The Boy Who Knew What the Birds Said  by Padraic Colum

The Giant and the Birds

Part 2 of 2

"Time and trouble," said the Feather-legged Hen, "time and trouble!"

"Why did he say time and trouble, O Top of Wisdom?" said the Blue Hen.

"Hush now," said the Little Slate-colored Hen that was the Cock's mother. "Hush now, and let the Hero-son of my heart tell what's best in the story . . . "

"Little Fawn was an old man, white-haired and feeble when he came to the house," said the Cock, and now he was nearly blind. His mind would not be at rest, he told Ardan, until he brought to Murrish and showed her a blackbird that was as big in one quarter as the quarter of mutton she gave him for his dinner. "But before I can take that blackbird," said he, "I must have a hound. There is a hound in the yard, but I have tried her and found she is weak and fearful. She will have puppies, and one of her puppies, maybe, will do." And he told Ardan to tell him when the puppies came to the hound that was in the yard.

Then one day Ardan came and told him that there was a litter of puppies with the hound. "That is well," said Little Fawn, "and in a while we will try if one has the strength and courage enough to help us to take the blackbird."

He told Ardan what to do. He was to take the skin that had been stripped off a dead horse and he was to nail this skin upon a door in the yard. Then he was to do a curious thing. He was to take up each puppy and fling it against the door,

Ardan did all this and Little Fawn stood by and heard the puppies yowling as they fell on the ground. They scampered away. Then he heard nothing except Ardan's laugh.

"Why are you laughing, my boy?" said Little Fawn.

"I laugh to see what the last puppy is doing," said Ardan.

"And what is he doing?" said Little Fawn.

"He has not fallen to the ground like the others. He has caught hold of the horseskin with his teeth and he is holding on to it."

"That puppy will do," said Little Fawn. "He has strength and courage. Take him and rear him away from the others, and when he comes to his full strength you and I will take him to hunt the blackbird that is as big in one quarter as the quarter of mutton Murrish the Cook-woman gave me for my dinner. We must make our word good this time, good lad." Ardan took away the puppy (Conbeg they called him) from the others and reared him up. Little Fawn tested his strength and courage in many ways. At length he was satisfied. One day he put a leash on Conbeg and he told the boy to come with him. Little Fawn and Ardan and Conbeg the young hound went away from the house.

" 'Tis the best part of the story," said the Little Slate-colored Hen that was the Cock's mother.

"It is, it is," said the Featherlegged Hen.

"And how well he tells it, the Top of Wisdom," said the Blue Ben.

I tell it as my father told me and as his father told him," said the Cock changing legs. "The first place they went was into the Cave where the Big Man had lain for a hundred and a hundred years. They found there the heap of dust that was his two hounds, and they found too the missile-ball of brass and the trumpet and the great sword. They left the Cave and they turned south, and they went on and on till they came to the mountain that is called Slieve-na-Mon. The boy and the man and the hound rested themselves for a while on the level on the top of the mountain.

Then Little Fawn told Ardan to take the trumpet and put it to his mouth. He blew on the trumpet. O louder than ever I crowed was the noise he made on that trumpet. The trees that were growing on the mountain top shook at the sound.

"Blow again," said Little Fawn.

And Ardan blew again and he blew louder.

"Now look into the sky," said Little Fawn, "and tell me what you see coming towards us."

Ardan looked for a long time, and at last he saw what he thought was a cloud coming towards the mountain-top. And then he saw that the cloud was a flock of birds. They came to the mountain-top and lighted on the ground—Peewits, Blackbirds, Starlings, Finches, Linnets—and each was bigger than any bird he had ever seen. The birds were hardly afraid of the hound, but Conbeg went amongst them and drove them away.

And then another cloud was seen coming across the sky, and this cloud came to be a flock of birds too, and they came to the mountain-top and lighted on the ground—Linnets, Finches, Starlings, Blackbirds, Peewits—and each bird was bigger than the birds in the first flock. "Loose the hound on them," said Little Fawn. Ardan unslipped Conbeg and the hound went amongst the birds. But they were not afraid and they attacked the hound, and only his strength and courage was so great they would have driven him off the mountain-top.

They rose up and they flew away, and as they did another flock of birds came towards the mountain-top. They lighted on the ground—Peewits, Blackbirds, Starlings, Finches, Linnets—tremendous birds. Ardan loosed Conbeg on them. Then with beaks open and claws outstretched they flew at Ardan and Little Fawn. Little Fawn took his great sword in hand and he attacked them with such strength that the great birds flew off.

All flew from the mountain except one bird. He was a Blackbird and the greatest amongst them all. When Ardan told Little Fawn that this bird was left alone on a rock the Big Man told him to unloose Conbeg.

The hound dashed at the Blackbird but the blackbird flew at him and attacked him with beak and claws. With a sweep of his wing he threw Conbeg on the ground. Then he rose up in the air and flew towards Ardan and Little Fawn. "You will escape him," said Ardan, "but me he will kill as he has killed Conbeg." "Put the missile-ball into my hand and guide my aim," said Little Fawn. Ardan put the missile-ball of brass into the Big Man's hand and guided his aim. Little Fawn threw the missile-ball and the Blackbird fell down on the ground. But the bird was not killed.

"A frightening tale, a frightening tale," said the Blue Hen.

"So it is, so it is," said the Feather-legged Hen.

"But you have done well to tell the Hens the story, Hero-son of my heart," said the Little Slate-colored Hen that was the Cock's mother.

"More has to be told," said the Cock, "and it is needful that it should be told now. Murrish the Cook-woman was in the kitchen. In dashed Conbeg the hound, his eyes blazing with the fierceness of the chase. Murrish was so frightened that she ran to the door. And coming to the door she saw Little Fawn with a net on his shoulder. He came into the house and he put the net on the floor, and he showed Murrish what was in the net—a tremendous bird—a Blackbird that was as big in one quarter as the quarter of mutton she had on the table. And when the net was laid down on the ground the Blackbird flew up and he carried the middle of the roof away with him as he flew through it and he tumbled beams and rafters down upon Murrish. My grandfather saw the Blackbird flying towards the mountain that is called Slieve-na-Mon, and my grandfather told my father who told me." "You spoke the truth when you said that you saw a blackbird as big in one quarter as the quarter of mutton I gave you for your dinner," said Murrish the cook-woman to Little Fawn. "And I believe you when you say you saw an ivy leaf as big as my barley loaf and a rowan berry as big as my pat of butter." "I would only show you," said Little Fawn "that the men I lived amongst had truth on their lips as they had strength in their hands and courage in their hearts."

And from that day Little Fawn and Murrish the Cook-woman lived in peace and good fellowship, and Ardan and Conbeg grew up together and became famous, one and the other. They lived happy for long, but as the books say.—

The end of every ship is drowning,

The end of every kiln is burning,

The end of every feast is wasting,

The end of every laugh is sighing.

And if they were here once, they are here no more.

"And if they are not, we are," said the Slate-colored Hen that was the Cock's mother. "We're here," said she, "and the earth, I promise you, will shake under your feet to-morrow, no matter where you crow, Hero-son of my heart."