From John Mackenzie, fisherman, near Inverary.
THERE was once a time when every creature and bird was gathering to battle. The son of the king of Tethertown 1 said, that he would go to see the battle, and that he would bring sure word home to his father the king, who would be king of the creatures this year. The battle was over before he arrived all but one (fight), between a great black raven and a snake, and it seemed as if the snake would get the victory over the raven. When the King's son saw this, he helped the raven, and with one blow takes the head off the snake. When the raven had taken breath, and saw that the snake was dead, he said, "For thy kindness to me this day, I will give thee a sight. Come up now on the root of my two wings." The king's son mounted upon the raven, and, before he stopped, he took him over seven Bens, and seven Glens, and seven Mountain Moors.
"Now," said the raven, "seest thou that house yonder? Go now to it. It is a sister of mine that makes her dwelling in it; and I will go bail that thou art welcome. And if she asks thee, Wert thou at the battle of the birds? say thou that thou wert. And if she asks,
[paragraph continues] Didst thou see my likeness? say that thou sawest it. But be sure that thou meetest me to-morrow morning here, in this place." The king's son got good and right good treatment this night. Meat of each meat, drink of each drink, warm water to his feet, and a soft bed for his limbs.
On the next day the raven gave him the same sight over seven Bens, and seven Glens, and seven Mountain moors. They saw a bothy far off, but, though far off, they were soon there. He got good treatment this night, as before--plenty of meat and drink, and warm water to his feet, and a soft bed to his limbs--and on the next day it was the same thing.
On the third morning, instead of seeing the raven as at the other times, who should meet him but the handsomest lad he ever saw, with a bundle in his hand. The king's son asked this lad if he had seen a big black raven. Said the lad to him, "Thou wilt never see the raven again, for I am that raven. I was put under spells; it was meeting thee that loosed me, and for that thou art getting this bundle. Now," said the lad, "thou wilt turn back on the self-same steps, and thou wilt lie a night in each house, as thou wert before; but thy lot is not to lose the bundle which I gave thee, till thou art in the place where thou wouldst most wish to dwell."
The king's son turned his back to the lad, and his face to his father's house; and he got lodging from the raven's sisters, just as he got it when going forward. When he was nearing his father's house he was going through a close wood. It seemed to him that the bundle was growing heavy, and he thought be would look what was in it.
When he loosed the bundle, it was not without
astonishing himself. In a twinkling he sees the very grandest place he ever saw. A great castle, and an orchard about the castle, in which was every kind of fruit and herb. He stood full of wonder and regret for having loosed the bundle--it was not in his power to put it back again--and he would have wished this pretty place to be in the pretty little green hollow that was opposite his father's house; but, at one glance, he sees a great giant coming towards him.
"Bad's the place where thou hast built thy house, king's son," says the giant. "Yes, but it is not here I would wish it to be, though it happened to be here by mishap," says the king's son. "What's the reward thou wouldst give me for putting it back in the bundle as it was before?" "What's the reward thou wouldst ask?" says the king's son. "If thou wilt give me the first son thou hast when he is seven years of age," says the giant. "Thou wilt get that if I have a son," said the king's son.
In a twinkling the giant put each garden, and orchard, and castle in the bundle as they were before. "Now," says the giant, "take thou thine own road, and I will take my road; but mind thy promise, and though thou shouldst forget, I will remember."
The king's son took to the road, and at the end of a few days he reached the place he was fondest of. He loosed the bundle, and the same place was just as it was before. And when he opened the castle-door he sees the handsomest maiden he ever cast eye upon. "Advance, king's son," said the pretty maid; "everything is in order for thee, if thou, wilt marry me this very night." "It's I am the man that is willing," said the king's son. And on the same night they married.
But at the end of a day and seven years, what great
man is seen coming to the castle but the giant. The king's son minded his promise to the giant, and till now he had not told his promise to the queen. "Leave thou (the matter) between me and the giant," says the queen.
"Turn out thy son," says the giant; "mind your promise." "Thou wilt get that," says the king, "when his mother puts him in order for his journey." The queen arrayed the cook's son, and she gave him to the giant by the hand. The giant went away with him; but he had not gone far when he put a rod in the hand of the little laddie. The giant asked him--"If thy father had that rod what would he do with it?" "If my father had that rod he would beat the dogs and the cats, if they would be going near the king's meat," said the little laddie. "Thou'rt the cook's son," said the giant. He catches him by the two small ankles and knocks him--"Sgleog"--against the stone that was beside him. The giant turned back to the castle in rage and madness, and he said that if they did not turn out the king's son to him, the highest stone of the castle would be the lowest. Said the queen to the king, "we'll try it yet; the butler's son is of the same age as our son." She arrayed the butler's son, and she gives him to the giant by the hand. The giant had not gone far when he put the rod in his hand. "If thy father had that rod," says the giant, "what would he do with it?" "He would beat the dogs and the cats when they would be coming near the king's bottles and glasses." "Thou art the son of the butler," says the giant, and dashed his brains out too. The giant returned in very great rage and anger. The earth shook under the sole of his feet, and the castle shook and all that was in it. "OUT HERE THY SON," says the giant, "or in a twinkling the
stone that is highest in the dwelling will be the lowest." So needs must they had to give the king's son to the giant.
The giant took him to his own house, and he reared him as his own son. On a day of days when the giant was from home, the lad heard the sweetest music he ever heard in a room at the top of the giant's house. At a glance he saw the finest face he had ever seen. She beckoned to him to come a bit nearer to her, and she told him to go this time, but to be sure to be at the same place about that dead midnight.
And as he promised he did. The giant's daughter was at his side in a twinkling, and she said, "Tomorrow thou wilt get the choice of my two sisters to marry; but say thou that thou wilt not take either, but me. My father wants me to marry the son of the king of the Green City, but I don't like him." On the morrow the giant took out his three daughters, and he said, "Now son of the king of Tethertown, thou hast not lost by living with me so long. Thou wilt get to wife one of the two eldest of my daughters, and with her leave to go home with her the day after the wedding." "If thou wilt give me this pretty little one," says the king's son, "I will take thee at thy word."
The giant's wrath kindled, and he said, "Before thou gett'st her thou must do the three things that I ask thee to do." "Say on," says the king's son. The giant took him to the byre. "Now," says the giant, "the dung of a hundred cattle is here, and it has not been cleansed for seven years. I am going from home to-day, and if this byre is not cleaned before night comes, so clean that a golden apple will run from end to end of it, not only thou shalt not get my daughter, but 'tis a drink of thy blood that will quench my
thirst this night." He begins cleaning the byre, but it was just as well to keep baling the great ocean. After mid-day, when sweat was blinding him, the giant's young daughter came where he was, and she said to him, "Thou art being punished, king's son." "I am that," says the king's son. "Come over," says she, "and lay down thy weariness." "I will do that," says he, "there is but death awaiting me, at any rate." He sat down near her. He was so tired that he fell asleep beside her. When he awoke, the giant's daughter was not to be seen, but the byre was so well cleaned that a golden apple would run from end to end of it. In comes the giant, and he said, "Thou hast cleaned the byre, king's son?" "I have cleaned it," says he. "Somebody cleaned it," says the giant. "Thou didst not clean it, at all events," said the king's son. "Yes, yes!" says the giant, "since thou wert so active to-day, thou wilt get to this time to-morrow to thatch this byre with birds' down--birds with no two feathers of one colour." The king's son was on foot before the sun; he caught up his bow and his quiver of arrows to kill the birds. He took to the moors, but if he did, the birds were not so easy to take. He was running after them till the sweat was blinding him. About mid-day who should come but the giant's daughter. "Thou art exhausting thyself, king's son," says she. "I am," said he. "There fell but these two blackbirds, and both of one colour." "Come over and lay down thy weariness on this pretty hillock," says the giant's daughter. "It's I am willing," said he. He thought she would aid him this time, too, and he sat down near her, and he was not long there till he fell asleep.
When he awoke, the giant's daughter was gone.
[paragraph continues] He thought he would go back to the house, and he sees the byre thatched with the feathers. When the giant came home, he said, "Thou hast thatched the byre, king's son?" "I thatched it," says he. "Somebody thatched it," says the giant. "Thou didst not thatch it," says the king's son. "Yes, yes!" says the giant. "Now," says the giant, "there is a fir-tree beside that loch down there, and there is a magpie's nest in its top. The eggs thou wilt find in the nest. I must have them for my first meal. Not one must be burst or broken, and there are five in the nest." Early in the morning the king's son went where the tree was, and that tree was not hard to hit upon. Its match was not in the whole wood. From the foot to the first branch was five hundred feet. The king's son was going all round the tree. She came who was always bringing help to him; "Thou art losing the skin of thy hands and feet." "Ach! I am," says he. "I am no sooner up than down." "This is no time for stopping," says the giant's daughter. She thrust finger after finger into the tree, till she made a ladder for the king's son to go up to the magpie's nest. When he was at the nest, she said, "Make haste now with the eggs, for my father's breath is burning my back." In his hurry she left her little finger in the top of the tree. "Now," says she, "thou wilt go home with the eggs quickly, and thou wilt get me to marry to-night if thou canst know me. I and my two sisters will be arrayed in the same garments, and made like each other, but look at me when my father says, Go to thy wife, king's son; and thou wilt see a hand without a, little finger." He gave the eggs to the giant. "Yes, yes!" says the giant, "be making ready for thy marriage."
Then indeed there was a wedding, and it was a wedding! Giants and gentlemen, and the son of the king of the Green City was in the midst of them. They were married, and the dancing began, and that was a dance? The giant's house was shaking from top to bottom. But bed time came, and the giant said, "It is time for thee to go to rest, son of the king of Tethertown; take thy bride with thee from amidst those."
She put out the hand off which the little finger was, and he caught her by the hand.
"Thou hast aimed well this time too; but there is no knowing but we may meet thee another way," said the giant.
But to rest they went. "Now," says she, "sleep not, or else thou diest. We must fly quick, quick, or for certain my father will kill thee."
Out they went, and on the blue gray filly in the stable they mounted. "Stop a while," says she, "and I will play a trick to the old hero." She jumped in, and cut an apple into nine shares, and she put two shares at the head of the bed, and two shares at the foot of the bed, and two shares at the door of the kitchen, and two shares at the big door, and one outside the house.
The giant awoke and called, "Are you asleep?" "We are not yet," said the apple that was at the head of the bed. At the end of a while he called again. "We are not yet," said the apple that was at the foot of the bed. A while after this he called again. "We are not yet," said the apple at the kitchen door. The giant called again. The apple that was at the big door answered "You are now going far from me," says the giant. "We are not yet," says the apple that was outside the house. "You are flying," says the giant.
The giant jumped on his feet, and to the bed he went, but it was cold--empty.
"My own daughter's tricks are trying me," said the giant. "Here's after them," says he.
In the mouth of day, the giant's daughter said that her father's breath was burning her back. "Put thy hand, quick," said she, "in the ear of the gray filly, and whatever thou findest in it, throw it behind thee." "There is a twig of sloe tree," said he. "Throw it behind thee," said she.
No sooner did he that, than there were twenty miles of black thorn wood, so thick that scarce a weasel could go through it. The giant came headlong, and there he is fleecing his head and neck in the thorns.
"My own daughter's tricks are here as before," said the giant; "but if I had my own big axe and wood knife here, I would not be long making a way through this." He went home for the big axe and the wood knife, and sure he was not long on his journey, and he was the boy behind the big axe. He was not long making a way through the black thorn. "I will leave the axe and the wood knife here till I return," says he.
"If thou leave them," said a Hoodie 1 that was in a tree, "we will steal them."
"You will do that same," says the giant, "but I will set them home." He returned and left them at the house. At the heat of day the giant's daughter felt her father's breath burning her back.
"Put thy finger in the filly's ear, and throw behind thee whatever thou findest in it." He got a splinter of gray stone, and in a twinkling there were twenty miles,
by breadth and height, of great gray rock behind them. The giant came full pelt, but past the rock he could not go.
"The tricks of my own daughter are the hardest things that ever met me," says the giant; "but if I had my lever and my mighty mattock, I would not be long making my way through this rock also." There was no help for it, but to turn the chase for them; and he was the boy to split the stones. He was not lone, making a road through the rock. "I will leave the tools here, and I will return no more." "If thou leave them," says the hoodie, "we will steal them." "Do that if thou wilt; there is no time too go back." At the time of breaking the watch, the giant's daughter said that she was feeling her father's breath burning her back. "Look in the filly's ear, king's son, or else we are lost." He did so, and it was a bladder of water that was in her ear this time. He threw it behind him and there was a fresh-water loch, twenty miles in length and breadth, behind them.
The giant came on, but with the speed he had on him, he was in the middle of the loch, and he went under, and he rose no more.
On the next day the young companions were come in sight of his father's house. "Now," said she, "my father is drowned, and he won't trouble us any more; but before we go further," says she, "go thou to thy father's house, and tell that thou hast the like of me but this is thy lot, let neither man nor creature kiss thee, for if thou dost thou wilt not remember that thou hast ever seen me." Every one he met was giving him welcome and luck, and he charged his father and mother not to kiss him; but as mishap was to be, an old greyhound was in and she knew him, and jumped up to his
mouth, and after that he did not remember the giant's daughter.
She was sitting at the well's side as he left her, but the king's son was not coming. In the mouth of night she climbed up into a tree of oak that was beside the well, and she lay in the fork of the tree all that night. A shoemaker had a house near the well, and about mid-day on the morrow, the shoemaker asked his wife to go for a drink for him out of the well. When the shoemaker's wife reached the well, and when she saw the shadow of her that was in the tree, thinking of it that it was her own shadow--and she never thought till now that she was so handsome--she gave a cast to the dish that was in her hand, and it was broken on the ground, and she took herself to the house without vessel or water.
"Where is the water, wife?" said the shoemaker. "Thou shambling, contemptible old carle, without grace, I have stayed too long thy water and wood thrall." 1 "I am thinking, wife, that thou hast turned crazy. Go thou, daughter, quickly, and fetch a drink for thy father." His daughter went, and in the same way so it happened to her. She never thought till now that she was so loveable, and she took herself home. "Up with the drink," said her father. "Thou hume-spun 2 shoe carle, dost thou think that I am fit to be thy thrall." The poor shoemaker thought that they had taken a turn in their understandings, and he went himself to the well. He saw the shadow of the maiden in the well, and he looked up to the tree, and he sees the finest woman he ever saw. "Thy seat is wavering, but thy face is fair," said the shoemaker. "Come
down, for there is need of thee for a short while at my house." The shoemaker understood that this was the shadow that had driven his people mad. The shoemaker took her to his house, and he said that he had but a poor bothy, but that she should get a share of all that was in it. At the end of a day or two came a leash of gentlemen lads to the shoemaker's house for shoes to be made them, for the king had come home, and he was going to marry. The glance the lads gave they saw the giant's daughter, and if they saw her, they never saw one so pretty as she. "'Tis thou hast the pretty daughter here," said the lads to the shoe-maker. "She is pretty, indeed," says the shoemaker, "but she is no daughter of mine." "St. Nail!" said one of them, "I would give a hundred pounds to marry her." The two others said the very same. The poor shoemaker said that he had nothing to do with her. "But," said they, "ask her to-night, and send us word to-morrow." When the gentles went away, she asked the shoemaker--"What's that they were saying about me?" The shoemaker told her. "Go thou after them," said she; "I will marry one of them, and let him bring his purse with him." The youth returned, and he gave the shoemaker a hundred pounds for tocher. They went to rest, and when she had laid down, she asked the lad for a drink of water from a tumbler that was on the board on the further side of the chamber. He went; but out of that he could not come, as he held the vessel of water the length of the night. "Thou lad," said she, "why wilt thou not lie down?" but out of that he could not drag till the bright morrow's day was. The shoemaker came to the door of the chamber, and she asked him to take away that lubberly boy. This wooer went and betook him.--
self to his home, but he did not tell the other two how it happened to him. Next came the second chap, and in the same way,--when she had gone to rest--"Look," she said, "if the latch is on the door." The latch laid hold of his hands, and out of that he could not come the length of the night, and out of that he did not come till the morrow's day was bright. He went, under shame and disgrace. No matter, he did not tell the other chap how it had happened, and on the third night he came. As it happened to the two others, so it happened to him. One foot stuck to the floor; he could neither come nor go, but so he was the length of the night. On the morrow, he took his soles out (of that), and he was not seen looking behind him. "Now," said the girl to the shoemaker, "thine is the sporran of gold; I have no need of it. It will better thee, and I am no worse for thy kindness to me." The shoemaker had the shoes ready, and on that very day the king was to be married. The shoemaker was going to the castle with the shoes of the young people, and the girl said to the shoemaker, "I would like to get a sight of the king's son before he marries." "Come with me," says the shoemaker, "I am well acquainted with the servants at the castle, and thou shalt get a sight of the king's son and all the company." And when the gentles saw the pretty woman that was here they took her to the wedding-room, and they filled for her a glass of wine. When she was going to drink what is in it, a flame went up out of the glass, and a golden pigeon and a silver pigeon sprung out of it, They were flying about when three grains of barley fell on the floor. The silver pigeon sprang, and he eats that. Said the golden pigeon to him, "If thou hadst mind when I cleared the byre, thou wouldst not
eat that without giving me a share." Again fell three other grains of barley, and the silver pigeon sprang, and he eats that, as before. "If thou hadst mind when I thatched the byre, thou wouldst not eat that without giving me my share," says the golden pigeon. Three other grains fall, and the silver pigeon sprang, and he eats that. "If thou hadst mind when I harried the magpie's nest, thou wouldst not eat that without giving me my share," says the golden pigeon; "I lost my little finger bringing it down, and I want it still." The king's son minded, and he knew who it was he had got. He sprang where she was, and kissed her from hand to mouth. And when the priest came they married a second time. And there I left them.
This version of the Battle of the Birds was recited by John Mackenzie, April 1859, and written in Gaelic by Hector Urquhart. The reciter is a fisherman, and has resided for the last thirty-four years at Ceanmore, near Inverary, on the estate of the Duke of Argyll. He is a native of Lorn. He says he has known it from his youth, and he has been in the habit of repeating it to his friends on winter nights, as a pastime, "He can read English and play the bagpipes, and has a memory like Oliver and Boyd's Almanac." He got this and his other stories from his father and other old people in Lorn and elsewhere. He is about sixty years of age, and was employed, April 1859, in building dykes on the estate of Ardkinglas, where Hector Urquhart is gamekeeper. In reciting his stories he has all the manner of a practised narrator; people still frequent his house to hear his tales. I know the man, and I have heard him recite many. The Gaelic has some few north country words.
2. There is another version of this tale current in Islay. It was taken down from the recitation of Arm Darroch by Hector Maclean. It is called the "Widow's Son." He goes to seek his fortune, and comes to a giant's house, where he engages himself as servant for a peck of gold and a peck of silver. He is sent first to cleanse the seven byres that have never been cleansed for seven years. All he puts out at one door comes in at the other. The giant's daughter comes; he promises to marry her, and she says, "Gather, oh shovel, and put out, oh grape," and the tools work of themselves, and clear the byres. Next he has to thatch the byres with feathers, no quills to be upwards. He gets only one feather, and the giant's daughter takes three grains of barley, and throws them on the roof. The birds of the air gather, and thatch the byres in a minute. Next day he has to catch the steed that had never seen a blink of earth or air. The girl gives him a little rusty bridle, and the steed comes and puts her head into it. She makes six little cakes, which she places at the fire, the foot water, the door of the chamber, the side of the bed, and the kitchen door, and they mount the steed and ride off. The giant lies down and calls to his daughter. The cakes answer till there are none left to reply. Then he rises, takes his clothes, his boots, and his sword of light; he makes seven miles at each step he sees seven miles by the light of the sword--he follows; they hear him coming; the girl gives the widow's son a golden apple, and tells him to throw it at a mole on her father, where alone he is vulnerable; he fears that he will miss so small a mark, so she throws it herself, and the giant is dead in an instant.
They reach a big town. He is told to kiss nothing, or he will forget the girl and his promise. A big dog comes to meet him, and puts his paws on his shoulder and kisses him. He takes service with the king, and at last he is to be married to the king's daughter.
She takes service with a smith, disguised as a man, and "comes on famously." The smith's daughter falls in love with her, and wants to marry her. She tells, at last, that she is a girl in search of her own lover. On a day of days the smith and his daughter and his servant are invited to the wedding of the widow's son with the king's daughter. They go, and the giant's daughter sets a golden cock and a silver hen on the board before the bridegroom. She takes a grain of barley from her pocket and throws it before them. The cock pecks the hen and eats the barley; and the hen says, "Gog, Gog, if thou hadst mind when I cleansed the seven byres for thee, thou wouldst not do that to me." She does this three times, and the birds remind him of what has been done; then he knows her, leaps over the board, catches her by the arm, leaves the king's daughter, and marries her.
3. There is another version current at Inverary, repeated to me by a stable boy who was then employed at the ferry of St. Katharines, and who repeated it in Gaelic while rowing the boat to Inverary. It began thus:--I will tell you a story about the wren. There was once a farmer who was seeking a servant, and the wren met him, and he said, "What art thou seeking for?" "I am seeking a servant," said the farmer. "Wilt thou take me?" said the wren. "Thee, thou poor creature; what good wouldst thou do?" "Try thou me," said the wren. So he engaged him, and the first work he stet him to was threshing in the barn. The wren threshed (what did he thresh with?--a flail to be sure), and he knocked off one grain. A mouse came out and she eats that. "I'll praise thee, and don't do that again," said the wren. He struck again, and he knocked off two grains. Out came the mouse and she eats that. So they arranged a contest that they might know which was the strongest, and there was neither mouse nor rat on earth that did not gather, nor was there bird under heaven that did not come to the battle. The son of a gentleman heard of the fight, and he came also, but he slept before it was over, and when he awoke there was neither mouse nor rat to be seen; there was but one great black raven."
[paragraph continues] The raven and the man agreed to travel together, and they come to an inn. The gentleman goes in, but the raven is sent to the stable, because the porters and waiters object to the like of a raven. Here he picks out all the horses' eyes, and in the morning there is a disturbance. The gentleman pays and scolds, and they go to another inn, where the raven is sent to the byre, and picks out all the cows' eyes. Then they part. The raven takes out a book, and gives it to his companion with a warning not to open it till he gets home to his father's house. He breaks the charge, looks, and finds himself in a giant's house. There he takes service, and is sent to clean the byre. It had seven doors, it had not been cleaned for seven years, and all that he put out at one door came in at the other. Then came the giant's red-haired daughter, and said, "If thou wilt marry me I will help thee." He consents; and she sets all the grapes and forks about the place to work of themselves, and the byre is cleansed. Then the giant sets him to thatch the byre with feathers, and every feather he put on the wind blew away. Then came the giant's girl, and the promise was repeated; and she played a whistle that she had, and he laid his head in her lap, and every bird there was came, and they thatched the byre.
Then the giant sent him to the hill to fetch the gray horse that was seven years old; and she told him that he would meet two black dogs, and she gave him a cake of tallow and half a cheese, and a tether; and she said that the dogs and the horse would kill him unless he gave the dogs the food, and put the tether on the horse. When the dogs ran at him, he put the tallow in the mouth of one, and the cheese in the throat of the other; and when the horse came down the hill to kill him with his mouth open, he put the tether in his mouth and he followed him quietly home. "Now," said she, "we will be off." So they mounted and rode away, but first she took four apples, three she placed about the house, which spoke as in the other tales, the fourth she took with her. When the last of the apples had spoken, the giant rose and followed. Then the girl felt her father's breath on her back, and said, "Search in the horse's ear." And he found a twig. "Throw it behind you," said she; and he threw it, and it became the biggest wood that ever was. The giant came, and returned for his "big axe and his little axe," and he hewed his way through; and the red-haired girl said that she felt her father's breath. "Now," said she to the
king's son (here the narrator remembered that he was a prince instead of a young farmer), "see in the filly's ear" (here he remembered that it was a filly). So he looked, and found a bit of stone, threw it, and it became a mountain. The giant came, looked for his big hammer and his little hammer, and smashed his way through the hill, and she felt his breath again. Then he sought in the ear, and found a (something) of water, and threw it, and it became a loch of fresh water. The giant came, and returned for his big scoop and his little scoop, and baled the water out, and he was after them again. Then she said, "My father is coming now, and he will kill us. Get off the filly, king's son," and he got off, and she gave him the apple, and she said, "Now put it under the filly's foot." And he did so; and the filly put her foot on it, and it smashed to bits; and the giant fell over dead, for his heart was in the apple. So they went on to his father's house, and she was made house-keeper, for they were not married; then in a short time she became house-maid, then kitchen-maid, and then hen-wife; and then the king was to be married (he had now become a king); and then first the porter, then the head waiter, and then some other servant, came and courted her. They promise to let her in to the wedding, and give her a fine dress each; and each in turn is admitted into the hen-wife's room; but the first goes to put the lid on the kettle, and is fast by the hands all night; the second is, in like manner, fast to a window which he goes to shut; and the feet of the third stick to the floor. Then she comes to the porter in her dirty dress. He drives her away, but he is at last obliged to give her a fine dress, and let her in. Then she comes to the head waiter, who does the same. Then she comes to the servant, who does the same, but is forced to let her in to the wedding. Then she takes out a golden cock and a silver hen, which she had brought. She sets them on the floor, and they talk. "Dost thou remember how I cleansed byre? Dost thou mind how I thatched the barn? Dost thou remember how I saved thy life?" And so on, till they repeat the whole story, reminding the king how she had been the house-keeper, housemaid, and hen-wife, and faithful throughout. And the king said, "Stop, I will marry thee." And when she said that, she showed the fine dresses that she had got from the porter, and the head waiter, etc., and they were married; and if they have not died since then, they are alive, merry, and rich.
4. The stable boy said that he had learned this from a very old man, now living near Lochgilphead, who could tell it much better than he could. A gentleman at the inn said that an old woman, now dead, used to tell something like this, and that her raven was the son of the king of Lochlin. The old woman lived near Dalmally, and her daughter is said to be there still, but I have been unable to find her out. On asking for her, and giving my reason, I was told by a waiter that "light had dawned in that district, and that ignorance was banished."
5. A very similar story is well known in South Uist, and a fragment of it is still told in Sutherland.
6. The Uist story told to me by Donald MacCraw, as we walked along the road last September, is called "Mother's Blessing." The lad, so called because he is so good, goes to seek his fortune. He plays cards, and wins from some gentles; then stakes seven years' service against so many thousands, and loses to a black dog who comes in with a looking-glass on every paw. He goes to serve the dog, and is shown a cave where there are a hundred stakes and ninety-nine heads on them. He is set to cleanse the byre, to catch the steed, and to rob the nest. The black dog's daughter helps. She throws out one spadeful, and the litter flies out, "seven spadefuls at each of seven doors for every one he throws out." She gives a rusty bridle for the steed. She strikes the sea with a rod, and makes a way to the island where the nest is, and gives her toes to make a ladder to climb up. He leaves one, and offers one of his own instead. She refuses, because "her father always washes her feet himself." They ride off on the horse--the dog and his company follow. A wood grows and a river flows from things found in the horse's ear, and the dog is defeated but not killed. She gives the lad a treasure which is found under a tuft of rushes. He goes home, speaks to his mother, and forgets all. He builds a palace, and is to be married to a lady, but she is so proud that she will have the widow's hut pulled down. Mother's Blessing will not, so the match is off, but after a time it is on again. The door opens, and in walks the black dog smoking a pipe. He goes to the priest and forbids the ceremony. The priest says, "Begone to thine own place down below." "It's many along day since thou art wanted there," says the dog. The priest defies all fiends, and will marry the pair. The dog says, "If I tell all I know thou wilt not." Then he whispers, and the priest is silenced. Then he brings in a fine gentleman, and says
to the bride--"There is thy first lover; marry him." And they are married then and there. The dog brings in his own daughter; Mother's Blessing marries her, and the dog danced at the wedding with the priest. MacCraw said there was something left out which his informant would not tell.
7. I have received yet another version of this tale, very well written in Gaelic, from JOHN DEWAR, who, according to his own account of himself, is now (October 1859) residing in Glendaruail, and is about to proceed to Roseneath, where he used to get employment in making stobbs for the fences. He heads his story--"Tales of the Gael in the Winter Nights," and promises to send more. UIRSGEALN NAN GAEL S' NA OIDHCHENAN GEAMHRAIDH.--His Gaelic spelling is rather phonetic--
He heard it from his mother, told nearly as the stable-boy gave it; and has heard it lately in Glendaruail. He first heard an abridgement four or five years before 1812 or 1813, when he learned this from Mary MacCalum, a native of Glen Falloch, at the head of Loch Lomond.
It begins with a quarrel between a mouse and a wren in a barn about a grain of oats, which the mouse will eat. The wren brings his twelve birds--the mouse her tribe. The wren says, "Thou hast thy tribe with thee"--"As well as myself," says the mouse. The mouse sticks out her leg proudly, and the wren breaks it with his flail. The creatures of the plain and of the air all joined the quarrel, and there was a pitched battle on a set day. They fought the battle in a field above a king's house; and the fight was so fierce, that there were left but a raven and a snake. The king's son looked out of a window, and saw the snake twined round the raven's neck, and the raven holding the snake's throat in his beak--GOB--and neither dared to let go. Both promised friendship for help, and the king's son slew--the serpent--NATHAIR.
The raven lived for a year and a day in the palace, then took the king's son hunting for the first time, and when he was tired, carried him. "And he put his hands about the raven before his wings, and he hopped with him over nine Bens, and nine Glens, and nine Moors." They go to the three sisters, and the king's son gets hospitality, because he comes from the land where the birds set the battle, and brings news of the raven, who is yet alive, and lived with him for a year and a day. Each day the number of glens, and hills, and moors passed over, falls from nine to six and three. The same thing is said by each of the three
sisters: "That is a year and a day for thee in this place, and a piece in thy purse on the day when thou goest;" but he keeps tryst, and returns to the raven. On the third day came a mist, and the raven was not to be found; but when the king's son was nearly beat, he looked over a rock, and saw FEAR LEADANACH BUIDHE BOIDHEACH AGUS CIR OIR ANSA N' DARNA LAIMH, AGUS CIR AIRGID SAN LAIMH EILE, a beautiful yellow ringletted man, with a golden comb in the one hand, and a silver comb in the other, who asked if he would take him instead of the raven. He would not, "nor half-a-dozen such." So the yellow ringletted man told him that he was the FITHEACH CROM DUBH--the black humpy raven that was laid under spells by a bad DRUIDH that knew how to put under spells. He had been set free by coming to his father's house with the king's son. Then he gave him a book, and told him to go with the wind the way it might blow, and to look in the book when he wished to see his father's house, but always from a hill top.
The king's son soon got tired, and looked in the book at the bottom of a glen, and saw his father's house at the bottom of a peat hag, with all the doors and windows shut, and no way to get to it.
Then came a giant, who shewed him the way for the promise of his first son. He shewed him his father's house on the top of a hill, with each door and window open, and got the promise. "And it was the giant who had cast DRUIDHEACHD upon him, that he might see his father's house in the bottom of a peat hag."
"Long after that the old king died, and the son got the kingly chair. He married; he had a son; and he was coming on to be a brave lad, and they were dwelling happily in the castle. The giant came to them, and he asked that the king's son should be sent out to him there, and they were not very willing to do that; but the giant said, unless they sent him out, that the highest stone of the castle would be the lowest presently; and they thought of arraying the cook's son bravely, and sending him out; and they did that. The giant went away with him, and he had a rod in his hand, and when they were a little bit from the house, the giant asked the cook's son--'What would thy father do with this little rod if he had it?' 'I don't know myself,' said the cook's son, 'unless he would beat the dogs away from the meat.' With that the giant understood that he had not got the right one, and he turned back with him, and he asked that the king's son should
be sent to him. Then they put brave clothes on the son of the STIUARD, and they sent him out to the giant, but the giant was not long till he did to him as he had done to the cook's son, and he returned with him full of heavy wrath. He said to them, unless they sent out to him there the king's son, that the highest stone in the castle would be the lowest presently, and that he would kill all who were within; and then they were obliged to send out the king's son himself, though it was very grievous; and the giant went away with him. When they were gone a little bit from the castle, the giant showed him the rod that was in his hand and he said--'What would thy father do with this rod if he were to have it?' And the king's son said--'My father has a braver rod than that.' And the giant asked him--'Where will thy father be when he has that brave (briagh) rod?' And the king's son said--'He will be sitting in his kingly chair;' and the giant understood that be had the right one. [This passage is translated entire, because, as I am told, there is a similar passage in the Volsung tale.] The giant took him home, and set him to clean the byre that had not been cleansed for seven years; and in case of failure, threatened 'S E T' FHUIL URAR ALUIN GHRINN A BHITHIS AGUM A CHASGA M' IOTADH AGUS T' FHEOIL UR GHRINN MAR MHILLISTAIN FHIACAL. It is thy fresh goodly beautiful blood I will have quenching my thirst, and thy fresh, beautiful flesh as sweetening of teeth;" and he went to bed.
The king's son failed of course; all that went out at one door came in at another. Then came MARI RUADH, Auburn Mary, the giant's daughter, and made him promise to marry her, and he gave his band and his promise. She made him set all the CAIBE and shovels in order, waved her hand, and they worked alone, and cleaned the byre. "She took an apple from her pocket--a golden apple--and it would run from end to end, and would raise no stain in any place, it was so clean."
The daughter "had been in sewing all day," when her father came home from hunting, and asked his housewife. Next came the thatching of the barn with "the feathers of all the birds the giant had ever killed, to be laid as close as ever they lay on the back of a heather hen or a black cock." The wind blew them a new promise, "CHATHUDH," she shook them as chaff (is shaken on hill tops now), with the wind, and the wind blew them straight to their own place. The giant came home from his hunting as usual, and asked--"Housewife, was Auburn Mary out at
all to-day?" "No, she was within sewing." He went out, and brought in SRIAN BHRIAGH SHOILEIR DEARRSACH, a brave, clear, shiny bridle, and ordered the king's son to catch the FALAIRE, filly, on yonder hill, and tie her in the stable, or else, &c.
The fine bridle would not do. Then the daughter brought from the stable, SEAN SRIAN DUBH MEIRGACH, an old, black, rusty bridle that was behind one of the turf seats, and shook it, and the filly came and put her nose into it.
The giant had the usual talk, but gave no more orders, and his daughter told the king's son that he would kill him that night, but that she would save him if he would promise to marry her.
"She put a wooden bench in the bed of the king's son; two wooden benches in her own bed. She spat at the front of her own bed, and spat at the side of the giant's bed, and spat at the passage door, and she set two apples above the giant's bed, ready to fall on him when he should wake and set him asleep again." And they mounted and rode away, and set the filly "running with might."
The giant awoke, and shouted--"Rise, daughter, and bring me a drink of the blood of the king's son." "I will arise," said the spittle, in front of his bed; and one of the apples fell and struck him between the two shoulders, and he slept. The second time it was--"Rise, wife;" and the same thing happened. The third time he shouted--"Art thou rising to give me a drink of the blood of the king's son, Oh wife?" "Coming with it," said the spittle, "behind the door of the cabh."
Then he lay a while, and got up with an axe, and struck it into the bench in the bed of the king's sob. [So did a giant to Jack the giant-killer, and so did Skrymir to Thorr in Gylfi's mocking. Edda (translated by G. W. Dasent, page 54)]. And when he saw what he had, he ran to his daughter's bed, and struck his axe into the two things which be found there. Then he ran into the stable, and then he ran after the fugitives. At the mouth of day, the daughter said--"I feel my father's breath burning me between the two shoulders;" and the king's son took a drop of water from the filly's right ear, and threw it over his shoulder, and it became a lake which the giant could not cross. Then he said--This is a part of my own daughter's tricks; and he called Out, FIRE FAIRE, A MHARI RUADH, AGUS NA THUG MISE DHUITSA DO DH' FHOLUM AGUS DO IONNSACHADH, N' E SO MAR A RINN THU
[paragraph continues] ORM MA DHEIREADH. "Feere Faire, Auburn Mary, and all the learning and teaching I have given thee, is it thus thou hast clone to me at last?" And, said she, CHAN EILE AGUD AIR ACH A BHI NAS GLIC A RITHISD. "Thou hast for it but to be wiser again." Then he said, if I had MO BHATA DUBH DIONACH FHEIN NACH FACA GAOTH NA GRIAN O CHEAN SEACHD BLIADHNA. My own tight black boat that saw neither wind nor rain since seven years' end. And his daughter said--"Thou has for it but to go and fetch her then."
Next time it was a little stone that was found in the left ear which became a great crag, and was broken through with the big hammer and the little hammer, ORD MOR AGUS ORD BEAG, which broke and pounded a breach through the rock in an instant by themselves. The third time it was the seed of a tree which became a wood, and was cut through by the axes TUATHAN of the giant, which he set to work, and his wife brought up the black dogs.
The fourth time it was a very little tiny drop of water that was found in the left ear, which became a narrow loch, but so deep that the giant could not cross it. He had the usual talk with his daughter, and got the same reply; tried to drink the water, but failed, for a curious reason, then he thought he would leap it, but his foot slipped and he was drowned.
Then came the incident of the kiss and the old greyhound.
She went to the house of a seamstress, and engaged herself, and was a good workwoman. When the king's son was to be married to another, the cook sent one of his underlings to the well for water. She stood on a branch of the tree above the FUARAN cold spring, and when the maid saw her shadow in the well she thought she had grown golden herself, for there was "golden weaving" on the dress of Auburn Mary. And she went back to the cook and said: "Thou art the lad to send me to fetch thee water, and I am a lump of gold." He sent another, with the same result, so he went himself and saw Mary go to the house of the seamstress. The cook told, and they asked about the stranger, but no one knew anything about her, till the hen wife went to the seamstress and found out "that she had come from a shore afar off; that she never saw her like for sewing nor for shape, and if they had her at the wedding, she would make FEARTAN miracles that would astonish them."
The hen wife told the queen, and she was engaged to help to make the dresses. They were pleased with her, and asked her
to the wedding, and when there they asked her to show some of her wonderful tricks.
"Then she got a pock, and showed that it was empty; and she gave it a shake, and it grew thick, and she put in her hand and took out a silver hen, and she set it on the ground, and it rose and walked about the house. Then came the golden cock, and the grain of corn, and the pecking, and the hen said--
"Leig ma choir leam,
Ma chuid do n' eorna."
Leave me my right, my share of the corn; and the cock pecked her; and she stood out from him, and said--
Geog Geog Geōa.
An cuimhne leat an latha
Geog Geog Geōa.
Dost thou remember the day
Then the king's son thought a little and he remembered Auburn Mary, and all she had done for him, and he asked a voice with her apart, and they had a little talk, and she told the king and the queen, and he found the "gin" kin good, and he turned his back on the other one, and he married Auburn Mary, and they made a wedding that lasted seven years; and the last day was no worse than the first day--
S'ma bha na b'fhearr ann, bha,
S'mar robh leig da
And if there were better there were,
And if not, let them be.
The tale is ended.
Tha crioch air 'n sgeul.
This version is probably the oldest. It is the most picturesque; it contains nearly all that is in the others, and it is full of the quaint expressions which characterize the telling of Gaelic tales. The quarrel is remarkably like a fable aimed at the greedy castle mouse and the sturdy country wren, a fable from the country side, for the birds beat the beasts of the plain, the raven beat the snake.
8. I have still another version, told by Roderick Mackenzie, sawyer, Gairloch, and written by Hector Urquhart. It is called, NIGHEAN DUBH GHEAL DEARG, The Daughter of Black-white Red.
Three sons of the king of Erin were on a day playing shinny on a strand, and they saw birds whose like they had never seen, and one especially. Their father told them that this was MAC SAMHLADH NIGHINN DUBH GHEAL DEARG, and the eldest son said that he would never rest till he got the great beautiful bird for himself. Then his father sent him to the king of France (NA FRAINGE), and he struck palm on latch, and it was asked who it was, and he said that he was the son of Erin's king, going to seek the daughter of Black-white Red. He was entertained, and next day set off to the king of Spain (NA SPAINDE), and did the same; and thence he went to the king of Italy (NA H'EADILT). He gave him an old man, BODACH, and a green boat, and they sailed (and here comes in a bit of the passage which is common to so many stories about hoisting the sails, etc., with one or two lines that I have found nowhere else, and here the three kings seem to replace the three old women, who are always appearing, for they know where the lad is going, and help him on). The old man sailed the boat on shore, and up to the door of Black-white Red, a giant, who as usual said FIU FA FOAGRAICH, and threatened to make a shinny ball of his head, and eat him unless he performed the tasks set him. The giant's eldest daughter came, and he knew her at once, and they played at cards all night. She gave him a tether to catch the little dun shaggy filly, which he would lose unless he put it on the first time.
Next he had to kill, TARBH MOR NA TANICH, the great bull of the cattle, (or perhaps of the earth, TAN). The daughter gave him her father's BOGHA SAIGHEAD, arrow bow, with which he pushed at the bull, and he followed him. He put the big black arrow in his forehead when be got to the house.
The third task was to cleanse the great byre of the seven stalls that had not been cleansed for seven years, or his head to
be a football. The daughter came at night as usual and gave him BARA agus CROMAN, a barrow and a crook, and told him to say CAB CAB A CHROMAIN, CUIR AIR A BHARA A SHLUASAID, CUIR A MACH A BHARA, and the tools worked of themselves.
Then he had three more tasks set. The three daughters put three needles through three holes in a partition, he caught the one without "CHRO." (?) They put out three great pins, and he caught the one that had two "PHLOC" heads. Then they pushed out their little fingers, and he took the one with, CAB AS AN IONGA, a notch in the nail.
"Hugh! huh!" said the giant, "thou hast her now, but to Erin thou goest not; thou must stay with me." At last they got out the barge (BIRLINN). The giant awoke and asked, what was that sound? One of the daughters answered, that it was a OIDHCHE UAMHASACH LE TEIN-ADHAIR 'S TAIRNEANACH, a fearful night with heaven-fire and thunder. "It is well to be under the shelter of a rock," said the giant. The next scrape of the boat it was the same thing, and at the third the barge was out and under sail, but the giant was on foot, and he threw A CHEARTLEADH DRUBH, his black clue, and the boat sailed stern foremost. The giant sat down in the gravel to haul the boat, and the daughter shot an arrow, ANN AM BONN DUBH AN FHAMBAIR, into the giant's black sole, and there he lay.
Then they got to Erin. He went home first; she staid in the barge, till tired of waiting, she went to a smith's house where she staid with the smith and his mother.
One day the smith heard that the RIDIR was going to be married, and told her. She sent him to the palace to tell the cook that the finest woman he ever saw was living with him, and would marry him if he would bring her part of the wedding feast.
The cook came, and when he saw her, brought a back load of viands. Then they played the same trick to the butler, and he brought a back load of wine every day. Then she asked the smith to make her a golden cock, and a silver hen; and when he could not, she made them herself. Then she asked the butler if she could get a sight of the king's son and the bride, "and the butler was very much pleased that she had asked him, and not the cook, for he was much afraid that the cook was looking after her also." When the gentles saw her they asked her to the dancing room, and then came the cock and hen play, in which
the hen said--A CHOILICH DHURDANICH DHUIBH, Thou black, murmuring cock, dost thou remember, etc. The prince remembers, marries the true girl," and there I left them."
This version varies considerably from the others. It is very well told, and I much regret that space will not allow me to give it entire, the more so because the reciter has braved the prejudices of some of his neighbours who object to all fiction. I hope I have said enough to show that this story is worth preservation.
If stories be mythological this contains a serpent. NATHAIR, pronounced Na-ir, and a raven, FITHEACH, pronounced Feeach, who seem like transformed divinities, for they appear only to start the other characters, and then vanish into some undescribed kingdom. There is one passage (referred to) which resembles Norse mythology.
So far as I can make out, it seems to be best known near Cowal in Argyllshire, though it is known throughout the Highlands.
It would have been easy to construct one version from the eight here mentioned, but I have preferred to give the most complete, entire, and full abstracts of the rest. Many more versions can be got, and I shall be grateful to anyone who will throw light on the story and its origin.
One. of the tasks resembles one of those imposed on Hercules. It might have been taken from classical mythology if it stood alone, but Norwegian peasants and West Highlanders could not so twist the story of Hercules into the same shape.
All the Gaelic versions are clearly versions of the same story as the Master Maid, in Dasent's Norse Tales; and there are other traits in other Norse stories, which resemble the Gaelic.
Of the forty-three heroes called Hercules, and mentioned in ancient lore, one, at least, is said to have made long voyages in the Atlantic beyond his own pillars. Another, or the same, was prevented from being present at the hunting of the Caledonian boar, having killed a man in "Calydo," which, by the way, is Gaelic for Black Forest. Another was an Indian, and this may be one of the same clan.
If stories be distorted history of real events, seen through a haze of centuries, then the giants in this tale may be the same people as the Gruagach and his brother in the last. They are here described as a wise learned race, given to magic arts, yellow or auburn haired. (RUADH) possessing horses, and knowing how
to tame them--able to put the water between them and their pursuers-able to sew better than the others--better looking--musical--possessing treasure and bright weapons--using king's sons of other races as slaves, and threatening to eat them. If the raven was one, they were given to combing their own golden ringlets with gold and silver combs and the giant maidens dressed the hair of their lovers who laid their heads in their laps, as I have often seen black haired Lapland ladies dress the hair of Lapland swains, and as ladies in popular tales of all lands always do. I will not venture to guess who this race may have been, but the race who contended with them would seem to have been dark complexioned. Nearly all the heroines of Gaelic songs are fair or yellow haired. Those are dark who now most admire yellow locks. A dark Southern once asked if a golden haired youth from the north had dyed his hair, for nothing natural could be so beautiful. Dark Celts and fair northmen certainly met and fought, and settled and intermarried, on the western isles and coasts, where this tale is current, but I am told that it has traits which are to be found in Eastern manuscripts, which were old long before the wars of the Northmen, of which we know, began. The task I have undertaken is to gather stories, not to account for them, but this much is sure, either Norway got this from Scotland or Scotland from Norway, when they were almost one country, or both got it from the same source. The Gaelic stories resemble each other about as much as they all resemble the Norse. The translation was published in 1859, and this story has been current in the islands at least for 40 years. I can remember to have heard part of it myself more than 20 years ago. I believe there is an Irish version, though I have not met with it in any book. I have traced the story amongst Irish labourers in London, who have told me that they used in their young days to sit about the fire whole winter nights, and tell about the fight between the raven and the snake; about the giants, Fin MacCoul and Conan Maol, "who had never a good word for any one," and similar tales. My informants were from Cork, their language, though difficult, could be made out from a knowledge of Gaelic only.
The bridle described seems to be the old Highland bridle which is still common. It has no bit, but two plates of wood or iron are placed at right angles to the horse's mouth, and are
joined above and below by a rope, which is often made of horsehair, leather, or twisted bent. The horse's nose goes INTO IT.
The ladder is also the Highland ladder still common in cottages. It consists of a long-stick with pegs stuck through it.
There are many stories in Grimm's German collection which resemble the Battle of the Birds. They have incidents in common, arranged somewhat in the same order; but the German stories, taken together, have a character of their own, as the Gaelic versions have: and both differ from the Norwegian tale. Each new Gaelic version which comes to me (and I have received several since this was written), varies from the rest, but resembles them; and no single version is like any one of the German tales, though German, Norse, and Gaelic all hang together.
25:1 Na Cathair Shlomain. Heather ropes are used for binding thatch on Highland cottages.
33:1 The principal Gaelic vowels bear some resemblance to the cawing of a hoodie. They are all broad A.
35:1 Tràill, a slave.
35:2 Peillag, felt, coarse cloth.