When the sun rose he lifted up the wheel and set it going before him. He was going and ever going down long hillsides and across spreading plains till he came to where old trees and tree-stumps were standing hardly close enough together to keep each other company. The wheel went through this ancient wood and stopped before a fallen oak-tree. And sitting on a branch of that oak, with a gray head bent and featherless wings gathered up to her neck was a crow.
"I come from Laheen the Eagle," said the King of Ireland's Son.
"What did you say?" said the Crow, opening one eye.
"I come from Laheen the Eagle," said the King of Ireland's Son again.
"Oh, from Laheen," said the Crow and dosed her eye again.
"And I came to ask for knowledge of the Unique Tale," said the King of Ireland's Son.
"Laheen," said the Crow, "I remember Laheen the Eagle." Keeping her eyes shut, she laughed and laughed until she was utterly hoarse. "I remember Laheen the Eagle," she said again. "Laheen never found out what I did to her once. I stole the Crystal Egg out of her nest. Well, and how is Laheen the Eagle?" she said sharply, opening one eye.
"Laheen is well," said the King of Ireland's Son. "She sent me to ask if you had knowledge of the Unique Tale."
"I am older than Laheen," said the Crow. "I remember Paralon's People. The Salmon of Assaroe always said he was before Paralon's People. But never mind! Laheen can't say that. If I could only get the feathers to stay on my wings I'd pay Laheen a visit some day. How are Laheen and her bird-flocks?"
"O Crow of Achill," said the King of Ireland's Son, "I was sent to ask if you had knowledge of the Unique Tale."
"The Unique Tale! No, I never heard of it," said the Crow. She gathered her wings up to her neck again and bent her gray head.
"Think, O Crow of Achill," said the King of Ireland's Son. "I will bring you the warmest wool for your nest."
"I never heard of the Unique Tale," said the Crow. "Tell Laheen I was asking for her." Nothing would rouse the Crow of Achill again. The King of Ireland's Son set the wheel rolling and followed it. Then he was going and ever going with the clear day before him and the dark night coming behind him. He came to a wide field where there were field-fares or ground larks in companies. He crossed it. He came to a plain of tall daisies where there were thousands of butterflies. He crossed it. He came to a field of buttercups where blue pigeons were feeding. He crossed it. He came to a field of flax in blue blossom. He crossed it and came to a smoke-blackened stone house deep sunk in the ground. The wheel stopped rolling before it and he went into the house.
An old woman was seated on the ground before the fire basting a goose. A rabbit-skin cap was on her hairless head and there were no eye-brows on her face. Three strange birds were eating out of the pot--a cuckoo, a corncrake and a swallow. "Come to the fire, gilly," said the old woman when she looked round.
"I am not a gilly, but the King of Ireland's Son," said he.
"Well, let that be. What do you want of me?"
"Are you the Old Woman of Beare?"
"I have been called the Old Woman of Beare since your fore-great-grandfather's time."
"How old are you, old mother?"
"I do not know. But do you see the three birds that are picking out of my pot? For two score years the swallow was coming to my house and building outside. Then he came and built inside. Then for three score years he was coming into my house to build here. Now he never goes across the sea at all. and do you see the corncrake? For five score years she was coming to the meadow outside. Then she began to run into the house to see what was happening here. For two score years she was running in and out. Then she stayed here altogether. Now she never goes across the sea at all. And do you see the cuckoo there? For seven score years she used to come to a tree that was outside and sing over her notes. Then when the tree was gone, she used to light on the roof of my house. Then she used to come in to see herself in a looking glass. I do not know how many score years the cuckoo was going and coming, but I know it is many score years since she went across the sea."
"I went from Laheen the Eagle to Blackfoot the Elk, and from the Elk of Ben Gulban to the Crow of Achill, and from the Crow of Achill, I come to you to ask if you have knowledge of the Unique Tale."
"The Unique Tale, indeed," said the Old Woman of Beare. "One came to me only last night to tell me the Unique Tale. He is the young man who is counting the horns."
"What young man is he and what horns is he counting?"
"He is no King's Son, but a gilly--Gilly of the Goat-skin he is called. He is counting the horns that are in two pits outside. When the horns are counted I will know the number of my half-years."
"How is that, old mother?"
"My father used to kill an ox every year on my birthday, and after my father's death, my servants, one after the other, used to kill an ox for me. The horns of the oxen were put into two pits, one on the right-hand side of the house and one on the left-hand side. If one knew the number of the horns one would know the number of, my half-years, for every pair of horns goes to make a year of my life. Gilly of the Goatskin is counting the horns for me now, and when he finishes counting them I will let him tell the Unique Tale."
"But you must let me listen to the tale too, Old Woman of Beare."
"If you count the horns in one pit I will let you listen to the tale."
"Then I will count the horns in one pit."
"Go outside then and count them."
The King of Ireland's Son went outside. He found on the right-hand side of the house a deep quarry-pit. Round the edge of it were horns of all kinds, black horns and white horns, straight horns and crooked horns. And below in the pit he saw a young man digging for horns that were sunk in the ground. He had on a jacket made of the skin of a goat.
"Who are you?" said the young man in the quarry-pit. "I am the King of Ireland's Son. And who may you be?"
"Who I am I don't know," said the young man in the goatskin, "but they call me Gilly of the Goatskin. What have you come here for?"
"To get knowledge of the Unique Tale."
"And it was to tell the same Unique Tale that I came here myself. Why do you want to know the Unique Tale?"
"That would make a long story. Why do you want to tell it?"
"That would make a longer story. There is a quarry-pit at the left-hand side of the house filled with horns and it must be your task to count them."
"I will count them," said the King of Ireland's Son. "But you will be finished before me. Do not tell the Old Woman of Beare the Tale until we both sit down together."
"If that suits you it will suit me," said Gilly of the Goatskin, and he began to dig again.
The King of Ireland's Son went to the left-hand side of the house. He found the quarry-pit and went into it to count the horns that were there--black horns and white horns, straight horns and crooked horns. And now, while the King of Ireland's Son is in the quarry-pit, I will tell you the adventures of Gilly--the Lad or the Servant--of the Goatskin, which adventures are written in "The Craneskin Book."