The Lilac Fairy Book by Andrew Lang - HTML preview
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The Battle of the Birds
There was to be a great battle between all the creatures of the earth and the birds of the air. News of it went abroad, and the son of the king of Tethertown said that when the battle was fought he would be there to see it, and would bring back word who was to be king. But in spite of that, he was almost too late, and every fight had been fought save the last, which was between a snake and a great black raven. Both struck hard, but in the end the snake proved the stronger, and would have twisted himself round the neck of the raven till he died had not the king's son drawn his sword, and cut off the head of the snake at a single blow. And when the raven beheld that his enemy was dead, he was grateful, and said:
'For thy kindness to me this day, I will show thee a sight. So come up now on the root of my two wings.' The king's son did as he was bid, and before the raven stopped flying, they had passed over seven bens and seven glens and seven mountain moors.
'Do you see that house yonder?' said the raven at last. 'Go straight for it, for a sister of mine dwells there, and she will make you right welcome. And if she asks, "Wert thou at the battle of the birds?" answer that thou wert, and if she asks, "Didst thou see my likeness?" answer that thou sawest it, but be sure thou meetest me in the morning at this place.'The king's son followed what the raven told him and that night he had meat of each meat, and drink of each drink, warm water for his feet, and a soft bed to lie in.
Thus it happened the next day, and the next, but on the fourth meeting, instead of meeting the raven, in his place the king's son found waiting for him the handsomest youth that ever was seen, with a bundle in his hand.'Is there a raven hereabouts?' asked the king's son, and the youth answered:
'I am that raven, and I was delivered by thee from the spells that bound me, and in reward thou wilt get this bundle. Go back by the road thou camest, and lie as before, a night in each house, but be careful not to unloose the bundle till thou art in the place wherein thou wouldst most wish to dwell.'
Then the king's son set out, and thus it happened as it had happened before, till he entered a thick wood near his father's house. He had walked a long way and suddenly the bundle seemed to grow heavier; first he put it down under a tree, and next he thought he would look at it.
The string was easy to untie, and the king's son soon unfastened the bundle. What was it he saw there? Why, a great castle with an orchard all about it, and in the orchard fruit and flowers and birds of very kind. It was all ready for him to dwell in, but instead of being in the midst of the forest, he did wish he had left the bundle unloosed till he had reached the green valley close to his father's palace. Well, it was no use wishing, and with a sigh he glanced up, and beheld a huge giant coming towards him.
'Bad is the place where thou hast built thy house, king's son,' said the giant.
Light of heart the king's son went on his road, till he came to the green valley near his father's palace. Slowly he unloosed the bundle, fearing lest he should find nothing but a heap of stones or rags. But no! all was as it had been before, and as he opened the castle door there stood within the most beautiful maiden that ever was seen.'Enter, king's son,' said she, 'all is ready, and we will be married at once,' and so they were.
The maiden proved a good wife, and the king's son, now himself a king, was so happy that he forgot all about the giant. Seven years and a day had gone by, when one morning, while standing on the ramparts, he beheld the giant striding towards the castle. Then he remembered his promise, and remembered, too, that he had told the queen nothing about it. Now he must tell her, and perhaps she might help him in his trouble.The queen listened in silence to his tale, and after he had finished, she only said: 'Leave thou the matter between me and the giant,' and as she spoke, the giant entered the hall and stood before them. 'Bring out your son,' cried he to the king, 'as you promised me seven years and a day since.' The king glanced at his wife, who nodded, so he answered:
'Let his mother first put him in order,' and the queen left the hall, and took the cook's son and dressed him in the prince's clothes, and led him up to the giant, who held his hand, and together they went out along the road. They had not walked far when the giant stopped and stretched out a stick to the boy.'If your father had that stick, what would he do with it?' asked he.
'If my father had that stick, he would beat the dogs and cats that steal the king's meat,' replied the boy.
'Thou art the cook's son!' cried the giant. 'Go home to thy mother'; and turning his back he strode straight to the castle.
'The butler's son is the same age as ours,' whispered the queen; 'he will not know the difference,' and she took the child and dressed him in the prince's clothes, and the giant let him away along the road. Before they had gone far he stopped, and held out a stick.'If thy father had that rod, what would he do with it?' asked the giant. 'He would beat the dogs and cats that break the king's glasses,' answered the boy. 'Thou art the son of the butler!' cried the giant. 'Go home to thy mother'; and turning round he strode back angrily to the castle. 'Bring out thy son at once,' roared he, 'or the stone that is highest will be lowest,' and this time the real prince was brought.
But though his parents wept bitterly and fancied the child was suffering all kinds of dreadful things, the giant treated him like his own son, though he never allowed him to see his daughters. The boy grew to be a big boy, and one day the giant told him that he would have to amuse himself alone for many hours, as he had a journey to make. So the boy wandered to the top of the castle, where he had never been before. There he paused, for the sound of music broke upon his ears, and opening a door near him, he beheld a girl sitting by the window, holding a harp.
'Haste and begone, I see the giant close at hand,' she whispered hurriedly, 'but when he is asleep, return hither, for I would speak with thee.' And the prince did as he was bid, and when midnight struck he crept back to the top of the castle.
'To-morrow,' said the girl, who was the giant's daughter, 'to- morrow thou wilt get the choice of my two sisters to marry, but thou must answer that thou wilt not take either, but only me. This will anger him greatly, for he wishes to betroth me to the son of the king of the Green City, whom I like not at all.'Then they parted, and on the morrow, as the girl had said, the giant called his three daughters to him, and likewise the young prince to whom he spoke.
'Now, O son of the king of Tethertown, the time has come for us to part. Choose one of my two elder daughters to wife, and thou shalt take her to your father's house the day after the wedding.''Give me the youngest instead,' replied the youth, and the giant's face darkened as he heard him.
'Three things must thou do first,' said he. 'Say on, I will do them,' replied the prince, and the giant left the house, and bade him follow to the byre, where the cows were kept.
'For a hundred years no man has swept this byre,' said the giant, 'but if by nightfall, when I reach home, thou has not cleaned it so that a golden apple can roll through it from end to end, thy blood shall pay for it.'
All day long the youth toiled, but he might as well have tried to empty the ocean. At length, when he was so tired he could hardly move, the giant's youngest daughter stood in the doorway.
'Lay down thy weariness,' said she, and the king's son, thinking he could only die once, sank on the floor at her bidding, and fell sound asleep. When he woke the girl had disappeared, and the byre was so clean that a golden apple could roll from end to end of it. He jumped up in surprise, and at that moment in came the giant.'Hast thou cleaned the byre, king's son?' asked he. 'I have cleaned it,' answered he. 'Well, since thou wert so active to-day, to-morrow thou wilt thatch this byre with a feather from every different bird, or else thy blood shall pay for it,' and he went out.
Before the sun was up, the youth took his bow and his quiver and set off to kill the birds. Off to the moor he went, but never a bird was to be seen that day. At last he got so tired with running to and fro that he gave up heart.'There is but one death I can die,' thought he. Then at midday came the giant's daughter. 'Thou art tired, king's son?' asked she. 'I am,' answered he; 'all these hours have I wandered, and there fell but these two blackbirds, both of one colour.' 'Lay down thy weariness on the grass,' said she, and he did as she bade him, and fell fast asleep.
When he woke the girl had disappeared, and he got up, and returned to the byre. As he drew near, he rubbed his eyes hard, thinking he was dreaming, for there it was, beautifully thatched, just as the giant had wished. At the door of the house he met the giant.'Hast thou thatched the byre, king's son?' 'I have thatched it.'
'Well, since thou hast been so active to-day, I have something else for thee! Beside the loch thou seest over yonder there grows a fir tree. On the top of the fir tree is a magpie's nest, and in the nest are five eggs. Thou wilt bring me those eggs for breakfast, and if one is cracked or broken, thy blood shall pay for it.'
Before it was light next day, the king's son jumped out of bed and ran down to the loch. The tree was not hard to find, for the rising sun shone red on the trunk, which was five hundred feet from the ground to its first branch. Time after time he walked round it, trying to find some knots, however small, where he could put his feet, but the bark was quite smooth, and he soon saw that if he was to reach the top at all, it must be by climbing up with his knees like a sailor. But then he was a king's son and not a sailor, which made all the difference.
However, it was no use standing there staring at the fir, at least he must try to do his best, and try he did till his hands and knees were sore, for as soon as he had struggled up a few feet, he slid back again. Once he climbed a little higher than before, and hope rose in his heart, then down he came with such force that his hands and knees smarted worse than ever.'This is no time for stopping,' said the voice of the giant's daughter, as he leant against the trunk to recover his breath. 'Alas! I am no sooner up than down,' answered he.
'Try once more,' said she, and she laid a finger against the tree and bade him put his foot on it. Then she placed another finger a little higher up, and so on till he reached the top, where the magpie had built her nest.
'Make haste now with the nest,' she cried, 'for my father's breath is burning my back,' and down he scrambled as fast as he could, but the girl's little finger had caught in a branch at the top, and she was obliged to leave it there. But she was too busy to pay heed to this, for the sun was getting high over the hills.
'Listen to me,' she said. 'This night my two sisters and I will be dressed in the same garments, and you will not know me. But when my father says 'Go to thy wife, king's son,' come to the one whose right hand has no little finger.'So he went and gave the eggs to the giant, who nodded his head.
'Make ready for thy marriage,' cried he, 'for the wedding shall take place this very night, and I will summon thy bride to greet thee.' Then his three daughters were sent for, and they all entered dressed in green silk of the same fashion, and with golden circlets round their heads. The king's son looked from one to another. Which was the youngest? Suddenly his eyes fell on the hand of the middle one, and there was no little finger.
'Thou hast aimed well this time too,' said the giant, as the king's son laid his hand on her shoulder, 'but perhaps we may meet some other way'; and though he pretended to laugh, the bride saw a gleam in his eye which warned her of danger.
The wedding took place that very night, and the hall was filled with giants and gentlemen, and they danced till the house shook from top to bottom. At last everyone grew tired, and the guests went away, and the king's son and his bride were left alone.
'If we stay here till dawn my father will kill thee,' she whispered, 'but thou art my husband and I will save thee, as I did before,' and she cut an apple into nine pieces, and put two pieces at the head of the bed, and two pieces at the foot, and two pieces at the door of the kitchen, and two at the big door, and one outside the house. And when this was done, and she heard the giant snoring, she and the king's son crept out softly and stole across to the stable, where she led out the blue-grey mare and jumped on its back, and her husband mounted behind her. Not long after, the giant awoke.'Are you asleep?' asked he. 'Not yet,' answered the apple at the head of the bed, and the giant turned over, and soon was snoring as loudly as before. By and bye he called again. 'Are you asleep?' 'Not yet,' said the apple at the foot of the bed, and the giant was satisfied. After a while, he called a third time, 'Are you asleep?'
'Not yet,' replied the apple in the kitchen, but when in a few minutes, he put the question for the fourth time and received an answer from the apple outside the house door, he guessed what had happened, and ran to the room to look for himself.The bed was cold and empty!
'My father's breath is burning my back,' cried the girl, 'put thy hand into the ear of the mare, and whatever thou findest there, throw it behind thee.' And in the mare's ear there was a twig of sloe tree, and as he threw it behind him there sprung up twenty miles of thornwood so thick that scarce a weasel could go through it. And the giant, who was striding headlong forwards, got caught in it, and it pulled his hair and beard.
'This is one of my daughter's tricks,' he said to himself, 'but if I had my big axe and my wood-knife, I would not be long making a way through this,' and off he went home and brought back the axe and the wood-knife.It took him but a short time to cut a road through the blackthorn, and then he laid the axe and the knife under a tree. 'I will leave them there till I return,' he murmured to himself, but a hoodie crow, which was sitting on a branch above, heard him. 'If thou leavest them,' said the hoodie, 'we will steal them.'
'You will,' answered the giant, 'and I must take them home.' So he took them home, and started afresh on his journey.
'My father's breath is burning my back,' cried the girl at midday. 'Put thy finger in the mare's ear and throw behind thee whatever thou findest in it,' and the king's son found a splinter of grey stone, and threw it behind him, and in a twinkling twenty miles of solid rock lay between them and the giant.
'My daughter's tricks are the hardest things that ever met me,' said the giant, 'but if I had my lever and my crowbar, I would not be long in making my way through this rock also,' but as he had got them, he had to go home and fetch them. Then it took him but a short time to hew his way through the rock.'I will leave the tools here,' he murmured aloud when he had finished. 'If thou leavest them, we will steal them,' said a hoodie who was perched on a stone above him, and the giant answered: 'Steal them if thou wilt; there is no time to go back.'
'My father's breath is burning my back,' cried the girl; 'look in the mare's ear, king's son, or we are lost,' and he looked, and found a tiny bladder full of water, which he threw behind him, and it became a great lock. And the giant, who was striding on so fast, could not stop himself, and he walked right into the middle and was drowned.The blue-grey mare galloped on like the wind, and the next day the king's son came in sight of his father's house. 'Get down and go in,' said the bride, 'and tell them that thou hast married me. But take heed that neither man nor beast kiss thee, for then thou wilt cease to remember me at all.'
'I will do thy bidding,' answered he, and left her at the gate. All who met him bade him welcome, and he charged his father and mother not to kiss him, but as he greeted them his old greyhound leapt on his neck, and kissed him on the mouth. And after that he did not remember the giant's daughter.
All that day she sat on a well which was near the gate, waiting, waiting, but the king's son never came. In the darkness she climbed up into an oak tree that shadowed the well, and there she lay all night, waiting, waiting.
On the morrow, at midday, the wife of a shoemaker who dwelt near the well went to draw water for her husband to drink, and she saw the shadow of the girl in the tree, and thought it was her own shadow.
'How handsome I am, to be sure,' said she, gazing into the well, and as she stopped to behold herself better, the jug struck against the stones and broke in pieces, and she was forced to return to her husband without the water, and this angered him.
'Thou hast turned crazy,' said he in wrath. 'Go thou, my daughter, and fetch me a drink,' and the girl went, and the same thing befell her as had befallen her mother. 'Where is the water?' asked the shoemaker, when she came back, and as she held nothing save the handle of the jug he went to the well himself. He too saw the reflection of the woman in the tree, but looked up to discover whence it came, and there above him sat the most beautiful woman in the world.'Come down,' he said, 'for a while thou canst stay in my house,' and glad enough the girl was to come. Now the king of the country was about to marry, and the young men about the court thronged the shoemaker's shop to buy fine shoes to wear at the wedding. 'Thou hast a pretty daughter,' said they when they beheld the girl sitting at work. 'Pretty she is,' answered the shoemaker, 'but no daughter of mine.' 'I would give a hundred pounds to marry her,' said one. 'And I,' 'And I,' cried the others.
'That is no business of mine,' answered the shoemaker, and the young men bade him ask her if she would choose one of them for a husband, and to tell them on the morrow. Then the shoemaker asked her, and the girl said that she would marry the one who would bring his purse with him. So the shoemaker hurried to the youth who had first spoken, and he came back, and after giving the shoemaker a hundred pounds for his news, he sought the girl, who was waiting for him.
'Is it thou?' inquired she. 'I am thirsty, give me a drink from the well that is yonder.' And he poured out the water, but he could not move from the place where he was; and there he stayed till many hours had passed by.
'Take away that foolish boy,' cried the girl to the shoemaker at last, 'I am tired of him,' and then suddenly he was able to walk, and betook himself to his home, but he did not tell the others what had happened to him.
Next day there arrived one of the other young men, and in the evening, when the shoemaker had gone out and they were alone, she said to him, 'See if the latch is on the door.' The young man hastened to do her bidding, but as soon as he touched the latch, his fingers stuck to it, and there he had to stay for many hours, till the shoemaker came back, and the girl let him go. Hanging his head, he went home, but he told no one what had befallen him.Then was the turn of the third man, and his foot remained fastened to the floor, till the girl unloosed it. And thankfully, he ran off, and was not seen looking behind him.
'Take the purse of gold,' said the girl to the shoemaker, 'I have no need of it, and it will better thee.' And the shoemaker took it and told the girl he must carry the shoes for the wedding up to the castle.
'I would fain get a sight of the king's son before he marries,' sighed she. 'Come with me, then,' answered he; 'the servants are all my friends, and they will let you stand in the passage down which the king's son will pass, and all the company too.'
Up they went to the castle, and when the young men saw the girl standing there, they led her into the hall where the banquet was laid out and poured her out some wine. She was just raising the glass to drink when a flame went up out of it, and out of the flame sprang two pigeons, one of gold and one of silver. They flew round and round the head of the girl, when three grains of barley fell on the floor, and the silver pigeon dived down, and swallowed them.
'If thou hadst remembered how I cleaned the byre, thou wouldst have given me my share,' cooed the golden pigeon, and as he spoke three more grains fell, and the silver pigeon ate them as before.
'If thou hadst remembered how I thatched the byre, thou wouldst have given me my share,' cooed the golden pigeon again; and as he spoke three more grains fell, and for the third time they were eaten by the silver pigeon.'If thou hadst remembered how I got the magpie's nest, thou wouldst have given me my share,' cooed the golden pigeon.
Then the king's son understood that they had come to remind him of what he had forgotten, and his lost memory came back, and he knew his wife, and kissed her. But as the preparations had been made, it seemed a pity to waste them, so they were married a second time, and sat down to the wedding feast.From 'Tales of the West Highlands.'
The Lady of the Fountain.
In the centre of the great hall in the castle of Caerleon upon Usk, king Arthur sat on a seat of green rushes, over which was thrown a covering of flame-coloured silk, and a cushion of red satin lay under his elbow. With him were his knights Owen and Kynon and Kai, while at the far end, close to the window, were Guenevere the queen and her maidens embroidering white garments with strange devices of gold.
'I am weary,' said Arthur, 'and till my food is prepared I would fain sleep. You yourselves can tell each other tales, and Kai will fetch you from the kitchen a flagon of mean and some meat.'And when they had eaten and drunk, Kynon, the oldest among them, began his story.
'I was the only son of my father and mother, and much store they set by me, but I was not content to stay with them at home, for I thought no deed in all the world was too mighty for me. None could hold me back, and after I had won many adventures in my own land, I bade farewell to my parents and set out to see the world. Over mountains, through deserts, across rivers I went, till I reached a fair valley full of trees, with a path running by the side of a stream. I walked along that path all the day, and in the evening I came to a castle in front of which stood two youths clothed in yellow, each grasping an ivory bow, with arrows made of the bones of the whale, and winged with peacock's feathers. By their sides hung golden daggers with hilts of the bones of the whale.
'Near these young men was a man richly dressed, who turned and went with me towards the castle, where all the dwellers were gathered in the hall. In one window I beheld four and twenty damsels, and the least fair of them was fairer than Guenevere at her fairest. Some took my horse, and others unbuckled my armour, and washed it, with my sword and spear, till it all shone like silver. Then I washed myself and put on a vest and doublet which they brought me, and I and the man that entered with me sat down before a table of silver, and a goodlier feast I never had.
'All this time neither the man nor the damsels had spoken one word, but when our dinner was half over, and my hunger was stilled, the man began to ask who I was. Then I told him my name and my father's name, and why I came there, for indeed I had grown weary of gaining the mastery over all men at home, and sought if perchance there was one who could gain the mastery over me. And at this the man smiled and answered:
'"If I did not fear to distress thee too much, I would show thee what thou seekest." His words made me sorrowful and fearful of myself, which the man perceived, and added, "If thou meanest truly what thou sayest, and desirest earnestly to prove thy valour, and not to boast vainly that none can overcome thee, I have somewhat to show thee. But to-night thou must sleep in the this castle, and in the morning see that thou rise early and follow the road upwards through the valley, until thou reachest a wood. In the wood is a path branching to the right; go along this path until thou comest to a space of grass with a mound in the middle of it. On the top of the mound stands a black man, larger than any two white men; his eye is in the centre of his forehead and he has only one foot. He carries a club of iron, and two white men could hardly lift it. Around him graze a thousand beasts, all of different kinds, for he is the guardian of that wood, and it is he who will tell thee which way to go in order to find the adventure thou art in quest of."
'So spake the man, and long did that night seem to me, and before dawn I rose and put on my armour, and mounted my horse and rode on till I reached the grassy space of which he had told me. There was the black man on top of the mound, as he had said, and in truth he was mightier in all ways than I had thought him to be. As for the club, Kai, it would have been a burden for four of our warriors. He waited for me to speak, and I asked him what power he held over the beasts that thronged so close about him.
'"I will show thee, little man," he answered, and with his club he struck a stag on the head till he brayed loudly. And at his braying the animals came running, numerous as the stars in the sky, so that scarce was I able to stand among them. Serpents were there also, and dragons, and beasts of strange shapes, with horns in places where never saw I horns before. And the black man only looked at them and bade them go and feed. And they bowed themselves before him, as vassals before their lord.
'"Now, little man, I have answered thy question and showed thee my power," said he. "Is there anything else thou wouldest know?" Then I inquired of him my way, but he grew angry, and, as I perceived, would fain have hindered me; but at the last, after I had told him who I was, his anger passed from him.
'"Take that path," said he, "that leads to the head of this grassy glade, and go up the wood till thou reachest the top. There thou wilt find an open space, and in the midst of it a tall tree. Under the tree is a fountain, and by the fountain a marble slab, and on the slab a bowl of silver, with a silver chain. Dip the bowl in the fountain, and throw the water on the slab, and thou wilt hear a might peal of thunder, till heaven and earth seem trembling with the noise. After the thunder will come hail, so fierce that scarcely canst thou endure it and live, for the hailstones are both large and thick. Then the sun will shine again, but every leaf of the tree will by lying on the ground. Next a flight of birds will come and alight on the tree, and never didst thou hear a strain so sweet as that which they will sing. And at the moment in which their song sounds sweetest thou wilt hear a murmuring and complaining coming towards thee along the valley, and thou wilt see a knight in black velvet bestriding a black horse, bearing a lance with a black pennon, and he will spur his steed so as to fight thee. If thou turnest to flee, he will overtake thee. And if thou abidest were thou art, he will unhorse thee. And if thou dost not find trouble in that adventure, thou needest not to seek it during the rest of thy life."
'So I bade the black man farewell, and took my way to the top of the wood, and there I found everything just as I had been told. I went up to the tree beneath which stood the fountain, and filling the silver bowl with water, emptied it on the marble slab. Thereupon the thunder came, louder by far than I had expected to hear it, and after the thunder came the shower, but heavier by far than I had expected to feel it, for, of a truth I tell thee, Kai, not one of those hailstones would be stopped by skin or by flesh till it had reached the bone. I turned my horse's flank towards the shower, and, bending over his neck, held my shield so that it might cover his head and my own. When the hail had passed, I looked on the tree and not a single leaf was left on it, and the sky was blue and the sun shining, while on the branches were perched birds of very kind, who sang a song sweeter than any that has come to my ears, either before or since.'Thus, Kai, I stood listening to the birds, when lo, a murmuring voice approached me, saying:
'"O knight, what has brought thee hither? What evil have I done to thee, that thou shouldest do so much to me, for in all my lands neither man nor beast that met that shower has escaped alive." Then from the valley appeared the knight on the black horse, grasping the lance with the black pennon. Straightway we charged each other, and though I fought my best, he soon overcame me, and I was thrown to the ground, while the knight seized the bridle of my horse, and rode away with it, leaving me where I was, without even despoiling me of my armour.
'Sadly did I go down the hill again, and when I reached the glade where the black man was, I confess to thee, Kai, it was a marvel that I did not melt into a liquid pool, so great was my shame. That night I slept at the castle where I had been before, and I was bathed and feasted, and none asked me how I had fared. The next morning when I arose I found a bay horse saddled for me, and, girdling on my armour, I returned to my own court. The horse is still in the stable, and I would not part with it for any in Britain.
'But of a truth, Kai, no man ever confessed an adventure so much to his own dishonour, and strange indeed it seems that none other man have I ever met that knew of the black man, and the knight and the shower.''Would it not be well,' said Owen, 'to go and discover the place?' 'By the hand of my friend,' answered Kai, 'often dost thou utter that with thy tongue which thou wouldest not make good with thy deeds.' 'In truth,' said Guenevere the queen, who had listened to the tale, 'thou wert better hanged, Kai, than use such speech towards a man like Owen.' 'I meant nothing, lady,' replied Kai; 'thy praise of Owen is not greater than mine.' And as he spoke Arthur awoke, and asked if he had not slept for a little. 'Yes, lord,' answered Owen, 'certainly thou hast slept.' 'Is it time for us to go to meat?' 'It is, lord,' answered Owen.
Then the horn for washing themselves was sounded, and after that the king and his household sat down to eat. And when they had finished, Owen left them, and made ready his horse and his arms.
With the first rays of the sun he set forth, and travelled through deserts and over mountains and across rivers, and all befell him which had befallen Kynon, till he stood under the leafless tree listening to the song of the birds. Then he heard the voice, and turning to look found the knight galloping to meet him. Fiercely they fought till their lances were broken, and then they drew their swords, and a blow from Owen cut through the knight's helmet, and pierced his skull.
Feeling himself wounded unto death the knight fled, and Owen pursued him till they came to a splendid castle. Here the knight dashed across the bridge that spanned the moat, and entered the gate, but as soon as he was safe inside, the drawbridge was pulled up and caught Owen's horse in the middle, so that half of him was inside and half out, and Owen could not dismount and knew not what to do.
While he was in this sore plight a little door in the castle gate opened, and he could see a street facing him, with tall houses. Then a maiden with curling hair of gold looked through the little door and bade Owen open the gate.'By my troth!' cried Owen, 'I can no more open it from here than thou art able to set me free.'
'Well,' said she, 'I will do my best to release thee if thou wilt do as I tell thee. Take this ring and put it on with the stone inside thy hand, and close thy fingers tight, for as long as thou dost conceal it, it will conceal thee. When the men inside have held counsel together, they will come to fetch thee to thy death, and they will be much grieved not to find thee. I will stand on the horse block yonder and thou canst see me though I cannot see thee. Therefore draw near and place thy hand on my shoulder and follow me wheresoever I go.'Upon that she went away from Owen, and when the men came out from the castle to seek him and did not find him they were sorely grieved, and they returned to the castle.
Then Owen went to the maiden and placed his hand on her shoulder, and she guided him to a large room, painted all over with rich colours, and adorned with images of gold. Here she gave him meat and drink, and water to wash with and garments to wear, and he lay down upon a soft bed, with scarlet and fur to cover him, and slept gladly.In the middle of the night he woke hearing a great outcry, and he jumped up and clothed himself and went into the hall, where the maiden was standing.
'What is it?' he asked, and she answered that the knight who owned the castle was dead, and they were bearing his body to the church. Never had Owen beheld such vast crowds, and following the dead knight was the most beautiful lady in the world, whose cry was louder than the shout of the men, or the braying of the trumpets. And Owen looked on her and loved her.'Who is she?' he asked the damsel. 'That is my mistress, the countess of the fountain, and the wife of him whom thou didst slay yesterday.' 'Verily,' said Owen, 'she is the woman that I love best.'
'She shall also love thee not a little,' said the maiden. Then she left Owen, and after a while went into the chamber of her mistress, and spoke to her, but the countess answered her nothing.'What aileth thee, mistress?' inquired the maiden. 'Why hast thou kept far from me in my grief, Luned?' answered the countess, and in her turn the damsel asked: 'Is it well for thee to mourn so bitterly for the dead, or for anything that is gone from thee?' 'There is no man in the world equal to him,' replied the countess, her cheeks growing red with anger. 'I would fain banish thee for such words.' 'Be not angry, lady,' said Luned, 'but listen to my counsel. Thou knowest well that alone thou canst not preserve thy lands, therefore seek some one to help thee.' 'And how can I do that?' asked the countess.
'I will tell thee,' answered Luned. 'Unless thou canst defend the fountain all will be lost, and none can defend the fountain except a knight of Arthur's court. There will I go to seek him, and woe betide me if I return without a warrior that can guard the fountain, as well as he who kept it before.''Go then,' said the countess, 'and make proof of that which thou hast promised.'
So Luned set out, riding on a white palfrey, on pretence of journeying to King Arthur's court, but instead of doing that she hid herself for as many days as it would have taken her to go and come, and then she left her hiding-place, and went into the countess.'What news from the court?' asked her mistress, when she had given Luned a warm greeting. 'The best of news,' answered the maiden, 'for I have gained the object of my mission. When wilt thou that I present to thee the knight who has returned with me?' 'To-morrow at midday,' said the countess, 'and I will cause all the people in the town to come together.'
Therefore the next day at noon Owen put on his coat of mail, and over it he wore a splendid mantle, while on his feet were leather shoes fastened with clasps of gold. And he followed Luned to the chamber of her mistress.Right glad was the countess to see them, but she looked closely at Owen and said: 'Luned, this knight has scarcely the air of a traveller.'
'What harm is there in that, lady?' answered Luned. 'I am persuaded,' said the countess, 'that this man and no other chased the soul from the body of my lord.''Had he not been stronger than thy lord,' replied the damsel, 'he could not have taken his life, and for that, and for all things that are past, there is no remedy.' 'Leave me, both of you,' said the countess, 'and I will take counsel.' Then they went out.
The next morning the countess summoned her subjects to meet in the courtyard of the castle, and told them that now that her husband was dead there was none to defend her lands.
'So choose you which it shall be,' she said. 'Either let one of you take me for a wife, or give me your consent to take a new lord for myself, that my lands be not without a master.'
At her words the chief men of the city withdrew into one corner and took counsel together, and after a while the leader came forward and said that they had decided that it was best, for the peace and safety of all, that she should choose a husband for herself. Thereupon Owen was summoned to her presence, and he accepted with joy the hand that she offered him, and they were married forthwith, and the men of the earldom did him homage.
From that day Owen defended the fountain as the earl before him had done, and every knight that came by was overthrown by him, and his ransom divided among his barons. In this way three years passed, and no man in the world was more beloved than Owen.Now at the end of the three years it happened that Gwalchmai the knight was with Arthur, and he perceived the king to be very sad. 'My lord, has anything befallen thee?' he asked.
'Oh, Gwalchmai, I am grieved concerning Owen, whom I have lost these three years, and if a fourth year passes without him I can live no longer. And sure am I that the tale told by Kynon the son of Clydno caused me to lose him. I will go myself with the men of my household to avenge him if he is dead, to free him if he is in prison, to bring him back if he is alive.'
Then Arthur and three thousand men of his household set out in quest of Owen, and took Kynon for their guide. When Arthur reached the castle, the youths were shooting in the same place, and the same yellow man was standing by, and as soon as he beheld Arthur he greeted him and invited him in, and they entered together. So vast was the castle that the king's three thousand men were of no more account than if they had been twenty.
At sunrise Arthur departed thence, with Kynon for his guide, and reached the black man first, and afterwards the top of the wooded hill, with the fountain and the bowl and the tree.
'My lord,' said Kai, 'let me throw the water on the slab, and receive the first adventure that may befall.'
Immediately all happened as before; the thunder and the shower of hail which killed many of Arthur's men; the song of the birds and the appearance of the black knight. And Kai met him and fought him, and was overthrown by him. Then the knight rode away, and Arthur and his men encamped where they stood.
In the morning Kai again asked leave to meet the knight and to try to overcome him, which Arthur granted. But once more he was unhorsed, and the black knight's lance broke his helmet and pierced the skin even to the bone, and humbled in spirit he returned to the camp.After this every one of the knights gave battle, but none came out victor, and at length there only remained Arthur himself and Gwalchmai. 'Oh, let me fight him, my lord,' cried Gwalchmai, as he saw Arthur taking up his arms.
'Well, fight then,' answered Arthur, and Gwalchmai threw a robe over himself and his horse, so that none knew him. All that day they fought, and neither was able to throw the other, and so it was on the next day. On the third day the combat was so fierce that they fell both to the ground at once, and fought on their feet, and at last the black knight gave his foe such a blow on his head that his helmet fell from his face.'I did not know it was thee, Gwalchmai,' said the black knight. 'Take my sword and my arms.' 'No,' answered Gwalchmai, 'it is thou, Owen, who art the victor, take thou my sword'; but Owen would not. 'Give me your swords,' said Arthur from behind them, 'for neither of you has vanquished the other,' and Owen turned and put his arms round Arthur's neck. The next day Arthur would have given orders to his men to make ready to go back whence they came, but Owen stopped him.
'My lord,' he said, 'during the three years that I have been absent from thee I have been preparing a banquet for thee, knowing full well that thou wouldst come to seek me. Tarry with me, therefore, for a while, thou and thy men.'
So they rode to the castle of the countess of the fountain, and spent three months in resting and feasting. And when it was time for them to depart Arthur besought the countess that she would allow Owen to go with him to Britain for the space of three months. With a sore heart she granted permission, and so content was Owen to be once more with his old companions that three years instead of three months passed away like a dream.
One day Owen sat at meat in the castle of Caerleon upon Usk, when a damsel on a bay horse entered the hall, and riding straight up to the place where Owen sat she stooped and drew the ring from off his hand.
At her words Owen remembered all that he had forgotten, and sorrowful and ashamed he went to his own chamber and made ready to depart. At the dawn he set out, but he did not go back to the castle, for his heart was heavy, but he wandered far into wild places till his body was weak and thin, and his hair was long. The wild beasts were his friends, and he slept by their side, but in the end he longed to see the face of a man again, and he came down into a valley and fell asleep by a lake in the lands of a widowed countess.
Now it was the time when the countess took her walk, attended by her maidens, and when they saw a man lying by the lake they shrank back in terror, for he lay so still that they thought he was dead. But when they had overcome their fright, they drew near him, and touched him, and saw that there was life in him. Then the countess hastened to the castle, and brought from it a flask full of precious ointment and gave it to one of her maidens.
'Take that horse which is grazing yonder,' she said, 'and a suit of men's garments, and place them near the man, and pour some of this ointment near his heart. If there is any life in him that will bring it back. But if he moves, hide thyself in the bushes near by, and see what he does.'
The damsel took the flask and did her mistress' bidding. Soon the man began to move his arms, and then rose slowly to his feet. Creeping forward step by step he took the garments from off the saddle and put them on him, and painfully he mounted the horse. When he was seated the damsel came forth and greeted him, and glad was he when he saw her and inquired what castle that was before him.
'It belongs to a widowed countess,' answered the maiden. 'Her husband left her two earldoms, but it is all that remains of her broad lands, for they have been torn from her by a young earl, because she would not marry him.'
'That is a pity,' replied Owen, but he said no more, for he was too weak to talk much. Then the maiden guided him to the castle, and kindled a fire, and brought him food. And there he stayed and was tended for three months, till he was handsomer than ever he was.At noon one day Owen heard a sound of arms outside the castle, and he asked of the maiden what it was. 'It is the earl of whom I spoke to thee,' she answered, 'who has come with a great host to carry off my mistress.'
'Beg of her to lend me a horse and armour,' said Owen, and the maiden did so, but the countess laughed somewhat bitterly as she answered:
'Nay, but I will give them to him, and such a horse and armour and weapons as he has never had yet, though I know not what use they will be to him. Yet mayhap it will save them from falling into the hands of my enemies.'
'Await me,' said Owen, 'at the gate of the castle, and he cried a challenge to the earl, who came to meet him. Hard did they fight, but Owen overthrew his enemy and drove him in front to the castle gate and into the hall.'Behold the reward of thy blessed balsam,' said he, as he bade the earl kneel down before her, and made him swear that he would restore all that he had taken from her.
After that he departed, and went into the deserts, and as he was passing through a wood he heard a loud yelling. Pushing aside the bushes he beheld a lion standing on a great mound, and by it a rock. Near the rock was a lion seeking to reach the mound, and each time he moved out darted a serpent from the rock to prevent him. Then Owen unsheathed his sword, and cut off the serpent's head and went on his way, and the lion followed and played about him, as if he had been a greyhound. And much more useful was he than a greyhound, for in the evening he brought large logs in his mouth to kindle a fire, and killed a fat buck for dinner.
Owen made his fire and skinned the buck, and put some of it to roast, and gave the rest to the lion for supper. While he was waiting for the meat to cook he heard a sound of deep sighing close to him, and he said:'Who are thou?' 'I am Luned,' replied a voice from a cave so hidden by bushes and green hanging plants that Owen had not seen it. 'And what dost thou here?' cried he.
'I am held captive in this cave on account of the knight who married the countess and left her, for the pages spoke ill of him, and because I told them that no man living was his equal they dragged me here and said I should die unless he should come to deliver me by a certain day, and that is no further than the day after to-morrow. His name is Owen the son of Urien, but I have none to send to tell him of my danger, or of a surety he would deliver me.'
Owen held his peace, but gave the maiden some of the meat, and bade her be of good cheer. Then, followed by the lion, he set out for a great castle on the other side of the plain, and men came and took his horse and placed it in a manger, and the lion went after and lay down on the straw. Hospitable and kind were all within the castle, but so full of sorrow that it might have been thought death was upon them. At length, when they had eaten and drunk, Owen prayed the earl to tell him the reason of their grief.
'Yesterday,' answered the earl, 'my two sons were seized, while thy were hunting, by a monster who dwells on those mountains yonder, and he vows that he will not let them go unless I give him my daughter to wife.''That shall never be,' said Owen; 'but what form hath this monster?' 'In shape he is a man, but in stature he is a giant,' replied the earl, 'and it were better by far that he should slay my sons than that I should give up my daughter.'
Early next morning the dwellers in the castle were awakened by a great clamour, and they found that the giant had arrived with the two young men. Swiftly Owen put on his armour and went forth to meet the giant, and the lion followed at his heels. And when the great beast beheld the hard blows which the giant dealt his master he flew at his throat, and much trouble had the monster in beating him off.
'Truly,' said the giant, 'I should find no difficulty in fighting thee, if it were not for that lion.' When he heard that Owen felt shame that he could not overcome the giant with his own sword, so he took the lion and shut him up in one of the towers of the castle, and returned to the fight. But from the sound of the blows the lion knew that the combat was going ill for Owen, so he climbed up till he reached the top of the tower, where there was a door on to the roof, and from the tower he sprang on to the walls, and from the walls to the ground. Then with a loud roar he leaped upon the giant, who fell dead under the blow of his paw.
Now the gloom of the castle was turned into rejoicing, and the earl begged Owen to stay with him till he could make him a feast, but the knight said he had other work to do, and rode back to the place where he had left Luned, and the lion followed at his heels. When he came there he saw a great fire kindled, and two youths leading out the maiden to cast her upon the pile.'Stop!' he cried, dashing up to them. 'What charge have you against her?'
'She boasted that no man in the world was equal to Owen,' said they, 'and we shut her in a cave, and agreed that none should deliver her but Owen himself, and that if he did not come by a certain day she should die. And now the time has past and there is no sign of him.''In truth he is a good knight, and had he but known that the maid was in peril he would have come to save her,' said Owen; 'but accept me in his stead, I entreat you.' 'We will,' replied they, and the fight began.
The youths fought well and pressed hard on Owen, and when the lion saw that he came to help his master. But the youths made a sign for the fight to stop, and said: 'Chieftain, it was agreed we should give battle to thee alone, and it is harder for us to contend with yonder beast than with thee.'
Then Owen shut up the lion in the cave where the maiden had been in prison, and blocked up the front with stones. But the fight with the giant had sorely tried him, and the youths fought well, and pressed him harder than before. And when the lion saw that he gave a loud roar, and burst through the stones, and sprang upon the youths and slew them. And so Luned was delivered at the last.Then the maiden rode back with Owen to the lands of the lady of the fountain. And he took the lady with him to Arthur's court, where they lived happily till they died. From the 'Mabinogion.'
The Four Gifts
In the old land of Brittany, once called Cornwall, there lived a woman named Barbaik Bourhis, who spent all her days in looking after her farm with the help of her niece Tephany. Early and late the two might be seen in the fields or in the dairy, milking cows, making butter, feeding fowls; working hard themselves and taking care that others worked too. Perhaps it might have been better for Barbaik if she had left herself a little time to rest and to think about other things, for soon she grew to love money for its own sake, and only gave herself and Tephany the food and clothes they absolutely needed. And as for poor people she positively hated them, and declared that such lazy creatures had no business in the world.
Well, this being the sort of person Barbaik was, it is easy to guess at her anger when one day she found Tephany talking outside the cowhouse to young Denis, who was nothing more than a day labourer from the village of Plover. Seizing her niece by the arm, she pulled her sharply away, exclaiming:
'Are you not ashamed, girl, to waste your time over a man who is as poor as a rat, when there are a dozen more who would be only too happy to buy you rings of silver, if you would let them?''Denis is a good workman, as you know very well,' answered Tephany, red with anger, 'and he puts by money too, and soon he will be able to take a farm for himself.'
'Nonsense,' cried Barbaik, 'he will never save enough for a farm till he is a hundred. I would sooner see you in your grave than the wife of a man who carries his whole fortune on his back.''What does fortune matter when one is young and strong?' asked Tephany, but her aunt, amazed at such words, would hardly let her finish.
'What does fortune matter?' repeated Barbaik, in a shocked voice. 'Is it possible that you are really so foolish as to despise money? If this is what you learn from Denis, I forbid you to speak to him, and I will have him turned out of the farm if he dares to show his face here again. Now go and wash the clothes and spread them out to dry.'Tephany did not dare to disobey, but with a heavy heart went down the path to the river.
'She is harder than these rocks,' said the girl to herself, 'yes, a thousand times harder. For the rain at least can at last wear away the stone, but you might cry for ever, and she would never care. Talking to Denis is the only pleasure I have, and if I am not to see him I may as well enter a convent.'
Thinking these thoughts she reached the bank, and began to unfold the large packet of linen that had to be washed. The tap of a stick made her look up, and standing before her she saw a little old woman, whose face was strange to her.
'You would like to sit down and rest, granny?' asked Tephany, pushing aside her bundle.
'Those who help others deserve to be helped,' she answered; 'your eyes are still red because that miser Barbaik has forbidden you to speak to the young man from Plover. But cheer up, you are a good girl, and I will give you something that will enable you to see him once every day.''You?' cried Tephany, stupefied at discovering that the beggar knew all about her affairs, but the old woman did not hear her.
'Take this long copper pin,' she went on, 'and every time you stick it in your dress Mother Bourhis will be obliged to leave the house in order to go and count her cabbages. As long as the pin is in your dress you will be free, and your aunt will not come back until you have put it in its case again.' Then, rising, she nodded to Tephany and vanished.
The girl stood where she was, as still as a stone. If it had not been for the pin in her hands she would have thought she was dreaming. But by that token she knew it was no common old woman who had given it to her, but a fairy, wise in telling what would happen in the days to come. Then suddenly Tephany's eyes fell on the clothes, and to make up for lost time she began to wash them with great vigour.
Next evening, at the moment when Denis was accustomed to wait for her in the shadow of the cowhouse, Tephany stuck the pin in her dress, and at the very same instant Barbaik took up her sabots or wooden shoes and went through the orchard and past to the fields, to the plot where the cabbages grew. With a heart as light as her footsteps, the girl ran from the house, and spent her evening happily with Denis. And so it was for many days after that. Then, at last, Tephany began to notice something, and the something made her very sad.
At first, Denis seemed to find the hours that they were together fly as quickly as she did, but when he had taught her all the songs he knew, and told her all the plans he had made for growing rich and a great man, he had nothing more to say to her, for he, like a great many other people, was fond of talking himself, but not of listening to any one else. Sometimes, indeed, he never came at all, and the next evening he would tell Tephany that he had been forced to go into the town on business, but though she never reproached him she was not deceived and saw plainly that he no longer cared for her as he used to do.
Day by day her heart grew heavier and her cheeks paler, and one evening, when she had waited for him in vain, she put her water- pot on her shoulder and went slowly down to the spring. On the path in front of her stood the fairy who had given her the pin, and as she glanced at Tephany she gave a little mischievous laugh and said:'Why, my pretty maiden hardly looks happier than she did before, in spite of meeting her lover whenever she pleases.'
'He has grown tired of me,' answered Tephany in a trembling voice, 'and he makes excuses to stay away. Ah! granny dear, it is not enough to be able to see him, I must be able to amuse him and to keep him with me. He is so clever, you know. Help me to be clever too.''Is that what you want?' cried the old woman. 'Well, take this feather and stick it in your hair, and you will be as wise as Solomon himself.'
Blushing with pleasure Tephany went home and stuck the feather into the blue ribbon which girls always wear in that part of the country. In a moment she heard Denis whistling gaily, and as her aunt was safely counting her cabbages, she hurried out to meet him. The young man was struck dumb by her talk. There was nothing that she did not seem to know, and as for songs she not only could sing those from every part of Brittany, but could compose them herself. Was this really the quiet girl who had been so anxious to learn all he could teach her, or was it somebody else? Perhaps she had gone suddenly mad, and there was an evil spirit inside her. But in any case, night after night he came back, only to find her growing wiser and wiser. Soon the neighbours whispered their surprise among themselves, for Tephany had not been able to resist the pleasure of putting the feather in her hair for some of the people who despised her for her poor clothes, and many were the jokes she made about them. Of course they heard of her jests, and shook their heads saying:'She is an ill-natured little cat, and the man that marries her will find that it is she who will hold the reins and drive the horse.'
It was not long before Denis began to agree with them, and as he always liked to be master wherever he went, he became afraid of Tephany's sharp tongue, and instead of laughing as before when she made fun of other people he grew red and uncomfortable, thinking that his turn would come next.So matters went on till one evening Denis told Tephany that he really could not stay a moment, as he had promised to go to a dance that was to be held in the next village.
Tephany's face fell; she had worked hard all day, and had been counting on a quiet hour with Denis. She did her best to persuade him to remain with her, but he would not listen, and at last she grew angry.
'Oh, I know why you are so anxious not to miss the dance,' she said; 'it is because Aziliez of Pennenru will be there.'
Lonely and miserable she sat down by the fire and stared into the red embers. Then, flinging the feather from her hair, she put her head on her hands, and sobbed passionately.'What is the use of being clever when it is beauty that men want? That is what I ought to have asked for. But it is too late, Denis will never come back.' 'Since you wish it so much you shall have beauty,' said a voice at her side, and looking round she beheld the old woman leaning on her stick.
'Fasten this necklace round your neck, and as long as you wear it you will be the most beautiful woman in the world,' continued the fairy. With a little shriek of joy Tephany took the necklace, and snapping the clasp ran to the mirror which hung in the corner. Ah, this time she was not afraid of Aziliez or of any other girl, for surely none could be as fair and white as she. And with the sight of her face a thought came to her, and putting on hastily her best dress and her buckled shoes she hurried off to the dance.On the way she met a beautiful carriage with a young man seated in it. 'What a lovely maiden!' he exclaimed, as Tephany approached. 'Why, there is not a girl in my own country that can be compared to her. She, and no other, shall be my bride.'
The carriage was large and barred the narrow road, so Tephany was forced, much against her will, to remain where she was. But she looked the young man full in the face as she answered:'Go your way, noble lord, and let me go mine. I am only a poor peasant girl, accustomed to milk, and make hay and spin.' 'Peasant you may be, but I will make you a great lady,' said he, taking her hand and trying to lead her to the carriage.
'I don't want to be a great lady, I only want to be the wife of Denis,' she replied, throwing off his hand and running to the ditch which divided the road from the cornfield, where he hoped to hide. Unluckily the young man guessed what she was doing, and signed to his attendants, who seized her and put her in the coach. The door was banged, and the horses whipped up into a gallop.
At the end of an hour they arrived at a splendid castle, and Tephany, who would not move, was lifted out and carried into the hall, while a priest was sent for to perform the marriage ceremony. The young man tried to win a smile from her by telling of all the beautiful things she should have as his wife, but Tephany did not listen to him, and looked about to see if there was any means by which she could escape. It did not seem easy. The three great doors were closely barred, and the one through which she had entered shut with a spring, but her feather was still in her hair, and by its aid she detected a crack in the wooden panelling, through which a streak of light could be dimly seen. Touching the copper pin which fastened her dress, the girl sent every one in the hall to count the cabbages, while she herself passed through the little door, not knowing whither she was going.
By this time night had fallen, and Tephany was very tired. Thankfully she found herself at the gate of a convent, and asked if she might stay there till morning. But the portress answered roughly that it was no place for beggars, and bade her begone, so the poor girl dragged herself slowly along the road, till a light and the bark of a dog told her that she was near a farm.
In front of the house was a group of people; two or three women and the sons of the farmer. When their mother heard Tephany's request to be given a bed the good wife's heart softened, and she was just going to invite her inside, when the young men, whose heads were turned by the girl's beauty, began to quarrel as to which should do most for her. From words they came to blows, and the women, frightened at the disturbance, pelted Tephany with insulting names. She quickly ran down the nearest path, hoping to escape them in the darkness of the trees, but in an instant she heard their footsteps behind her. Wild with fear her legs trembled under her, when suddenly she bethought herself of her necklace. With a violent effort she burst the clasp and flung it round the neck of a pig which was grunting in a ditch, and as she did so she heard the footsteps cease from pursuing her and run after the pig, for her charm had vanished.
On she went, scarcely knowing where she was going, till she found herself, to her surprise and joy, close to her aunt's house. For several days she felt so tired and unhappy that she could hardly get through her work, and to make matters worse Denis scarcely ever came near her.'He was too busy,' he said, 'and really it was only rich people who could afford to waste time in talking.'
As the days went on Tephany grew paler and paler, till everybody noticed it except her aunt. The water-pot was almost too heavy for her now, but morning and evening she carried it to the spring, though the effort to lift it to her shoulder was often too much for her.
'How could I have been so foolish,' she whispered to herself, when she went down as usual at sunset. 'It was not freedom to see Denis that I should have asked for, for he was soon weary of me, nor a quick tongue, for he was afraid of it, nor beauty, for that brought me nothing but trouble, but riches which make life easy both for oneself and others. Ah! if I only dared to beg this gift from the fairy, I should be wiser than before and know how to choose better.'
'Be satisfied,' said the voice of the old woman, who seemed to be standing unseen at Tephany's elbow. 'If you look in your right- hand pocket when you go home you will find a small box. Rub your eyes with the ointment it contains, and you will see that you yourself contain a priceless treasure.'
Tephany did not in the least understand what she meant, but ran back to the farm as fast as she could, and began to fumble joyfully in her right-hand pocket. Sure enough, there was the little box with the precious ointment. She was in the act of rubbing her eyes with it when Barbaik Bourhis entered the room. Ever since she had been obliged to leave her work and pass her time, she did not know why, in counting cabbages, everything had gone wrong, and she could not get a labourer to stay with her because of her bad temper. When, therefore, she saw her niece standing quietly before her mirror, Barbaik broke out:'So this is what you do when I am out in the fields! Ah! it is no wonder if the farm is ruined. Are you not ashamed, girl, to behave so?'
Tephany tried to stammer some excuse, but her aunt was half mad with rage, and a box on the ears was her only answer. At this Tephany, hurt, bewildered and excited, could control herself no longer, and turning away burst into tears. But what was her surprise when she saw that each tear-drop was a round and shining pearl. Barbaik, who also beheld this marvel, uttered a cry of astonishment, and threw herself on her knees to pick them up from the floor.She was still gathering them when the door opened and in came Denis. 'Pearls! Are they really pearls?' he asked, falling on his knees also, and looking up at Tephany he perceived others still more beautiful rolling down the girl's cheeks.
'Take care not to let any of the neighbours hear of it, Denis,' said Barbaik. 'Of course you shall have your share, but nobody else shall get a single one. Cry on, my dear, cry on,' she continued to Tephany. It is for your good as well as ours,' and she held out her apron to catch them, and Denis his hat.
But Tephany could hardly bear any more. She felt half choked at the sight of their greediness, and wanted to rush from the hall, and though Barbaik caught her arm to prevent this, and said all sorts of tender words which she thought would make the girl weep the more, Tephany with a violent effort forced back her tears, and wiped her eyes.
'Is she finished already?' cried Barbaik, in a tone of disappointment. 'Oh, try again, my dear. Do you think it would do any good to beat her a little?' she added to Denis, who shook his head.'That is enough for the first time. I will go into the town and find out the value of each pearl.'
'Then I will go with you,' said Barbaik, who never trusted anyone and was afraid of being cheated. So the two went out, leaving Tephany behind them.
She sat quite still on her chair, her hands clasped tightly together, as if she was forcing something back. At last she raised her eyes, which had been fixed on the ground, and beheld the fairy standing in a dark corner by the hearth, observing her with a mocking look. The girl trembled and jumped up, then, taking the feather, the pin, and the box, she held them out to the old woman.
'Here they are, all of them,' she cried; 'they belong to you. Let me never see them again, but I have learned the lesson that they taught me. Others may have riches, beauty and wit, but as for me I desire nothing but to be the poor peasant girl I always was, working hard for those she loves.'
'Yes, you have learned your lesson,' answered the fairy, 'and now you shall lead a peaceful life and marry the man you love. For after all it was not yourself you thought of but him.'Never again did Tephany see the old woman, but she forgave Denis for selling her tears, and in time he grew to be a good husband, who did his own share of work. From 'Le Foyer Breton,' par E. Souvestre.
The Groac'h of the Isle of Lok
In old times, when all kinds of wonderful things happened in Brittany, there lived in the village of Lanillis, a young man named Houarn Pogamm and a girl called Bellah Postik. They were cousins, and as their mothers were great friends, and constantly in and out of each other's houses, they had often been laid in the same cradle, and had played and fought over their games.
'When they are grown up they will marry,' said the mothers; but just as every one was beginning to think of wedding bells, the two mothers died, and the cousins, who had no money, went as servants in the same house. This was better than being parted, of course, but not so good as having a little cottage of their own, where they could do as they liked, and soon they might have been heard bewailing to each other the hardness of their lots.'If we could only manage to buy a cow and get a pig to fatten,' grumbled Houarn, 'I would rent a bit of ground from the master, and then we could be married.' 'Yes,' answered Bellah, with a deep sigh; 'but we live in such hard times, and at the last fair the price of pigs had risen again.' 'We shall have long to wait, that is quite clear,' replied Houarn, turning away to his work.
Whenever they met they repeated their grievances, and at length Houarn's patience was exhausted, and one morning he came to Bellah and told her that he was going away to seek his fortune.
The girl was very unhappy as she listened to this, and felt sorry that she had not tried to make the best of things. She implored Houarn not to leave her, but he would listen to nothing.
'The birds,' he said, 'continue flying until they reach a field of corn, and the bees do not stop unless they find the honey- giving flowers, and why should a man have less sense than they? Like them, I shall seek till I get what I want--that is, money to buy a cow and a pig to fatten. And if you love me, Bellah, you won't attempt to hinder a plan which will hasten our marriage.'The girl saw it was useless to say more, so she answered sadly:
'Well, go then, since you must. But first I will divide with you all that my parents left me,' and going to her room, she opened a small chest, and took from it a bell, a knife, and a little stick.
'This bell,' she said, 'can be heard at any distance, however far, but it only rings to warn us that our friends are in great danger. The knife frees all it touches from the spells that have been laid on them; while the stick will carry you wherever you want to go. I will give you the knife to guard you against the enchantments of wizards, and the bell to tell me of your perils. The stick I shall keep for myself, so that I can fly to you if ever you have need of me.'Then they cried for a little on each other's necks, and Houarn started for the mountains.
But in those days, as in these, beggars abounded, and through every village he passed they followed Houarn in crowds, mistaking him for a gentleman, because there were no holes in his clothes.
'There is no fortune to be made here,' he thought to himself; 'it is a place for spending, and not earning. I see I must go further,' and he walked on to Pont-aven, a pretty little town built on the bank of a river.He was sitting on a bench outside an inn, when he heard two men who were loading their mules talking about the Groac'h of the island of Lok.
'What is a Groac'h?' asked he. 'I have never come across one.' And the men answered that it was the name given to the fairy that dwelt in the lake, and that she was rich--oh! richer than all the kings in the world put together. Many had gone to the island to try and get possession of her treasures, but no one had ever come back.As he listened Houarn's mind was made up.
'I will go, and return too,' he said to the muleteers. They stared at him in astonishment, and besought him not to be so mad and to throw away his life in such a foolish manner; but he only laughed, and answered that if they could tell him of any other way in which to procure a cow and a pig to fatten, he would think no more about it. But the men did not know how this was to be done, and, shaking their heads over his obstinacy, left him to his fate.So Houarn went down to the sea, and found a boatman who engaged to take him to the isle of Lok.
The island was large, and lying almost across it was a lake, with a narrow opening to the sea. Houarn paid the boatman and sent him away, and then proceeded to walk round the lake. At one end he perceived a small skiff, painted blue and shaped like a swan, lying under a clump of yellow broom. As far as he could see, the swan's head was tucked under its wing, and Houarn, who had never beheld a boat of the sort, went quickly towards it and stepped in, so as to examine it the better. But no sooner was he on board than the swan woke suddenly up; his head emerged from under his wing, his feet began to move in the water, and in another moment they were in the middle of the lake.
As soon as the young man had recovered from his surprise, he prepared to jump into the lake and swim to shore. But the bird had guessed his intentions, and plunged beneath the water, carrying Houarn with him to the palace of the Groac'h.
Now, unless you have been under the sea and beheld all the wonders that lie there, you can never have an idea what the Groac'h's palace was like. It was all made of shells, blue and green and pink and lilac and white, shading into each other till you could not tell where one colour ended and the other began. The staircases were of crystal, and every separate stair sang like a woodland bird as you put your foot on it. Round the palace were great gardens full of all the plants that grow in the sea, with diamonds for flowers.
In a large hall the Groac'h was lying on a couch of gold. The pink and white of her face reminded you of the shells of her palace, while her long black hair was intertwined with strings of coral, and her dress of green silk seemed formed out of the sea. At the sight of her Houarn stopped, dazzled by her beauty.'Come in,' said the Groac'h, rising to her feet. 'Strangers and handsome youths are always welcome here. Do not be shy, but tell me how you found your way, and what you want.' 'My name is Houarn,' he answered, 'Lanillis is my home, and I am trying to earn enough money to buy a little cow and a pig to fatten.'
'Well, you can easily get that,' replied she; 'it is nothing to worry about. Come in and enjoy yourself.' And she beckoned him to follow her into a second hall whose floors and walls were formed of pearls, while down the sides there were tables laden with fruit and wines of all kinds; and as he ate and drank, the Groac'h talked to him and told him how the treasures he saw came from shipwrecked vessels, and were brought to her palace by a magic current of water.'I do not wonder,' exclaimed Houarn, who now felt quite at home-- 'I do not wonder that the people on the earth have so much to say about you.' 'The rich are always envied.' 'For myself,' he added, with a laugh, 'I only ask for the half of your wealth.' 'You can have it, if you will, Houarn,' answered the fairy. 'What do you mean?' cried he. 'My husband, Korandon, is dead,' she replied, 'and if you wish it, I will marry you.' The young man gazed at her in surprise. Could any one so rich and so beautiful really wish to be his wife? He looked at her again, and Bellah was forgotten as he answered: 'A man would be mad indeed to refuse such an offer. I can only accept it with joy.'
'Then the sooner it is done the better,' said the Groac'h, and gave orders to her servants. After that was finished, she begged Houarn to accompany her to a fish-pond at the bottom of the garden.
'Come lawyer, come miller, come tailor, come singer!' cried she, holding out a net of steel; and at each summons a fish appeared and jumped into the net. When it was full she went into a large kitchen and threw them all into a golden pot; but above the bubbling of the water Houarn seemed to hear the whispering of little voices.
'Who is it whispering in the golden pot, Groac'h?' he inquired at last.
'Is it possible I can have forgotten her so soon? What a wretch I am!' he thought to himself; and he remained apart and watched the Groac'h while she emptied the fish into a plate, and bade him eat his dinner while she fetched wine from her cellar in a cave.Houarn sat down and took out the knife which Bellah had given him, but as soon as the blade touched the fish the enchantment ceased, and four men stood before him. 'Houarn, save us, we entreat you, and save yourself too!' murmured they, not daring to raise their voices. 'Why, it must have been you who were crying out in the pot just now!' exclaimed Houarn.
'Yes, it was us,' they answered. 'Like you, we came to the isle of Lok to seek our fortunes, and like you we consented to marry the Groac'h, and no sooner was the ceremony over than she turned us into fishes, as she had done to all our forerunners, who are in the fishpond still, where you will shortly join them.'
On hearing this Houarn leaped into the air, as if he already felt himself frizzling in the golden pot. He rushed to the door, hoping to escape that way; but the Groac'h, who had heard everything, met him on the threshold. Instantly she threw the steel net over his head, and the eyes of a little green frog peeped through the meshes.'You shall go and play with the rest,' she said, carrying him off to the fish-pond. It was at this very moment that Bellah, who was skimming the milk in the farm dairy, heard the fairy bell tinkle violently.
At the sound she grew pale, for she knew it meant that Houarn was in danger; and, hastily, changing the rough dress she wore for her work, she left the farm with the magic stick in her hand.
Her knees were trembling under her, but she ran as fast as she could to the cross roads, where she drove her stick into the ground, murmuring as she did so a verse her mother had taught her:
and immediately the stick became a smart little horse, with a rosette at each ear and a feather on his forehead. He stood quite still while Bellah scrambled up, then he started off, his pace growing quicker and quicker, till at length the girl could hardly see the trees and houses as they flashed past. But, rapid as the pace was, it was not rapid enough for Bellah, who stooped and said:
'The swallow is less swift than the wind, the wind is less swift than the lightning. But you, my horse, if you love me, must be swifter than them all, for there is a part of my heart that suffers --the best part of my heart that is in danger.'
And the horse heard her, and galloped like a straw carried along by a tempest till they reached the foot of a rock called the Leap of the Deer. There he stopped, for no horse or mule that ever was born could climb that rock, and Bellah knew it, so she began to sing again:Horse of Leon, given to me, Over the earth and over the sea, Up in the air be guide to me, Everywhere to wander free,
and when she had finished, the horse's fore legs grew shorter and spread into wings, his hind legs became claws, feathers sprouted all over his body, and she sat on the back of a great bird, which bore her to the summit of the rock. Here she found a nest made of clay and lined with dried moss, and in the centre a tiny man, black and wrinkled, who gave a cry of surprise at the sight of Bellah.'Ah! you are the pretty girl who was to come and save me!' 'To save you!' repeated Bellah. 'But who are you, my little friend?' 'I am the husband of the Groac'h of the isle of Lok, and it is owing to her that I am here.' 'But what are you doing in this nest?' 'I am sitting on six eggs of stone, and I shall not be set free till they are hatched.' On hearing this Bellah began to laugh. 'Poor little cock!' she said, 'and how am I to deliver you?' 'By delivering Houarn, who is in the power of the Groac'h.'
'Ah! tell me how I can manage that, and if I have to walk round the whole of Brittany on my bended knees I will do it!'
'Well, first you must dress yourself as a young man, and then go and seek the Groac'h. When you have found her you must contrive to get hold of the net of steel that hangs from her waist, and shut her up in it for ever.'
'I will show you,' he replied, and as he spoke he pulled out three of his red hairs and blew them away, muttering something the while. In the twinkling of an eye the four hairs changed into four tailors, of whom the first carried a cabbage, the second a pair of scissors, the third a needle, and the fourth an iron. Without waiting for orders, they sat down in the nest and, crossing their legs comfortably, began to prepare the suit of clothes for Bellah.
With one of the leaves of the cabbage they made her a coat, and another served for a waistcoat; but it took two for the wide breeches which were then in fashion. The hat was cut from the heart of the cabbage, and a pair of shoes from the thick stem. And when Bellah had put them all on you would have taken her for a gentleman dressed in green velvet, lined with white satin.
She thanked the little men gratefully, and after a few more instructions, jumped on the back of her great bird, and was borne away to the isle of Lok. Once there, she bade him transform himself back into a stick, and with it in her hand she stepped into the blue boat, which conducted her to the palace of shells.
The Groac'h seemed overjoyed to see her, and told her that never before had she beheld such a handsome young man. Very soon she led her visitor into the great hall, where wine and fruit were always waiting, and on the table lay the magic knife, left there by Houarn. Unseen by the Groac'h, Bellah hid it in a pocket of her green coat, and then followed her hostess into the garden, and to the pond which contained the fish, their sides shining with a thousand different colours.
'Oh! what beautiful, beautiful creatures!' said she. 'I'm sure I should never be tired of watching them.' And she sat down on the bank, with her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands, her eyes fixed on the fishes as they flashed past.'Would you not like to stay here always?' asked the Groac'h; and Bellah answered that she desired nothing better. 'Then you have only to marry me,' said the Groac'h. 'Oh! don't say no, for I have fallen deeply in love with you.' 'Well, I won't say "No,"' replied Bellah, with a laugh, 'but you must promise first to let me catch one of those lovely fish in your net.' 'It is not so easy as it looks,' rejoined the Groac'h, smiling, 'but take it, and try your luck.'
Bellah took the net which the Groac'h held out, and, turning rapidly, flung it over the witch's head.
'Become in body what you are in soul!' cried she, and in an instant the lovely fairy of the sea was a toad, horrible to look upon. She struggled hard to tear the net asunder, but it was no use. Bellah only drew it the tighter, and, flinging the sorceress into a pit, she rolled a great stone across the mouth, and left her.
'And who will restore you to your proper shapes,' said Bellah, drawing the knife from her pocket. But just as she was going to touch the foremost fish, her eyes fell on a green frog on his knees beside her, his little paws crossed over his little heart. Bellah felt as if fingers were tightening round her throat, but she managed to cry:'Is this you, my Houarn? Is this you?' 'It is I,' croaked the little frog; and as the knife touched him he was a man again, and, springing up, he clasped her in his arms.
'But we must not forget the others,' she said at last, and began to transform the fishes to their proper shapes. There were so many of them that it took quite a long time. Just as she had finished there arrived the little dwarf from the Deer's Leap in a car drawn by six cockchafers, which once had been the six stone eggs.
'Here I am!' he exclaimed. 'You have broken the spell that held me, and now come and get your reward,' and, dismounting from his chariot, he led them down into the caves filled with gold and jewels, and bade Bellah and Houarn take as much as they wanted.When their pockets were full, Bellah ordered her stick to become a winged carriage, large enough to bear them and the men they had rescued back to Lanillis.
There they were married the next day, but instead of setting up housekeeping with the little cow and pig to fatten that they had so long wished for, they were able to buy lands for miles round for themselves, and gave each man who had been delivered from the Groac'h a small farm, where he lived happily to the end of his days.From 'Le Foyer Breton,' par E. Souvestre.
The Escape of the Mouse
Manawyddan the prince and his friend Pryderi were wanderers, for the brother of Manawyddan had been slain, and his throne taken from him. Very sorrowful was Manawyddan, but Pryderi was stout of heart, and bade him be of good cheer, as he knew a way out of his trouble.'And what may that be?' asked Manawyddan.
'It is that thou marry my mother Rhiannon and become lord of the fair lands that I will give her for dowry. Never did any lady have more wit than she, and in her youth none was more lovely; even yet she is good to look upon.''Thou art the best friend that ever a man had,' said Manawyddan. 'Let us go now to seek Rhiannon, and the lands where she dwells.'
Then they set forth, but the news of their coming ran swifter still, and Rhiannon and Kieva, wife of Pryderi, made haste to prepare a feast for them. And Manawyddan found that Pryderi had spoken the truth concerning his mother, and asked if she would take him for her husband. Right gladly did she consent, and without delay they were married, and rode away to the hunt, Rhiannon and Manawyddan, Kieva and Pryderi, and they would not be parted from each other by night or by day, so great was the love between them.
One day, when they were returned, they were sitting out in a green place, and suddenly the crash of thunder struck loudly on their ears, and a wall of mist fell between them, so that they were hidden one from the other. Trembling they sat till the darkness fled and the light shone again upon them, but in the place where they were wont to see cattle, and herds, and dwellings, they beheld neither house nor beast, nor man nor smoke; neither was any one remaining in the green place save these four only.
'Whither have they gone, and my host also?' cried Manawyddan, and they searched the hall, and there was no man, and the castle, and there was none, and in the dwellings that were left was nothing save wild beasts. For a year these four fed on the meat that Manawyddan and Pryderi killed out hunting, and the honey of the bees that sucked the mountain heather. For a time they desired nothing more, but when the next year began they grew weary.
'We cannot spend our lives thus,' said Manawyddan at last, 'let us go into England and learn some trade by which we may live.' So they left Wales, and went to Hereford, and there they made saddles, while Manawyddan fashioned blue enamel ornaments to put on their trappings. And so greatly did the townsfolk love these saddles, that no others were bought throughout the whole of Hereford, till the saddlers banded together and resolved to slay Manawyddan and his companions.When Pryderi heard of it, he was very wroth, and wished to stay and fight. But the counsels of Manawyddan prevailed, and they moved by night to another city. 'What craft shall we follow?' asked Pryderi. 'We will make shields,' answered Manawyddan. 'But do we know anything of that craft?' answered Pryderi.
'We will try it,' said Manawyddan, and they began to make shields, and fashioned them after the shape of the shields they had seen; and these likewise they enamelled. And so greatly did they prosper that no man in the town bought a shield except they had made it, till at length the shield-makers banded together as the saddlers had done, and resolved to slay them. But of this they had warning, and by night betook themselves to another town.'Let us take to making shoes,' said Manawyddan, 'for there are not any among the shoemakers bold enough to fight us.' 'I know nothing of making shoes,' answered Pryderi, who in truth despised so peaceful a craft. 'But I know,' replied Manawyddan, 'and I will teach thee to stitch. We will buy the leather ready dressed, and will make the shoes from it.
Then straightway he sought the town for the best leather, and for a goldsmith to fashion the clasps, and he himself watched till it was done, so that he might learn for himself. Soon he became known as 'The Maker of Gold Shoes,' and prospered so greatly, that as long as one could be bought from him not a shoe was purchased from the shoemakers of the town. And the craftsmen were wroth, and banded together to slay them.'Pryderi,' said Manawyddan, when he had received news of it, 'we will not remain in England any longer. Let us set forth to Dyved.' So they journeyed until they came to their lands at Narberth. There they gathered their dogs round them, and hunted for a year as before.
After that a strange thing happened. One morning Pryderi and Manawyddan rose up to hunt, and loosened their dogs, which ran before them, till they came to a small bush. At the bush, the dogs shrank away as if frightened, and returned to their masters, their hair brisling on their backs.
'We must see what is in that bush,' said Pryderi, and what was in it was a boar, with a skin as white as the snow on the mountains. And he came out, and made a stand as the dogs rushed on him, driven on by the men. Long he stood at bay; then at last he betook himself to flight, and fled to a castle which was newly built, in a place where no building had ever been known. Into the castle he ran, and the dogs after him, and long though their masters looked and listened, they neither saw nor heard aught concerning dogs or boar.'I will go into the castle and get tidings of the dogs,' said Pryderi at last. 'Truly,' answered Manawyddan, 'thou wouldst do unwisely, for whosoever has cast a spell over this land has set this castle here.' 'I cannot give up my dogs,' replied Pryderi, and to the castle he went.
But within was neither man nor beast; neither boar nor dogs, but only a fountain with marble round it, and on the edge a golden bowl, richly wrought, which pleased Pryderi greatly. In a moment he forgot about his dogs, and went up to the bowl and took hold of it, and his hands stuck to the bowl, and his feet to the marble slab, and despair took possession of him.Till the close of day Manawyddan waited for him, and when the sun was fast sinking, he went home, thinking that he had strayed far. 'Where are thy friend and thy dogs?' said Rhiannon, and he told her what had befallen Pryderi.
'A good friend hast thou lost,' answered Rhiannon, and she went up to the castle and through the gate, which was open. There, in the centre of the courtyard, she beheld Pryderi standing, and hastened towards him.
'What dost thou here?' she asked, laying her hand on the bowl, and as she spoke she too stuck fast, and was not able to utter a word. Then thunder was heard and a veil of darkness descended upon them, and the castle vanished and they with it.
When Kieva, the wife of Pryderi, found that neither her husband nor his mother returned to her, she was in such sorrow that she cared not whether she lived or died. Manawyddan was grieved also in his heart, and said to her:'It is not fitting that we should stay here, for he have lost our dogs and cannot get food. Let us go into England--it is easier for us to live there.' So they set forth. 'What craft wilt thou follow?' asked Kieva as they went along.
'I shall make shoes as once I did,' replied he; and he got all the finest leather in the town and caused gilded clasps to be made for the shoes, till everyone flocked to buy, and all the shoemakers in the town were idle and banded together in anger to kill him. But luckily Manawyddan got word of it, and he and Kieva left the town one night and proceeded to Narberth, taking with him a sheaf of wheat, which he sowed in three plots of ground. And while the wheat was growing up, he hunted and fished, and they had food enough and to spare. Thus the months passed until the harvest; and one evening Manawyddan visited the furthest of his fields of wheat; and saw that it was ripe.'To-morrow I will reap this,' said he; but on the morrow when he went to reap the wheat he found nothing but the bare straw. Filled with dismay he hastened to the second field, and there the corn was ripe and golden.
'To-morrow I will reap this,' he said, but on the morrow the ears had gone, and there was nothing but the bare straw.
'Well, there is still one field left,' he said, and when he looked at it, it was still fairer than the other two. 'To-night I will watch here,' thought he, 'for whosoever carried off the other corn will in like manner take this, and I will know who it is.' So he hid himself and waited.
The hours slid by, and all was still, so still that Manawyddan well-nigh dropped asleep. But at midnight there arose the loudest tumult in the world, and peeping out he beheld a mighty host of mice, which could neither be numbered nor measured. Each mouse climbed up a straw till it bent down with its weight, and then it bit off one of the ears, and carried it away, and there was not one of the straws that had not got a mouse to it.
Full of wrath he rushed at the mice, but he could no more come up with them than if they had been gnats, or birds of the air, save one only which lingered behind the rest, and this mouse Manawyddan came up with. Stooping down he seized it by the tail, and put it in his glove, and tied a piece of string across the opening of the glove, so that the mouse could not escape. When he entered the hall where Kieva was sitting, he lighted a fire, and hung the glove up on a peg.'What hast thou there?' asked she. 'A thief,' he answered, 'that I caught robbing me.' 'What kind of a thief may it be which thou couldst put in thy glove?' said Kieva. 'That I will tell thee,' he replied, and then he showed her how his fields of corn had been wasted, and how he had watched for the mice. 'And one was less nimble than the rest, and is now in my glove. To-morrow I will hang it, and I only wish I had them all.' 'It is a marvel, truly,' said she, 'yet it would be unseemly for a man of thy dignity to hang a reptile such as this. Do not meddle with it, but let it go.' 'Woe betide me,' he cried, 'if I would not hang them all if I could catch them, and such as I have I will hang.' 'Verily,' said she, 'there is no reason I should succour this reptile, except to prevent discredit unto thee.' 'If I knew any cause that I should succour it, I would take thy counsel,' answered Manawyddan, 'but as I know of none, I am minded to destroy it.' 'Do so then,' said Kieva.
So he went up a hill and set up two forks on the top, and while he was doing this he saw a scholar coming towards him, whose clothes were tattered. Now it was seven years since Manawyddan had seen man or beast in that place, and the sight amazed him.'Good day to thee, my lord,' said the scholar. 'Good greeting to thee, scholar. Whence dost thou come?' 'From singing in England; but wherefore dost thou ask?' 'Because for seven years no man hath visited this place.' 'I wander where I will,' answered the scholar. 'And what work art thou upon?' 'I am about to hang a thief that I caught robbing me!'
'What manner of thief is that?' inquired the scholar. 'I see a creature in thy hand like upon a mouse, and ill does it become a man of thy rank to touch a reptile like this. Let it go free.''I will not let it go free,' cried Manawyddan. 'I caught it robbing me, and it shall suffer the doom of a thief.' 'Lord!' said the scholar, 'sooner than see a man like thee at such a work, I would give thee a pound which I have received as alms to let it go free.' 'I will not let it go free, neither will I sell it.' 'As thou wilt, lord,' answered the scholar, and he went his way. Manawyddan was placing the cross-beam on the two forked sticks, where the mouse was to hang, when a priest rode past. 'Good-day to thee, lord; and what art thou doing?' 'I am hanging a thief that I caught robbing me.' 'What manner of thief, lord?' 'A creature in the form of a mouse. It has been robbing me, and it shall suffer the doom of a thief.' 'Lord,' said the priest, 'sooner than see thee touch this reptile, I would purchase its freedom.' 'I will neither sell it nor set it free.' 'It is true that a mouse is worth nothing, but rather than see thee defile thyself with touching such a reptile as this, I will give thee three pounds for it.' 'I will not take any price for it. It shall be hanged as it deserves.'
'Willingly, my lord, if it is thy pleasure.' And the priest went his way. Then Manawyddan noosed the string about the mouse's neck, and was about to draw it tight when a bishop, with a great following and horses bearing huge packs, came by.'What work art thou upon?' asked the bishop, drawing rein. 'Hanging a thief that I caught robbing me.' 'But is not that a mouse that I see in thine hand?' asked the bishop. 'Yes; that is the thief,' answered Manawyddan. 'Well, since I have come at the doom of this reptile, I will ransom it of thee for seven pounds, rather than see a man of thy rank touch it. Loose it, and let it go.' 'I will not let it loose.' 'I will give thee four and twenty pounds to set it free,' said the bishop. 'I will not set it free for as much again.' 'If thou wilt not set it free for this, I will give thee all the horses thou seest and the seven loads of baggage.' 'I will not set it free.' 'Then tell me at what price thou wilt loose it, and I will give it.' 'The spell must be taken off Rhiannon and Pryderi,' said Manawyddan. 'That shall be done.' 'But not yet will I loose the mouse. The charm that has been cast over all my lands must be taken off likewise.' 'This shall be done also.' 'But not yet will I loose the mouse till I know who she is.' 'She is my wife,' answered the bishop. 'And wherefore came she to me?' asked Manawyddan.
'To despoil thee,' replied the bishop, 'for it is I who cast the charm over thy lands, to avenge Gwawl the son of Clud my friend. And it was I who threw the spell upon Pryderi to avenge Gwawl for the trick that had been played on him in the game of Badger in the Bag. And not only was I wroth, but my people likewise, and when it was known that thou wast come to dwell in the land, they besought me much to change them into mice, that they might eat thy corn. The first and the second nights it was the men of my own house that destroyed thy two fields, but on the third night my wife and her ladies came to me and begged me to change them also into the shape of mice, that they might take part in avenging Gwawl. Therefore I changed them. Yet had she not been ill and slow of foot, thou couldst not have overtaken her. Still, since she was caught, I will restore thee Pryderi and Rhiannon, and will take the charm from off thy lands. I have told thee who she is; so now set her free.''I will not set her free,' answered Manawyddan, 'till thou swear that no vengeance shall be taken for his, either upon Pryderi, or upon Rhiannon, or on me.' 'I will grant thee this boon; and thou hast done wisely to ask it, for on thy head would have lit all the trouble. Set now my wife free.' 'I will not set her free till Pryderi and Rhiannon are with me.' 'Behold, here they come,' said the bishop. Then Manawyddan held out his hands and greeted Pryderi and Rhiannon, and they seated themselves joyfully on the grass. 'Ah, lord, hast thou not received all thou didst ask?' said the bishop. 'Set now my wife free!'
'That I will gladly,' answered Manawyddan, unloosing the cord from her neck, and as he did so the bishop struck her with his staff, and she turned into a young woman, the fairest that ever was seen.
'Look around upon thy land,' said he, 'and thou wilt see it all tilled and peopled, as it was long ago.' And Manawyddan looked, and saw corn growing in the fields, and cows and sheep grazing on the hill-side, and huts for the people to dwell in. And he was satisfied in his soul, but one more question he put to the bishop.'What spell didst thou lay upon Pryderi and Rhiannon?' 'Pryderi has had the knockers of the gate of my palace hung about him, and Rhiannon has carried the collars of my asses around her neck,' said the bishop with a smile. From the 'Mabinogion.'
The Believing Husbands
Once upon a time there dwelt in the land of Erin a young man who was seeking a wife, and of all the maidens round about none pleased him as well as the only daughter of a farmer. The girl was willing and the father was willing, and very soon they were married and went to live at the farm. By and bye the season came when they must cut the peats and pile them up to dry, so that they might have fires in the winter. So on a fine day the girl and her husband, and the father and his wife all went out upon the moor.
They worked hard for many hours, and at length grew hungry, so the young woman was sent home to bring them food, and also to give the horses their dinner. When she went into the stables, she suddenly saw the heavy pack-saddle of the speckled mare just over her head, and she jumped and said to herself:'Suppose that pack-saddle were to fall and kill me, how dreadful it would be!' and she sat down just under the pack-saddle she was so much afraid of, and began to cry. Now the others out on the moor grew hungrier and hungrier. 'What can have become of her?' asked they, and at length the mother declared that she would wait no longer, and must go and see what had happened. As the bride was nowhere in the kitchen or the dairy, the old woman went into the stable, where she found her daughter weeping bitterly. 'What is the matter, my dove?' and the girl answered, between her sobs: 'When I came in and saw the pack-saddle over my head, I thought how dreadful it would be if it fell and killed me,' and she cried louder than before.
The old woman struck her hands together: 'Ah, to think of it! if that were to be, what should I do?' and she sat down by her daughter, and they both wrung their hands and let their tears flow.
'Something strange must have occurred,' exclaimed the old farmer on the moor, who by this time was not only hungry, but cross. 'I must go after them.' And he went and found them in the stable.'What is the matter?' asked he. 'Oh!' replied his wife, 'when our daughter came home, did she not see the pack-saddle over her head, and she thought how dreadful it would be if it were to fall and kill her.'
'Ah, to think of it!' exclaimed he, striking his hands together, and he sat down beside them and wept too.
As soon as night fell the young man returned full of hunger, and there they were, all crying together in the stable.
'Farewell: my foot shall not return to the house till I have found other three people as silly as you,' and he walked away till he came to the town, and seeing the door of a cottage standing open wide, he entered. No man was present, but only some women spinning at their wheels.'You do not belong to this town,' said he. 'You speak truth,' they answered, 'nor you either?' 'I do not,' replied he, 'but is it a good place to live in?' The women looked at each other. 'The men of the town are so silly that we can make them believe anything we please,' said they. 'Well, here is a gold ring,' replied he, 'and I will give it to the one amongst you who can make her husband believe the most impossible thing,' and he left them. As soon as the first husband came home his wife said to him: 'Thou art sick!' 'Am I?' asked he. 'Yes, thou art,' she answered; 'take off thy clothes and lie down.' So he did, and when he was in his bed his wife went to him and said: 'Thou art dead.' 'Oh, am I?' asked he. 'Thou art,' said she; 'shut thine eyes and stir neither hand nor foot.' And dead he felt sure he was. Soon the second man came home, and his wife said to him: 'You are not my husband!' 'Oh, am I not?' asked he. 'No, it is not you,' answered she, so he went away and slept in the wood.
When the third man arrived his wife gave him his supper, and after that he went to bed, just as usual. The next morning a boy knocked at the door, bidding him attend the burial of the man who was dead, and he was just going to get up when his wife stopped him.'Time enough,' said she, and he lay still till he heard the funeral passing the window. 'Now rise, and be quick,' called the wife, and the man jumped out of bed in a great hurry, and began to look about him. 'Why, where are my clothes?' asked he. 'Silly that you are, they are on your back, of course,' answered the woman. 'Are they?' said he. 'They are,' said she, 'and make haste lest the burying be ended before you get there.'
Then off he went, running hard, and when the mourners saw a man coming towards them with nothing on but his nightshirt, they forgot in their fright what they were there for, and fled to hide themselves. And the naked man stood alone at the head of the coffin.Very soon a man came out of the wood and spoke to him. 'Do you know me?' 'Not I,' answered the naked man. 'I do not know you.' 'But why are you naked?' asked the first man. 'Am I naked? My wife told me that I had all my clothes on,' answered he. 'And my wife told me that I myself was dead,' said the man in the coffin.
But at the sound of his voice the two men were so terrified that they ran straight home, and the man in the coffin got up and followed them, and it was his wife that gained the gold ring, as he had been sillier than the other two.From 'West Highland Tales.'
Once there lived a farmer who had three daughters, and good useful girls they were, up with the sun, and doing all the work of the house. One morning they all ran down to the river to wash their clothes, when a hoodie came round and sat on a tree close by.'Wilt thou wed me, thou farmer's daughter?' he said to the eldest.
'Indeed I won't wed thee,' she answered, 'an ugly brute is the hoodie.' And the bird, much offended, spread his wings and flew away. But the following day he came back again, and said to the second girl:'Wilt thou wed me, farmer's daughter?'
'Indeed I will not,' answered she, 'an ugly brute is the hoodie.' And the hoodie was more angry than before, and went away in a rage. However, after a night's rest he was in a better temper, and thought that he might be more lucky the third time, so back he went to the old place.'Wilt thou wed me, farmer's daughter?' he said to the youngest. 'Indeed I will wed thee; a pretty creature is the hoodie,' answered she, and on the morrow they were married.
'I have something to ask thee,' said the hoodie when they were far away in his own house. 'Wouldst thou rather I should be a hoodie by day and a man by night, or a man by day and a hoodie by night?'The girl was surprised at his words, for she did not know that he could be anything but a hoodie at all times.
Still she said nothing of this, and only replied, 'I would rather thou wert a man by day and a hoodie by night,' And so he was; and a handsomer man or a more beautiful hoodie never was seen. The girl loved them both, and never wished for things to be different.
By and bye they had a son, and very pleased they both were. But in the night soft music was heard stealing close towards the house, and every man slept, and the mother slept also. When they woke again it was morning, and the baby was gone. High and low they looked for it, but nowhere could they find it, and the farmer, who had come to see his daughter, was greatly grieved, as he feared it might be thought that he had stolen it, because he did not want the hoodie for a son-in-law.
The next year the hoodie's wife had another son, and this time a watch was set at every door. But it was no use. In vain they determined that, come what might, they would not close their eyes; at the first note of music they all fell asleep, and when the farmer arrived in the morning to see his grandson, he found them all weeping, for while they had slept the baby had vanished.
Well, the next year it all happened again, and the hoodie's wife was so unhappy that her husband resolved to take her away to another house he had, and her sisters with her for company. So they set out in a coach which was big enough to hold them, and had not gone very far when the hoodie suddenly said:
'I have forgotten my coarse comb,' answered the wife, feeling in her pocket, and as she spoke the coach changed into a withered faggot, and the man became a hoodie again, and flew away.
The two sisters returned home, but the wife followed the hoodie. Sometimes she would see him on a hill-top, and then would hasten after him, hoping to catch him. But by the time she had got to the top of the hill, he would be in the valley on the other side. When night came, and she was tired, she looked about for some place to rest, and glad she was to see a little house full of light straight in front of her, and she hurried towards it as fast as she could.
At the door stood a little boy, and the sight of him filled her heart with pleasure, she did not know why. A woman came out, and bade her welcome, and set before her food, and gave her a soft bed to lie on. And the hoodie's wife lay down, and so tired was she, that it seemed to her but a moment before the sun rose, and she awoke again. From hill to hill she went after the hoodie, and sometimes she saw him on the top; but when she got to the top, he had flown into the valley, and when she reached the valley he was on the top of another hill--and so it happened till night came round again. Then she looked round for some place to rest in, and she beheld a little house of light before her, and fast she hurried towards it. At the door stood a little boy, and her heart was filled with pleasure at the sight of him, she did not know why. After that a woman bade her enter, and set food before her, and gave her a soft bed to lie in. And when the sun rose she got up, and left the house, in search of the hoodie. This day everything befell as on the two other days, but when she reached the small house, the woman bade her keep awake, and if the hoodie flew into the room, to try to seize him.But the wife had walked far, and was very tired, and strive as she would, she fell sound asleep.
Many hours she slept, and the hoodie entered through a window, and let fall a ring on her hand. The girl awoke with a start, and leant forward to grasp him, but he was already flying off, and she only seized a feather from his wing. And when dawn came, she got up and told the woman.
'He has gone over the hill of poison,' said she, 'and there you cannot follow him without horse-shoes on your hands and feet. But I will help you. Put on this suit of men's clothes, and go down this road till you come to the smithy, and there you can learn to make horseshoes for yourself.'
The girl thanked her, and put on the cloths and went down the road to do her bidding. So hard did she work, that in a few days she was able to make the horse-shoes. Early one morning she set out for the hill of poison. On her hands and feet she went, but even with the horse-shoes on she had to be very careful not to stumble, lest some poisoned thorns should enter into her flesh, and she should die. But when at last she was over, it was only to hear that her husband was to be married that day to the daughter of a great lord.
Now there was to be a race in the town, and everyone meant to be there, except the stranger who had come over the hill of poison-- everyone, that is, but the cook, who was to make the bridal supper. Greatly he loved races, and sore was his heart to think that one should be run without his seeing it, so when he beheld a woman whom he did not know coming along the street, hope sprang up in him.'Will you cook the wedding feast in place of me?' he said, 'and I will pay you well when I return from the race.'
Gladly she agreed, and cooked the feast in a kitchen that looked into the great hall, where the company were to eat it. After that she watched the seat where the bridegroom was sitting, and taking a plateful of the broth, she dropped the ring and the feather into it, and set if herself before him.With the first spoonful he took up the ring, and a thrill ran through him; in the second he beheld the feather and rose from his chair. 'Who has cooked this feast?' asked he, and the real cook, who had come back from the race, was brought before him. 'He may be the cook, but he did not cook this feast,' said the bridegroom, and then inquiry was made, and the girl was summoned to the great hall.
'That is my married wife,' he declared, 'and no one else will I have,' and at that very moment the spells fell off him, and never more would he be a hoodie. Happy indeed were they to be together again, and little did they mind that the hill of poison took long to cross, for she had to go some way forwards, and then throw the horse-shoes back for him to put on. Still, at last they were over, and they went back the way she had come, and stopped at the three houses in order to take their little sons to their own home.But the story never says who had stolen them, nor what the coarse comb had to do with it. From 'West Highland Tales.'
The Brownie of the Lake
Once upon a time there lived in France a man whose name was Jalm Riou. You might have walked a whole day without meeting anyone happier or more contented, for he had a large farm, plenty of money, and above all, a daughter called Barbaik, the most graceful dancer and the best-dressed girl in the whole country side. When she appeared on holidays in her embroidered cap, five petticoats, each one a little shorter than the other, and shoes with silver buckles, the women were all filled with envy, but little cared Barbaik what they might whisper behind her back as long as she knew that her clothes were finer than anyone else's and that she had more partners than any other girl.
Now amongst all the young men who wanted to marry Barbaik, the one whose heart was most set on her was her father's head man, but as his manners were rough and he was exceedingly ugly she would have nothing to say to him, and, what was worse, often made fun of him with the rest.
Jegu, for that was his name, of course heard of this, and it made him very unhappy. Still he would not leave the farm, and look for work elsewhere, as he might have done, for then he would never see Barbaik at all, and what was life worth to him without that?
One evening he was bringing back his horses from the fields, and stopped at a little lake on the way home to let them drink. He was tired with a long day's work, and stood with his hand on the mane of one of the animals, waiting till they had done, and thinking all the while of Barbaik, when a voice came out of the gorse close by.'What is the matter, Jegu? You mustn't despair yet.' The young man glanced up in surprise, and asked who was there. 'It is I, the brownie of the lake,' replied the voice. 'But where are you?' inquired Jegu.
'Look close, and you will see me among the reeds in the form of a little green frog. I can take,' he added proudly, 'any shape I choose, and even, which is much harder, be invisible if I want to.''Then show yourself to me in the shape in which your family generally appear,' replied Jegu. 'Certainly, if you wish,' and the frog jumped on the back of one of the horses, and changed into a little dwarf, all dressed in green. This transformation rather frightened Jegu, but the brownie bade him have no fears, for he would not do him any harm; indeed, he hoped that Jegu might find him of some use.
'But why should you take all this interest in me?' asked the peasant suspiciously. 'Because of a service you did me last winter, which I have never forgotten,' answered the little fellow. 'You know, I am sure, that the korigans[FN#3: The spiteful fairies.] who dwell in the White Corn country have declared war on my people, because they say that they are the friends of man. We were therefore obliged to take refuge in distant lands, and to hide ourselves at first under different animal shapes. Since that time, partly from habit and partly to amuse ourselves, we have continued to transform ourselves, and it was in this way that I got to know you.''How?' exclaimed Jegu, filled with astonishment. 'Do you remember when you were digging in the field near the river, three months ago, you found a robin redbreast caught in a net? 'Yes,' answered Jegu, 'I remember it very well, and I opened the net and let him go.' 'Well, I was that robin redbreast, and ever since I have vowed to be your friend, and as you want to marry Barbaik, I will prove the truth of what I say by helping you to do so.' 'Ah! my little brownie, if you can do that, there is nothing I won't give you, except my soul.' 'Then let me alone,' rejoined the dwarf, 'and I promise you that in a very few months you shall be master of the farm and of Barbaik.' 'But how are you going to do it?' exclaimed Jegu wonderingly. 'That is my affair. Perhaps I may tell you later. Meanwhile you just eat and sleep, and don't worry yourself about anything.' Jegu declared that nothing could be easier, and then taking off his hat, he thanked the dwarf heartily, and led his horses back to the farm.
Next morning was a holiday, and Barbaik was awake earlier than usual, as she wished to get through her work as soon as possible, and be ready to start for a dance which was to be held some distance off. She went first to the cow-house, which it was her duty to keep clean, but to her amazement she found fresh straw put down, the racks filled with hay, the cows milked, and the pails standing neatly in a row.
'Of course, Jegu must have done this in the hope of my giving him a dance,' she thought to herself, and when she met him outside the door she stopped and thanked him for his help. To be sure, Jegu only replied roughly that he didn't know what she was talking about, but this answer made her feel all the more certain that it was he and nobody else.
The same thing took place every day, and never had the cow-house been so clean nor the cows so fat. Morning and evening Barbaik found her earthen pots full of milk and a pound of butter freshly churned, ornamented with leaves. At the end of a few weeks she grew so used to this state of affairs that she only got up just in time to prepare breakfast. Soon even this grew to be unnecessary, for a day arrived when, coming downstairs, she discovered that the house was swept, the furniture polished, the fire lit, and the food ready, so that she had nothing to do except to ring the great bell which summoned the labourers from the fields to come and eat it. This, also, she thought was the work of Jegu, and she could not help feeling that a husband of this sort would be very useful to a girl who liked to lie in bed and to amuse herself.
Indeed, Barbaik had only to express a wish for it to be satisfied. If the wind was cold or the sun was hot and she was afraid to go out lest her complexion should be spoilt, she need only to run down to the spring close by and say softly, 'I should like my churns to be full, and my wet linen to be stretched on the hedge to dry,' and she need never give another thought to the matter.
If she found the rye bread too hard to bake, or the oven taking too long to heat, she just murmured, 'I should like to see my six loaves on the shelf above the bread box,' and two hours after there they were.
If she was too lazy to walk all the way to market along a dirty road, she would say out loud the night before, 'Why am I not already back from Morlaix with my milk pot empty, my butter bowl inside it, a pound of wild cherries on my wooden plate, and the money I have gained in my apron pocket?' and in the morning when she got up, lo and behold! there were standing at the foot of her bed the empty milk pot with the butter bowl inside, the black cherries on the wooden plate, and six new pieces of silver in the pocket of her apron. And she believed that all this was owing to Jegu, and she could no longer do without him, even in her thoughts.
When things had reached this pass, the brownie told the young man that he had better ask Barbaik to marry him, and this time the girl did not turn rudely away, but listened patiently to the end. In her eyes he was as ugly and awkward as ever, but he would certainly make a most useful husband, and she could sleep every morning till breakfast time, just like a young lady, and as for the rest of the day, it would not be half long enough for all she meant to do. She would wear the beautiful dresses that came when she wished for them, and visit her neighbours, who would be dying of envy all the while, and she would be able to dance as much as she wished. Jegu would always be there to work for her and save for her, and watch over her. So, like a well-brought-up girl, Barbaik answered that it should be as her father pleased, knowing quite well that old Riou had often said that after he was dead there was no one so capable of carrying on the farm.
The marriage took place the following month, and a few days later the old man died quite suddenly. Now Jegu had everything to see to himself, and somehow it did not seem so easy as when the farmer was alive. But once more the brownie stepped in, and was better than ten labourers. It was he who ploughed and sowed and reaped, and if, as happened, occasionally, it was needful to get the work done quickly, the brownie called in some of his friends, and as soon as it was light a host of little dwarfs might have been seen in the fields, busy with hoe, fork or sickle. But by the time the people were about all was finished, and the little fellows had disappeared.
And all the payment the brownie ever asked for was a bowl of broth. From the very day of her marriage Barbaik had noted with surprise and rage that things ceased to be done for her as they had been done all the weeks and months before. She complained to Jegu of his laziness, and he only stared at her, not understanding what she was talking about. But the brownie, who was standing by, burst out laughing, and confessed that all the good offices she spoke of had been performed by him, for the sake of Jegu, but that now he had other business to do, and it was high time that she looked after her house herself.
Barbaik was furious. Each morning when she was obliged to get up before dawn to milk the cows and go to market, and each evening when she had to sit up till midnight in order to churn the butter, her heart was filled with rage against the brownie who had caused her to expect a life of ease and pleasure. But when she looked at Jegu and beheld his red face, squinting eyes, and untidy hair, her anger was doubled.
'If it had not been for you, you miserable dwarf!' she would say between her teeth, 'if it had not been for you I should never have married that man, and I should still have been going to dances, where the young men would have brought me present of nuts and cherries, and told me that I was the prettiest girl in the parish. While now I can receive no presents except from my husband. I can never dance, except with my husband. Oh, you wretched dwarf, I will never, never forgive you!'
In spite of her fierce words, no one knew better than Barbaik how to put her pride in her pocket when it suited her, and after receiving an invitation to a wedding, she begged the brownie to get her a horse to ride there. To her great joy he consented, bidding her set out for the city of the dwarfs and to tell them exactly what she wanted. Full of excitement, Barbaik started on her journey. It was not long, and when she reached the town she went straight to the dwarfs, who were holding counsel in a wide green place, and said to them, 'Listen, my friends! I have come to beg you to lend me a black horse, with eyes, a mouth, ears, bridle and saddle.'She had hardly spoken when the horse appeared, and mounting on his back she started for the village where the wedding was to be held.
At first she was so delighted with the chance of a holiday from the work which she hated, that she noticed nothing, but very soon it struck her as odd that as she passed along the roads full of people they all laughed as they looked at her horse. At length she caught some words uttered by one man to another. 'Why, the farmer's wife has sold her horse's tail!' and turned in her saddle. Yes; it was true. Her horse had no tail! She had forgotten to ask for one, and the wicked dwarfs had carried out her orders to the letter!
'Well, at any rate, I shall soon be there,' she thought, and shaking the reins, tried to urge the horse to a gallop. But it was of no use; he declined to move out of a walk; and she was forced to hear all the jokes that were made upon her.
In the evening she returned to the farm more angry than ever, and quite determined to revenge herself on the brownie whenever she had the chance, which happened to be very soon.
It was the spring, and just the time of year when the dwarfs held their fete, so one day the brownie asked Jegu if he might bring his friends to have supper in the great barn, and whether he would allow them to dance there. Of course, Jegu was only too pleased to be able to do anything for the brownie, and he ordered Barbaik to spread her best tablecloths in the barn, and to make a quantity of little loaves and pancakes, and, besides, to keep all the milk given by the cows that morning. He expected she would refuse, as he knew she hated the dwarfs, but she said nothing, and prepared the supper as he had bidden her.
When all was ready, the dwarfs, in new green suits, came bustling in, very happy and merry, and took their seats at the table. But in a moment they all sprang up with a cry, and ran away screaming, for Barbaik had placed pans of hot coals under their feet, and all their poor little toes were burnt.
'You won't forget that in a hurry,' she said, smiling grimly to herself, but in a moment they were back again with large pots of water, which they poured on the fire. Then they joined hands and danced round it, singing:
Wicked traitress, Barne Riou, Our poor toes are burned by you; Now we hurry from your hall-- Bad luck light upon you all.
That evening they left the country for ever, and Jegu, without their help, grew poorer and poorer, and at last died of misery, while Barbaik was glad to find work in the market of Morlaix.From 'Le Foyer Breton,' par E. Souvestre.
The Winning of Olwen
There was once a king and queen who had a little boy, and they called his name Kilweh. The queen, his mother, fell ill soon after his birth, and as she could not take care of him herself she sent him to a woman she knew up in the mountains, so that he might learn to go out in all weathers, and bear heat and cold, and grow tall and strong. Kilweh was quite happy with his nurse, and ran races and climbed hills with the children who were his playfellows, and in the winter, when the snow lay on the ground, sometimes a man with a harp would stop and beg for shelter, and in return would sing them songs of strange things that had happened in the years gone by.
But long before this changes had taken place in the court of Kilweh's father. Soon after she had sent her baby away the queen became much worse, and at length, seeing that she was going to die, she called her husband to her and said:
'Never again shall I rise from this bed, and by and bye thou wilt take another wife. But lest she should make thee forget thy son, I charge thee that thou take not a wife until thou see a briar with two blossoms upon my grave.' And this he promised her. Then she further bade him to see to her grave that nothing might grow thereon. This likewise he promised her, and soon she died, and for seven years the king sent a man every morning to see that nothing was growing on the queen's grave, but at the end of seven years he forgot.One day when the king was out hunting he rode past the place where the queen lay buried, and there he saw a briar growing with two blossoms on it.
'It is time that I took a wife,' said he, and after long looking he found one. But he did not tell her about his son; indeed he hardly remembered that he had one till she heard it at last from an old woman whom she had gone to visit. And the new queen was very pleased, and sent messengers to fetch the boy, and in his father's court he stayed, while the years went by till one day the queen told him that a prophecy had foretold that he was to win for his wife Olwen the daughter of Yspaddaden Penkawr.
When he heard this Kilweh felt proud and happy. Surely he must be a man now, he thought, or there would be no talk of a wife for him, and his mind dwelt all day upon his promised bride, and what she would be like when he beheld her.'What aileth thee, my son?' asked his father at last, when Kilweh had forgotten something he had been bidden to do, and Kilweh blushed red as he answered: 'My stepmother says that none but Olwen, the daughter of Yspaddaden Penkawr, shall be my wife.'
'That will be easily fulfilled,' replied his father. 'Arthur the king is thy cousin. Go therefore unto him and beg him to cut thy hair, and to grant thee this boon.' Then the youth pricked forth upon a dapple grey horse of four years old, with a bridle of linked gold, and gold upon his saddle. In his hand he bore two spears of silver with heads of steel; a war-horn of ivory was slung round his shoulder, and by his side hung a golden sword. Before him were two brindled white- breasted greyhounds with collars of rubies round their necks, and the one that was on the left side bounded across to the right side, and the one on the right to the left, and like two sea- swallows sported round him. And his horse cast up four sods with his four hoofs, like four swallows in the air about his head, now above, now below. About him was a robe of purple, and an apple of gold was at each corner, and every one of the apples was of the value of a hundred cows. And the blades of grass bent not beneath him, so light were his horse's feet as he journeyed toward the gate of Arthur's palace.'Is there a porter?' cried Kilweh, looking round for someone to open the gate.
'There is; and I am Arthur's porter every first day of January,' answered a man coming out to him. 'The rest of the year there are other porters, and among them Pennpingyon, who goes upon his head to save his feet.''Well, open the portal, I say.'
'No, that I may not do, for none can enter save the son of a king or a pedlar who has goods to sell. But elsewhere there will be food for thy dogs and hay for thy horse, and for thee collops cooked and peppered, and sweet wine shall be served in the guest chamber.''That will not do for me,' answered Kilweh. 'If thou wilt not open the gate I will send up three shouts that shall be heard from Cornwall unto the north, and yet again to Ireland.' 'Whatsoever clamour thou mayest make,' spake Glewlwyd the porter, 'thou shalt not enter until I first go and speak with Arthur.' Then Glewlwyd went into the hall, and Arthur said to him: 'Hast thou news from the gate?' and the porter answered: 'Far have I travelled, both in this island and elsewhere, and many kingly men have I seen; but never yet have I beheld one equal in majesty to him who now stands at the door.'
'If walking thou didst enter here, return thou running,' replied Arthur, 'and let everyone that opens and shuts the eye show him respect and serve him, for it is not meet to keep such a man in the wind and rain.' So Glewlwyd unbarred the gate and Kilweh rode in upon his charger.'Greeting unto thee, O ruler of this land,' cried he, 'and greeting no less to the lowest than to the highest.'
'Greeting to thee also,' answered Arthur. 'Sit thou between two of my warriors, and thou shalt have minstrels before thee and all that belongs to one born to be a king, while thou remainest in my palace.'
'I am not come,' replied Kilweh, 'for meat and drink, but to obtain a boon, and if thou grant it me I will pay it back, and will carry thy praise to the four winds of heaven. But if thou wilt not grant it to me, then I will proclaim thy discourtesy wherever thy name is known.'
'What thou askest that shalt thou receive,' said Arthur, 'as far as the wind dries and the rain moistens, and the sun revolves and the sea encircles and the earth extends. Save only my ship and my mantle, my word and my lance, my shield and my dagger, and Guinevere my wife.''I would that thou bless my hair,' spake Kilweh, and Arthur answered: 'That shall be granted thee.' Forthwith he bade his men fetch him a comb of gold and a scissors with loops of silver, and he combed the hair of Kilweh his guest. 'Tell me who thou art,' he said, 'for my heart warms to thee, and I feel thou art come of my blood.' 'I am Kilweh, son of Kilydd,' replied the youth. 'Then my cousin thou art in truth,' replied Arthur, 'and whatsoever boon thou mayest ask thou shalt receive.'
'The boon I crave is that thou mayest win for me Olwen, the daughter of Yspaddaden Penkawr, and this boon I seek likewise at the hands of thy warriors. From Sol, who can stand all day upon one foot; from Ossol, who, if he were to find himself on the top of the highest mountain in the world, could make it into a level plain in the beat of a bird's wing; from Cluse, who, though he were buried under the earth, could yet hear the ant leave her nest fifty miles away: from these and from Kai and from Bedwyr and from all thy mighty men I crave this boon.''O Kilweh,' said Arthur, 'never have I heard of the maiden of whom thou speakest, nor of her kindred, but I will send messengers to seek her if thou wilt give me time.'
'From this night to the end of the year right willingly will I grant thee,' replied Kilweh; but when the end of the year came and the messengers returned Kilweh was wroth, and spoke rough words to Arthur.It was Kai, the boldest of the warriors and the swiftest of foot- - he would could pass nine nights without sleep, and nine days beneath the water--that answered him:
'Rash youth that thou art, darest thou speak thus to Arthur? Come with us, and we will not part company till we have won that maiden, or till thou confess that there is none such in the world.'
Then Arthur summoned his five best men and bade them go with Kilweh. There was Bedwyr the one-handed, Kai's comrade and brother in arms, the swiftest man in Britain save Arthur; there was Kynddelig, who knew the paths in a land where he had never been as surely as he did those of his own country; there was Gwrhyr, that could speak all tongues; and Gwalchmai the son of Gwyar, who never returned till he had gained what he sought; and last of all there was Menw, who could weave a spell over them so that none might see them, while they could see everyone.
So these seven journeyed together till they reached a vast open plain in which was a fair castle. But though it seemed so close it was not until the evening of the third day that they really drew near to it, and in front of it a flock of sheep was spread, so many in number that there seemed no end to them. A shepherd stood on a mound watching over them, and by his side was a dog, as large as a horse nine winters old.'Whose is this castle, O herdsmen?' asked the knights. 'Stupid are ye truly,' answered the herdsman. 'All the world knows that this is the castle of Yspaddaden Penkawr.' 'And who art thou?' 'I am called Custennin, brother of Yspaddaden, and ill has he treated me. And who are you, and what do you here?' 'We come from Arthur the king, to seek Olwen the daughter of Yspaddaden,' but at this news the shepherd gave a cry:
'O men, be warned and turn back while there is yet time. Others have gone on that quest, but none have escaped to tell the tale,' and he rose to his feet as if to leave them. Then Kilweh held out to him a ring of gold, and he tried to put it on his finger, but it was too small, so he placed it in his glove, and went home and gave it to his wife.'Whence came this ring?' asked she, 'for such good luck is not wont to befall thee.'
'The man to whom this ring belonged thou shalt see here in the evening,' answered the shepherd; 'he is Kilweh, son of Kilydd, cousin to king Arthur, and he has come to seek Olwen.' And when the wife heard that she knew that Kilweh was her nephew, and her heart yearned after him, half with joy at the thought of seeing him, and half with sorrow for the doom she feared.
Soon they heard steps approaching, and Kai and the rest entered into the house and ate and drank. After that the woman opened a chest, and out of it came a youth with curling yellow hair.'It is a pity to hid him thus,' said Gwrhyr, 'for well I know that he has done no evil.' 'Three and twenty of my sons has Yspaddaden slain, and I have no more hope of saving this one,' replied she, and Kai was full of sorrow and answered: 'Let him come with me and be my comrade, and he shall never be slain unless I am slain also.' And so it was agreed. 'What is your errand here?' asked the woman. 'We seek Olwen the maiden for this youth,' answered Kai; 'does she ever come hither so that she may be seen?' 'She comes every Saturday to wash her hair, and in the vessel where she washes she leaves all her rings, and never does she so much as send a messenger to fetch them.' 'Will she come if she is bidden?' asked Kai, pondering. 'She will come; but unless you pledge me your faith that you will not harm her I will not fetch her.' 'We pledge it,' said they, and the maiden came.
A fair sight was she in a robe of flame-coloured silk, with a collar of ruddy gold about her neck, bright with emeralds and rubies. More yellow was her head than the flower of the broom, and her skin was whiter than the foam of the wave, and fairer were her hands than the blossoms of the wood anemone. Four white trefoils sprang up where she trod, and therefore was she called Olwen.She entered, and sat down on a bench beside Kilweh, and he spake to her: 'Ah, maiden, since first I heard thy name I have loved thee--wilt thou not come away with me from this evil place?'
'That I cannot do,' answered she, 'for I have given my word to my father not to go without his knowledge, for his life will only last till I am betrothed. Whatever is, must be, but this counsel I will give you. Go, and ask me of my father, and whatsoever he shall required of thee grant it, and thou shalt win me; but if thou deny him anything thou wilt not obtain me, and it will be well for thee if thou escape with thy life.''All this I promise,' said he. So she returned to the castle, and all Arthur's men went after her, and entered the hall. 'Greeting to thee, Yspaddaden Penkawr,' said they. 'We come to ask thy daughter Olwen for Kilweh, son of Kilydd.'
'Come hither to-morrow and I will answer you,' replied Yspaddaden Penkawr, and as they rose to leave the hall he caught up one of the three poisoned darts that lay beside him and flung it in their midst. But Bedwyr saw and caught it, and flung it back so hard that it pierced the knee of Yspaddaden.'A gentle son-in-law, truly!' he cried, writhing with pain. 'I shall ever walk the worse for this rudeness. Cursed be the smith who forged it, and the anvil on which it was wrought!'
That night the men slept in the house of Custennin the herdsman, and the next day they proceeded to the castle, and entered the hall, and said:
'Yspaddaden Penkawr, give us thy daughter and thou shalt keep her dower. And unless thou wilt do this we will slay thee.'
'Be it so; we will go to meat,' but as they turned he took up the second dart that lay by his side and cast it after them. And Menw caught it, and flung it at him, and wounded him in the chest, so that it came out at his back.
'A gentle son-in-law, truly!' cried Yspaddaden, 'the iron pains me like the bite of a horseleech. Cursed be the hearth whereon it was heated, and the smith who formed it!' The third day Arthur's men returned to the palace into the presence of Yspaddaden.
'Shoot not at me again,' said he, 'unless you desire death. But lift up my eyebrows, which have fallen over my eyes, that I may see my son-in-law.' Then they arose, and as they did so Yspaddaden Penkawr took the third poisoned dart and cast it at them. And Kilweh caught it, and flung it back, and it passed through his eyeball, and came out on the other side of his head.'A gentle son-in-law, truly! Cursed be the fire in which it was forged and the man who fashioned it!' The next day Arthur's men came again to the palace and said: 'Shoot not at us any more unless thou desirest more pain than even now thou hast, but give us thy daughter without more words.' 'Where is he that seeks my daughter? Let him come hither so that I may see him.' And Kilweh sat himself in a chair and spoke face to face with him. 'Is it thou that seekest my daughter?' 'It is I,' answered Kilweh. 'First give me thy word that thou wilt do nothing towards me that is not just, and when thou hast won for me that which I shall ask, then thou shalt wed my daughter.' 'I promise right willingly,' said Kilweh. 'Name what thou wilt.'
'Seest thou yonder hill? Well, in one day it shall be rooted up and ploughed and sown, and the grain shall ripen, and of that wheat I will bake the cakes for my daughter's wedding.'
'It will be easy for me to compass this, although thou mayest deem it will not be easy,' answered Kilweh, thinking of Ossol, under whose feet the highest mountain became straightway a plain, but Yspaddaden paid no heed, and continued:
'Seest thou that field yonder? When my daughter was born nine bushels of flax were sown therein, and not one blade has sprung up. I require thee to sow fresh flax in the ground that my daughter may wear a veil spun from it on the day of her wedding.'
'Though thou compass this there is that which thou wilt not compass. For thou must bring me the basket of Gwyddneu Garanhir which will give meat to the whole world. It is for thy wedding feast. Thou must also fetch me the drinking-horn that is never empty, and the harp that never ceases to play until it is bidden. Also the comb and scissors and razor that lie between the two ears of Trwyth the boar, so that I may arrange my hair for the wedding. And though thou get this yet there is that which thou wilt not get, for Trwyth the boar will not let any man take from him the comb and the scissors, unless Drudwyn the whelp hunt him. But no leash in the world can hold Drudwyn save the leash of Cant Ewin, and no collar will hold the leash except the collar of Canhastyr.''It will be easy for me to compass this, though thou mayest think it will not be easy,' Kilweh answered him.
'Though thou get all these things yet there is that which thou wilt not get. Throughout the world there is none that can hunt with this dog save Mabon the son of Modron. He was taken from his mother when three nights old, and it is not know where he now is, nor whether he is living or dead, and though thou find him yet the boar will never be slain save only with the sword of Gwrnach the giant, and if thou obtain it not neither shalt thou obtain my daughter.''Horses shall I have, and knights from my lord Arthur. And I shall gain thy daughter, and thou shalt lose thy life.' The speech of Kilweh the son of Kilydd with Yspaddaden Penkawr was ended. Then Arthur's men set forth, and Kilweh with them, and journeyed till they reached the largest castle in the world, and a black man came out to meet them. 'Whence comest thou, O man?' asked they, 'and whose is that castle?'
'That is the castle of Gwrnach the giant, as all the world knows,' answered the man, 'but no guest ever returned thence alive, and none may enter the gate except a craftsman, who brings his trade.' But little did Arthur's men heed his warning, and they went straight to the gate.'Open!' cried Gwrhyr. 'I will not open,' replied the porter.
'And wherefore?' asked Kai. 'The knife is in the meat, and the drink is in the horn, and there is revelry in the hall of Gwrnach the giant, and save for a craftsman who brings his trade the gate will not be opened to- night.''Verily, then, I may enter,' said Kai, 'for there is no better burnisher of swords than I.' 'This will I tell Gwrnach the giant, and I will bring thee his answer.' 'Bid the man come before me,' cried Gwrnach, when the porter had told his tale, 'for my sword stands much in need of polishing,' so Kai passed in and saluted Gwrnach the giant. 'Is it true what I hear of thee, that thou canst burnish swords?' 'It is true,' answered Kai. Then was the sword of Gwrnach brought to him. 'Shall it be burnished white or blue?' said Kai, taking a whetstone from under his arm. 'As thou wilt,' answered the giant, and speedily did Kai polish half the sword. The giant marvelled at his skill, and said: 'It is a wonder that such a man as thou shouldst be without a companion.' 'I have a companion, noble sir, but he has no skill in this art.' 'What is his name?' asked the giant.
'Let the porter go forth, and I will tell him how he may know him. The head of his lance will leave its shaft, and draw blood from the wind, and descend upon its shaft again.' So the porter opened the gate and Bedwyr entered.
Now there was much talk amongst those who remained without when the gate closed upon Bedwyr, and Goreu, son of Custennin, prevailed with the porter, and he and his companions got in also and hid themselves.By this time the whole of the sword was polished, and Kai gave it into the hand of Gwrnach the giant, who felt it and said: 'Thy work is good; I am content.' Then said Kai:
'It is thy scabbard that hath rusted thy sword; give it to me that I may take out the wooden sides of it and put in new ones.' And he took the scabbard in one hand and the sword in the other, and came and stood behind the giant, as if he would have sheathed the sword in the scabbard. But with it he struck a blow at the head of the giant, and it rolled from his body. After that they despoiled the castle of its gold and jewels, and returned, bearing the sword of the giant, to Arthur's court.
They told Arthur how they had sped, and they all took counsel together, and agreed that they must set out on the quest for Mabon the son of Modron, and Gwrhyr, who knew the languages of beasts and of birds, went with them. SO they journeyed until they came to the nest of an ousel, and Gwrhyr spoke to her.
'When I first came here I was a young bird, and there was a smith's anvil in this place. But from that time no work has been done upon it, save that every evening I have pecked at it, till now there is not so much as the size of a nut remaining thereof. Yet all that time I have never once heard of the man you name. Still, there is a race of beasts older than I, and I will guide you to them.'So the ousel flew before them, till she reached the stag of Redynvre; but when they inquired of the stag whether he knew aught of Mabon he shook his head.
'When first I came hither,' said he, 'the plain was bare save for one oak sapling, which grew up to be an oak with a hundred branches. All that is left of that oak is a withered stump, but never once have I heard of the man you name. Nevertheless, as you are Arthur's men, I will guide you to the place where there is an animal older than I'; and the stag ran before them till he reached the owl of Cwm Cawlwyd. But when they inquired of the owl if he knew aught of Mabon he shook his head.
'When first I came hither,' said he, 'the valley was a wooded glen; then a race of men came and rooted it up. After that there grew a second wood, and then a third, which you see. Look at my wings also--are they not withered stumps? Yet until to-day I have never heard of the man you name. Still, I will guide you to the oldest animal in the world, and the one that has travelled most, the eagle of Gwern Abbey.' And he flew before them, as fast as his old wings would carry him, till he reached the eagle of Gwern Abbey, but when they inquired of the eagle whether he knew aught of Mabon he shook his head.
'When I first came hither,' said the eagle, 'there was a rock here, and every evening I pecked at the stars from the top of it. Now, behold, it is not even a span high! But only once have I heard of the man you name, and that was when I went in search of food as far as Llyn Llyw. I swooped down upon a salmon, and struck my claws into him, but he drew me down under water till scarcely could I escape him. Then I summoned all my kindred to destroy him, but he made peace with me, and I took fifty fish spears from his back. Unless he may know something of the man whom you seek I cannot tell who may. But I will guide you to the place where he is.'So they followed the eagle, who flew before them, though so high was he in the sky, it was often hard to mark his flight. At length he stopped above a deep pool in a river.
'Salmon of Llyn Llyw,' he called, 'I have come to thee with an embassy from Arthur to inquire if thou knowest aught concerning Mabon the son of Modron.' And the salmon answered:
'As much as I know I will tell thee. With every tide I go up the river, till I reach the walls of Gloucester, and there have I found such wrong as I never found elsewhere. And that you may see that what I say is true let two of you go thither on my shoulders.' So Kai and Gwrhyr went upon the shoulders of the salmon, and were carried under the walls of the prison, from which proceeded the sound of great weeping.
Then they sent a messenger to Arthur to tell him that Mabon was found, and he brought all his warriors to the castle of Gloucester and fell fiercely upon it; while Kai and Bedwyr went on the shoulders of the salmon to the gate of the dungeon, and broke it down and carried away Mabon. And he now being free returned home with Arthur.
After this, on a certain day, as Gwythyr was walking across a mountain he heard a grievous cry, and he hastened towards it. In a little valley he saw the heather burning and the fire spreading fast towards the anthill, and all the ants were hurrying to and fro, not knowing whither to go. Gwythyr had pity on them, and put out the fire, and in gratitude the ants brought him the nine bushels of flax seed which Yspaddaden Penkawr required of Kilweh. And many of the other marvels were done likewise by Arthur and his knights, and at last it came to the fight with Trwyth the board, to obtain the comb and the scissors and the razor that lay between his ears. But hard was the boar to catch, and fiercely did he fight when Arthur's men gave him battle, so that many of them were slain.
Up and down the country went Trwyth the boar, and Arthur followed after him, till they came to the Severn sea. There three knights caught his feet unawares and plunged him into the water, while one snatched the razor from him, and another seized the scissors. But before they laid hold of the comb he had shaken them all off, and neither man nor horse nor dog could reach him till he came to Cornwall, whither Arthur had sworn he should not go. Thither Arthur followed after him with his knights, and if it had been hard to win the razor and the scissors, the struggle for the comb was fiercer still, but at length Arthur prevailed, and the boar was driven into the sea. And whether he was drowned or where he went no man knows to this day.
In the end all the marvels were done, and Kilweh set forward, and with him Goreu, the son of Custennin, to Yspaddaden Penkawr, bearing in their hands the razor, the scissors and the comb, and Yspaddaden Penkawr was shaved by Kaw.
'Is thy daughter mine now?' asked Kilweh. 'She is thine,' answered Yspaddaden, 'but it is Arthur and none other who has won her for thee. Of my own free will thou shouldst never have had her, for now I must lose my life.' And as he spake Goreu the son of Custennin cut off his head, as if had been ordained, and Arthur's hosts returned each man to his own country.From the 'Mabinogion.'