The abbot of the Monastery of Moville sent word to the story-tellers of Ireland that when they…
“These things also must be told,” said he.
In particular he wished to gather tales which told of the deeds that had been done before the Gospel came to Ireland.
“For,” said he, “there are very good tales among those ones, and it would be a pity if the people who come after us should be ignorant of what happened long ago, and of the deeds of their fathers.”
So, whenever a story-teller chanced in that neighbourhood he was directed to the monastery, and there he received a welcome and his fill of all that is good for man.
The abbot’s manuscript boxes began to fill up, and he used to regard that growing store with pride and joy. In the evenings, when the days grew short and the light went early, he would call for some one of these manuscripts and have it read to him by candle-light, in order that he might satisfy himself that it was as good as he had judged it to be on the previous hearing.
One day a story-teller came to the monastery, and, like all the others, he was heartily welcomed and given a great deal more than his need.
He said that his name was Cairide’, and that he had a story to tell which could not be bettered among the stories of Ireland.
The abbot’s eyes glistened when he heard that. He rubbed his hands together and smiled on his guest.
“What is the name of your story?” he asked.
“It is called ‘Mongan’s Frenzy.'”
“I never heard of it before,” cried the abbot joyfully.
“I am the only man that knows it,” Cairide’ replied.
“But how does that come about?” the abbot inquired.
“Because it belongs to my family,” the story-teller answered. “There was a Cairide’ of my nation with Mongan when he went into Faery. This Cairide’ listened to the story when it was first told. Then he told it to his son, and his son told it to his son, and that son’s great-great-grandson’s son told it to his son’s son, and he told it to my father, and my father told it to me.”
“And you shall tell it to me,” cried the abbot triumphantly.
“I will indeed,” said Cairide’. Vellum was then brought and quills. The copyists sat at their tables. Ale was placed beside the story-teller, and he told this tale to the abbot.
Mongan’s wife at that time was Bro’tiarna, the Flame Lady. She was passionate and fierce, and because the blood would flood suddenly to her cheek, so that she who had seemed a lily became, while you looked upon her, a rose, she was called Flame Lady. She loved Mongan with ecstasy and abandon, and for that also he called her Flame Lady.
But there may have been something of calculation even in her wildest moment, for if she was delighted in her affection she was tormented in it also, as are all those who love the great ones of life and strive to equal themselves where equality is not possible.
For her husband was at once more than himself and less than himself. He was less than himself because he was now Mongan. He was more than himself because he was one who had long disappeared from the world of men. His lament had been sung and his funeral games played many, many years before, and Bro’tiarna sensed in him secrets, experiences, knowledges in which she could have no part, and for which she was greedily envious.
So she was continually asking him little, simple questions a’ propos of every kind of thing.
She weighed all that he said on whatever subject, and when he talked in his sleep she listened to his dream.
The knowledge that she gleaned from those listenings tormented her far more than it satisfied her, for the names of other women were continually on his lips, sometimes in terms of dear affection, sometimes in accents of anger or despair, and in his sleep he spoke familiarly of people whom the story-tellers told of, but who had been dead for centuries. Therefore she was perplexed, and became filled with a very rage of curiosity.
Among the names which her husband mentioned there was one which, because of the frequency with which it appeared, and because of the tone of anguish and love and longing in which it was uttered, she thought of oftener than the others: this name was Duv Laca. Although she questioned and cross-questioned Cairide’, her story-teller, she could discover nothing about a lady who had been known as the Black Duck. But one night when Mongan seemed to speak with Duv Laca he mentioned her father as Fiachna Duv mac Demain, and the story-teller said that king had been dead for a vast number of years.
She asked her husband then, boldly, to tell her the story of Duv Laca, and under the influence of their mutual love he promised to tell it to her some time, but each time she reminded him of his promise he became confused, and said that he would tell it some other time.
As time went on the poor Flame Lady grew more and more jealous of Duv Laca, and more and more certain that, if only she could know what had happened, she would get some ease to her tormented heart and some assuagement of her perfectly natural curiosity. Therefore she lost no opportunity of reminding Mongan of his promise, and on each occasion he renewed the promise and put it back to another time.
In the year when Ciaran the son of the Carpenter died, the same year when Tuathal Maelgariv was killed and the year when Diarmait the son of Cerrbel became king of all Ireland, the year 538 of our era in short, it happened that there was a great gathering of the men of Ireland at the Hill of Uisneach in Royal Meath.
In addition to the Council which was being held, there were games and tournaments and brilliant deployments of troops, and universal feastings and enjoyments. The gathering lasted for a week, and on the last day of the week Mongan was moving through the crowd with seven guards, his story-teller Cairide’, and his wife.
It had been a beautiful day, with brilliant sunshine and great sport, but suddenly clouds began to gather in the sky to the west, and others came rushing blackly from the east. When these clouds met the world went dark for a space, and there fell from the sky a shower of hailstones, so large that each man wondered at their size, and so swift and heavy that the women and young people of the host screamed from the pain of the blows they received.
Mongan’s men made a roof of their shields, and the hailstones battered on the shields so terribly that even under them they were afraid. They began to move away from the host looking for shelter, and when they had gone apart a little way they turned the edge of a small hill and a knoll of trees, and in the twinkling of an eye they were in fair weather.
One minute they heard the clashing and bashing of the hailstones, the howling of the venomous wind, the screams of women and the uproar of the crowd on the Hill of Uisneach, and the next minute they heard nothing more of those sounds and saw nothing more of these sights, for they had been permitted to go at one step out of the world of men and into the world of Faery.
There is a difference between this world and the world of Faery, but it is not immediately perceptible. Everything that is here is there, but the things that are there are better than those that are here. All things that are bright are there brighter. There is more gold in the sun and more silver in the moon of that land. There is more scent in the flowers, more savour in the fruit. There is more comeliness in the men and more tenderness in the women. Everything in Faery is better by this one wonderful degree, and it is by this betterness you will know that you are there if you should ever happen to get there.
Mongan and his companions stepped from the world of storm into sunshine and a scented world. The instant they stepped they stood, bewildered, looking at each other silently, questioningly, and then with one accord they turned to look back whence they had come.
There was no storm behind them. The sunlight drowsed there as it did in front, a peaceful flooding of living gold. They saw the shapes of the country to which their eyes were accustomed, and recognised the well-known landmarks, but it seemed that the distant hills were a trifle higher, and the grass which clothed them and stretched between was greener, was more velvety: that the trees were better clothed and had more of peace as they hung over the quiet ground.
But Mongan knew what had happened, and he smiled with glee as he watched his astonished companions, and he sniffed that balmy air as one whose nostrils remembered it.
“You had better come with me,” he said.
“Where are we?” his wife asked. “Why, we are here,” cried Mongan; “where else should we be?”
He set off then, and the others followed, staring about them cautiously, and each man keeping a hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Are we in Faery?” the Flame Lady asked.
“We are,” said Mongan.
When they had gone a little distance they came to a grove of ancient trees. Mightily tail and well grown these trees were, and the trunk of each could not have been spanned by ten broad men. As they went among these quiet giants into the dappled obscurity and silence, their thoughts became grave, and all the motions of their minds elevated as though they must equal in greatness and dignity those ancient and glorious trees. When they passed through the grove they saw a lovely house before them, built of mellow wood and with a roof of bronze—it was like the dwelling of a king, and over the windows of the Sunny Room there was a balcony. There were ladies on this balcony, and when they saw the travellers approaching they sent messengers to welcome them.
Mongan and his companions were then brought into the house, and all was done for them that could be done for honoured guests. Everything within the house was as excellent as all without, and it was inhabited by seven men and seven women, and it was evident that Mongan and these people were well acquainted.
In the evening a feast was prepared, and when they had eaten well there was a banquet. There were seven vats of wine, and as Mongan loved wine he was very happy, and he drank more on that occasion than any one had ever noticed him to drink before.
It was while he was in this condition of glee and expansion that the Flame Lady put her arms about his neck and begged he would tell her the story of Duv Laca, and, being boisterous then and full of good spirits, he agreed to her request, and he prepared to tell the tale.
The seven men and seven women of the Fairy Palace then took their places about him in a half-circle; his own seven guards sat behind them; his wife, the Flame Lady, sat by his side; and at the back of all Cairid, his story-teller sat, listening with all his ears, and remembering every word that was uttered.
In the days of long ago and the times that have disappeared for ever, there was one Fiachna Finn the son of Baltan, the son of Murchertach, the son of Muredach, the son of Eogan, the son of Neill. He went from his own country when he was young, for he wished to see the land of Lochlann, and he knew that he would be welcomed by the king of that country, for Fiachna’s father and Eolgarg’s father had done deeds in common and were obliged to each other.
He was welcomed, and he stayed at the Court of Lochlann in great ease and in the midst of pleasures.
It then happened that Eolgarg Mor fell sick and the doctors could not cure him. They sent for other doctors, but they could not cure him, nor could any one say what he was suffering from, beyond that he was wasting visibly before their eyes, and would certainly become a shadow and disappear in air unless he was healed and fattened and made visible.
They sent for more distant doctors, and then for others more distant still, and at last they found a man who claimed that he could make a cure if the king were supplied with the medicine which he would order.
“What medicine is that?” said they all.
“This is the medicine,” said the doctor. “Find a perfectly white cow with red ears, and boil it down in the lump, and if the king drinks that rendering he will recover.”
Before he had well said it messengers were going from the palace in all directions looking for such a cow. They found lots of cows which were nearly like what they wanted, but it was only by chance they came on the cow which would do the work, and that beast belonged to the most notorious and malicious and cantankerous female in Lochlann, the Black Hag. Now the Black Hag was not only those things that have been said; she was also whiskered and warty and one-eyed and obstreperous, and she was notorious and ill-favoured in many other ways also.
They offered her a cow in the place of her own cow, but she refused to give it. Then they offered a cow for each leg of her cow, but she would not accept that offer unless Fiachna went bail for the payment. He agreed to do so, and they drove the beast away.
On the return journey he was met by messengers who brought news from Ireland. They said that the King of Ulster was dead, and that he, Fiachna Finn, had been elected king in the dead king’s place. He at once took ship for Ireland, and found that all he had been told was true, and he took up the government of Ulster.
A year passed, and one day as he was sitting at judgement there came a great noise from without, and this noise was so persistent that the people and suitors were scandalised, and Fiachna at last ordered that the noisy person should be brought before him to be judged.
It was done, and to his surprise the person turned out to be the Black Hag.
She blamed him in the court before his people, and complained that he had taken away her cow, and that she had not been paid the four cows he had gone bail for, and she demanded judgement from him and justice.
“If you will consider it to be justice, I will give you twenty cows myself,” said Fiachna.
“I would not take all the cows in Ulster,” she screamed.
“Pronounce judgement yourself,” said the king, “and if I can do what you demand I will do it.” For he did not like to be in the wrong, and he did not wish that any person should have an unsatisfied claim upon him.
The Black Hag then pronounced judgement, and the king had to fulfil it.
“I have come,” said she, “from the east to the west; you must come from the west to the east and make war for me, and revenge me on the King of Lochlann.”
Fiachna had to do as she demanded, and, although it was with a heavy heart, he set out in three days’ time for Lochlann, and he brought with him ten battalions.
He sent messengers before him to Big Eolgarg warning him of his coming, of his intention, and of the number of troops he was bringing; and when he landed Eolgarg met him with an equal force, and they fought together.
In the first battle three hundred of the men of Lochlann were killed, but in the next battle Eolgarg Mor did not fight fair, for he let some venomous sheep out of a tent, and these attacked the men of Ulster and killed nine hundred of them.
So vast was the slaughter made by these sheep and so great the terror they caused, that no one could stand before them, but by great good luck there was a wood at hand, and the men of Ulster, warriors and princes and charioteers, were forced to climb up the trees, and they roosted among the branches like great birds, while the venomous sheep ranged below bleating terribly and tearing up the ground.
Fiachna Fim was also sitting in a tree, very high up, and he was disconsolate.
“We are disgraced,” said he.
“It is very lucky,” said the man in the branch below, “that a sheep cannot climb a tree.”
“We are disgraced for ever,” said the King of Ulster.
“If those sheep learn how to climb, we are undone surely,” said the man below.
“I will go down and fight the sheep,” said Fiachna. But the others would not let the king go.
“It is not right,” they said, “that you should fight sheep.”
“Some one must fight them,” said Fiachna Finn, “but no more of my men shall die until I fight myself; for if I am fated to die, I will die and I cannot escape it, and if it is the sheep’s fate to die, then die they will; for there is no man can avoid destiny, and there is no sheep can dodge it either.”
“Praise be to god!” said the warrior that was higher up.
“Amen!” said the man who was higher than he, and the rest of the warriors wished good luck to the king.
He started then to climb down the tree with a heavy heart, but while he hung from the last branch and was about to let go, he noticed a tall warrior walking towards him. The king pulled himself up on the branch again and sat dangle-legged on it to see what the warrior would do.
The stranger was a very tall man, dressed in a green cloak with a silver brooch at the shoulder. He had a golden band about his hair and golden sandals on his feet, and he was laughing heartily at the plight of the men of Ireland.
It is not nice of you to laugh at us,” said Fiachna Finn.
“Who could help laughing at a king hunkering on a branch and his army roosting around him like hens?” said the stranger.
“Nevertheless,” the king replied, “it would be courteous of you not to laugh at misfortune.”
“We laugh when we can,” commented the stranger, “and are thankful for the chance.”
“You may come up into the tree,” said Fiachna, “for I perceive that you are a mannerly person, and I see that some of the venomous sheep are charging in this direction. I would rather protect you,” he continued, “than see you killed; for,” said he lamentably, “I am getting down now to fight the sheep.”
“They will not hurt me,” said the stranger. “Who are you?” the king asked.
“I am Mananna’n, the son of Lir.”
Fiachna knew then that the stranger could not be hurt.
“What will you give me if I deliver you from the sheep?” asked Mananna’n.
“I will give you anything you ask, if I have that thing.”
“I ask the rights of your crown and of your household for one day.”
Fiachna’s breath was taken away by that request, and he took a little time to compose himself, then he said mildly:
“I will not have one man of Ireland killed if I can save him. All that I have they give me, all that I have I give to them, and if I must give this also, then I will give this, although it would be easier for me to give my life.” “That is agreed,” said Mannana’n.
He had something wrapped in a fold of his cloak, and he unwrapped and produced this thing.
It was a dog.
Now if the sheep were venomous, this dog was more venomous still, for it was fearful to look at. In body it was not large, but its head was of a great size, and the mouth that was shaped in that head was able to open like the lid of a pot. It was not teeth which were in that head, but hooks and fangs and prongs. Dreadful was that mouth to look at, terrible to look into, woeful to think about; and from it, or from the broad, loose nose that waggled above it, there came a sound which no word of man could describe, for it was not a snarl, nor was it a howl, although it was both of these. It was neither a growl nor a grunt, although it was both of these; it was not a yowl nor a groan, although it was both of these: for it was one sound made up of these sounds, and there was in it, too, a whine and a yelp, and a long-drawn snoring noise, and a deep purring noise, and a noise that was like the squeal of a rusty hinge, and there were other noises in it also.
“The gods be praised!” said the man who was in the branch above the king.
“What for this time?” said the king.
“Because that dog cannot climb a tree,” said the man.
And the man on a branch yet above him groaned out “Amen!”
“There is nothing to frighten sheep like a dog,” said Mananna’n, “and there is nothing to frighten these sheep like this dog.”
He put the dog on the ground then.
“Little dogeen, little treasure,” said he, “go and kill the sheep.”
And when he said that the dog put an addition and an addendum on to the noise he had been making before, so that the men of Ireland stuck their fingers into their ears and turned the whites of their eyes upwards, and nearly fell off their branches with the fear and the fright which that sound put into them.
It did not take the dog long to do what he had been ordered. He went forward, at first, with a slow waddle, and as the venomous sheep came to meet him in bounces, he then went to meet them in wriggles; so that in a while he went so fast that you could see nothing of him but a head and a wriggle. He dealt with the sheep in this way, a jump and a chop for each, and he never missed his jump and he never missed his chop. When he got his grip he swung round on it as if it was a hinge. The swing began with the chop, and it ended with the bit loose and the sheep giving its last kick. At the end of ten minutes all the sheep were lying on the ground, and the same bit was out of every sheep, and every sheep was dead.
“You can come down now,” said Mananna’n.
“That dog can’t climb a tree,” said the man in the branch above the king warningly.
“Praise be to the gods!” said the man who was above him.
“Amen!” said the warrior who was higher up than that. And the man in the next tree said:
“Don’t move a hand or a foot until the dog chokes himself to death on the dead meat.”
The dog, however, did not eat a bit of the meat. He trotted to his master, and Mananna’n took him up and wrapped him in his cloak.
“Now you can come down,” said he.
“I wish that dog was dead!” said the king.
But he swung himself out of the tree all the same, for he did not wish to seem frightened before Mananna’n. “You can go now and beat the men of Lochlann,” said Mananna’n. “You will be King of Lochlann before nightfall.”
“I wouldn’t mind that,” said the king. “It’s no threat,” said Mananna’n.
The son of Lir turned then and went away in the direction of Ireland to take up his one-day rights, and Fiachna continued his battle with the Lochlannachs.
He beat them before nightfall, and by that victory he became King of Lochlann and King of the Saxons and the Britons.
He gave the Black Hag seven castles with their territories, and he gave her one hundred of every sort of cattle that he had captured. She was satisfied.
Then he went back to Ireland, and after he had been there for some time his wife gave birth to a son.
“You have not told me one word about Duv Laca,” said the Flame Lady reproachfully.
“I am coming to that,” replied Mongan.
He motioned towards one of the great vats, and wine was brought to him, of which he drank so joyously and so deeply that all people wondered at his thirst, his capacity, and his jovial spirits.
“Now, I will begin again.”
Said Mongan: There was an attendant in Fiachna Finn’s palace who was called An Da’v, and the same night that Fiachna’s wife bore a son, the wife of An Da’v gave birth to a son also. This latter child was called mac an Da’v, but the son of Fiachna’s wife was named Mongan.
“Ah!” murmured the Flame Lady.
The queen was angry. She said it was unjust and presumptuous that the servant should get a child at the same time that she got one herself, but there was no help for it, because the child was there and could not be obliterated.
Now this also must be told.
There was a neighbouring prince called Fiachna Duv, and he was the ruler of the Dal Fiatach. For a long time he had been at enmity and spiteful warfare with Fiachna Finn; and to this Fiachna Duv there was born in the same night a daughter, and this girl was named Duv Laca of the White Hand.
“Ah!” cried the Flame Lady.
“You see!” said Mongan, and he drank anew and joyously of the fairy wine.
In order to end the trouble between Fiachna Finn and Fiachna Duv the babies were affianced to each other in the cradle on the day after they were born, and the men of Ireland rejoiced at that deed and at that news. But soon there came dismay and sorrow in the land, for when the little Mongan was three days old his real father, Mananna’n the son of Lir, appeared in the middle of the palace. He wrapped Mongan in his green cloak and took him away to rear and train in the Land of Promise, which is beyond the sea that is at the other side of the grave.
When Fiachna Duv heard that Mongan, who was affianced to his daughter Duv Laca, had disappeared, he considered that his compact of peace was at an end, and one day he came by surprise and attacked the palace. He killed Fiachna Finn in that battle, and be crowned himself King of Ulster.
The men of Ulster disliked him, and they petitioned Mananna’n to bring Mongan back, but Mananna’n would not do this until the boy was sixteen years of age and well reared in the wisdom of the Land of Promise. Then he did bring Mongan back, and by his means peace was made between Mongan and Fiachna Duv, and Mongan was married to his cradle-bride, the young Duv Laca.
One day Mongan and Duv Laca were playing chess in their palace. Mongan had just made a move of skill, and he looked up from the board to see if Duv Laca seemed as discontented as she had a right to be. He saw then over Duv Laca’s shoulder a little black-faced, tufty-headed cleric leaning against the door-post inside the room.
“What are you doing there?” said Mongan.
“What are you doing there yourself?” said the little black-faced cleric.
“Indeed, I have a right to be in my own house,” said Mongan.
“Indeed I do not agree with you,” said the cleric.
“Where ought I be, then?” said Mongan.
“You ought to be at Dun Fiathac avenging the murder of your father,” replied the cleric, “and you ought to be ashamed of yourself for not having done it long ago. You can play chess with your wife when you have won the right to leisure.”
“But how can I kill my wife’s father?” Mongan exclaimed. “By starting about it at once,” said the cleric. “Here is a way of talking!” said Mongan.
“I know,” the cleric continued, “that Duv Laca will not agree with a word I say on this subject, and that she will try to prevent you from doing what you have a right to do, for that is a wife’s business, but a man’s business is to do what I have just told you; so come with me now and do not wait to think about it, and do not wait to play any more chess. Fiachna Duv has only a small force with him at this moment, and we can burn his palace as he burned your father’s palace, and kill himself as he killed your father, and crown you King of Ulster rightfully the way he crowned himself wrongfully as a king.”
“I begin to think that you own a lucky tongue, my black-faced friend,” said Mongan, “and I will go with you.”
He collected his forces then, and he burned Fiachna Duv’s fortress, and he killed Fiachna Duv, and he was crowned King of Ulster.
Then for the first time he felt secure and at liberty to play chess. But he did not know until afterwards that the black-faced, tufty-headed person was his father Mananna’n, although that was the fact.
There are some who say, however, that Fiachna the Black was killed in the year 624 by the lord of the Scot’s Dal Riada, Condad Cerr, at the battle of Ard Carainn; but the people who say this do not know what they are talking about, and they do not care greatly what it is they say.
“There is nothing to marvel about in this Duv Laca,” said the Flame Lady scornfully. “She has got married, and she has been beaten at chess. It has happened before.”
“Let us keep to the story,” said Mongan, and, having taken some few dozen deep draughts of the wine, he became even more jovial than before. Then he recommenced his tale:
It happened on a day that Mongan had need of treasure. He had many presents to make, and he had not as much gold and silver and cattle as was proper for a king. He called his nobles together and discussed what was the best thing to be done, and it was arranged that he should visit the provincial kings and ask boons from them.
He set out at once on his round of visits, and the first province he went to was Leinster.
The King of Leinster at that time was Branduv, the son of Echach. He welcomed Mongan and treated him well, and that night Mongan slept in his palace.
When he awoke in the morning he looked out of a lofty window, and he saw on the sunny lawn before the palace a herd of cows. There were fifty cows in all, for he counted them, and each cow had a calf beside her, and each cow and calf was pure white in colour, and each of them had red ears.
When Mongan saw these cows, he fell in love with them as he had never fallen in love with anything before.
He came down from the window and walked on the sunny lawn among the cows, looking at each of them and speaking words of affection and endearment to them all; and while he was thus walking and talking and looking and loving, he noticed that some one was moving beside him. He looked from the cows then, and saw that the King of Leinster was at his side.
“Are you in love with the cows?” Branduv asked him.
“I am,” said Mongan.
“Everybody is,” said the King of Leinster.
“I never saw anything like them,” said Mongan.
“Nobody has,” said the King of Leinster.
“I never saw anything I would rather have than these cows,” said Mongan.
“These,” said the King of Leinster, “are the most beautiful cows in Ireland, and,” he continued thoughtfully, “Duv Laca is the most beautiful woman in Ireland.”
“There is no lie in what you say,” said Mongan.
“Is it not a queer thing,” said the King of Leinster, “that I should have what you want with all your soul, and you should have what I want with all my heart?”
“Queer indeed,” said Mongan, “but what is it that you do want?”
“Duv Laca, of course,” said the King of Leinster.
“Do you mean,” said Mongan, “that you would exchange this herd of fifty pure white cows having red ears—”
“And their fifty calves,” said the King of Leinster—
“For Duv Laca, or for any woman in the world?”
“I would,” cried the King of Leinster, and he thumped his knee as he said it.
“Done,” roared Mongan, and the two kings shook hands on the bargain.
Mongan then called some of his own people, and before any more words could be said and before any alteration could be made, he set his men behind the cows and marched home with them to Ulster.
Duv Laca wanted to know where the cows came from, and Mongan told her that the King of Leinster had given them to him. She fell in love with them as Mongan had done, but there was nobody in the world could have avoided loving those cows: such cows they were! such wonders! Mongan and Duv Laca used to play chess together, and then they would go out together to look at the cows, and then they would go in together and would talk to each other about the cows. Everything they did they did together, for they loved to be with each other.
However, a change came.
One morning a great noise of voices and trampling of horses and rattle of armour came about the palace. Mongan looked from the window.
“Who is coming?” asked Duv Laca.
But he did not answer her.
“The noise must announce the visit of a king,” Duv Laca continued.
But Mongan did not say a word. Duv Laca then went to the window.
“Who is that king?” she asked.
And her husband replied to her then.
“That is the King of Leinster,” said he mournfully.
“Well,” said Duv Laca surprised, “is he not welcome?”
“He is welcome indeed,” said Mongan lamentably.
“Let us go out and welcome him properly,” Duv Laca suggested.
“Let us not go near him at all,” said Mongan, “for he is coming to complete his bargain.”
“What bargain are you talking about?” Duv Laca asked. But Mongan would not answer that.
“Let us go out,” said he, “for we must go out.”
Mongan and Duv Laca went out then and welcomed the King of Leinster. They brought him and his chief men into the palace, and water was brought for their baths, and rooms were appointed for them, and everything was done that should be done for guests.
That night there was a feast, and after the feast there was a banquet, and all through the feast and the banquet the King of Leinster stared at Duv Laca with joy, and sometimes his breast was delivered of great sighs, and at times he moved as though in perturbation of spirit and mental agony.
“There is something wrong with the King of Leinster,” Duv Laca whispered.
“I don’t care if there is,” said Mongan.
“You must ask what he wants.”
“But I don’t want to know it,” said Mongan. “Nevertheless, you musk ask him,” she insisted.
So Mongan did ask him, and it was in a melancholy voice that he asked it.
“Do you want anything?” said he to the King of Leinster.
“I do indeed,” said Branduv.
“If it is in Ulster I will get it for you,” said Mongan mournfully.
“It is in Ulster,” said Branduv.
Mongan did not want to say anything more then, but the King of Leinster was so intent and everybody else was listening and Duv Laca was nudging his arm, so he said: “What is it that you do want?” “I want Duv Laca.”
“I want her too,” said Mongan.
“You made your bargain,” said the King of Leinster, “my cows and their calves for your Duv Laca, and the man that makes a bargain keeps a bargain.”
“I never before heard,” said Mongan, “of a man giving away his own wife.”
“Even if you never heard of it before, you must do it now,” said Duv Laca, “for honour is longer than life.”
Mongan became angry when Duv Laca said that. His face went red as a sunset, and the veins swelled in his neck and his forehead.
“Do you say that?” he cried to Duv Laca.
“I do,” said Duv Laca.
“Let the King of Leinster take her,” said Mongan.
Duv Laca and the King of Leinster went apart then to speak together, and the eye of the king seemed to be as big as a plate, so fevered was it and so enlarged and inflamed by the look of Duv Laca. He was so confounded with joy also that his words got mixed up with his teeth, and Duv Laca did not know exactly what it was he was trying to say, and he did not seem to know himself. But at last he did say something intelligible, and this is what he said.
“I am a very happy man,” said he.
“And I,” said Duv Laca, “am the happiest woman in the world.”
“Why should you be happy?” the astonished king demanded.
“Listen to me,” she said. “If you tried to take me away from this place against my own wish, one half of the men of Ulster would be dead before you got me and the other half would be badly wounded in my defence.”
“A bargain is a bargain,” the King of Leinster began.
“But,” she continued, “they will not prevent my going away, for they all know that I have been in love with you for ages.”
“What have you been in with me for ages?” said the amazed king.
“In love with you,” replied Duv Laca.
“This is news,” said the king, “and it is good news.”
“But, by my word,” said Duv Laca, “I will not go with you unless you grant me a boon.”
“All that I have,” cried Branduv, “and all that every-body has.”
“And you must pass your word and pledge your word that you will do what I ask.”
“I pass it and pledge it,” cried the joyful king.
“Then,” said Duv Laca, “this is what I bind on you.”
“Light the yolk!” he cried.
“Until one year is up and out you are not to pass the night in any house that I am in.”
“By my head and hand!” Branduv stammered.
“And if you come into a house where I am during the time and term of that year, you are not to sit down in the chair that I am sitting in.”
“Heavy is my doom!” he groaned.
“But,” said Duv Laca, “if I am sitting in a chair or a seat you are to sit in a chair that is over against me and opposite to me and at a distance from me.”
“Alas!” said the king, and he smote his hands together, and then he beat them on his head, and then he looked at them and at everything about, and he could not tell what anything was or where anything was, for his mind was clouded and his wits had gone astray.
“Why do you bind these woes on me?” he pleaded.
“I wish to find out if you truly love me.”
“But I do,” said the king. “I love you madly and dearly, and with all my faculties and members.”
“That is the way! love you,” said Duv Laca. “We shall have a notable year of courtship and joy. And let us go now,” she continued, “for I am impatient to be with you.”
“Alas!” said Branduv, as he followed her. “Alas, alas!” said the King of Leinster.
“I think,” said the Flame Lady, “that whoever lost that woman had no reason to be sad.”
Mongan took her chin in his hand and kissed her lips.
“All that you say is lovely, for you are lovely,” said he, “and you are my delight and the joy of the world.”
Then the attendants brought him wine, and he drank so joyously of that and so deeply, that those who observed him thought he would surely burst and drown them. But he laughed loudly and with enormous delight, until the vessels of gold and silver and bronze chimed mellowly to his peal and the rafters of the house went creaking.
Mongan loved Duv Laca of the White Hand better than he loved his life, better than he loved his honour. The kingdoms of the world did not weigh with him beside the string of her shoe. He would not look at a sunset if he could see her. He would not listen to a harp if he could hear her speak, for she was the delight of ages, the gem of time, and the wonder of the world till Doom.
She went to Leinster with the king of that country, and when she had gone Mongan fell grievously sick, so that it did not seem he could ever recover again; and he began to waste and wither, and he began to look like a skeleton, and a bony structure, and a misery.
Now this also must be known.
Duv Laca had a young attendant, who was her foster-sister as well as her servant, and on the day that she got married to Mongan, her attendant was married to mac an Da’v, who was servant and foster-brother to Mongan. When Duv Laca went away with the King of Leinster, her servant, mac an Da’v’s wife, went with her, so there were two wifeless men in Ulster at that time, namely, Mongan the king and mac an Da’v his servant.
One day as Mongan sat in the sun, brooding lamentably on his fate, mac an Da’v came to him.
“How are things with you, master?” asked Mac an Da’v.
“Bad,” said Mongan.
“It was a poor day brought you off with Mananna’n to the Land of Promise,” said his servant.
“Why should you think that?” inquired Mongan.
“Because,” said mac an Da’v, “you learned nothing in the Land of Promise except how to eat a lot of food and how to do nothing in a deal of time.”
“What business is it of yours?” said Mongan angrily.
“It is my business surely,” said mac an Da’v, “for my wife has gone off to Leinster with your wife, and she wouldn’t have gone if you hadn’t made a bet and a bargain with that accursed king.”
Mac an Da’v began to weep then.
“I didn’t make a bargain with any king,” said he, “and yet my wife has gone away with one, and it’s all because of you.”
“There is no one sorrier for you than I am,” said Mongan.
“There is indeed,” said mac an Da’v, “for I am sorrier myself.”
Mongan roused himself then.
“You have a claim on me truly,” said he, “and I will not have any one with a claim on me that is not satisfied. Go,” he said to mac an Da’v, “to that fairy place we both know of. You remember the baskets I left there with the sod from Ireland in one and the sod from Scotland in the other; bring me the baskets and sods.”
“Tell me the why of this?” said his servant.
“The King of Leinster will ask his wizards what I am doing, and this is what I will be doing. I will get on your back with a foot in each of the baskets, and when Branduv asks the wizards where I am they will tell him that I have one leg in Ireland and one leg in Scotland, and as long as they tell him that he will think he need not bother himself about me, and we will go into Leinster that way.”
“No bad way either,” said mac an Da’v.
They set out then.
It was a long, uneasy journey, for although mac an Da’v was of stout heart and goodwill, yet no man can carry another on his back from Ulster to Leinster and go quick. Still, if you keep on driving a pig or a story they will get at last to where you wish them to go, and the man who continues putting one foot in front of the other will leave his home behind, and will come at last to the edge of the sea and the end of the world.
When they reached Leinster the feast of Moy Life’ was being held, and they pushed on by forced marches and long stages so as to be in time, and thus they came to the Moy of Cell Camain, and they mixed with the crowd that were going to the feast.
A great and joyous concourse of people streamed about them. There were young men and young girls, and when these were not holding each other’s hands it was because their arms were round each other’s necks. There were old, lusty women going by, and when these were not talking together it was because their mouths were mutually filled with apples and meat-pies. There were young warriors with mantles of green and purple and red flying behind them on the breeze, and when these were not looking disdainfully on older soldiers it was because the older soldiers happened at the moment to be looking at them. There were old warriors with yard-long beards flying behind their shoulders llke wisps of hay, and when these were not nursing a broken arm or a cracked skull, it was because they were nursing wounds in their stomachs or their legs. There were troops of young women who giggled as long as their breaths lasted and beamed when it gave out. Bands of boys who whispered mysteriously together and pointed with their fingers in every direction at once, and would suddenly begin to run like a herd of stampeded horses. There were men with carts full of roasted meats. Women with little vats full of mead, and others carrying milk and beer. Folk of both sorts with towers swaying on their heads, and they dripping with honey. Children having baskets piled with red apples, and old women who peddled shell-fish and boiled lobsters. There were people who sold twenty kinds of bread, with butter thrown in. Sellers of onions and cheese, and others who supplied spare bits of armour, odd scabbards, spear handles, breastplate-laces. People who cut your hair or told your fortune or gave you a hot bath in a pot. Others who put a shoe on your horse or a piece of embroidery on your mantle; and others, again, who took stains off your sword or dyed your finger-nails or sold you a hound.
It was a great and joyous gathering that was going to the feast.
Mongan and his servant sat against a grassy hedge by the roadside and watched the multitude streaming past.
Just then Mongan glanced to the right whence the people were coming. Then he pulled the hood of his cloak over his ears and over his brow.
“Alas!” said he in a deep and anguished voice.
Mac an Da’v turned to him.
“Is it a pain in your stomach, master?”
“It is not,” said Mongan. “Well, what made you make that brutal and belching noise?”
“It was a sigh I gave,” said Mongan.
“Whatever it was,” said mac an Da’v, “what was it?”
“Look down the road on this side and tell me who is coming,” said his master.
“It is a lord with his troop.”
“It is the King of Leinster,” said Mongan. “The man,” said mac an Da’v in a tone of great pity, “the man that took away your wife! And,” he roared in a voice of extraordinary savagery, “the man that took away my wife into the bargain, and she not in the bargain.”
“Hush,” said Mongan, for a man who heard his shout stopped to tie a sandie, or to listen.
“Master,” said mac an Da’v as the troop drew abreast and moved past.
“What is it, my good friend?”
“Let me throw a little small piece of a rock at the King of Leinster.”
“I will not.”
“A little bit only, a small bit about twice the size of my head.”
“I will not let you,” said Mongan.
When the king had gone by mac an Da’v groaned a deep and dejected groan.
“Oco’n!” said he. “Oco’n-i’o-go-deo’!” said he.
The man who had tied his sandal said then: “Are you in pain, honest man?”
“I am not in pain,” said mac an Da’v.
“Well, what was it that knocked a howl out of you like the yelp of a sick dog, honest man?”
“Go away,” said mac an Da’v, “go away, you flat-faced, nosey person.” “There is no politeness left in this country,” said the stranger, and he went away to a certain distance, and from thence he threw a stone at mac an Da’v’s nose, and hit it.
The road was now not so crowded as it had been. Minutes would pass and only a few travellers would come, and minutes more would go when nobody was in sight at all.
Then two men came down the road: they were clerics.
“I never saw that kind of uniform before,” said mac an Da’v.
“Even if you didn’t,” said Mongan, “there are plenty of them about. They are men that don’t believe in our gods,” said he.
“Do they not, indeed?” said mac an Da’v. “The rascals!” said he. “What, what would Mananna’n say to that?”
“The one in front carrying the big book is Tibraide’. He is the priest of Cell Camain, and he is the chief of those two.”
“Indeed, and indeed!” said mac an Da’v. “The one behind must be his servant, for he has a load on his back.”
The priests were reading their offices, and mac an Da’v marvelled at that.
“What is it they are doing?” said he.
“They are reading.”
“Indeed, and indeed they are,” said mac an Da’v. “I can’t make out a word of the language except that the man behind says amen, amen, every time the man in front puts a grunt out of him. And they don’t like our gods at all!” said mac an Da’v.
“They do not,” said Mongan.
“Play a trick on them, master,” said mac an Da’v. Mongan agreed to play a trick on the priests.
He looked at them hard for a minute, and then he waved his hand at them.
The two priests stopped, and they stared straight in front of them, and then they looked at each other, and then they looked at the sky. The clerk began to bless himself, and then Tibraide’ began to bless himself, and after that they didn’t know what to do. For where there had been a road with hedges on each side and fields stretching beyond them, there was now no road, no hedge, no field; but there was a great broad river sweeping across their path; a mighty tumble of yellowy-brown waters, very swift, very savage; churning and billowing and jockeying among rough boulders and islands of stone. It was a water of villainous depth and of detestable wetness; of ugly hurrying and of desolate cavernous sound. At a little to their right there was a thin uncomely bridge that waggled across the torrent.
Tibraide’ rubbed his eyes, and then he looked again. “Do you see what I see?” said he to the clerk.
“I don’t know what you see,” said the clerk, “but what I see I never did see before, and I wish I did not see it now.”
“I was born in this place,” said Tibraide’, “my father was born here before me, and my grandfather was born here before him, but until this day and this minute I never saw a river here before, and I never heard of one.”
“What will we do at all?” said the clerk. “What will we do at all?”
“We will be sensible,” said Tibraide’ sternly, “and we will go about our business,” said he. “If rivers fall out of the sky what has that to do with you, and if there is a river here, which there is, why, thank God, there is a bridge over it too.”
“Would you put a toe on that bridge?” said the clerk. “What is the bridge for?” said Tibraide’ Mongan and mac an Da’v followed them.
When they got to the middle of the bridge it broke under them, and they were precipitated into that boiling yellow flood.
Mongan snatched at the book as it fell from Tibraide”s hand.
“Won’t you let them drown, master?” asked mac an Da’v.
“No,” said Mongan, “I’ll send them a mile down the stream, and then they can come to land.”
Mongan then took on himself the form of Tibraide’ and he turned mac an Da’v into the shape of the clerk.
“My head has gone bald,” said the servant in a whisper.
“That is part of it,” replied Mongan. “So long as we know,” said mac an Da’v.
They went on then to meet the King of Leinster.
They met him near the place where the games were played.
“Good my soul, Tibraide’!” cried the King of Leinster, and he gave Mongan a kiss. Mongan kissed him back again.
“Amen, amen,” said mac an Da’v.
“What for?” said the King of Leinster.
And then mac an Da’v began to sneeze, for he didn’t know what for.
“It is a long time since I saw you, Tibraide’,” said the king, “but at this minute I am in great haste and hurry. Go you on before me to the fortress, and you can talk to the queen that you’ll find there, she that used to be the King of Ulster’s wife. Kevin Cochlach, my charioteer, will go with you, and I will follow you myself in a while.”
The King of Leinster went off then, and Mongan and his servant went with the charioteer and the people.
Mongan read away out of the book, for he found it interesting, and he did not want to talk to the charioteer, and mac an Da’v cried amen, amen, every time that Mongan took his breath. The people who were going with them said to one another that mac an Da’v was a queer kind of clerk, and that they had never seen any one who had such a mouthful of amens.
But in a while they came to the fortress, and they got into it without any trouble, for Kevin Cochlach, the king’s charioteer, brought them in. Then they were led to the room where Duv Laca was, and as he went into that room Mongan shut his eyes, for he did not want to look at Duv Laca while other people might be looking at him.
“Let everybody leave this room, while I am talking to the queen,” said he; and all the attendants left the room, except one, and she wouldn’t go, for she wouldn’t leave her mistress.
Then Mongan opened his eyes and he saw Duv Laca, and he made a great bound to her and took her in his arms, and mac an Da’v made a savage and vicious and terrible jump at the attendant, and took her in his arms, and bit her ear and kissed her neck and wept down into her back.
“Go away,” said the girl, “unhand me, villain,” said she.
“I will not,” said mac an Da’v, “for I’m your own husband, I’m your own mac, your little mac, your macky-wac-wac.” Then the attendant gave a little squeal, and she bit him on each ear and kissed his neck and wept down into his back, and said that it wasn’t true and that it was.
But they were not alone, although they thought they were. The hag that guarded the jewels was in the room. She sat hunched up against the wail, and as she looked like a bundle of rags they did not notice her. She began to speak then.
“Terrible are the things I see,” said she. “Terrible are the things I see.”
Mongan and his servant gave a jump of surprise, and their two wives jumped and squealed. Then Mongan puffed out his cheeks till his face looked like a bladder, and he blew a magic breath at the hag, so that she seemed to be surrounded by a fog, and when she looked through that breath everything seemed to be different to what she had thought. Then she began to beg everybody’s pardon.
“I had an evil vision,” said she, “I saw crossways. How sad it is that I should begin to see the sort of things I thought I saw.”
“Sit in this chair, mother,” said Mongan, “and tell me what you thought you saw,” and he slipped a spike under her, and mac an Da’v pushed her into the seat, and she died on the spike.
Just then there came a knocking at the door. Mac an Da’v opened it, and there was Tibraide, standing outside, and twenty-nine of his men were with him, and they were all laughing.
“A mile was not half enough,” said mac an Da’v reproachfully.
The Chamberlain of the fortress pushed into the room and he stared from one Tibraide’ to the other.
“This is a fine growing year,” said he. “There never was a year when Tibraide”s were as plentiful as they are this year. There is a Tibraide’ outside and a Tibraide’ inside, and who knows but there are some more of them under the bed. The place is crawling with them,” said he.
Mongan pointed at Tibraide’.
“Don’t you know who that is?” he cried.
“I know who he says he is,” said the Chamberlain.
“Well, he is Mongan,” said Mongan, “and these twenty-nine men are twenty-nine of his nobles from Ulster.”
At that news the men of the household picked up clubs and cudgels and every kind of thing that was near, and made a violent and woeful attack on Tibraide”s men The King of Leinster came in then, and when he was told Tibraide’ was Mongan he attacked them as well, and it was with difficulty that Tibraide’ got away to Cell Camain with nine of his men and they all wounded.
The King of Leinster came back then. He went to Duv Laca’s room.
“Where is Tibraide’?” said he.
“It wasn’t Tibraide was here,” said the hag who was still sitting on the spike, and was not half dead, “it was Mongan.”
“Why did you let him near you?” said the king to Duv Laca.
“There is no one has a better right to be near me than Mongan has,” said Duv Laca, “he is my own husband,” said she.
And then the king cried out in dismay: “I have beaten Tibraide”s people.” He rushed from the room.
“Send for Tibraide’ till I apologise,” he cried. “Tell him it was all a mistake. Tell him it was Mongan.”
Mongan and his servant went home, and (for what pleasure is greater than that of memory exercised in conversation?) for a time the feeling of an adventure well accomplished kept him in some contentment. But at the end of a time that pleasure was worn out, and Mongan grew at first dispirited and then sullen, and after that as ill as he had been on the previous occasion. For he could not forget Duv Laca of the White Hand, and he could not remember her without longing and despair.
It was in the illness which comes from longing and despair that he sat one day looking on a world that was black although the sun shone, and that was lean and unwholesome although autumn fruits were heavy on the earth and the joys of harvest were about him.
“Winter is in my heart,” quoth he, “and I am cold already.”
He thought too that some day he would die, and the thought was not unpleasant, for one half of his life was away in the territories of the King of Leinster, and the half that he kept in himself had no spice in it.
He was thinking in this way when mac an Da’v came towards him over the lawn, and he noticed that mac an Da’v was walking like an old man.
He took little slow steps, and he did not loosen his knees when he walked, so he went stiffly. One of his feet turned pitifully outwards, and the other turned lamentably in. His chest was pulled inwards, and his head was stuck outwards and hung down in the place where his chest should have been, and his arms were crooked in front of him with the hands turned wrongly, so that one palm was shown to the east of the world and the other one was turned to the west.
“How goes it, mac an Da’v?” said the king.
“Bad,” said mac an Da’v.
“Is that the sun I see shining, my friend?” the king asked.
“It may be the sun,” replied mac an Da’v, peering curiously at the golden radiance that dozed about them, “but maybe it’s a yellow fog.”
“What is life at all?” said the king.
“It is a weariness and a tiredness,” said mac an Da’v. “It is a long yawn without sleepiness. It is a bee, lost at midnight and buzzing on a pane. It is the noise made by a tied-up dog. It is nothing worth dreaming about. It is nothing at all.”
“How well you explain my feelings about Duv Laca,” said the king.
“I was thinking about my own lamb,” said mac an Da’v. “I was thinking about my own treasure, my cup of cheeriness, and the pulse of my heart.” And with that he burst into tears.
“Alas!” said the king.
“But,” sobbed mac an Da’v, “what right have I to complain? I am only the servant, and although I didn’t make any bargain with the King of Leinster or with any king of them all, yet my wife is gone away as if she was the consort of a potentate the same as Duv Laca is.”
Mongan was sorry then for his servant, and he roused himself.
“I am going to send you to Duv Laca.”
“Where the one is the other will be,” cried mac an Da’v joyously.
“Go,” said Mongan, “to Rath Descirt of Bregia; you know that place?”
“As well as my tongue knows my teeth.”
“Duv Laca is there; see her, and ask her what she wants me to do.”
Mac an Da’v went there and returned.
“Duv Laca says that you are to come at once, for the King of Leinster is journeying around his territory, and Kevin Cochlach, the charioteer, is making bitter love to her and wants her to run away with him.”
Mongan set out, and in no great time, for they travelled day and night, they came to Bregla, and gained admittance to the fortress, but just as he got in he had to go out again, for the King of Leinster had been warned of Mongan’s journey, and came back to his fortress in the nick of time.
When the men of Ulster saw the condition into which Mongan fell they were in great distress, and they all got sick through compassion for their king. The nobles suggested to him that they should march against Leinster and kill that king and bring back Duv Laca, but Mongan would not consent to this plan.
“For,” said he, “the thing I lost through my own folly I shall get back through my own craft.”
And when he said that his spirits revived, and he called for mac an Da’v.
“You know, my friend,” said Mongan, “that I can’t get Duv Laca back unless the King of Leinster asks me to take her back, for a bargain is a bargain.”
“That will happen when pigs fly,” said mac an Da’v, “and,” said he, “I did not make any bargain with any king that is in the world.”
“I heard you say that before,” said Mongan.
“I will say it till Doom,” cried his servant, “for my wife has gone away with that pestilent king, and he has got the double of your bad bargain.”
Mongan and his servant then set out for Leinster.
When they neared that country they found a great crowd going on the road with them, and they learned that the king was giving a feast in honour of his marriage to Duv Laca, for the year of waiting was nearly out, and the king had sworn he would delay no longer.
They went on, therefore, but in low spirits, and at last they saw the walls of the king’s castle towering before them, and a noble company going to and fro on the lawn.
THEY sat in a place where they could watch the castle and compose themselves after their journey.
“How are we going to get into the castle?” asked mac an Da’v.
For there were hatchetmen on guard in the big gateway, and there were spearmen at short intervals around the walls, and men to throw hot porridge off the roof were standing in the right places.
“If we cannot get in by hook, we will get in by crook,” said Mongan.
“They are both good ways,” said Mac an Da’v, “and whichever of them you decide on I’ll stick by.”
Just then they saw the Hag of the Mill coming out of the mill which was down the road a little.
Now the Hag of the Mill was a bony, thin pole of a hag with odd feet. That is, she had one foot that was too big for her, so that when she lifted it up it pulled her over; and she had one foot that was too small for her, so that when she lifted it up she didn’t know what to do with it. She was so long that you thought you would never see the end of her, and she was so thin that you thought you didn’t see her at all. One of her eyes was set where her nose should be and there was an ear in its place, and her nose itself was hanging out of her chin, and she had whiskers round it. She was dressed in a red rag that was really a hole with a fringe on it, and she was singing “Oh, hush thee, my one love” to a cat that was yelping on her shoulder.
She had a tall skinny dog behind her called Brotar. It hadn’t a tooth in its head except one, and it had the toothache in that tooth. Every few steps it used to sit down on its hunkers and point its nose straight upwards, and make a long, sad complaint about its tooth; and after that it used to reach its hind leg round and try to scratch out its tooth; and then it used to be pulled on again by the straw rope that was round its neck, and which was tied at the other end to the hag’s heaviest foot.
There was an old, knock-kneed, raw-boned, one-eyed, little-winded, heavy-headed mare with her also. Every time it put a front leg forward it shivered all over the rest of its legs backwards, and when it put a hind leg forward it shivered all over the rest of its legs frontwards, and it used to give a great whistle through its nose when it was out of breath, and a big, thin hen was sitting on its croup. Mongan looked on the Hag of the Mill with delight and affection.
“This time,” said he to mac an Da’v, “I’ll get back my wife.”
“You will indeed,” said mac an Da’v heartily, “and you’ll get mine back too.”
“Go over yonder,” said Mongan, “and tell the Hag of the Mill that I want to talk to her.”
Mac an Da’v brought her over to him.
“Is it true what the servant man said?” she asked.
“What did he say?” said Mongan.
“He said you wanted to talk to me.”
“It is true,” said Mongan.
“This is a wonderful hour and a glorious minute,” said the hag, “for this is the first time in sixty years that any one wanted to talk to me. Talk on now,” said she, “and I’ll listen to you if I can remember how to do it. Talk gently,” said she, “the way you won’t disturb the animals, for they are all sick.”
“They are sick indeed,” said mac an Da’v pityingly.
“The cat has a sore tail,” said she, “by reason of sitting too close to a part of the hob that was hot. The dog has a toothache, the horse has a pain in her stomach, and the hen has the pip.”
“Ah, it’s a sad world,” said mac an Da’v.
“There you are!” said the hag.
“Tell me,” Mongan commenced, “if you got a wish, what it is you would wish for?”
The hag took the cat off her shoulder and gave it to mac an Da’v.
“Hold that for me while I think,” said she.
“Would you like to be a lovely young girl?” asked Mongan.
“I’d sooner be that than a skinned eel,” said she.
“And would you like to marry me or the King of Leinster?” “I’d like to marry either of you, or both of you, or whichever of you came first.”
“Very well,” said Mongan, “you shall have your wish.”
He touched her with his finger, and the instant he touched her all dilapidation and wryness and age went from her, and she became so beautiful that one dared scarcely look on her, and so young that she seemed but sixteen years of age.
“You are not the Hag of the Mill any longer,” said Mongan, “you are Ivell of the Shining Cheeks, daughter of the King of Munster.”
He touched the dog too, and it became a little silky lapdog that could nestle in your palm. Then he changed the old mare into a brisk, piebald palfrey. Then he changed himself so that he became the living image of Ae, the son of the King of Connaught, who had just been married to Ivell of the Shining Cheeks, and then he changed mac an Da’v into the likeness of Ae’s attendant, and then they all set off towards the fortress, singing the song that begins: My wife is nicer than any one’s wife, Any one’s wife, any one’s wife, My wife is nicer than any one’s wife, Which nobody can deny.
The doorkeeper brought word to the King of Leinster that the son of the King of Connaught, Ae the Beautiful, and his wife, Ivell of the Shining Cheeks, were at the door, that they had been banished from Connaught by Ae’s father, and they were seeking the protection of the King of Leinster.
Branduv came to the door himself to welcome them, and the minute he looked on Ivell of the Shining Cheeks it was plain that he liked looking at her.
It was now drawing towards evening, and a feast was prepared for the guests with a banquet to follow it. At the feast Duv Laca sat beside the King of Leinster, but Mongan sat opposite him with Ivell, and Mongan put more and more magic into the hag, so that her cheeks shone and her eyes gleamed, and she was utterly bewitching to the eye; and when Branduv looked at her she seemed to grow more and more lovely and more and more desirable, and at last there was not a bone in his body as big as an inch that was not filled with love and longing for the girl.
Every few minutes he gave a great sigh as if he had eaten too much, and when Duv Laca asked him if he had eaten too much he said he had but that he had not drunk enough, and by that he meant that he had not drunk enough from the eyes of the girl before him.
At the banquet which was then held he looked at her again, and every time he took a drink he toasted Ivell across the brim of his goblet, and in a little while she began to toast him back across the rim of her cup, for he was drinking ale, but she was drinking mead. Then he sent a messenger to her to say that it was a far better thing to be the wife of the King of Leinster than to be the wife of the son of the King of Connaught, for a king is better than a prince, and Ivell thought that this was as wise a thing as anybody had ever said. And then he sent a message to say that he loved her so much that he would certainly burst of love if it did not stop.
Mongan heard the whispering, and he told the hag that if she did what he advised she would certainly get either himself or the King of Leinster for a husband.
“Either of you will be welcome,” said the hag.
“When the king says he loves you, ask him to prove it by gifts; ask for his drinking-horn first.”
She asked for that, and he sent it to her filled with good liquor; then she asked for his girdle, and he sent her that.
His people argued with him and said it was not right that he should give away the treasures of Leinster to the wife of the King of Connaught’s son; but he said that it did not matter, for when he got the girl he would get his treasures with her. But every time he sent anything to the hag, mac an Da’v snatched it out of her lap and put it in his pocket.
“Now,” said Mongan to the hag, “tell the servant to say that you would not leave your own husband for all the wealth of the world.”
She told the servant that, and the servant told it to the king. When Branduv heard it he nearly went mad with love and longing and jealousy, and with rage also, because of the treasure he had given her and might not get back. He called Mongan over to him, and spoke to him very threateningly and ragingly.
“I am not one who takes a thing without giving a thing,” said he.
“Nobody could say you were,” agreed Mongan.
“Do you see this woman sitting beside me?” he continued, pointing to Duv Laca.
“I do indeed,” said Mongan.
“Well,” said Branduv, “this woman is Duv Laca of the White Hand that I took away from Mongan; she is just going to marry me, but if you will make an exchange, you can marry this Duv Laca here, and I will marry that Ivell of the Shining Cheeks yonder.”
Mongan pretended to be very angry then.
“If I had come here with horses and treasure you would be in your right to take these from me, but you have no right to ask for what you are now asking.”
“I do ask for it,” said Branduv menacingly, “and you must not refuse a lord.”
“Very well,” said Mongan reluctantly, and as if in great fear; “if you will make the exchange I will make it, although it breaks my heart.”
He brought Ivell over to the king then and gave her three kisses.
“The king would suspect something if I did not kiss you,” said he, and then he gave the hag over to the king. After that they all got drunk and merry, and soon there was a great snoring and snorting, and very soon all the servants fell asleep also, so that Mongan could not get anything to drink. Mac an Da’v said it was a great shame, and he kicked some of the servants, but they did not budge, and then he slipped out to the stables and saddled two mares. He got on one with his wife behind him and Mongan got on the other with Duv Laca behind him, and they rode away towards Ulster like the wind, singing this song: The King of Leinster was married to-day, Married to-day, married to-day, The King of Leinster was married to-day, And every one wishes him joy.
In the morning the servants came to waken the King of Leinster, and when they saw the face of the hag lying on the pillow beside the king, and her nose all covered with whiskers, and her big foot and little foot sticking away out at the end of the bed, they began to laugh, and poke one another in the stomachs and thump one another on the shoulders, so that the noise awakened the king, and he asked what was the matter with them at all. It was then he saw the hag lying beside him, and he gave a great screech and jumped out of the bed.
“Aren’t you the Hag of the Mill?” said he.
“I am indeed,” she replied, “and I love you dearly.”
“I wish I didn’t see you,” said Branduv.
That was the end of the story, and when he had told it Mongan began to laugh uproariously and called for more wine. He drank this deeply, as though he was full of thirst and despair and a wild jollity, but when the Flame Lady began to weep he took her in his arms and caressed her, and said that she was the love of his heart and the one treasure of the world.
After that they feasted in great contentment, and at the end of the feasting they went away from Faery and returned to the world of men.
They came to Mongan’s palace at Moy Linney, and it was not until they reached the palace that they found they had been away one whole year, for they had thought they were only away one night. They lived then peacefully and lovingly together, and that ends the story, but Bro’tiarna did not know that Mongan was Fionn.
The abbot leaned forward.
“Was Mongan Fionn?” he asked in a whisper.
“He was,” replied Cairide’.
“Indeed, indeed!” said the abbot.
After a while he continued: “There is only one part of your story that I do not like.”
“What part is that?” asked Cairide’.
“It is the part where the holy man Tibraide’ was ill treated by that rap—by that—by Mongan.”
Cairide’ agreed that it was ill done, but to himself he said gleefully that whenever he was asked to tell the story of how he told the story of Mongan he would remember what the abbot said.
Irish Fairy Tales, by James Stephens
Illustrated by Arthur Racham
Macmillan, London 1920