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The King of Ireland's Son rode towards the East the next day, and in the first hour's journey he saw the blue falcon sailing above. He followed where it went and the falcon never lifted nor stooped, but sailed steadily on, only now and again beating the air with its wings. Over benns and through glens and across moors the blue falcon flew and the King of Ireland's Son followed. Then his horse stumbled; he could not go any further, and he lost sight of the blue falcon.

Black night was falling down on the ground when he came back to the King's Castle. Art, the King's Steward, was waiting for him and he walked beside his limping horse. And Art said when they were a little way together, "The Coming of the King of the Cats is a story still to be told.

"To your father's Son in all truth be it told"--

By the magic powers they possessed it was made known to all the cats in the country that their King was being pursued by the hounds. Then on every hearthstone a cat howled. Cats sprang to the doors, overturning cradles upon children. They stood upon the thresholds and they all made the same curse--"That ye may break your backs, that ye may break your backs before ye catch the King of the Cats."

When he heard the howls of his vassals, retainers and subjects, the King of the Cats turned over on his back and clawed at the first hound that came after him. He stood up then. So firmly did he set himself on his four legs that those that dashed at him did not overthrow him. He humped up his body and lifted his forepaws. The hounds held back. A horn sounded and that gave them an excuse to get away from the claws and the teeth, the power and the animosity of the King of the Cats.

Then, even though it might cost each and every one of them the loss of an eye, the cats that had sight of him came running up. "We will go with you, my lord, we will help you, my lord," they cried all together.

"Go back to the hearthstones," said the King of the Cats. "Go back and be civil and quiet again in the houses. You will hear of my deeds. I go to find the tracks of our enemy, the Eagle-Emperor."

When they heard that announcement the cats lamented, and the noise of their lamentation was so dreadful that horses broke their harnesses where they were yoked; men and women lost the color of their faces thinking some dreadful visitation was coming on the land; every bag of oats and rye turned five times to the right and five times to the left with the fright it got; dishes were broken, knives were hurled round, and the King's Castle was shaken to the bottom stone.

"It is not the time to seek the tracks of the Eagle-Emperor," said Quick-to-Grab. "Stay for a while longer in men's houses."

"Never," said the King of the Cats. "Never will I stay by the hearthstone and submit to be abused by cocks and hounds and men. I will range the world openly now and seek out the enemy of the Cat-Kind, the Eagle-Emperor."

Without once turning his back he went towards the wood that was filled with his enemies, the birds. The cats, when they saw their petitions were no use, went everyone back to the house where he or she stayed. Each one sat before a mouse-hole and pretended to be watching. But though mice stirred all round them the cats of Ireland never turned a head that night.

It was the wren, the smallest of birds, that saw him and knew him for the King of the Cats. The wren flew through the wood to summon the Hawk-Clan. But it was towards sunset now and the hawks had taken up their stations at the edge of the wood to watch that they might pick up the farmers' chickens. They wouldn't turn an eye when the wren told them that a cat was in the wood during the time forbidden to cats to be outside the houses of men. "It is the King of the Cats," said the wren. None of the hawks lifted a wing. They were waiting for the chickens that would stray about the moment after sunset.

But if the wren couldn't rouse the Hawk-Clan she was able to rouse the other bird-tribes. "A cat, a cat, on your lives a cat," she called out as she flew through the wood. The rooks that were going home now rose above the trees, cawing threats. The blackbirds, thrushes and jays screamed as they flew before the King of the Cats. The woodpeckers, hedge-sparrows, tom-tits, robins and linnets chattered as they flew behind him. Sometimes the young rooks made a great show of attacking him. They flew down from the flock. "He is here, here, here," they cawed and flew up again. The rooks kept telling themselves and the other birds in the wood what they were going to do with the King of the Cats. But a single raven did more against him than the thousand rooks that made so much noise. This raven was in a hole in the tree. She struck the King of the Cats on the head with her beak as he went past.

The King of the Cats was annoyed by the uproar the birds were making and he was angered by the raven's stroke, but he did not want to enter into a battle with the birds. He was on his way to the house of the Hag of the Wood who was then known as the Hag of the Ashes. Now as this is the first time you have heard of the Hag of the Ashes, I'Il have to tell you how the King of the Cats had heard of her and how he knew where her house was in the wood.

Next: Part V