So, without hap or mishap, Gilly came again to the house of the Spae-Woman. She was sitting at her door-step grinding corn with a quern when he came before her. She cried over him, not believing that he had come safe from the Townland of Mischance. And as long as he was with her she spoke to him of his "poor back."
He stayed with her for two seasons. He mended her fences and he cleaned her spring-well; he ground her corn and he brought back her swarm of bees; he trained a dog to chase the crows out of her field; he had the ass shod, the sheep washed and the goat spancelled. The Spae-Woman was much beholden to him for all he did for her, and one day she said to him, "Gilly of the Goat-skin you are called, but another name is due to you now." "And who will give me another name?" said Gilly of the Goatskin. "Who'll give it to you? Who but the Old Woman of Beare," said the Spae-Woman.
The next day she said to him, "I had a dream last night, and I know now what you are to do. You must go now to the OId Woman of Beare for the name that is due to you. And before she gives it to you, you must tell her and whoever else is in her house as much as you know of the Unique Tale."
"But I know nothing at ail of the Unique Tale," said Gilly of the Goatskin.
"There is always a blank before a beginning," said the Spae-Woman. "This evening, when I am grinding the corn at the quern I shall tell you the Unique Tale."
That evening when she sat at the door-step of her house and when the sun was setting behind the elder-bushes the Spae-Woman told Gilly the third part of the Unique Tale. Then she baked a cake and killed a cock for him and told him to start on the morrow's morning for the house of the Old Woman of Beare.
Well, he started off in the morning bright and early, leaving good health with the Spae-Woman behind him, and away he went, crossing high hills, passing low dales, and keeping on his way without halt or rest, the clear day going and the dark night coming, taking lodgings each evening wherever he found them, and at last he came to the house of the Old Woman of Beare.
He went into the house and found her making marks in the ashes of her fire while her cuckoo, her corncrake and her swallow were picking grains off the table.
"And what can I do for you, good youth?" said the Old Woman of Beare.
"Give me a name," said Gilly, "and listen to the story I have to tell you."
"That I will not," said the Old Woman of Beare, "until you have done a task for me."
"What task can I do for you?" said Gilly of the Goatskin. "I would know," said she, "which of us four is the oldest creature in the world--myself or Laheen the Eagle, Blackfoot the Elk or the Crow of Achill--I leave the Salmon of Assaroe out of account altogether."
"And how can a youth like me help you to know that?" said Gilly of the Goatskin.
"An ox was killed on the day I was born and on every one of my birthdays afterwards. The horns of the oxen are in two quarries outside. You must count them and tell me how much half of them amounts to and then I shall know my age."
"That I'll do if you feed me and give me shelter," said Gilly of the Goatskin. "Eat as you like," said the Old Woman of Beare. She pushed him a loaf of bread and a bottle of water. When he cut a slice of the loaf it was just as if nothing had been cut off, and when he took a cupful out of the bottle it was as if no water had been taken out of it at all. When he had drunk and eaten he left the complete loaf and the full bottle of water on the shelf, went outside and began to count the horns on the right-hand side.
On the second day a strange youth came to him and saluted him, and then went to count the horns in the quarry on the left-hand side. This youth was none other than the King of Ireland's Son.
On the third day they had the horns all counted. Then Gilly of the Goatskin and the King of Ireland's Son met together under a bush. "How many horns have you counted?" said the King of Ireland's Son. "So many," said Gilly of the Goatskin. "And how many horns have you counted?" "So many," said the King of Ireland's Son.
Just as they were adding the two numbers together they both heard sounds in the air--they were like the sounds that Bards make chanting their verses. And when they looked up they saw a swan flying round and round above them. And the swan chanted the story of the coming of the Milesians to Eirinn, and as the two youths listened they forgot the number of horns they had counted. And when the swan had flown away they looked at each other and as they were hungry they went into the house and ate slices of the unwasted loaf and drank cupfuls out of the inexhaustible bottle. Then the Old Woman of Beare wakened up and asked them to tell her the number of her years.
"We cannot tell you although we counted all the horns," said the King of Ireland's Son, "for just as we were putting the numbers together a swan sang to us and we forgot the number we had counted."
"You didn't do your task rightly," she said, "but as I promised to give this youth a name and to listen to the story he had to tell, I shall have to let it be. You may tell the story now, Gilly of the Goatskin."
They sat at the fire, and while the 0ld Woman of Beare spun threads on a very ancient spindle, and while the corncrake, the cuckoo and the swallow picked up grains and murmured to themselves, Gilly of the Goatskin told them the Unique Tale. And the story as Gilly of the Goatskin told it follows this.--