AN Irish knight named Maelduin set forth early in the eighth century to seek round the seas for his father's murderers. By the advice of a wizard, he was to take with him seventeen companions, neither less nor more; but at the last moment his three foster brothers, whom he had not included, begged to go with him. He refused, and they cast themselves into the sea to swim after his vessel. Maelduin had pity on them and took them in, but his disregard of the wizard's advice brought punishment; and it was only after long wanderings, after visiting multitudes of unknown and often enchanted islands, and after the death or loss of the three foster brothers, that Maelduin was able to return to his native land.
One island which they visited was divided into four parts by four fences, one of gold, one
of silver, one of brass, one of crystal. In the first division there dwelt kings, in the second queens, in the third warriors, and in the fourth maidens. The voyagers landed in the maidens' realm; one of these came out in a boat and gave them food, such that every one found in it the taste he liked best; then followed an enchanted drink, which made them sleep for three days and three nights. When they awakened they were in their boat on the sea, and nothing was to be seen either of island or maidens.
The next island had in it a fortress with a brazen door and a bridge of glass, on which every one who ascended it slipped and fell. A woman came from the fortress, pail in hand, drew water from the sea and returned, not answering them when they spoke. When they reached at last the brazen door and struck upon it, it made a sweet and soothing sound, and they went to sleep, for three days and nights, as before. On the fourth day a maiden came who was most beautiful; she wore garments of white silk, a white mantle with a
brooch of silver with studs of gold, and a gold band round her hair. She greeted each man by his name, and said, "It is long that we have expected you." She took them into the castle and gave them every kind of food they had ever desired. Maelduin was filled with love for her and asked her for her love; but she told him that love was sin and she had no knowledge of sin; so she left him. On the morrow they found their boat, stranded on a crag, while lady and fortress and island had all vanished.
Another island on which they landed was large and bare, with another fortress and a palace. There they met a lady who was kinder. She wore an embroidered purple mantle, gold embroidered gloves, and ornamented sandals, and was just riding up to the palace door. Seventeen maidens waited there for her. She offered to keep the strangers as guests, and that each of them should have a wife, she herself wedding Maelduin. She was, it seems, the widow of the king of the island, and these were her seventeen daughters. She ruled the island and went every day to judge the people and direct
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''The brazen door made a sweet and soothing sound, and they went to sleep for three days and nights. On the fourth day a maiden came who was most beautiful. She greeted each man and said, 'It is long that we have expected you.'''--p. 98
their lives. If the strangers would stay, she said that they should never more know sorrow, or hardships, or old age; she herself, in spite of her large family, being young and beautiful as ever. They stayed three months, and it seemed to all but Maelduin that the three months were three years. When the queen was absent, one day, the men took the boat and compelled Maelduin to leave the island with them; but the queen rode after them and flung a rope, which Maelduin caught and which clung to his hand. She drew them back to the shore; this happened thrice, and the men accused Maelduin of catching the rope on purpose; he bade another man catch it, and his companions cut off his hand, and they escaped at last.
On one island the seafarers found three magic apples, and each apple gave sufficient food for forty nights; again, on another island, they found the same apples. In another place still, a great bird like a cloud arrived, with a tree larger than an oak in its claws. After a while two eagles came and cleaned the feathers of the
larger bird. They also stripped off the red berries from the tree and threw them into the ocean until its foam grew red. The great bird then flew into the ocean and cleaned itself. This happened daily for three days, when the great bird flew away with stronger wings, its youth being thus renewed.
They came to another island where many people stood by the shore talking and joking. They were all looking at Maelduin and his comrades, and kept gaping and laughing, but would not exchange a word with them. Then Maelduin sent one of his foster brothers on the island; but he ranged himself with the others and did as they did. Maelduin and his men rowed round and round the island, and whenever they passed the point where this comrade was, they addressed him, but he never answered, and only gaped and laughed. They waited for him a long time and left him. This island they found to be called The Island of Joy.
On another island they found sheep grazing, of enormous size; on another, birds, whose eggs when eaten caused feathers to sprout all over the
bodies of those who eat them. On another they found crimson flowers, whose mere perfume sufficed for food, and they encountered women whose only food was apples. Through the window flew three birds: a blue one with a crimson head; a crimson one with a green head; a green one with a golden head. These sang heavenly music, and were sent to accompany the wanderers on their departing; the queen of the island gave them an emerald cup, such that water poured into it became wine. She asked if they knew how long they had been there, and when they said "a day," she told them that it was a year, during which they had had no food. As they sailed away, the birds sang to them until both birds and island disappeared in the mist.
They saw another island standing on a single pedestal, as if on one foot, projecting from the water. Rowing round it to seek a way into it they found no passage, but they saw in the base of the pedestal, under water, a closed door with a lock--this being the only way in which the island could be entered. Around another island there was a fiery rampart, which constantly moved in a
circle. In the side of that rampart was an open door, and as it came opposite them in its turning course, they beheld through it the island and all therein; and its occupants, even human beings, were many and beautiful, wearing rich garments, and feasting with gold vessels in their hands. The voyagers lingered long to gaze upon this marvel.
On another island they found many human beings, black in color and raiment, and always bewailing. Lots were cast, and another of Maelduin's foster brothers was sent on shore. He at once joined the weeping crowd, and did as they did. Two others were sent to bring him back, and both shared his fate, falling under some strange spell. Then Maelduin sent four others, and bade them look neither at the land nor at the sky; to wrap their mouths and noses with their garments, and not breathe the island air; and not to take off their eyes from their comrades. In this way the two who followed the foster brother on shore were rescued, but he remained behind.
Of another island they could see nothing but
a fort, protected by a great white rampart, on which nothing living was to be seen but a small cat, leaping from one to another of four stone pillars. They found brooches and ornaments of gold and silver, they found white quilts and embroidered garments hanging up, flitches of bacon were suspended, a whole ox was roasting, and vessels stood filled with intoxicating drinks. Maelduin asked the cat if all this was for them; but the cat merely looked at him and went on playing. The seafarers dined and drank, then went to sleep. As they were about to depart, Maelduin's third foster brother proposed to carry off a tempting necklace, and in spite of his leader's warnings grasped it. Instantly the cat leaped through him like a fiery arrow, burned him so that he became ashes, and went back to its pillar. Thus all three of the foster brothers who had disregarded the wizard's warning, and forced themselves upon the party, were either killed or left behind upon the enchanted islands.
Around another island there was a demon horse-race going on; the riders were just riding in over the sea, and then the race began; the
voyagers could only dimly perceive the forms of the horses, but could hear the cries of their riders, the strokes of the whips, and the words of the spectators, "See the gray horse!" "Watch the chestnut horse!" and the voyagers were so alarmed that they rowed away. The next island was covered with trees laden with golden apples, but these were being rapidly eaten by small, scarlet animals which they found, on coming nearer, to be all made of fire and thus brightened in hue. Then the animals vanished, and Maelduin with his men landed, and though the ground was still hot from the fiery creatures, they brought away a boat load of the apples. Another island was divided into two parts by a brass wall across the middle. There were two flocks of sheep, and those on one side of the wall were white, while the others were black. A large man was dividing and arranging the sheep, and threw them easily over the wall. When he threw a white sheep among the black ones it became black, and when he threw a black sheep among the white ones, it became white instantly. The voyagers thought
of landing, but when Maelduin saw this, he said, "Let us throw something on shore to see if it will change color. If it does, we will avoid the island." So they took a black branch and threw it toward the white sheep. When it fell, it grew white; and the same with a white branch on the black side. "It is lucky for us," said Maelduin, "that we did not land on this island."
They came next to an island where there was but one man visible, very aged, and with long, white hair. Above him were trees, covered with great numbers of birds. The old man told them that he like them had come in a curragh, or coracle, and had placed many green sods beneath his feet, to steady the boat. Reaching this spot, the green sods had joined together and formed an island which at first gave him hardly room to stand; but every year one foot was added to its size, and one tree grew up. He had lived there for centuries, and those birds were the souls of his children and descendants, each of whom was sent there after death, and they were all fed from
heaven each day. On the next island there was a great roaring as of bellows and a sound of smiths' hammers, as if striking all together on an anvil, every sound seeming to come from the strokes of a dozen men. "Are they near?" asked one big voice. "Silence!" said another; and they were evidently watching for the boat. When it rowed away, one of the smiths flung after them a vast mass of red-hot iron, which he had grasped with the tongs from the furnace. It fell just short, but made the whole sea to hiss and boil around them as they rowed away.
Another island had a wall of water round it, and Maelduin and his men saw multitudes of people driving away herds of cattle and sheep, and shouting, "There they are, they have come again;" and a woman pelted them from below with great nuts, which the crew gathered for eating. Then as they rowed away they heard one man say, "Where are they now?" and another cried, "They are going away." Still again they visited an island where a great stream of water shot up into the air and made an arch like a rainbow that spanned the land.
[paragraph continues] They walked below it without getting wet, and hooked down from it many large salmon; besides that, many fell out above their heads, so that they had more than they could carry away with them. These are by no means all of the strange adventures of Maelduin and his men.
The last island to which they came was called Raven's Stream, and there one of the men, who had been very homesick, leaped out upon shore. As soon as he touched the land he became a heap of ashes, as if his body had lain in the earth a thousand years. This showed them for the first time during how vast a period they had been absent, and what a space they must have traversed. Instead of thirty enchanted islands they had visited thrice fifty, many of them twice or thrice as large as Ireland, whence the voyagers first came. In the wonderful experiences of their long lives they had apparently lost sight of the search which they had undertaken, for the murderers of Maelduin's father, since of them we hear no more. The island enchantment seems to have banished all other thoughts.