When the King of the Cats
Came to King Connal's Dominion
The King of Ireland's Son was home again, but as he kept asking about a King and a Kingdom no one had ever heard of, people thought he had lost his wits in his search for the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands. He rode abroad every day to ask strangers if they knew where the King of the Land of Mist had his dominion and he came back to his father's every night in the hope that one would be at the Castle who could tell him where the place that he sought was. Maravaun wanted to relate to him fables from "The Breastplate of Instruction" but the King's Son did not hear a word that Maravaun said. After a while he listened to the things that Art, the King's Steward, related to him, for it was Art who had shown the King's Son the leaden ring that was on his finger. He took it off, remembering the betrothal ring that the Little Sage had made, and then he saw that it was not his, but Fedelma's ring that he wore. Then he felt as if Fedelma had sent a message to him, and he was less wild in his thoughts.
Afterwards, in the evenings, when he came back from his ridings, he would cross the meadows with Art, the King's Steward, or would stand with him while the herdsmen drove the cattle into the byres. Then he would listen to what Art related to him. And one evening he heard Art say, "The most remarkable event that happened was the coming into this land of the King of the Cats."
"I will listen to what you tell me about it," said the King's Son. "Then," said Art, the King's Steward, "to your father's Son in all truth be it told"--
The King of the Cats stood up. He was a grand creature. His body was brown and striped across as if one had burned on wood with a hot poker. Like all the race of the Royal Cats of the Isle of Man he was without a tail. But he had extraordinarily fine whiskers. They went each side of his face to the length of a dinner-dish. He had such eyes that when he turned one of them upward the bird that was flying across dropped from the sky. And when he turned the other one down he could make a hole in the floor.
He lived in the Isle of Man. Once he had been King of the Cats of Ireland and Britain, of Norway and Denmark, and the whole Northern and Western World. But after the Norsemen won in the wars the Cats of Norway and Britain swore by Thor and Odin that they would give him no more allegiance. So for a hundred years and a day he had got allegiance only from the Cats of the Western World; that is, from Ireland and the Islands beyond.
The tribute he received was still worth having. In May he was sent a boatful of herring. In August he was let have two boatfuls of mackerel. In November he was given five barrels of preserved mice. At other seasons he had for his tribute one out of every hundred birds that flew across the Island on their way to Ireland--tomtits, pee-wits, linnets, siskins, starlings, martins, wrens and tender young barn owls. He was also sent the following as marks of allegiance and respect: a salmon, to show his dominion over the rivers; the skin of a marten to show his dominion in the woods; a live cricket to show his dominion in the houses of men; the horn of a cow, to show his right to a portion of the milk produced in the Western World.
But the tribute from the Western World became smaller and smaller. One year the boat did not come with the herring. Mackerel was sent to him afterwards but he knew it was sent to him because so much was being taken out of the sea that the farmer-men were plowing their mackerel-catches into the land to make their crops grow. Then a year came when he got neither the salmon nor the marten skin, neither the live cricket nor the cow's horn. Then he got righteously and royally indignant. He stood up on his four paws on the floor of his palace, and declared to his wife that he himself was going to Ireland to know what prevented the sending of his lawful tribute to him. He called for his Prime Minister then and said, "Prepare for Us our Speech from the Throne."
The Prime Minister went to the Parliament House and wrote down "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!" But he could not remember any more of the ancient language in which the speeches from the Throne were always written. He went home and hanged himself with a measure of tape and his wife buried the body under the hearth-stone.
"Speech or no speech," said the King of the Cats, "I'm going to pay a royal visit to my subjects in Ireland."
He went to the top of the cliff and he made a spring. He landed on the deck of a ship that was bringing the King of Norway's daughter to be married to the King of Scotland's son. The ship nearly sank with the crash of his body on it. He ran up the sails and placed himself on the mast of the ship. There he gathered his feet together and made another spring. This time he landed on a boat that was bringing oak-timber to build a King's Palace in London. He stood where the timber was highest and made another spring. This time he landed on the Giant's Causeway that runs from Ireland out into the sea. He picked his steps from boulder to boulder, and then walked royally and resolutely on the ground of Ireland. A man was riding on horseback with a woman seated on the saddle behind him. The King of the Cats waited until they came up.
"My good man," said he very grandly, "when you go back to your house, tell the ash-covered cat in the comer that the King of the Cats has come to Ireland to see him."
His manner was so grand that the man took off his hat and the woman made a courtesy. Then the King of the Cats sprang into the branch of a tree of the forest and slept till it was past the mid-day heat.
I nearly forgot to tell you that as he slept on the branch his whiskers stood around his face the breadth of a dinner-dish either way.