The Story of Morag
I was reared in the Spae-Woman's house with two other girls, Baun and Deelish, my foster-sisters. The Spae-Woman's house is on the top of a knowe, away from every place, and few ever came that way.
One morning I went to the well for water. When I looked into it I saw, not my own image, but the image of a young man. I drew up my pitcher filled with water, and went back to the Spae-Woman's house. At noontide Baun went to the well for water. She came back and her pitcher was only haft-filled. Before dark Deelish went to the well. She came back without a pitcher, for it fell and broke on the flags of the well.
The next day Baun and Deelish each plaited their hair, and they said to her who was foster-mother for the three of us: "No one will come to marry us in this far-away place. We will go into the world to seek our fortunes. So," said they, "bake a cake for each of us before the fall of the night."
The Spae-Woman put three cakes on the griddle and baked them. And when they were baked she said to Baun and Deelish: "Will you each take the half of the cake and my blessing, or the whole of the cake without my blessing?" And Baun and Deelish each said, "The whole of the cake will be little enough for our journey."
Each then took her cake under her arm and went the path down the knowe. Then said I to myself, "It would be well to go after my foster-sisters for they might meet misfortune on the road." So I said to my foster-mother, "Give me the third cake on the griddle until I go after my foster-sisters."
"Will you have half of the cake and my blessing or the whole of the cake without my blessing?" said she to me.
"The half of the cake and your blessing, mother," said I.
She cut the cake in two with a black-handled knife and gave me the even half of it. Then said she:--
May the old sea's
They who spin
Life's longest threads,
Protect and guard you!
She put salt in my hand then, and put the Little Red Hen under my arm, and I went off.
I went on then till I came in sight of Baun and Deelish. Just as I caught up on them I heard one say to the other, "This ugly, freckled girl will disgrace us if she comes with us." They tied my hands and feet with a rope they found on the road and left me in a wood.
I got the rope off my hands and feet and ran and ran until I came in sight of them again. And when I was coming on them I heard one say to the other, "This ugly, freckled girl will claim relationship with us wherever we go, and we will get no good man to marry us." They laid hold of me again and put me in a lime-kiln, and put beams across it, and put heavy stones on the beams. But my Little Red Hen showed me how to get out of the lime-kiln. Then I ran and I ran until I caught up with Baun and Deelish again.
"Let her come with us this evening," said one to the other, "and to-morrow we'll find some way of getting rid of her."
The night was drawing down now, and we had to look for a house that would give us shelter. We saw a hut far off the road and we went to the broken door. It was the house of the Hags of the Long Teeth. We asked for shelter. They showed us a big bed in the dormer-room, and they told us we could have supper when the porridge was boiled.
The three Hags sat round the fire with their heads together. Baun and Deelish were in a corner plaiting their hair, but the Little Red Hen murmured that I was to listen to what the Hags said.
"We will give them to Crom Duv in the morning" one said. And another said, "I have put a sleeping-pin in the pillow that will be under each, and they will not waken."
When I heard what they said I wanted to think of what we could do to make our escape. I asked Baun to sing to me. She said she would if I washed her feet. I got a basin of water and washed Baun's feet, and while she sang, and while the Hags thought we were not minding them, I considered what we might do to escape. The Hags hung a pot over the fire and the three of them sat around it once more.
When I had washed my foster-sister's feet I took a besom and began to sweep the floor of the house. One of the Hags was very pleased to see me doing that. She said I would make a good servant, and after a while she asked me to sit at the fire. I sat in the corner of the chimney. They had put meal in the water, and I began to stir it with a pot-stick. Then the Hag that had asked me to the fire said, "I will give you a good share of milk with your porridge if you keep stirring the pot for us." This was just what I wanted to be let do. I sat in the chimney-corner and kept stirring the porridge while the Hags dozed before the fire.
First, I got a dish and ladle and took out of the pot some half-cooked porridge. This I left one side. Then I took down the salt-box that was on the chimney-shelf and mixed handfuls of salt in the porridge left in the pot.
When it was all cooked I emptied it into another dish and brought the two dishes to the table. Then I told the Hags that all was ready. They came over to the table and they gave my foster-sisters and myself three porringers of goat's milk. We ate out of the first dish and they ate out of the second. "By my sleep to-night," said one Hag, "this porridge is salty." "Too little salt is in it for my taste," said my foster-sister Deelish. "It is as salt as the depths of the sea," said another of the Hags. "My respects to you, ma'am," said Baun, "but I do not taste any salt on it at all." My foster-sisters were so earnest that the Hags thought themselves mistaken, and they ate the whole dishful of porridge.
The bed was made for us, and the pillows were laid on the bed, and I knew that the slumber-pin was in each of the pillows. I wanted to put off the time for going to bed so I began to tell stories. Baun and Deelish said it was still young in the night, and that I should tell no short ones, but the long story of Eithne, Balor's daughter. I had just begun that story, when one of the Hags cried out that she was consumed with thirst.
She ran to the pitcher, and there was no water in it. Then another Hag shouted out that the thirst was strangling her. The third one said she could not live another minute without a mouthful of water. She took the pitcher and started for the well. No sooner was she gone than the second Hag said she couldn't wait for the first one to come back and she started out after her. Then the third one thought that the pair would stay too long talking at the well, and she started after them. Immediately I took the pillows off our bed and put them on the Hags' bed, taking their pillows instead.
The Hags came back with a half-filled pitcher, and they ordered us to go to our bed. We went, and they sat for a while drinking porringers of water. "Crom Duv will be here the first thing in the morning," I heard one of them say. They put their heads on the pillows and in the turn of a hand they were dead-fast-sound asleep. I told my foster-sisters then what I had done and why I had done it. They were very frightened, but seeing the Hags so sound asleep they composed themselves and slept too.
Before the screech of day Crom Duv came to the house. I went outside and saw the Giant. I said I was the servant of the Hags, and that they were sleeping still. He said, "They are my runners and summoners, my brewers, bakers and candle-makers, and they have no right to be sleeping so late." Then he went away.
I knew that the three Hags would slumber until we took the pillows from under their heads. We left them sleeping while we put down a fire and made our break-fast. Then, when we were ready for our journey, we took the pillows from under their heads. The three Hags started up then, but we were out on the door, and had taken the first three steps of our journey.