off then. She spread abroad a report that I had died suddenly in my bed, and prepared a coffin, and waked and buried me. Then she had no trouble. But when I got tired I began to kill every one who came near me, and I used to go into the haggard every night and destroy the stacks of corn; and when a man came near me in the morning I would follow him till I broke his bones. Every one got afraid of me. When she saw I was doing mischief she came to meet me, and I thought she would change me.
And she did change me, and made a fox of me. When I saw she was doing me every sort of damage I went away from her. I knew there was a badger's hole in the garden, and I went there till night came, and I made great slaughter among the geese and ducks. There she is herself to say if I am telling a lie.
"Oh ! you are telling nothing but the truth, only less than the truth."
When she had enough of my killing the fowl she came out into the garden, for she knew I was in the badger's hole. She came to me and made me a wolf. I had to be off, and go to an island, where no one at all would see me, and now and then I used to be killing sheep, for there were not many of them, and I was afraid of being seer and hunted; and so I passed a year, till a shepherd saw me among the sheep and a pursuit was made after me. And when the dogs came near me there was no place for me to escape to from them; but I recognised the sign of the king among the men, and I made for him, and the king cried out to stop the hounds. I took a leap upon the front of the king's saddle, and the woman behind cried out,
"My king and my lord, kill him, or he will kill you!"
"Oh he will not kill me, He knew me ; he must be pardoned."
The king took me home with him, and gave orders I should be well cared for. I was so wise, when I got food, I would not eat one morsel until I got a knife and fork. The man told the king, and the king came to see if it was true, and I got a knife and fork, and I took the knife in one paw and the fork in the other, and I bowed to the king. The king gave orders to bring him drink, and it came; and the king filled a glass of wine and gave it to me.
I took hold of it in my paw and drank it, and thanked the king.
"On my honour," said he, "it is some king or other has lost him, when he came on the island; and I will keep him, as he is trained ; and perhaps he will serve us yet."
And this is the sort of king he was, - a king who had not a child living. Eight sons were born to him and three daughters, and they were stolen the same night they were born. No matter what guard was placed over them, the child would be gone in the morning. A twelfth child now came to the Queen, and the king took me with him to watch the baby.
The women were not satisfied with me.
"Oh," said the king, "what was all your watching ever good for? One that was born to me I have not I will leave this one in the dog's care, and he will not let it go."
A coupling was put between me and the cradle, and when every one went to sleep I was watching till the person woke who attended in the daytime; but I was there only two nights; when it was near the day, I saw a hand coming down through the chimney, and the hand was so big that it took round the child altogether, and thought to take him away. I caught hold of the hand above the wrist, and as I was fastened to the cradle, I did not let go my hold till I cut the hand from the wrist, and there was a howl from the person without. I laid the hand in the cradle with the child, and as I was tired I fell asleep; and when I awoke, I had neither child nor hand; and I began to howl, and the king heard me, and he cried out that something was wrong with me, and he sent servants to see what was the matter with me, and when the messenger came he saw me covered with blood, and he could not see the child; and he went to the king and told him the child was not to be got. The king came and saw the cradle coloured with the blood, and he cried out "where was the child gone?" and every one said it was the dog had eaten it.
The king said: "It is not : loose him, and he will get the pursuit himself."
When I was loosed, I found the scent of the blood till I came to a door of the room in which the child was. I went back to the king and took hold of him, and went back again and began to tear at the door. The king followed me and asked for the key. The servant said it was in the room of the stranger woman. The king caused search to be made for her, and she was not to be found. "I will break the door," said the king, "as I can't get the key." The king broke the door, and I went in, and went to the trunk, and the king asked for a key to unlock it. He got no key, and be broke the lock. When he opened the trunk, the child and the hand were stretched side by side, and the child was asleep. The king took the hand and ordered a woman to come for the child, and he showed the hand to every one in the house. But the stranger woman was gone, and she did not see the king ; - and here she is herself to say if I am telling lies of her.
"Oh, it's nothing but the truth you have!"
The king did not allow me to be tied any more. He said there was nothing so much to wonder at as that I cut the hand off, as I was tied.
The child was growing till he was a year old. He was beginning to walk, and no one cared for him more than I did. He was growing till he was three, and he was running out every minute ; so the king ordered a silver chain to be put between me and the child, that he might not go away from me. I was out with him in the garden every day, and the king was as proud as the world of the child. He would be watching him everywhere we went, till the child grew so wise that he would loose the chain and get off. But one day that he loosed it I failed to find him; and I ran into the house and searched the house, but there was no getting him for me. The king cried to go out and find the child, that had got loose from the dog. They went searching for him, but could not find him. When they failed altogether to find him, there remained no more favour with the king towards me, and every one disliked me, and I grew weak, for I did not get a morsel to eat half the time. When summer came, I said I would try and go home to my own country. I went away one fine morning, and I went swimming, and God helped me till I came home. I went into the garden, for I knew there was a place in the garden where I could hide myself, for fear my wife should see me. In the morning I saw her out walking, and the child with her, held by the hand. I pushed out to see the child, and as he was looking about him everywhere, he saw me and called out, "I see my shaggy papa. Oh ! " said he; "oh, my heart's love, my shaggy papa, come here till I see you !'
I was afraid the woman would see me, as she was asking the child where he saw me, and he said I was up in a tree; and the more the child called me, the more I hid myself.
The woman took the child home with her, but I knew he would be up early in the morning.
I went to the parlour-window, and the child was within, and he playing. When he saw me he cried out," Oh ! my heart's love, come here till I see you, shaggy papa." I broke the window and went in, and he began to kiss me. I saw the rod in front of the chimney, and I jumped up at the rod and knocked it down. "Oh ! my heart's love, no one would give me the pretty rod," said he. I hoped he would strike me with the rod, but he did not. When I saw the time was short I raised my paw, and I gave him a scratch below the knee. " Oh ! you naughty, dirty, shaggy papa, you have hurt me so much, I'll give you a blow of the rod." He struck me a light blow, and so I came back to my own shape again. When he saw a man standing before him he gave a cry, and I took him up in my arms. The servants heard the child. A maid came in to see what was the matter with him. When she saw me she gave a cry out of her, and she said, "Oh, if the master isn't come to life again. !"
Another came in, and said it was he really. When the mistress heard of it, she came to see with her own eyes, for she would not believe I was there ; and when she saw me she said she'd drown herself. But I said to her, "If you yourself will keep the secret, no living man will ever get the story from me until I lose my head." Here she is herself to say if I am telling the truth.
" Oh, it's nothing but truth you are telling."
When I saw I was in a man's shape, I said I would take the child back to his father and mother, as I knew the grief they were in after him. I got a ship, and took the child with me; and as I journeyed I came to land, on an island, and I saw not a living soul on it, only a castle dark and gloomy. I went in to see was there any one in it. There was no one but an old hag, tall and frightful, and she asked me, "What sort of person are you.?" I heard some one groaning in another room, and I said I was a doctor, and I asked her what ailed the person who was groaning.
"Oh," said she, "it is my son, whose hand has been bitten from his wrist by a dog."
I knew then that it was he who had taken the child from me, and I said I would cure him if I got a good reward.
"I have nothing; but there are eight young lads and three young women, as handsome as any one ever laid eyes on, and if you cure him I will give you them."
"Tell me first in what place his hand was cut from him?"
"Oh, it was out in another country, twelve years ago."
"Show me the way, that I may see him."
She brought me into a room, so that I saw him, and his arm was swelled up to the shoulder. He asked me if I would cure him; and I said I would cure him if he would give me the reward his mother promised.
"Oh, I will give it ; but cure me." "Well, bring them out to me."
The hag brought them out of the room. I said I should burn the flesh that was on his arm. When I looked on him he was howling with pain. I said that I would not leave him in pain long. The wretch had only one eye in his forehead. I took a bar of iron, and put it in the fire till it was red, and I said to the hag, "He will be howling at first, but will fall asleep presently, and do not wake him till he has slept as much as he wants. I will close the door when I am going out." I took the bar with me, and I stood over him, and I turned it across through his eye as far as I could. He began to bellow, and tried to catch me, but I was out and away, having closed the door. The hag asked me, "Why is he bellowing?"
"Oh, he will be quiet presently, and will sleep for a good while, and I'll come again to have a look at him ; but bring me out the young men and the young women."
I took them with me, and I said to her, "Tell me where you got them."
"My son brought them with him, and they are all the children of one king."
I was well satisfied, and I had no wish for delay to get myself free from the hag, so I took them on board the ship, and the child I had myself. I thought the king might leave me the child I nursed myself; but when I came to land, and all those young people with me, the king and queen were out walking. The king was very aged, and the queen aged likewise. When I came to converse with them, and the twelve with me, the king and queen began to cry. I asked, "Why are you crying?"
"It is for good cause I am crying. As many children as these I should have, and now I am withered, grey, at the end of my life, and I have not one at all."
I told him all I went through, and I gave him the child in his hand, and "These are your other children who were stolen from you, whom I am giving to you safe. They are gently reared."
When the king heard who they were he smothered them with kisses and drowned them with tears, and dried them with fine cloths silken and the hair of his own head, and so also did their mother, and great was his welcome for me, as it was I who found them all. The king said to me, "I will give you the last child, as it is you who have earned him best; but you must come to my court every year, and the child with you, and I will share with you my possessions.
"I have enough of my own, and after my death I will leave it to the child."
I spent a time, till my visit was over, and I told the king all the troubles I went through, only I said nothing about my wife. And now you have the story.
And now when you go home, and the Slender Red Champion asks you for news of the death of Anshgayliacht and for the sword of light, tell him the way in which his brother was killed, and say you have the sword ; and he will ask the sword from you. Say you to him, "If I promised to bring it to you, I did not promise to bring it for you ;" and then throw the sword into the air and it will come back to me.
He went home, and he told the story of the death of Anshgayliacht to the Slender Red Champion, "And here," said he, "is the sword." The Slender Red Champion asked for the sword ; but he said: "If I promised to bring it to you, I did not promise to bring it for you;" and he threw it into the air and it returned to Blue Niall.
Jacobs, Joseph. More Celtic Fairy
Tales. London: David Nutt, 1894.
Jacobs' Notes and References
Sources - The second story in Mr. W. Larminie's West Irish Folk-tales, pp. 10 - 30. The framework was collected from P. McGrale of Achill Island, Co. Mayo. The story itself was from Terence Davis of Rendyle, Co. Galway. There is evidently confusion in the introductory portion between Niall's mother and wife.
Parallels - Carnpbell's No. I has a very close parallel to the opening. Mr. Larminie refers to a similar tale collected by Kennedy. Another version from West Munster has been recently published in the Gaelic Iournal iv. 7, 26, 35. The evasion of the promise to give up the sword at the end seems a favourite incident in Achill folk-tales ; it occurs in two others of Mr. Larminie's stories. On the framework, see note on "Conal Yellow claw" (Celtic Folktales, v.). I have there suggested that the plan comes from the East, ultimately from Buddha.