The next day the King's Son put a bridle on the Slight Red Steed and rode towards the East again. He saw the blue falcon and he followed where it flew. Over benns, and through glens and across mountains and moors the blue falcon went and the Slight Red Steed neither swerved nor stumbled but went as the bird flew. The falcon lighted on a pine tree that grew alone. The King's Son rode up and put his hands to the tree to climb and put his head against it, and as he did he heard speech from the tree. "The stroke of the Sword of Light will slay the King of the Land of Mist and the stroke of the Sword of Light that will cut a tress of her hair will awaken Fedelma." There was no more speech from the tree and the falcon rose from its branches and flew high up in the air. Then the King of Ireland's Son rode back towards his father's Castle.
He went to the meadow and stood with Art and listened to what Art had to tell him. And as before the King's Steward began--
"To your father's Son in all truth be it told"--
Quick-to-Grab had said to the King of the Cats, "If ever you need the counsel of a human being, go to no one else but the Hag of the Ashes who was once called the Hag of the Wood. In the very centre of the wood four ash trees are drawn together at the tops, wattles are woven round these ash trees, and in the little house made in this way the Hag of the Ashes lives, with no one near her since her nine daughters went away, but her goat that's her only friend." The King of the Cats was now in the centre of the wood. He saw four ash trees drawn together at the tops and he jumped to them.
Now the Hag of the Ashes had a bad neighbor. This was a crane that had built her nest across the roof of the little house. The nest prevented the smoke from coming out at the top and the house below was filled with it. The Hag could hardly keep alive on account of the smoke and she could neither take away the nest nor banish the bird.
The crane was there when the King of the Cats sprang on the roof. She was sitting with her two legs stretched out, and when the King of the Cats came down beside her she slipped away and sailed over the trees. "Time for me to be going," said the crane. And from that day to this she never came back to the house of the Hag of the Ashes.
"Oh, thanks to you, good creature," said the Hag of the Ashes, coming out of the house. "Tear down her nest now and let the smoke rise up through the roof."
The King of the Cats tore up the sticks and wool that the crane's nest was made of, and the smoke came up through the top of the house. "Oh, thanks to you, good creature, that has destroyed the cross crane's nest. Come down on my floor now and I'll do everything that will serve you."
The King of the Cats jumped down on the floor of the Hag's house and saw the Hag of the Ashes sitting in a corner, She was a little, little woman in a gray cloak. All over the floor there were ashes in heaps, for she used to light a fire in one corner and when it was burnt out light another beside the ashes of the first. The smoke had never gone through the hole in the roof since the crane had built her nest on the top of the house. Her face was yellow with the smoke and her eyes were half closed on account of it.
"Do you know who I am, Hag of the Ashes?" said the King of the Cats when he stood on the floor.
"You are a cat, honey," said the Hag of the Ashes.
"I am the King of the Cats."
"The King of the Cats you are indeed. And it was you who let the smoke out of the top of my little house by destroying the nest the cross crane had built on it."
"It was I who did that."
"Welcome to you then, King of the Cats. And what service can the Hag of the Ashes do for you in return?"
"I would go to where the Eagle-Emperor is. You must show me the way."
"By my cloak I will do that. The Eagle-Emperor lives on the top of the Hill of Horns."
"And how can I get to the top of the Hill of Horns?"
"I don't know how you can get there at all. All over the Hill is bare starvation. No four-footed thing can reach the top--no four-footed thing, I mean, but my goat that's tied to the hawthorn bush outside."
"I will ride on the back of your goat to the top of the Hill of Horns."
"No, no, good King of the Cats. I have only my goat for company and how could I bear to be parted from him?"
"Lend me your goat, and when I come back from the Hill of Horns I will plate his horns with gold and shoe his hooves with silver."
"No, no, good King of the Cats. How could I bear my goat to be away from me, and I having no other company?"
"If you do not let me ride on your goat to the top of the Hill of Horns I will leave a sign on your house that will bring the cross crane to build her nest on the top of it again."
"Then take my goat, King of the Cats, take my goat but let him come back to me soon."
"I will. Come with me now and bid him take me to the top of the Hill of Horns."
The King of the Cats marched out of the house and the Hag of the Ashes hobbled after him. The goat was lying under the hawthorn bush. He put his horns to the ground when they came up to him.
"Will you go to the Hill of Horns?" said the Hag of the Ashes.
"Indeed, that I will not do," said the goat.
"Oh, the soft tops of the hedges on the way to the Hill of Horns--sweet in the mouth of a goat they should be," said the Hag of the Ashes. "But my own poor goat wants to stay here and eat the tops of the burnt-up thistles."
"Why didn't you tell me of the hedges on the way to the Hill of Horns before?" said the goat, rising to his feet. "To the Hill of Horns I'll go."
"And will you let a cat ride on your back to the Hill of Horns?"
"Indeed, I will not do that."
"Then, my poor goat, I'll not untie the rope that's round your neck, for you can't go to the Hill of Horns without this cat riding on your back."
"Let him sit on my back then and hold my horns, and I'll take no notice of him."
The Hag of the Ashes untied the rope that was round his neck, the King of the Cats jumped up on the goat's back, and they started off on the path through the wood. "Oh, how I'lI miss my goat, until he comes back to me with gold on his horns and silver on his hooves," the Hag of the Ashes cried after them.