The Forge in the Forest  by Padraic Colum

The Story of Ys

dropcap image HEY said of Dahut that her mother was a Woman of the Sea, and that the King, Dahut's father, had taken her from where he had found her seated on the rocks by the sea. They said, too, that the King had shut up this Woman of the Sea in the tower he had builded, and that he had had no pity upon her although she was often heard crying in the tower—crying, the people said, for her home in the sea. The people told all this to explain why Dahut, the daughter of King Gradlon, was different from all other maidens, and why it was that she seemed to hate Ys, her father's city. Dahut's mother had died before Dahut could know her—died in the tower to the top of which she would climb to look out upon the sea.

Where the sea is now there was once a wide plain, and on it the city of Ys was builded—Ys that is now beneath the sea. The sea's level was above the plain on which the city stood, and the sea was held off from the city by a long wall. Always the people of Ys could hear the sea as it beat against the wall. But they were not made fearful by the beating of the waves of the sea: their fathers had fought off the sea, and the wall that was built by them would hold it off always. Sometimes, when it could flood only part of their plain, they would open the great gate that was in the wall and let the sea flow in to lay its weeds and its salt upon their meadows.

The people of the city could look out upon the sea: there was the high tower that had been built by the King beside his palace, and when one mounted upon it one could see whether the sea was high or low, and count the ships that were upon it. The one who went oftenest up into the tower was Dahut, the King's daughter.

As for King Gradlon, he did not know what his daughter did or how she lived. His beard was long; he read in deep books, and he slept long and deep in the night. And Dahut, his daughter, had golden eyes—golden eyes with no eyebrows above them, and a neck that was white and soft and throbbing, and red lips and little feet. She went softly through the ways of the palace, and she went softly up the stairs of the tower. Her father and the people of the city said, "Dahut is this, and Dahut is that," but none knew what Dahut was except those who saw her feasting on the rare fruits and the strange wines she had brought to her, or who saw her dancing at night.

They were young men whom she danced with. Some of them, after she had danced with them, she would take to the top of the tower, and she would make them promise that they would do some dangerous thing for her. Under the spell of her golden eyes they would make their promise, and afterwards they would go through the city looking like men who had lost their hope. Then they would leave the city, these young men whom Dahut had danced with, and be seen no more in Ys. It was from what they muttered as they went about the city that the people got the thought that Dahut hated Ys, her father's city. After a while they said no more, "Dahut is this, and Dahut is that." Now they said, "None know Dahut except those who have danced with her in the night. Would that the King would look upon Dahut and judge her and restrain her." But her father, his beard spread out upon his knees, read in his deep book while she feasted, or, with the silver key of the sea-gate around his neck, slept upon his purple bed while she danced in the palace, or climbed the stairway up into the tower.

There came a young man into Ys from a foreign land. Dahut pretended not to look upon him as he spoke to her father. She made a sign with her hand to him, and she brought him to her feast. Galor was this young man's name. They danced together. They feasted, and then boldly they entered the chamber where the King slept upon his purple bed, the silver key of the sea-gate hanging from around his neck. "Take the key," the young man said to Dahut. She took the silver key that was around her father's neck. "Open now the sea-gate that is in the long wall."


She took the silver key that was around the King's neck.

To the young men whom she had danced with before Dahut had said, "Open the sea-gate," and they had promised to do so, and then had become fearful and despairing on account of what they had promised to do. But this young man bade her take the key herself and open the gate. "Now let me make him forget what he has asked me to do," she said to herself. They danced, and the servants in the palace who saw them dance cried out, "Dahut is accursed, accursed," and they crowded around where the King slept upon his purple bed, and they wakened him up. Down the stairway came the King, his great beard shaking up and down his chest. Dahut and Galor ran out and away from the palace. The young man lifted her up and carried her through the long meadows and down to the wall that was built against the sea.

"Open, you, the gate," he said, and she put the silver key that had always been hanging from her father's neck into the lock of the high gate. "I wanted another to do this," she said, "I wanted to make a man do a deed that would leave him fearful, and I wanted the sea that my mother cried to go back to, to come in upon the city." She unlocked the gate. They heard the crying of the sea-birds beyond the wall. The sea began to push at the opened gate. Soon the waves pushed the gate wide. A sea-bird flying through the open gate lighted on the grass of the plain of Ys in the first light of the morning. "Beware if ever you go from me now," said Dahut to Galor. "Beware if ever you come to me again," said Galor to Dahut. He flung her against the wall, and he went away.

She went within the palace; she heard the bells of Ys peal in alarm. Her father came to her, carrying under his arm the great book he had been reading. He took her without, and he mounted upon the horse that was the swiftest in his stables. Dahut mounted behind him. The people cried to their King to gallop swiftly until he came to a place that the sea might not come to, and take possession of that place for the building of a new city. They cried to him while they stayed behind, mounting high upon the rocks.

So Gradlon with Dahut behind him galloped on and on, the sea flowing upon them as they rode. The sea dashed upon the heels of the horse; it flowed before them as they rode, and the horse splashed and plunged in the waves of the sea. And then a voice came to Gradlon telling him that he would have to throw behind him the thing that he held dearest, so that the sea taking it might flow no further. Then Gradlon threw behind him the great book that he carried. Still the sea flowed on, and the horse splashed deeper and plunged deeper in the waves. The voice came again, telling Gradlon that he would have to throw behind him the thing that he held dearest. Then he threw from the horse his daughter, Princess Dahut. The waves flowed over her, and then the waves ceased to flow; the sea drew away from that place. And there Gradlon halted and took possession of that place for the new city that his people would build.

They came to him, leaving the high rocks, and soon they began to build the new city. But the sea flows over where the city of Ys was, and now and again the people of the new city hear the bells ring, in lost Ys that is beneath the waves.