From John Mackenzie, fisherman, near Inverary.
THERE was a king once, and he married a great lady, and she departed on the birth of her first son. And a little after this the king married another one, and he had a son by this one too. The two lads were growing up. Then it struck in the queen's head that it was not her son who would come into the kingdom; and she set it before her that she would poison the eldest son. And so she sent advice to the cook that they would put poison in the drink of the heir; but as luck was in it, so it was that the youngest brother heard them, and he said to his brother not to take the draught, nor to drink it at all; and so he did. But the queen wondered that the lad was not dead; and she thought that there was not enough of poison in the drink, and she asked the cook to put more in the drink on this night. It was thus they did: and when the cook made up the drink, she said that he would not be long alive after this draught. But his brother heard this also, and he told this likewise. The eldest thought he would put the draught into a little bottle, and he said to his brother--"If I stay in this house I have no doubt she will do for me some way or other, and the quicker I leave the house the better. I will take the world for my pillow, and there is no knowing what fortune will be on me." His brother said that he would go with him,
and they took themselves off to the stable, and they put saddles on two horses and they took their soles out of that.
They had not gone very far from the house when the eldest one said--"There is no knowing if poison was in the drink at all, though we went away. Try it in the horse's ear and we shall see." The horse went not far when he fell. "That was only a rattle-bones of a horse at all events," said the eldest one, and together they got up on the one horse, and so they went forwards. "But," said he, "I can scarce believe that there is any poison in the drink, let's try it on this horse." That he did, and they went not far when the horse fell cold dead. They thought to take the hide off him, and that it would keep them warm on this night for it was close at hand. In the morning when they woke they saw twelve ravens coming and lighting on the carcase of the horse, and they were not long there when they fell over dead.
They went and lifted the ravens, and they took them with them, and the first town they reached they gave the ravens to a baker, and they asked him to make a dozen pies of the ravens. They took the pies with them, and they went on their journey. About the mouth of night, and when they were in a great thick wood that was there, there came four and twenty robbers out of the wood, and they said to them to deliver their purses; but they said that they had no purse, but that they had a little food which they were carrying with them. "Good is even meat!" and the robbers began to eat it, but they had not eaten too boldly when they fell hither and thither. When they saw that the robbers were dead, they ransacked their pockets, and they
got much gold and silver on the robbers. They went forward till they reached the Knight of Riddles.
The house of the Knight of Riddles was in the finest place in that country, and if his house was pretty, it was his daughter was pretty (indeed). Her like was not on the surface of the world altogether; so handsome was she, and no one would get her to marry but the man who would put a question to this knight that he could not solve. The chaps thought that they would go and they would try to put a question to him; and the youngest one was to stand in place of gillie to his eldest brother. They reached the house of the Knight of Riddles with this question--"One killed two, and two killed twelve, and twelve killed four and twenty, and two got out of it;" and they were to be in great majesty and high honour till he should solve the riddle.
They were thus a while with the Ridere, but on a day of days came one of the knight's daughter's maidens of company to the gillie, and asked him to tell her the question. He took her plaid from her and let her go, but he did not tell her, and so did the twelve maidens, day after day, and he said to the last one that no creature had the answer to the riddle but his master down below. No matter! The gillie told his master each thing as it happened. But one day after this came the knight's daughter to the eldest brother, and she was so fine, and she asked him to tell her the question. And now there was no refusing her, and so it was that he told her, but he kept her plaid. And the Knight of Riddles sent for him, and he solved the riddle. And he said that he had two choices: to lose his head, or to be let go in a crazy boat without food or drink, without oar or scoop. The chap spoke and he said--"I have another question to put to thee before all these things
happen." "Say on," said the knight. "Myself and my gillie were on a day in the forest shooting. My gillie fired at a hare, and she fell, and he took her skin off, and let her go; and so he did to twelve, he took their skins off and let them go. And at last came a great fine hare, and I myself fired at her, and I took her skin off and I let her go." "Indeed thy riddle is not hard to solve, my lad," said the knight. And so the lad got the knight's daughter to wife, and they made a great hearty wedding that lasted a day and a year. The youngest one went home now that his brother had got so well on his way, and the eldest brother gave him every right over the kingdom that was at home.
There were near the march of the kingdom of the Knight of Riddles three giants, and they were always murdering and slaying some of the knight's people, and taking the spoil from them. On a day of days the Knight of Riddles said to his son-in-law, that if the spirit of a man were in him, he would go to kill the giants, as they were always bringing such losses on the country. And thus it was, he went and he met the giants, and he came home with the three giants' heads, and he threw them at the knight's feet. "Thou art an able lad doubtless, and thy name hereafter is the Hero of the White Shield." The name of the Hero of the White Shield went far and near.
The brother of the Hero of the White Shield was exceedingly strong and clever, and without knowing what the Hero of the White Shield was, he thought he would try a trick with him. The Hero of the White Shield was now dwelling on the lands of the Giants, and the knight's daughter with him. His brother came and he asked to make a comhrag (fight as a bull) with him. The men began at each other, and they took to
wrestling from morning till evening. At last and at length, when they were tired, weak, and given up, the Hero of the White Shield jumped over a great rampart, and he asked him to meet him in the morning. This leap put the other to shame, and he said to him "Well may it be that thou wilt not be so supple about this time to-morrow." The young brother now went to a poor little bothy that was near to the house of the Hero of the White Shield tired and drowsy, and in the morning they dared the fight again. And the Hero of the White Shield began to go back, till he went backwards into a river. "There must be some of my blood in thee before that was done to me." "Of what blood art thou?" said the youngest. "Tis I am son of Ardan, great King of the Albann." "Tis I am thy brother." It was now they knew each other. They gave luck and welcome to each other, and the Hero of the White Shield now took him into the palace, and she it was that was pleased to see him--the knight's daughter. He stayed a while with them, and after that he thought that he would go home to his own kingdom; and when he was going past a great palace that was there he saw twelve men playing at shinny over against the palace. He thought he would go for a while and play shinny with them; but they were not long playing shinny when they fell out, and the weakest of them caught him and he shook him as he would a child. He thought it was no use for him to lift a hand amongst these twelve worthies, and he asked them to whom they were sons. They said they were children of the one father, the brother of the Hero of the White Shield, but that no one of them had the same mother. "I am your father," said he; and he asked them if their mothers were all alive. They said that they were. He went with them till he found the
mothers, and when they were all for going, he took home with him the twelve wives and the twelve sons; and I don't know but that his seed are kings on Alba till this very day.
Written down from the recitation of John Mackenzie, fisherman at Inverary, who says that he learned the tale from an old man in Lorn many years ago. He has been thirty-six years at Inverary. He first told me the tale fluently, and afterwards dictated it to me; and the words written are, as nearly as possible, those used by Mackenzie on the first occasion.
The word pronounced Rēēt-djĕ-rĕ, and variously spelt Ridir, Righdir, and Righdeire, is explained in a manuscript history of the Campbells, written about 1827, as Righ, king--dei, after--Ri, king. If this be correct, the word would mean a following or minor king. It may equally be a corruption of Ritter, or Reiter; and I have translated it by knight, because it is now applied to all knights.
The author of the manuscript says:--The term is handed down even in Gaelic tales, and mentions several which were then current, Righdiere nan Spleugh, and an Righdeiri Ruadh; he adds, that Righdeirin dubh Loch Oigh (the Black Knights of Loch Awe) was the name then used by old Highlanders in mentioning the chiefs of the Duin (Campbells), and that the ruins of Eredin Castle were then known by no other name than Larach tai nan Righdeirin--the ruins of the house of the knights.
The writer argues from old manuscript histories, charters, etc., that the term was brought from Ireland by the colony who settled in Cantire at a very early period, and, who spread thence over Argyllshire, and founded a kingdom, of which frequent mention is made in Irish annals as the Dalreudinan, or Scoto-Irish colonization of Argyll, Cantire, Lorn, and Islay. It is supposed to have taken place about A.D. 503, under Laorn, Fergus, and Angus, three sons of Eric, the descendant of Cairbre Ruadh, a son of Conary II., who ruled as chief king of Ireland A.D. 212. Be that as it may, all the Gaelic traditions now current in the Isles point at an Irish migration which took place in the year of grace once upon a time, and the word Righdeire occurs continually, where it seems to mean a small king, and a king of Erin; for example, "there was a king (Ree) and a Reet-djer--as there was and will be and, as grows the fir-tree, some of them crooked and some of them straight--and he was a king of Erin." Even the word Albanach, now used for Scotchman, means Wanderer. When the king's son changes his name, after killing the giants, it seems as if he were made a knight.
This tale, then, would seem to be some mythological account of events which may be traced in Grimm's stories, in the Classics, and elsewhere, mixed up with names and titles belonging to the colonization of Argyllshire by Irish tribes, and all applied to the kings of Scotland in the last sentence. It is a fair representation of the strange confusion of reality and fancy, history and mythology, of which I believe these stories to be composed.
The nearest story to it which I know is Das Räthsel, in Grimm, No. 22. Several versions are given in the third volume, which seem to vary from each other, about as much as this Gaelic version varies from them all.
There is something like the fight between Romulus and his brother. Alba means Scotland.