More Celtic Fairy Tales | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in September 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

Black Horse, The

ONCE there was a king and he had three sons, and when the king died, they did not give a shade of anything to the youngest son, but an old white limping garron.

               "If I get but this," quoth he, "it seems that I had best go with this same."

               He was going with it right before him, sometimes walking, sometimes riding. When he had been riding a good while he thought that the garron would need a while of eating, so he came down to earth, and what should he see coming out of the heart of the western airt towards him but a rider riding high, well, and right well.

               "All hail, my lad," said he.

               "Hail, king's son," said the other.

               "What's your news?" said the king's son.

               "I have got that," said the lad who came. "I am after breaking my heart riding this ass of a horse; but will you give me the limping white garron for him?"

               "No," said the prince; "it would be a bad business for me."

               "You need not fear," said the man that came, "there is no saying but that you might make better use of him than I. He has one value, there is no single place that you can think of in the four parts of the wheel of the world that the black horse will not take you there."

               So the king's son got the black horse, and he gave the limping white garron.

               Where should he think of being when he mounted but in the Realm Underwaves. He went, and before sunrise on the morrow he was there. What should he find when he got there but the son of the King Underwaves holding a Court, and the people of the realm gathered to see if there was any one who would undertake to go to seek the daughter of the King of the Greeks to be the prince's wife. No one came forward, when who should come up but the rider of the black horse.

               "You, rider of the black horse," said the prince, "I lay you under crosses and under spells to have the daughter of the King of the Greeks here before the sun rises to-morrow."

               He went out and he reached the black horse and leaned his elbow on his mane, and he heaved a sigh.

               "Sigh of a king's son under spells!" said the horse; "but have no care; we shall do the thing that was set before you." And so off they went.

               "Now," said the horse, "when we get near the great town of the Greeks, you will notice that the four feet of a horse never went to the town before. The king's daughter will see me from the top of the castle looking out of a window, and she will not be content without a turn of a ride upon me. Say that she may have that, but the horse will suffer no man but you to ride before a woman on him."

               They came near the big town, and he fell to horsemanship; and the princess was looking out of the windows, and noticed the horse. The horsemanship pleased her, and she came out just as the horse had come.

               "Give me a ride on the horse," said she.

               "You shall have that," said he, "but the horse will let no man ride him before a woman but me."

               "I have a horseman of my own," said she.

               "If so, set him in front," said he.

               Before the horseman mounted at all, when he tried to get up, the horse lifted his legs and kicked him off.

               "Come then yourself and mount before me," said she; "I won't leave the matter so."

               He mounted the horse and she behind him, and before she glanced from her she was nearer sky than earth. He was in Realm Underwaves with her before sunrise.

               "You are come," said Prince Underwaves.

               "I am come," said he.

               "There you are, my hero," said the prince. "You are the son of a king, but I am a son of success. Anyhow, we shall have no delay or neglect now, but a wedding."

               "Just gently," said the princess; "your wedding is not so short a way off as you suppose. Till I get the silver cup that my grandmother had at her wedding, and that my mother had as well, I will not marry, for I need to have it at my own wedding."

               "You, rider of the black horse," said the Prince Underwaves, "I set you under spells and under crosses unless the silver cup is here before dawn to-morrow."

               Out he went and reached the horse and leaned his elbow on his mane, and he heaved a sigh.

               "Sigh of a king's son under spells!" said the horse; "mount and you shall get the silver cup. The people of the realm are gathered about the king to-night, for he has missed his daughter, and when you get to the palace go in and leave me without; they will have the cup there going round the company. Go in and sit in their midst. Say nothing, and seem to be as one of the people of the place. But when the cup comes round to you, take it under your oxter, and come out to me with it, and we'll go."

               Away they went and they got to Greece, and he went in to the palace and did as the black horse bade. He took the cup and came out and mounted, and before sunrise he was in the Realm Underwaves.

               "You are come," said Prince Underwaves.

               "I am come," said he.

               "We had better get married now," said the prince to the Greek princess.

               "Slowly and softly," said she. "I will not marry till I get the silver ring that my grandmother and my mother wore when they were wedded."

               "You, rider of the black horse," said the Prince Underwaves, "do that. Let's have that ring here to-morrow at sunrise."

               The lad went to the black horse and put his elbow on his crest and told him how it was.

               "There never was a matter set before me harder than this matter which has now been set in front of me," said the horse, "but there is no help for it at any rate. Mount me. There is a snow mountain and an ice mountain and a mountain of fire between us and the winning of that ring. It is right hard for us to pass them."

               Thus they went as they were, and about a mile from the snow mountain they were in a bad case with cold. As they came near it he struck the horse, and with the bound he gave the black horse was on the top of the snow mountain; at the next bound he was on the top of the ice mountain; at the third bound he went through the mountain of fire. When he had passed the mountains he was dragging at the horse's neck, as though he were about to lose himself. He went on before him down to a town below.

               "Go down," said the black horse, "to a smithy; make an iron spike for every bone end in me."

               Down he went as the horse desired, and he got the spikes made, and back he came with them.

               "Stick them into me," said the horse, "every spike of them in every bone end that I have."

               That he did; he stuck the spikes into the horse.

               "There is a loch here," said the horse, "four miles long and four miles wide, and when I go out into it the loch will take fire and blaze. If you see the Loch of Fire going out before the sun rises, expect me, and if not, go your way."

               Out went the black horse into the lake, and the lake became flame. Long was he stretched about the lake, beating his palms and roaring. Day came, and the loch did not go out.

               But at the hour when the sun was rising out of the water the lake went out.

               And the black horse rose in the middle of the water with one single spike in him, and the ring upon its end.

               He came on shore, and down he fell beside the loch.

               Then down went the rider. He got the ring, and he dragged the horse down to the side of a hill. He fell to sheltering him with his arms about him, and as the sun was rising he got better and better, till about midday, when he rose on his feet.

               "Mount," said the horse, "and let us begone."

               He mounted on the black horse, and away they went.

               He reached the mountains, and he leaped the horse at the fire mountain and was on the top. From the mountain of fire he leaped to the mountain of ice, and from the mountain of ice to the mountain of snow. He put the mountains past him, and by morning he was in realm under the waves.

               "You are come," said the prince.

               "I am," said he.

               "That's true," said Prince Underwaves. "A king's son are you, but a son of success am I. We shall have no more mistakes and delays, but a wedding this time."

               "Go easy," said the Princess of the Greeks. "Your wedding is not so near as you think yet. Till you make a castle, I won't marry you. Not to your father's castle nor to your mother's will I go to dwell; but make me a castle for which your father's castle will not make washing water."

               "You, rider of the black horse, make that," said Prince Underwaves, "before the morrow's sun rises."

               The lad went out to the horse and leaned his elbow on his neck and sighed, thinking that this castle never could be made for ever.

               "There never came a turn in my road yet that is easier for me to pass than this," said the black horse.

               Glance that the lad gave from him he saw all that there were, and ever so many wrights and stone masons at work, and the castle was ready before the sun rose.

               He shouted at the Prince Underwaves, and he saw the castle. He tried to pluck out his eye, thinking that it was a false sight.

               "Son of King Underwaves," said the rider of the black horse, "don't think that you have a false sight; this is a true sight."

               "That's true," said the prince. "You are a son of success, but I am a son of success too. There will be no more mistakes and delays, but a wedding now."

               "No," said she. "The time is come. Should we not go to look at the castle? There's time enough to get married before the night comes."

               They went to the castle and the castle was without a "but"----

               "I see one," said the prince. "One want at least to be made good. A well to be made inside, so that water may not be far to fetch when there is a feast or a wedding in the castle."

               "That won't be long undone," said the rider of the black horse.

               The well was made, and it was seven fathoms deep and two or three fathoms wide, and they looked at the well on the way to the wedding.

               "It is very well made," said she, "but for one little fault yonder."

               "Where is it?" said Prince Underwaves.

               "There," said she.

               He bent him down to look. She came out, and she put her two hands at his back, and cast him in.

               "Be thou there," said she. "If I go to be married, thou art not the man; but the man who did each exploit that has been done, and, if he chooses, him will I have."

               Away she went with the rider of the little black horse to the wedding.

               And at the end of three years after that so it was that he first remembered the black horse or where he left him.

               He got up and went out, and he was very sorry for his neglect of the black horse. He found him just where he left him.

               "Good luck to you, gentleman," said the horse. "You seem as if you had got something that you like better than me."

               "I have not got that, and I won't; but it came over me to forget you," said he.

               "I don't mind," said the horse, "it will make no difference. Raise your sword and smite off my head."

               "Fortune will now allow that I should do that," said he.

               "Do it instantly, or I will do it to you," said the horse.

               So the lad drew his sword and smote off the horse's head; then he lifted his two palms and uttered a doleful cry.

               What should he hear behind him but "All hail, my brother-in-law."

               He looked behind him, and there was the finest man he ever set eyes upon.

               "What set you weeping for the black horse?" said he.

               "This," said the lad, "that there never was born of man or beast a creature in this world that I was fonder of."

               "Would you take me for him?" said the stranger.

               "If I could think you the horse, I would; but if not, I would rather the horse," said the rider.

               "I am the black horse," said the lad, "and if I were not, how should you have all these things that you went to seek in my father's house. Since I went under spells, many a man have I ran at before you met me. They had but one word amongst them: they could not keep me, nor manage me, and they never kept me a couple of days. But when I fell in with you, you kept me till the time ran out that was to come from the spells. And now you shall go home with me, and we will make a wedding in my father's house."


SOURCES: From J. F. Campbell's manuscript collection now deposited at the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh (MS. 53, vol. xi.). Collected in Gaelic, February 14, 1862, by Hector MacLean, from Roderick MacNeill, in the island of Menglay: MacNeill learnt the story about 1840 from a Barra man. I have omitted one visit of the Black Horse to Greece, but otherwise left the tale untouched. Mr. Nutt gave a short abstract of the story in his report on the Campbell MSS. in Folk-lore, i. 370.

PARALLELS: Campbell gives the following parallels in his notes on the tale, which I quote verbatim. On the throwing into the well he remarks: "So this incident of 'Lady Audley's Secret' was in the mind of a Barra peasant about 1840. Part of a modern novel may be as old as Aryan mythology, which was one point to be proved." [The incident of throwing into the well almost invariably forms a part of the tales of the White Cat type.]

                With regard to the Black Horse, Campbell notes that a Gaelic riddle makes a Black Horse identical with the West Wind, and adds: "It is for consideration whether this Horse throws light on the sacred Wheel in Indian Sculptures; it is to be noted that a Black Horse is the sacrificial colour."

                "The Cup is a well-known myth about winning a Fairy Cup which pervades Scandinavian England in many forms." "A silver ring, two quaint serpents' heads pointing opposite ways, is a common Scandinavian wedding-ring; many were to be got in Barra and elsewhere in 1869, sold by emigrants bound for America."

                "Those who can account for myths must settle the geography of the Snow Mountain. Avalanches and glaciers are in Iceland, in the Caucasus, and in Central Asia. There are none within sight of Menglay. Hindoo cosmogony, which makes the world consist of seven rings, separated by seas and by a wall of mountains, may account for this in some sort."

                On the spikes driven into the Horse, Campbell compares the Norse story of "Dapple-grim" and the Horse sacrifice of the Mahabharata. On the building of the Magic Castle, Campbell remarks: "Twashtri was the Carpenter of the Vedic gods: can this be his work?"

                On the Horse's head being struck off Campbell comments: "This was the last act in the Aryan Horse's sacrifice, and the first step in the Horse apotheosis."

REMARKS: Campbell has the following note at the end of the tale, from which it would seem that in 1870 at least he was very nearly being an Indiamaniac.

                "So ends this horse-riding story. Taking it as it is, with the test of language added, nothing short of an Asian origin will account for it. A Gaelic riddle makes 'a black horse' mean the invisible wind, and a theorist might suppose this horse to be the air personified. As Greece is mentioned, he might be Pegasus, who had to do with wells. But he had wings, and he was white, and there is nothing in classical fable like this Atlantic myth. 'The enchanted horse' of Arabian Nights was a flying machine, and his adventures are quite different. This is not the horse of Chaucer's Squire's Tale. He is more like 'Hrimfaxi,' the horse of the Edda, who drew the car of Nött in heaven, and was ridden round the earth in twelve hours, followed by Dagr and his glittering horse Skinfaxi. The black horse who always arrives at sunrise is like the horse of night, but there is no equivalent story in the Edda. 'Dapple-grim' in Norse tales is clad in a spiked bull's hide, and is mixed up with a blazing tar-barrel, but his adventures won't fit, and he was grey.

                "The story is but an imperfect skeleton. The cup was to give strength; he had to open seven gates after he got the cup, but it does nothing. The hood is to hide with; he went in and out of the palace unseen after he had got the hood, but it plays no part. The light shoes were the shoes of swiftness of course, but they never showed their paces. Baldr's horse was led to the funeral pile with all his gear; and Odin laid the gold ring Draupnir on the pile. Such rites might account for the ring in the blazing lake. Hermothr's ride northwards and downwards to the abode of Hel to seek Baldr, his leap over the grate, and his return with the ring (Edda 25), might account for one adventure.

                "The many-coloured horses of the sun in the Indian mythology and solar myths may account for all these horses, astronomically or meteorologically. The old Aryan Aswa Medha or sacrifice of a black horse, and the twelve adventures of Arjuna as told in the Mahabharata, are something like this story in some general vague way. But the simplest explanation of this Menglay myth, fished out of the Atlantic, is to admit that 'the black horse' and all this mythical breed came west with men who rode from the land where horses were tamed, which is unknown."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Black Horse, The
Tale Author/Editor: Jacobs, Joseph
Book Title: More Celtic Fairy Tales
Book Author/Editor: Jacobs, Joseph
Publisher: David Nutt
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1894
Country of Origin: Scotland
Classification: unclassified

Back to Top