CATHAL, King of Munster, was a good king and a great warrior. But there came to dwell within him a lawless evil beast, that afflicted him with hunger that ceased not, and might not be satisfied, so that he would devour a pig, a cow, and a bull calf and three-score cakes of pure wheat, and a vat of new ale, for his breakfast, whilst as for his great feast, what he ate there passes account or reckoning. He was like this for three half-years, and during that time it was the ruin of Munster he was, and it is likely he would have ruined all Ireland in another half-year.
Now there lived in Armagh a famous young scholar and his name was Anier MacConglinney. He heard of the strange disease of King Cathal, and of the abundance of food and drink, of whitemeats, ale and mead, there were always to be found at the king's court. Thither then was he minded to go to try his own fortune, and to see of what help he could be to the king.
He arose early in the morning and tucked up his shirt and wrapped him in the folds of his white cloak. In his right hand he grasped his even-poised knotty staff, and going right-hand-wise round his home, he bade farewell to his tutors and started off.
He journeyed across all Ireland till he came to the house of Pichan. And there he stayed and told tales, and made all merry. But Pichan said:
"Though great thy mirth, son of learning, it does not make me glad."
"And why?" asked MacConglinney.
"Knowest thou not, scholar, that Cathal is coming here to-night with all his host. And if the great host is troublesome, the king's first meal is more troublesome still; and troublesome though the first be, most troublesome of all is the great feast. Three things are wanted for this last: a bushel of oats, and a bushel of wild apples, and a bushel of flour cakes."
"What reward would you give me if I shield you from the king from this hour to the same hour to-morrow?"
"A white sheep from every fold between Carn and Cork."
"I will take that," said MacConglinney.
Cathal, the king, came with the companies, and a host of horse of the Munster men. But Cathal did not let the thong of his shoe be half loosed before he began supplying his mouth with both hands from the apples round about him. Pichan and all the men of Munster looked on sadly and sorrowfully. Then rose MacConglinney, hastily and impatiently, and seized a stone, against which swords were used to be sharpened; this he thrust into his mouth and began grinding his teeth against the stone.
"What makes thee mad, son of learning?" asked Cathal.
"I grieve to see you eating alone," said the scholar.
Then the king was ashamed and flung him the apples, and it is said that for three half-years he had not performed such an act of humanity.
"Grant me a further boon," said MacConglinney.
"It is granted, on my troth," said the king.
"Fast with me the whole night," said the scholar.
And grievous though it was to the king, he did so, for he had passed his princely troth, and no King of Munster might transgress that.
In the morning MacConglinney called for juicy old bacon, and tender corned beef, honey in the comb, and English salt on a beautiful polished dish of white silver. A fire he lighted of oak wood without smoke, without fumes, without sparks.
And sticking spits into the portion of meat, he set to work to roast them. Then he shouted, "Ropes and cords here."
Ropes and cords were given to him, and the strongest of the warriors.
And they seized the king and bound him securely, and made him fast with knots and hooks and staples. When the king was thus fastened, MacConglinney sat himself down before him, and taking his knife out of his girdle, he carved the portion of meat that was on the spits, and every morsel he dipped in the honey, and, passing it in front of the king's mouth, put it in his own.
When the king saw that he was getting nothing, and he had been fasting for twenty-four hours, he roared and bellowed, and commanded the killing of the scholar. But that was not done for him.
"Listen, King of Munster," said MacConglinney, "a vision appeared to me last night, and I will relate it to you."
He then began his vision, and as he related it he put morsel after morsel past Cathal's mouth into his own.
"A lake of new milk I beheld
In the midst of a fair plain,
Therein a well-appointed house,
Thatched with butter.
Puddings fresh boiled,
Such were its thatch-rods,
Its two soft door posts of custard,
Its beds of glorious bacon.
Cheeses were the palisades,
Sausages the rafters.
Truly 'twas a rich filled house,
In which was great store of good feed.
"Such was the vision I beheld, and a voice sounded into my ears. 'Go now, thither, MacConglinney, for you have no power of eating in you.' 'What must I do,' said I, for the sight of that had made me greedy. Then the voice bade me go to the hermitage of the Wizard Doctor, and there I should find appetite for all kinds of savoury tender sweet food, acceptable to the body.
"There in the harbour of the lake before me I saw a juicy little coracle of beef; its thwarts were of curds, its prow of lard; its stern of butter; its oars were flitches of venison. Then I rowed across the wide expanse of the New Milk Lake, through seas of broth, past river mouths of meat, over swelling boisterous waves of butter milk, by perpetual pools of savoury lard, by islands of cheese, by headlands of old curds, until I reached the firm level land between Butter Mount and Milk Lake, in the land of O'Early-eating, in front of the hermitage of the Wizard Doctor.
"Marvellous, indeed, was the hermitage. Around it were seven-score hundred smooth stakes of old bacon, and instead of thorns above the top of every stake was fixed juicy lard. There was a gate of cream, whereon was a bolt of sausage. And there I saw the doorkeeper, Bacon Lad, son of Butterkins, son of Lardipole, with his smooth sandals of old bacon, his legging of pot-meat round his shins, his tunic of corned beef, his girdle of salmon skin round him, his hood of flummery about him, his steed of bacon under him, with its four legs of custard, its four hoofs of oaten bread, its ears of curds, its two eyes of honey in its head; in his hand a whip, the cords whereof were four-and-twenty fair white puddings, and every juicy drop that fell from each of these puddings would have made a meal for an ordinary man.
"On going in I beheld the Wizard Doctor with his two gloves of rump steak on his hands, setting in order the house, which was hung all round with tripe, from roof to floor.
"I went into the kitchen, and there I saw the Wizard Doctor's son, with his fishing hook of lard in his hand, and the line was made of marrow, and he was angling in a lake of whey. Now he would bring up a flitch of ham, and now a fillet of corned beef. And as he was angling, he fell in, and was drowned.
"As I set my foot across the threshold into the house, I saw a pure white bed of butter, on which I sat down, but I sank down into it up to the tips of my hair. Hard work had the eight strongest men in the house to pull me out by the top of the crown of my head.
"Then I was taken in to the Wizard Doctor. 'What aileth thee?' said he.
"My wish would be, that all the many wonderful viands of the world were before me, that I might eat my fill and satisfy my greed. But alas! great is the misfortune to me, who cannot obtain any of these.
"'On my word,' said the Doctor, 'the disease is grievous. But thou shall take home with thee a medicine to cure thy disease, and shalt be for ever healed therefrom.'
"'What is that?' asked I.
"'When thou goest home to-night, warm thyself before a glowing red fire of oak, made up on a dry hearth, so that its embers may warm thee, its blaze may not burn thee, its smoke may not touch thee. And make for thyself thrice nine morsels, and every morsel as big as an heath fowl's egg, and in each morsel eight kinds of grain, wheat and barley, oats and rye, and therewith eight condiments, and to every condiment eight sauces. And when thou hast prepared thy food, take a drop of drink, a tiny drop, only as much as twenty men will drink, and let it be of thick milk, of yellow bubbling milk, of milk that will gurgle as it rushes down thy throat.'
"'And when thou hast done this, whatever disease thou hast, shall be removed. Go now,' said he, 'in the name of cheese, and may the smooth juicy bacon protect thee, may yellow curdy cream protect, may the cauldron full of pottage protect thee.'"
Now, as MacConglinney recited his vision, what with the pleasure of the recital and the recounting of these many pleasant viands, and the sweet savour of the honeyed morsels roasting on the spits, the lawless beast that dwelt within the king, came forth until it was licking its lips outside its head.
Then MacConglinney bent his hand with the two spits of food, and put them to the lips of the king, who longed to swallow them, wood, food, and all. So he took them an arm's length away from the king, and the lawless beast jumped from the throat of Cathal onto the spit. MacConglinney put the spit into the embers, and upset the cauldron of the royal house over the spit. The house was emptied, so that not the value of a cockchafer's leg was left in it, and four huge fires were kindled here and there in it. When the house was a tower of red flame and a huge blaze, the lawless beast sprang to the rooftree of the palace, and from thence he vanished, and was seen no more.
As for the king, a bed was prepared for him on a downy quilt, and musicians and singers entertained him going from noon till twilight. And when he awoke, this is what he bestowed upon the scholar--a cow from every farm, and a sheep from every house in Munster. Moreover, that so long as he lived, he should carve the king's food, and sit at his right hand.
Thus was Cathal, King of Munster, cured of his craving, and MacConglinney honoured.