Site Map
Celtic Folktales
Section › 13 Set Search Previous Next

Reservations Contents  

  1. Fair, Brown and Trembling
  2. The Fairy Cure
  3. Shaking-Head

Fair, Brown and Trembling

KING AEDH CURUCHA lived in Tir Conal, and he had three daughters, whose names were Fair, Brown, and Trembling.

Fair and Brown had new dresses, and went to church every Sunday. Trembling was kept at home to do the cooking and work. They would not let her go out of the house at all; for she was more beautiful than the other two, and they were in dread she might marry before themselves.

They carried on in this way for seven years. At the end of seven years the son of the king of Omanya [The ancient Emania in Ulster] fell in love with the eldest sister.

One Sunday morning, after the other two had gone to church, the old henwife came into the kitchen to Trembling, and said: "It's at church you ought to be this day, instead of working here at home."

"How could I go?" said Trembling. "I have no clothes good enough to wear at church and if my sisters were to see me there, they 'd kill me for going out of the house."

"I'II give you," said the henwife, a finer dress than either of them has ever seen. And now tell me what dress will you have?"

"I'II have," said Trembling, "a dress as white as snow, and green shoes for my feet."

Then the henwife put on the cloak of darkness, clipped a piece from the old clothes the young woman had on, and asked for the whitest robes in the world and the most beautiful that could be found, and a pair of green shoes.

That moment she had the robe and the shoes, and she brought them to Trembling, who put them on. When Trembling was dressed and ready, the henwife said: "I have a honey-bird here to sit on your right shoulder, and a honey-finger to put on your left. At the door stands a milk-white mare, with a golden saddle for you to sit on, and a golden bridle to hold in your hand."

Trembling sat on the golden saddle; and when she was ready to start, the henwife said: "You must not go inside the door of the church, and the minute the people rise up at the end of Mass, do you make off, and ride home as fast as the mare will carry you."

When Trembling came to the door of the church there was no one inside who could get a glimpse of her but was striving to know who she was; and when they saw her hurrying away at the end of Mass, they ran out to overtake her. But no use in their running; she was away before any man could come near her. From the minute she left the church till she got home, she overtook the wind before her, and outstripped the wind behind.

She came down at the door, went in, and found the henwife had dinner ready. She put off the white robes, and had on her old dress in a twinkling.

When the two sisters came home the henwife asked: "Have you any news today from the church?"

"We have great news," said they. "We saw a wonderful, grand lady at the church-door. The like of the robes she had we have never seen on woman before. It's little that was thought of our dresses beside what she had on; and there wasn't a man at the church, from the king to the beggar, but was trying to look at her and know who she was."

The sisters would give no peace till they had two dresses like the robes of the strange lady; but honey-birds and honey-fingers were not to be found.

Next Sunday the two sisters went to church again, and left the youngest at home to cook the dinner.

After they had gone, the henwife came in and asked: "Will you go to church today?"

"I would go," said Trembling, "if I could get the going."

"What robe will you wear?" asked the hen-wife.

"The finest black satin that can be found, and red shoes for my feet."

"What color do you want the mare to be?"

"I want her to be so black and so glossy that I can see myself in her body."

The henwife put on the cloak of darkness, and asked for the robes and the mare. That moment she had them. When Trembling was dressed, the henwife put the honey-bird on her right shoulder and the honey-finger on her left. The saddle on the mare was silver, and so was the bridle.

When Trembling sat in the saddle and was going away, the henwife ordered her strictly not to go inside the door of the church, but to rush away as soon as the people rose at the end of Mass, and hurry home on the mare before any man could stop her.

That Sunday the people were more astonished than ever, and gazed at her more than the first time; and all they were thinking of was to know who she was. But they had no chance; for the moment the people rose at the end of Mass she slipped from the church, was in the silver saddle, and home before a man could stop her or talk to her.

The henwife had the dinner ready. Trembling took off her satin robe, and had on her old clothes before her sisters got home.

"What news have you today?" asked the henwife of the sisters when they came from the church.

"Oh, we saw the grand strange lady again! And it's little that any man could think of our dresses after looking at the robes of satin that she had on! And all at church, from high to low, had their mouths open, gazing at her, and no man was looking at us."

The two sisters gave neither rest nor peace till they got dresses as nearly like the strange lady's robes as they could find. Of course they were not so good; for the like of those robes could not be found in Erin.

When the third Sunday came, Fair and Brown went to church dressed in black satin. They left Trembling at home to work in the kitchen, and told her to be sure and have dinner ready when they came back.

After they had gone and were out of sight, the henwife came to the kitchen and said: "Well, my dear, are you for church today?"

"I would go if I had a new dress to wear."

"I will get you any dress you ask for. What dress would you like? "asked the henwife.

"A dress red as a rose from the waist down, and white as snow from the waist up; a cape of green on my shoulders; and a hat on my head with a red, a white, and a green feather in it; and shoes for my feet with the toes red, the middle white, and the backs and heels green."

The henwife put on the cloak of darkness, wished for all these things, and had them. When Trembling was dressed, the henwife put the honey-bird on her right shoulder and the honey-finger on her left, and placing the hat on her head, clipped a few hairs from one lock and a few from another with her scissors, and that moment the most beautiful golden hair was flowing down over the girl's shoulders. Then the henwife asked what kind of a mare she would ride. She said white, with blue and gold-colored diamond-shaped spots all over her body, on her back a saddle of gold, and on her head a golden bridle.

The mare stood there before the door, and a bird sitting between her ears, which began to sing as soon as Trembling was in the saddle, and never stopped till she came home from the church.

The fame of the beautiful strange lady had gone out through the world, and all the princes and great men that were in it came to church that Sunday, each one hoping that it was himself would have her home with him after Mass.

The son of the king of Omanya forgot all about the eldest sister, and remained outside the church, so as to catch the strange lady before she could hurry away.

The church was more crowded than ever before, and there were three times as many outside. There was such a throng before the church that Trembling could only come inside the gate.

As soon as the people were rising at the end of Mass, the lady slipped out through the gate, was in the golden saddle in an instant, and sweeping away ahead of the wind. But if she was, the prince of Omanya was at her side, and, seizing her by the foot, he ran with the mare for thirty perches, and never let go of the beautiful lady till the shoe was pulled from her foot, and he was left behind with it in his hand. She came home as fast as the mare could carry her, and was thinking all the time that the henwife would kill her for losing the shoe.

Seeing her so vexed and so changed in the face, the old woman asked: "What's the trouble that 's on you now?"

"Oh! I've lost one of the shoes off my feet," said Trembling.

"Don't mind that; don't be vexed," said the hen-wife; "maybe it's the best thing that ever happened to you."

Then Trembling gave up all the things she had to the henwife, put on her old clothes, and went to work in the kitchen. When the sisters came home, the henwife asked: "Have you any news from the church?"

"We have indeed," said they; "for we saw the grandest sight today. The strange lady came again, in grander array than before. On herself and the horse she rode were the finest colors of the world, and between the ears of the horse was a bird which never stopped singing from the time she came till she went away. The lady herself is the most beautiful woman ever seen by man in Erin."

After Trembling had disappeared from the church, the son of the king of Omanya said to the other kings' sons: "I will have that lady for my own."

They all said: "You didn't win her just by taking the shoe off her foot, you will have to win her by the point of the sword; you will have to fight for her with us before you can call her your own."

"Well," said the son of the king of Omanya, "when I find the lady that shoe will fit, I will fight for her, never fear, before I leave her to any of you."

Then all the kings' sons were uneasy, and anxious to know who was she that lost the shoe; and they began to travel all over Erin to know could they find her. The prince of Omanya and all the others went in a great company together, and made the round of Erin; they went every-where, - north, south, east, and west. They visited every place where a woman was to be found, and left not a house in the kingdom they did not search, to know could they find the woman the shoe would fit, not caring whether she was rich or poor, of high or low degree.

The prince of Omanya always kept the shoe; and when the young women saw it, they had great hopes, for it was of proper size, neither large nor small, and it would beat any man to know of what material it was made. One thought it would fit her if she cut a little from her great toe; and another, with too short a foot, put something in the tip of her stocking. But no use, they only spoiled their feet, and were curing them for months afterwards.

The two sisters, Fair and Brown, heard that the princes of the world were looking all over Erin for the woman that could wear the shoe, and every day they were talking of trying it on; and one day Trembling spoke up and said: "Maybe it's my foot that the shoe will fit."

"Oh, the breaking of the dog's foot on you! Why say so when you were at home every Sunday?"

They were that way waiting, and scolding the younger sister, till the princes were near the place. The day they were to come, the sisters put Trembling in a closet, and locked the door on her. When the company came to the house, the prince of Omanya gave the shoe to the sisters. But though they tried and tried, it would fit neither of them.

"Is there any other young woman in the house?" asked the prince.

"There is," said Trembling, speaking up in the closet; "I am here."

"Oh! we have her for nothing but to put out the ashes," said the sisters.

But the prince and the others wouldn't leave the house till they had seen her; so the two sisters had to open the door. When Trembling came out, the shoe was given to her, and it fitted exactly.

The prince of Omanya looked at her and said:

"You are the woman the shoe fits, and you are the woman I took the shoe from."

Then Trembling spoke up, and said: "Do you stay here till I return."

Then she went to the henwife's house. The old woman put on the cloak of darkness, got everything for her she had the first Sunday at church, and put her on the white mare in the same fashion. Then Trembling rode along the highway to the front of the house. All who saw her the first time said: "This is the lady we saw at church."

Then she went away a second time, and a second time came back on the black mare in the second dress which the henwife gave her. All who saw her the second Sunday said: "That is the lady we saw at church."

A third time she asked for a short absence, and soon came back on the third mare and in the third dress. All who saw her the third time said That is the lady we saw at church." Every man was satisfied, and knew that she was the woman.

Then all the princes and great men spoke up, and said to the son of the king of Omanya:

"You 'II have to fight now for her before we let her go with you."

"I am here before you, ready for combat," answered the prince.

Then the son of the king of Lochlm stepped forth. The struggle began, and a terrible struggle it was. They fought for nine hours; and then the son of the king of LochIin stopped, gave up his claim, and left the field. Next day the son of the king of Spain fought six hours, and yielded his claim. On the third day the son of the king of Nyerfói fought eight hours, and stopped. The fourth day the son of the king of Greece fought six hours, and stopped. On the fifth day no more strange princes wanted to fight; and all the sons of kings in Erin said they would not fight with a man of their own land, that the strangers had had their chance, and as no others came to claim the woman, she belonged of right to the son of the king of Omanya.

The marriage-day was fixed, and the invitations were sent out. The wedding lasted for a year and a day. When the wedding was over, the king's son brought home the bride, and when the time came a son was born. The young woman sent for her eldest sister, Fair, to be with her and care for her. One day, when Trembling was well, and when her husband was away hunting, the two sisters went out to walk; and when they came to the seaside, the eldest pushed the youngest sister in. A great whale came and swallowed her.

The eldest sister came home alone, and the husband asked, "Where is your sister?"

She has gone home to her father in Ballyshannon; now that I am well, I don't need her."

"Well," said the husband, looking at her, "I 'm in dread it's my wife that has gone."

"Oh! no," said she; "it's my sister Fair that's gone."

Since the sisters were very much alike, the prince was in doubt. That night he put his sword between them, and said: "If you are my wife, this sword will get warm; if not, it will stay cold."

In the morning when he rose up, the sword was as cold as when he put it there.

It happened when the two sisters were walking by the seashore, that a little cowboy was down by the water minding cattle, and saw Fair push Trembling into the sea; and next day, when the tide came in, he saw the whale swim up and throw her out on the sand. When she was on the sand she said to the cowboy: "When you go home in the evening with the cows, tell the master that my sister Fair pushed me into the sea yesterday; that a whale swallowed me, and then threw me out, but will come again and swallow me with the coming of the next tide; then he'Il go out with the tide, and come again with tomorrow's tide, and throw me again on the strand. The whale will cast me out three times. I am under the enchantment of this whale, and cannot leave the beach or escape myself. Unless my husband saves me before I 'm swallowed the fourth time I shall be lost. He must come and shoot the whale with a silver bullet when he turns on the broad of his back. Under the breast-fin of the whale is a reddish-brown spot. My husband must hit him in that spot, for it is the only place in which he can be killed."

When the cowboy got home, the eldest sister gave him a draught of oblivion, and he did not tell.

Next day he went again to the sea. The whale came and cast Trembling on shore again. She asked the boy: "Did you tell the master what I told you to tell him?"

"I did not," said he; "I forgot."

"How did you forget?" asked she.

"The woman of the house gave me a drink that made me forget."

"Well, don't forget telling him this night; and if she gives you a drink, don't take it from her."

As soon as the cowboy came home, the eldest sister offered him a drink. He refused to take it till be had delivered his message and told all to the master. The third day the prince went down with his gun and a silver bullet in it. He was not long down when the whale came and threw Trembling upon the beach as the two days before. She had no power to speak to her husband till he had killed the whale. Then the whale went out, turned over once on the broad of his back, and showed the spot for a moment only. That moment the prince fired. He had but the one chance, and a short one at that; but he took it, and hit the spot, and the whale, mad with pain, made the sea all around red with blood, and died.

That minute Trembling was able to speak, and went home with her husband, who sent word to her father what the eldest sister had done. The father came, and told him any death he chose to give her to give it. The prince told the father he would leave her life and death with himself. The father had her put out then on the sea in a barrel, with provisions in it for seven years.

In time Trembling had a second child, a daughter. The prince and she sent the cowboy to school, and trained him up as one of their own children, and said: "If the little girl that is born to us now lives, no other man in the world will get her but him."

The cowboy and the prince's daughter lived on till they were married. The mother said to her husband: "You could not have saved me from the whale but for the little cowboy; on that account I don't grudge him my daughter."

The son of the king of Omanya and Trembling had fourteen children, and they lived happily till the two died of old age. [J. Curtin]

TO TOP

The Fairy Cure

We have related the adventures of a woman in the Duffrey, who had been called on at a late hour to assist the lady of a fairy chief in a trying situation. The person about whom we are going to speak was also a sage-femme and in that capacity was summoned by a dark rider to aid his lady, who was on the point of adding to the Sighe population of the country.

For nearly a year before that time, Nora's daughter, Judy, had been confined to her bed by a sore leg, which neither she, nor the neighbouring doctor, nor the fairy-man, [a] could "make any hand of."

The calling up of the old woman, the ride behind the Fir Dhorocha, and the dismounting at the door of an illuminated palace, all took place as mentioned in the tale above alluded to. In, the hall she was surprised to see an old neighbour, who had long been spirited away from the, haunts of his youth and manhood, to the joyless, though showy life of the Sighe caverns. He at once took an Opportunity, when the "Dark man" was not observing him, to impress on Nora the necessity of taking no refreshment of any kind while under the roof of the fairy castle, and of refusing money or any other consideration in any form. The only exception he made was in favour of cures for diseases inflicted by evil spirits or by fairies.

She found the lady of the castle in a bed with pillows and quilts of silk, and in a short time (for Nora was a handy woman) there was a beautiful little girl lying on the breast of the delighted mother. All the fine ladies that were scattered through the large room, now gathered round, and congratulated their queen, and paid many compliments to the lucky-handed Nora. "I am so pleased with you," said the lady, "that I shall be glad to see you take as much gold, and silver, and jewels, out of the next room, as you can carry." Nora stepped in out of curiosity and saw piles of gold and silver coins, and baskets of diamonds and pearls, lying about on, every side, but she remembered the caution, and came out empty-handed. "I am much obleeged to you, my lady," said she, "but if I took them guineas, and crowns, and jewels home, no one would ever call on me again to help his wife, and I'd be sittin' wud me hands acrass and doin' nothin' but dhrinkin' tay and makin' curtchies (courtesies), an' I'd be dead before a year 'ud be gone by."

"Oh dear! "said the lady, "what an odd person you are! At any rate, sit down at that table, and help yourself to food and drink."

"Oh, ma'am, is it them jellies, an' custhards, an' pasthry you'd like to see me at? Lord love you! I would'nt know the way to me mouth wud the likes; an' I swore again dhrinkin' after a time I was overtaken wud the liccor when I ought to be mindin' a poor neighbour's wife."

"Well, this is too bad. Will you even condescend to wear this shawl for my sake?"

"Ach, me lady, would you have the dirty little gorsoons roaring after me, an' may be pelting me with stones, when I'd be going through the village?"

"Well, but what should hinder you from living in this castle all your life with me, eating and drinking, and wearing the best of everything?"

"Musha, ma'am, I'd only be the laughin' stock o' the fine ladies and gentlemen. I'd have no ould neighbour to have a shanachus (gossip) wud, and what 'ud the craythurs of women do for me in me own place, when their time 'ud be come?"

"Alas! alas! is there any way in which I can show you how grateful I am for your help and your skill?"

"Musha, indeed is there, ma'am. My girshach, Jude, is lying under a sore leg for a twelvemonth, an' I am sure that the lord or yourself can make her as sound as a bell if you only say the word."

"Ask me anything but that, and you shall have it."

"Oh, lady, dear, that's giving me everything but the thing I want."

"You don't know the offence your daughter gave to us, I am sure, or you would not ask me to cure her."

"Judy offend you, ma'am! Oh, it's impossible!"

"Not at all; and this is the way it happened.

"You know that all the fairy court enjoy their lives in the night only, and we frequently go through the country, and hold our feasts where the kitchen, and especially the hearth, is swept up clean. About a twelvemonth ago, myself and my ladies were passing your cabin, and one of the company liked the appearance of the neat thatch, and the whitewashed walls, and the clean pavement outside the door, so much, that she persuaded us all to go in. We found the cheerful turf fire shining oh the well-swept hearth and floor, and the clean pewter and delft plates on the dresser, and the white table. We were so well pleased, that we sat down on the hearth, and laid our tea-tray, and began to drink our tea as comfortably as could be. You know we can be any size we please, and there was a score of us settled before the fire.

"We were vexed enough when we saw your daughter come up out of your bedroom, and make towards the fire. Her feet, I acknowledge, were white and clean, but one of them would cover two or three of us, the size we were that night. On she came stalking, and just as I was raising my cup of tea to my lips, down came the soft flat sole on it, and spilled the tea all over me. I was very much annoyed, and I caught the thing that came next to my hand, and hurled it at her. It was the tea-pot, and the point of the spout is in the small of her leg from that night till now."

"Oh, lady, darlint! how can you hold spite to the poor slob of a girl, that knew no more of you being there, nor of offending you, that she did of the night she was born? "" Well, well; now that is all past and gone I believe you are right. At all events, you have done so much for me, that I cannot refuse you anything. Take this ointment, and rub it where you will see the purple mark, and I hope that your thoughts of me may be pleasant."

Just then, a messenger came to say that the lord was at the hail door waiting for Nora, for the cocks would be soon a-crowing. So she took leave of the lady, and mounted behind the dark man. The horse's back seemed as hard and as thin as a hazel stick, but it bore her safely to her home. She was in a sleepy state all the time she was returning, but at last she woke up, and found herself standing by her own door. She got into bed as fast as she could, and when she woke next morning, she fancied it was all a dream. She put her hand in her pocket, and there, for a certainty, was the box of ointment. She stripped the clothes off her daughter's leg, rubbed some of the stuff on it, and in a few seconds she saw the skin bursting, and a tiny spout of a tea-pot working itself out. Poor Judy was awake by this, and wondering what ease she felt in her leg. I warrant she was rejoiced at the story her mother told her. She soon received health and strength, and never neglected to leave her kitchen so nice when she was going to hed, that Rich Darner himself might eat his dinner off the floor. She took good care never to let her feet stray over it again after bed-time, for fear of giving offence to her unseen visitors.

[a] The worthy who possessed skill in curing all maladies inflicted "by the Good People," sympathetic ointments and charmed draughts being the chief articles in his pharmacopoeia. [P. Kennedy]

TO TOP

Shaking-Head

THERE was once a king of a province in Erin who had an only son. The king was very careful of this son, and sent him to school for good instruction.

The other three kings of provinces in Erin had three sons at the same school and the three sent word by this one to his father, that if he didn't put his son to death they would put both father and son to death themselves.

When the young man came home with this word to his father and mother, they were grieved when they heard it. But the king's son said that he would go out into the world to seek his fortune, and settle the trouble in that way. So away he went, taking with him only five pounds in money for his support.

The young man travelled on till he came to a grave-yard, where he saw four men fighting over a coffin. Then he went up to the four, and saw that two of them were trying to put the coffin down into a grave, and the other two preventing them and keeping the coffin above ground. When the king's son came near the men, he asked: "Why do you fight in such a place as this, and why do you keep the coffin above ground?"

Two of the men answered, and said: "The body of our brother is in this coffin, and these two men won't let us bury it."

The other two then said: "We have a debt of five pounds on the dead man, and we won't let his body be buried till the debt is paid."

The king's son said: "Do you let these men bury their brother, and I will pay what you ask."

Then the two let the brothers of the dead man bury him. The king's son paid the five pounds, and went away empty-handed, and, except the clothes on his back, he had no more than on the day he was born. After he had gone on his way awhile and the grave-yard was out of sight he turned and saw a sprightly red-haired man (fear ruadh) hurrying after him. When he came up, the stranger asked: "Don't you want a serving man?"

"I do not," answered the king's son, "I have nothing to support myself with, let alone a serving man."

"Well, never mind that," said the red-haired man; "I will be with you wherever you go, whether you have anything or not."

"What is your name? "asked the king's son.

"Shaking-head," answered the red man.

When they had gone on a piece of the way together the king's son stopped and asked:

"Where shall we be tonight?"

"We shall be in a giant's castle where there will be small welcome for us," said Shaking-head.

When evening came they found themselves in front of a castle. In they went and saw no one inside only a tall old hag. But they were not long in the place till they heard a loud, rushing noise outside, and a blow on the castle. The giant came; and the first words he let out of his mouth were:

"I am glad to have an Erinach on my supper-table to eat tonight." Then turning to the two he said: "What brought you here this evening; what do you want in my castle?"

"All the champions and heroes of Erin are going to take your property from you and destroy yourself; we have come to warn you, and there is nobody to save you from them but us," said Shaking-head.

When the giant heard these words he changed his treatment entirely. He gave the king's son and Shaking-head a hearty welcome and a kindly greeting. When he understood the news they brought, he washed them with the tears of his eyes, dried them with kisses, and gave them a good supper and a soft bed that night.

Next morning the giant was up at an early hour, and he went to the bed-side of each man and told him to rise and have breakfast. Shaking-head asked his reward of the giant for telling him of the champions of Erin and the danger he was in.

"Well," said the giant, "there's a pot of gold over there under my bed; take as much out of it as ever you wish, and welcome."

"It isn't gold I want for my service," said Shaking-head "you have a gift which suits me better."

"What gift is that? "asked the giant.

"The light black steed in your stable."

"That's a gift I won't give you," said the giant, "for when any one comes to trouble or attack me, all I have to do is to throw my leg over that steed, and away he carries me out of sight of every enemy."

"Well," said Shaking~head, "if you don't give me that steed I will bring all the kingdom of Erin against you, and you will be destroyed with all you have."

The giant stopped a moment, and said: "I believe you 'd do that thing, so you may take the steed." Then Shaking-head took the steed of the giant, gave him to the king's son, and away they went.

At sunset Shaking-head said: "We are near the castle of another giant, the next brother to the one who entertained us last night. He hasn't much welcome for us either; but he will treat us well when he is threatened."

The second giant was going to eat the king's son for supper, but when Shaking-head told him about the forces of Erin he changed his manner and entertained them well.

Next morning after breakfast, Shaking-head said:

"You must give me a present for my services in warning you."

"There is a pot of gold under my bed," said the giant; "take all you want of it."

"I don't want your gold," said Shaking-head, "but you have a gift which suits me well."

"What is that? "asked the giant.

"The two-handed black sword that never fails a blow."

"You won't get that gift from me," said the giant;" and I can't spare it; for if a whole army were to come against me, as soon as I'd have my two hands on the hilt of that sword, I'd let no man near me without sweeping the head off him."

"Well," said Shaking-head, "I have been keeping back your enemies this long time; but I will let them at you now, and I will raise up more. I will put the whole kingdom of Erin against you."

The giant stopped a moment, and said: "I believe you'd do that if it served you." So he took the sword off his belt and handed it to his guest. Shaking-head gave it to the king's son, who mounted his steed, and they both went away.

When they had gone some distance from the giant's castle Shaking-head said to the king's son, "Where shall we be tonight? - you have more knowledge than I."

"Indeed then I have not," said the king's son; I have no knowledge at all of where we are going; it is you who have the knowledge."

"Well," said Shaking-head, "we 'II be at the third and youngest giant's castle tonight, and at first he'll treat us far worse and more harshly, but still we'll take this night's lodging of him, and a good gift in the morning."

Soon after sunset they came to the castle where they met the worst reception and the harshest they had found on the road. The giant was going to eat them both for supper; but when Shaking-head told him of the champions of Erin, he became as kind as his two brothers, and gave good entertainment to both.

Next morning after breakfast, Shaking-head asked for a present in return for his services.

"Do you see the pot of gold in the corner there under my bed? - take all you want and welcome," said the giant.

"It 's not gold I want," said Shaking-head, "but the cloak of darkness."

"Oh," said the giant, "you will not get that cloak of me, for I want it myself. If any man were to come against me, all I'd have to do would be to put that cloak on my shoulders, and no one in the world could see me, or know where I'd be."

"Well," said Shaking-head, "it's long enough that I am keeping your enemies away; and if you don't give me that cloak now I will raise all the kingdom of Erin and still more forces to destroy you, and it's not long you will last after they come."

The giant thought a moment, and then said: "I believe you 'd do what you say. There's the black cloak hanging on the wall before you; take it."

Shaking-head took the cloak, and the two went away together, the king's son riding on the light black steed, and having the double-handed sword at his back. When out of sight of the giant, Shaking-head put on the cloak, and wasn't to be seen, and no other man could have been seen in his place. Then the king's son looked around, and began to call and search for his man, - he was lonely without him and grieved not to see him. Shaking-head, glad to see the affection of the king's son, took off the cloak and was at his side again.

"Where are we going now? "asked the king's son. "We are going on a long journey to (Ri Chuil an Or) King Behind the Gold, to ask his daughter of him."

The two travelled on, till they came to the castle of King Behind the Gold. Then Shaking-head said: "Go in you, and ask his daughter of the king, and I will stay here outside with the cloak on me." So he went in and spoke to the king, and the answer he got was this: -"I am willing to give you my daughter, but you won't get her unless you do what she will ask of you. And I must tell you now that three hundred kings' sons, lacking one, have come to ask for my daughter, and in the garden behind my castle are three hundred iron spikes, and every spike of them but one is covered with the head of a king's son who couldn't do what my daughter wanted of him, and I am greatly in dread that your own head will be put on the one spike that is left uncovered."

"Well," said the king's son, "I will do my best to keep my head where it is at present."

Stay here in my castle," said the king, "and you will have good entertainment till we know can you do what will be asked of you."

At night when the king's son was going to bed, the princess gave him a thimble, and said: "Have this for me in the morning."

He put the thimble on his finger; and she thought it could be easily taken away, if he would sleep. So she came to him in the night, with a drink, and said: "I give you this in hopes I will gain more drink by you. He swallowed the liquor, and the princess went away with the empty cup. Then the king's son put the thimble in his mouth between his cheek and his teeth for safe keeping, and was soon asleep.

When the princess came to her own chamber, she struck her maid with a slat an draoichta (a rod of enchantment) and turned her into a rat; then she made such music of fifes and trumpets to sound throughout the castle, that every soul in it fell asleep. That minute, she sent the rat to where the king's son was sleeping, and the rat put her tail into the nostrils of the young man, tickled his nose so that he sneezed and blew the thimble out of his mouth. The rat caught it and ran away to the princess, who struck her with the rod of enchantment and turned her into a maid again.

Then the princess and the maid set out for the eastern world, taking the thimble with them. Shaking-head, who was watching with his cloak on, unseen by all, had seen everything, and now followed at their heels. In the eastern world, at the sea-side was a rock. The princess tapped it with her finger, and the rock opened; there was a great house inside, and in the house a giant. The princess greeted him and gave him the thimble, saying: "You're to keep this so no man can get it."

"Oh," said the giant, taking the thimble and throwing it aside, "you need have no fear; no man can find me in this place."

Shaking-head caught the thimble from the ground and put it in his pocket. When she had finished conversation with the giant, the princess kissed him, and hurried away. Shaking-head followed her step for step, till they came at break of day to the castle of King Behind the Gold. Shaking-head went to the king's son and asked:

"Was anything given you to keep last night?"

"Yes, before I came to this chamber the princess gave me her thimble, and told me to have it for her in the morning."

"Have you it now?" asked Shaking-head.

"It is not in my mouth where I put it last night, it is not in the bed; I am afraid my head is lost," said the king's son.

"Well, look at this," said Shaking-head, taking the thimble out of his pocket and giving it to him. "The whole kingdom is moving today to see your death. All the people have heard that you are here asking for the princess, and they think your head'll be put on the last spike in the garden, with the heads of the other kings' sons. Rise up now, mount your light black steed, ride to the summer-house of the princess and her father, and give her the thimble."

The king's son did as Shaking-head told him, When he gave up the thimble, the king said, "You have won one third of my daughter." But the princess was bitterly angry and vexed to the heart, that any man on earth should know that she had dealings with the giant; she cared more for that than anything else.

When the second day had passed, and the king's son was going to bed, the princess gave him a comb to keep, and said: "If you don't have this for me in the morning, your head will be put on the spike that's left in my father's garden."

The king's son took the comb with him. wrapped it in a handkerchief, and tied it to his head.

In the night the princess came with a draught which she gave him, and soon he was asleep. Going back to her own chamber, she struck the maid with her rod of enchantment, and made a great yellow cat of her. Then she caused such music of fifes and trumpets to sound throughout the castle that every soul was in a deep sleep before the music was over, and that moment she sent the cat to the chamber of the king's son. The cat worked the handkerchief off his head, took out the comb and ran with it to the: princess, who turned her into a maid again.

The two set out for the eastern world straightway; but if they did, Shaking-head followed them in his cloak of darkness, till they came to the house of the giant in the great rock at the end of the road, at the sea. The princess gave the giant the comb, and said: "The thimble that I gave you to keep last night was taken from you, for the king's son in Erin brought it back to me this morning, and has done one third of the work of winning me, and I didn't expect you d serve me in this way."

When the giant heard this, he was raging, and threw the comb into the sea behind him. Then with Druidic spells he raised thunder and lightning and wind. The sea was roaring with storm and rain; but the comb had not touched the water when Shaking-head caught it.

When her talk was over the princess gave the giant a kiss, and home she went with the maid; but Shaking-head followed them step by step.

In the morning Shaking-head went to the king's son, roused him, and asked: "What was your task last night?"

"The princess gave me a comb to have for her this morning," answered the king's son.

"Where is it now? "asked Shaking-head.

"Here on my head," said the king's son, putting up his hand to get it; but the comb was gone. "I am done for now," said the king's son; my head will be on the last spike today unless I have the comb for the princess."

"Here it is for you," said Shaking-head, taking the comb out of his pocket. "And now," said he, "the whole kingdom is coming to this castle today to see your head put on the last spike in the garden of King Behind the Gold, for all men think the same will happen to you that has happened to every king's son before you. Go up on your steed and ride to the summer-house where the king and his daughter are sitting, and give her the comb."

The king's son did as Shaking-head bade him. When he saw the comb the king said, "Now you have my daughter two-thirds won." But her face went from the princess entirely. she was so vexed that any man should know of her dealings with the giant.

The third night when he was going to bed the princess said to the king's son, "If you will not have at my father's castle tomorrow morning the head I will kiss tonight, you will die tomorrow, and your own head will be put on the last spike in my father's garden." Later in the night she came to the bedside of the king's son with a draught. Which he drank, and before she was back in her chamber, he slept. Then she made such music all over the castle that not a soul was awake when the music had ceased. That moment she hurried away with her maid to the eastern world but Shaking-head followed her in his cloak of darkness. This time he carried with him the two-handed sword that never failed a blow.

When she came to the rock in the eastern world and entered the house of the giant, the princess said, "You let my two gifts go with the son of the king in Erin, and he 'Il have me won tomorrow if he'II have your head at my father's castle in the morning."

"Never fear," said the giant, "there is nothing in the world to take the head off me but the double-handed sword of darkness that never fails a blow, and that sword belongs to my brother in the western world.''

The princess gave the giant a kiss at parting; and as she hurried away with her maid the giant turned to look at her. His head was covered with an iron cap; but as he looked he laid bare a thin strip of his neck. Shaking-head was there near him, and said in his mind: "Your brother's sword has never been so close to your neck before;" and with one blow he swept the head off him. Then began the greatest struggle that Shaking-head ever had, to keep the head from the body of the giant. The head fought to put itself on again, and never stopped till the body was dead; then it fell to the ground. Shaking-head seized, but couldn't stir the head, - couldn't move it from its place. Then he searched all around it and found a (bar an suan) pin of slumber near the ear. When he took the pin away he had no trouble in carrying the head; and he made no delay but came to the castle at daybreak, and threw the head to a herd of pigs that belonged to the king. Then he went to the king's son, and asked:

"What happened to you last night?"

The princess came to me, and said that if I wouldn't bring to her father's castle this morning the head she was to kiss last night, my own head would be on the last spike today."

"Come out with me now to the pigs," said Shaking-head.

The two went out, and Shaking-head said: "Go in among the pigs, and take the head with you to the king; and a strange head it is to put before a king."

So the king's son went on his steed to the summer-house, and gave the head to the king and his daughter, and turning to the princess, said:

"This is the head you kissed last night, and it's not a nice looking head either."

"You have my daughter won now entirely," said the king, "and she is yours. And do you take that head to the great dark hole that is out there on one side of my castle grounds, and throw it down."

The king's son mounted his steed, and rode off with the head till he came to the hole going deep into the earth. When he let down the head it went to the bottom with such a roaring and such a noise that every mare and cow and every beast in the whole kingdom cast its young, such was the terror that was caused by the noise of the head in going to the bottom of the hole.

When the head was put away the king's son went back to the castle, and married the daughter of King Behind the Gold. The wedding lasted nine days and nights, and the last night was better than the first.

When the wedding was over Shaking-head went to the king. and said: "You have provided no fortune for your daughter, and it is but right that you should remember her."

"I have plenty of gold and silver to give her," said the king.

"It isn't gold and silver that your son-in-law wants, but men to stand against his enemies, when they come on him."

"I have more treasures than men," said King Behind the Gold; "but I won't see my daughter conquered for want of an army."

They were satisfied with the king's word, and next day took the road to Erin, and kept on their way till they came opposite the grave-yard. Then Shaking-head said to the king's son: "You are no good, you have never told me a story since the first day I saw you."

"I have but one story to tell you, except what happened since we met."

"Well, tell me what happened before we met."

"I was passing this place before I saw you," said the king's son, "and four men were fighting over a coffin. I spoke to them, and two of them said they were burying the body of their brother which was in the coffin, and the others said the dead man owed them five pounds, and they wouldn't let the coffin into the ground till they got the money. I paid five pounds and the body was buried."

"It was my body was in the coffin," said Shaking-head, "and I came back into this world to do you a good turn; and now I am going, and you will never see me again unless trouble is on you."

Shaking-head disappeared, and the king's son went home. He wasn't with his father long till the other three kings' sons heard he had come back to Erin with the daughter of King Behind the Gold. They sent word, saying: "We'll take the head off you now, and put an end to your father and yourself."

The king's son went out to walk alone, and as he was lamenting the fate he had brought on his father, who should come along to meet him but Shaking-head.

"What trouble is on you now?" asked he.

"Oh, three kings' sons are coming with their fleets and armies to destroy my father and myself, and what can we do with our one fleet and one army?"

"Well," said Shaking-head, "I will settle that for you without delay." Then he sent a message straight to King Behind the Gold, who gave a fleet and an army, and they came to Erin so quickly that they were at the castle before the forces of the three kings' sons. And when the three came the battle began on sea and land at both sides of the castle.

The three fleets of the three kings' sons were sunk, their armies destroyed, and the three heads taken off themselves. When the battle was over and the country safe the king resigned the castle and power to his son, and the son of a king in a province became king over all the land of Erin. [J. Curtin]

Contents


Celtic folktales, fairy tales of Celts, Literature  

Celtic folktales, fairy tales of Celts, To top Section Set Next

Celtic folktales, fairy tales of Celts USER'S GUIDE: [Link]
© 2000–2017, Tormod Kinnes. [Email]  ᴥ  Disclaimer: [Link]