Gateway to the Classics: The King of Ireland's Son by Padraic Colum
The King of Ireland's Son by  Padraic Colum


The Spae-Woman


dropcap image HERE are many things to tell you still, my kind foster-child, but little time have I to tell you them, for the barnacle-geese are flying over the house, and when they have all flown by I shall have no more to say. And I have to tell you yet how the King of Ireland's Son won home with Fedelma, the Enchanter's daughter, and how it came to pass that the Seven Wild Geese that were Caintigern's brothers were disenchanted and became men again. But above all I have to tell you the end of that story that was begun in the house of the Giant Crom Duv—the story of Flann and Morag.

The barnacle-geese are flying over the house as I said. And so they were crossing and flying on the night the King of Ireland's Son and Fedelma whom he had brought from the Land of Mist stayed in the house of the Little Sage of the Mountain. On that night the Little Sage told them from what bird had come the wing that thatched his house. That was a wonderful story. And he told them too about the next place they should go to—the Spae-woman's house. There, he said he would find people that they knew—Flann, the King's Son's comrade, and Caintigern, the wife of the King of Ireland, and Fedelma's sister, Gilveen.

In the morning the Little Sage of the Mountain took them down the hillside to the place where Fedelma and the King's Son would get a horse to ride to the Spae-Woman's house. The Little Sage told them from what people the Spae-Woman came and why she lived amongst the poor and foolish without name or splendor or riches. And that, too, was a wonderful story.

dropcap image OW as the three went along the riverside they saw a girl on the other side of the river and she was walking from the place towards which they were going. The girl sang to herself as she went along, and the King's Son and Fedelma and the Little Sage of the Mountain heard what she sang,—

A berry, a berry, a red rowan berry,

A red rowan berry brought me beauty and love.

But drops of my heart's blood, drops of my heart's blood,

Seven drops of my heart's blood I have given away.

Seven wild geese were men, seven wild geese were men,

Seven drops of my heart's blood are there for your spell.

A kiss for my love, a kiss for my love,

May his kiss go to none till he meet me again.

If to one go his kiss, if to one go his kiss,

He may meet, he may meet, and not know me again.

The girl on the other bank of the river passed on, and the King's Son and Fedelma with the Little Sage of the Mountain came to the meadow where the horse was. A heavy, slow-moving horse he seemed. But when they mounted him they found he had the three qualities of Finn's steeds—a quick rush against a hill, the gait of a fox, easy and proud, on the level ground, and the jump of a deer over barriers. They left health and good luck with the Little Sage of the Mountain, and on the horse he gave them they rode on to the Spae-Woman's house.


dropcap image HEN Fedelma and the King of Ireland's Son came to the Spae-Woman's house, who was the first person they saw there but Gilveen, Fedelma's sister!

She came to where they reined their horse and smiled in the faces of her sister and the King of Ireland's Son. And she it was who gave them their first welcome. "And you will be asking how I came here," said Gilveen, "and I will tell you without wasting candle-light. Myself and sister Aefa went to the court of the King of Ireland after you, my sister, had gone from us with the lucky man of your choice. And as for Aefa, she has been lucky too in finding a match and she is now married to Maravaun the King's Councillor. I have been with Caintigern the Queen. And now the Queen is in the house of the Spae-Woman with the youth Flann and she is longing to give the clasp of welcome to both of you. And if you sit beside me on this grassy ditch I will tell you the whole story from the first to the last syllable."

They sat together, and Gilveen told Fedelma and the King's Son the story. The Spae-Woman had sent a message to Caintigern the Queen to tell her she had tidings of her first-born son. Thereupon Caintigern went to the Spae-Woman's house and Gilveen, her attendant, went with her. She found there Flann who had been known as Gilly of the Goatskin, and knew him for the son who had been stolen from her when he was born. Flann gave his mother a token which had been given him by a young woman. The token was a handkerchief and it held seven drops of heart's blood. The Spae-Woman told the Queen that these seven drops would disenchant her brothers who had been changed from their own forms into the forms of seven wild geese.

And while Gilveen was telling them all this Flann came to see whose horse was there, and great was his joy to find his comrade the King of Ireland's Son. They knew now that they were the sons of the one father, and they embraced each other as brothers. And Flann took the hand of Fedelma and he told her and the King's Son of his love for Morag. But when he was speaking of Morag, Gilveen went away.

Then Flann took them into the Spae-Woman's house, and the Queen who was seated at the fire rose up and gave them the clasp of welcome. The face she turned to the King's Son was kindly and she called him by his child's name. She said too that she was well pleased that he and Flann her son were good comrades, and she prayed they would be good comrades always.

dropcap image EDELMA and the King of Ireland's Son rested themselves for a day. Then the Spae-Woman said that the Queen would strive on the next night—it was the night of the full moon—to bring back her seven brothers to their own forms. The Spae-Woman said too that the Queen and herself should be left alone in the house and that the King of Ireland's Son with Flann and Fedelma and Gilveen should go towards the King of Ireland's Castle with MacStairn the woodman, and wait for the Queen at a place a day's journey away.

So the King of Ireland's Son and Flann, Fedelma and Gilveen bade good-by to the Queen, to the Spae-Woman and to the Spae-Woman's house, and started their journey towards the King's Castle with MacStairn the Woodman who walked beside their horses, a big axe in his hands.

At night MacStairn built two bothies for them—one covered with green boughs for Fedelma and Gilveen and one covered with cut sods for Flann and the King of Ireland's Son. Flann lay near the opening of this bothie. And at night, when the only stir in the forest was that of the leaves whispering to the Secret People, Gilveen arose from where she lay and came to the other bothie and whispered Flann's name. He awakened, and thinking that Morag had come back to him (he had been dreaming of her), he put out his arms, drew Gilveen to him and kissed her. Then Gilveen ran back to her own bothie. And Flann did not know whether he had awakened or whether he had remained in a dream.

But when he arose the next morning no thought of Morag was in his mind. And when the King's Son rode with Fedelma he rode with Gilveen. Afterwards Gilveen gave him a drink that enchanted him, so that he thought of her night and day.

Neither Fedelma nor the King's Son knew what had come over Flann. They mentioned the name he had spoken of so often—Morag's name—but it seemed as if it had no meaning for him. At noon they halted to bide until the Queen came with or without her seven brothers. Flann and Gilveen were always together. And always Gilveen was smiling.


dropcap image HEN Caintigern had come, when she knew her son Flann, and when it was known to her and to the Spae-Woman that the token Morag had given him held the seven drops of heart's blood that would bring back to their own forms the seven wild geese that were Caintigern's brothers—when all this was known the Spae-Woman sent her most secret messenger to the marshes to give word to the seven wild geese that they were to fly to her house on the night when the moon was full. Her messenger was the corncrake. She traveled night and day, running swiftly through the meadows. She hid on the edge of the marshes and craked out her message to the seven wild geese. At last they heard what she said. On the day before the night of the full moon they flew, the seven together, towards the Spae-Woman's house.

No one was in the house but Caintigern the Queen. The door was left open to the light of the moon. The seven wild geese flew down and stayed outside the door, moving their heads and wings in the full moonlight.

Then Caintigern arose and took bread that the Spae-Woman had made. She moistened it in her mouth, and into each bit of moistened bread she put a piece of the handkerchief that had a drop of blood. She held out her hand, giving each the moistened bread. The first that ate it fell forward on the floor of the Spae-Woman's house, his head down on the ground. His sister saw him then as a kneeling man with his arms held behind him as if they were bound. And when she looked outside she saw the others like kneeling men with their heads bent and their arms held behind them. Then Caintigern said, giving the Spae-Woman her secret name, "O Grania Oi, let it be that my brothers be changed back to men!" When she said this she saw the Spae-Woman coming across the courtyard. The Spae-Woman waved her hands over the bent figures. They lifted themselves up as men—as naked, gray men.

The Spae-Woman gave each a garment and the seven men came into the house. They would stand and not sit, and for long they had no speech. Their sister knelt before each and wet his hand with her tears. She thought she should see them as youths or as young men, and they were gray now and past the prime of their lives.

They stayed at the house and speech came back to them. Then they longed to go back to their father's, but Caintigern could not bear that they should go from her sight. At last four of her brothers went and three stayed with her. They would go to her husband's Castle and the others would go too after they had been at their father's. Then one day Caintigern said farewell. The thanks that was due to the Spae-Woman, she said she would give by her treatment of the maid who had given the token to her son Flann. And she prayed that Morag would soon come to the King's Castle.

dropcap image HE went with her three brothers to the place where Flann and the King of Ireland's Son, Fedelma and Gilveen waited for them. A smith groomed and decked horses for all of them and they rode towards the King of Ireland's Castle, MacStairn, the Woodman, going before to announce their coming.

The King of Ireland waited at the stone where the riders to his Castle dismount, and his steward, his Councillor and his Druid were beside him. He lifted his wife off her horse and she brought him to Flann. And when the King looked into Flann's eyes he knew he was his son and the son of Sheen, now known as Caintigern. He gave Flann a father's clasp of welcome. And the queen brought him to her own three brothers who had been estranged from human companionship from before he knew her. And she brought him to the youth who was always known as the King of Ireland's Son, and him his father welcomed from the path of danger.

And then the King's Son took Fedelma to his father and told him she was his love and his wife to be. And the King welcomed Fedelma to the Castle.

Then said Gilveen, "There is a secret between this young man, Flann, and myself."

"What is the secret?" said the Queen, laying her hands suddenly upon Gilveen's shoulders.

"That I am his wife to be," said Gilveen.

The Queen went to her son and said, "Dost thou not remember Morag, Flann, who gave the token that thou gavest me?"

And Flann said, "Morag! I think the Spae-Woman spoke of her name in a story."

"I am Flann's wife to be," said Gilveen, smiling in his face.

"Yes, my wife to be," said Flann.

Then the King welcomed Gilveen too, and they all went into the Castle. He told his wife he had messages from the King of Senlabor about his other sons Dermott and Downal, saying that they were making good names for themselves, and that everything they did was becoming to sons of Kings. In the hall Fedelma saw Aefa her other sister. Aefa was so proud of herself since she married Maravaun the King's Councillor that she would hardly speak to anyone. She gave her sisters the tips of her fingers and she bowed very slightingly to the two youths. The King questioned his druid as to when it would be well to have marriages made in his Castle and the druid said it would be well not to make them until the next appearance of the full moon.


dropcap image S for Morag she went by track and path, by boher and bohereen, through fords in rivers and over stepping-stones across them, until at last she came to the country of Senlabor and to the Castle of the King.

No one of high degree was in the Castle, for all had gone to watch the young horses being broken in the meadow by the river; the King and Queen had gone, and the King's foster-daughters; and of the maids in the Castle, Baun and Deelish had gone too. The King's Councillor also had gone from the Castle. Morag went and stayed in the kitchen, and the maids who were there did not know her, either because they were new and had not heard her spoken of at all, or because she had changed to such beauty through eating the berry of the Fairy Rowan Tree that no one could know her now for Morag who had cleaned dishes in that kitchen before.

It was Breas the King's Steward who came to her and asked her who she was. She told him. Then Breas looked sharply at her and saw she was indeed Morag who had been in the King's kitchen. Then he said loudly, "Before you left you broke the dish that the King looked on as his especial treasure, and for this, you will be left in the Stone House. I who have power in this matter order that it be so." Then he said in her ear, "But kisses and sweet words would make me willing to save you."

Morag, in a voice raised, called him by that evil name that he was known by to the servants and their gossips. But the servants, hearing that name said in the hearing of Breas, pretended to be scandalized. They went to Morag and struck her with the besoms they had for sweeping the floor.

dropcap image UST then her foster-sisters, Baun and Deelish, came into the kitchen. Seeing her there they knew her. They spoke to her quietly, but with anger, saying they had not wanted her to go on the journey she had taken, but, as she had gone it was a pity she had come back, for now she had behaved in an ill-mannered way, and they who were her foster-sisters would be thought to be as ill-mannered; they told her too that before she came back they were well-liked by all, and that Breas had even ordered a shady place to be given them at the horse-breaking sports, and they had been able to see the two youths who had broken the horses, Dermott and Downal.

"It was for a benefit to you that I came back," said Morag. "I shall ask one of you to do a thing for me. You, Baun, sing for the foster-daughters of the King. Before they sleep to-night ask them to tell the Queen that Morag has returned, and has a thing to give her."

"I shall try to remember that, Morag," said Baun.

Morag was taken to the Stone House by strong-armed bondswomen, and Baun and Deelish sat in corners and cried and did not go near her.

That night the King's foster-daughters kept awake for long, and after Baun had sung to them they asked her to tell them what had happened in the Castle. Then Baun remembered the tumult in the kitchen that had come from the name given to Breas. She told the King's foster-daughters that Morag had come back. "She was reared in the same house with us," said Baun, "but she is not of the same parents." And then she said, "If your Fair Finenesses can remember, tell the Queen that Morag has come back."

The next day when they were walking with the Queen one of the King's foster-daughters said, "Did you know of a maid named Morag? I have heard that she has been away and has come back."

"How did she fare?" said the Queen.

"We have not heard that," said the maiden who spoke.

The Queen went to where Baun and Deelish were and from them she heard that Morag had been put into the Stone House on the charge that she had broken the King's dish when she had been in the Castle before. Now the Queen knew that the dish had been safe after Morag had left. She went to the King's Steward and accused him of having broken it and Breas admitted that it was so. Thereupon he lost his rank and became the meanest and the most despised servant in the Castle.

The Queen went to the Stone House and took Morag out. She asked her how she had fared and thereupon Morag put the Rowan Berry in the Queen's hand. She hastened to her own chamber and ate it, and her youth and beauty came back to her, and the King who had grown solitary, loved the Queen again.

Then Morag came to great honor in the Castle and the Queen asked her to name the greatest favor she could think of. And the favor that Morag named was marriages for her foster-sisters with the two youths they loved, Downal and Dermott from the court of the King of Ireland.

The Queen, when she heard this, brought fine clothes out of her chests and gave them to Baun and Deelish. When they had dressed in these clothes the Queen made them known to the two youths. Downal and Dermott fell in love with Morag's foster-sisters, and the King named a day for the pairs to marry.

Morag waited to see the marriages, and the King and Queen made it a grand affair. There were seven hundred guests at the short table, eight hundred at the long table, nine hundred at the round table, and a thousand in the great hall. I was there, and I heard the whole story. But I got no present save shoes of paper and stockings of butter-milk and these a herdsman stole from me as I crossed the mountains.

But Morag got better presents, for the Queen gave her three gifts—a scissors that cut cloth of itself, a ball of thread that went into the needle of itself, and a needle that sewed of itself.


dropcap image ORAG, with the three gifts that the Queen of Senlabor gave her, came again to the Spae-Woman's house. Her Little Red Hen was in the courtyard, and she fluttered up to meet her. But there was no sign of any other life about the place. Then, below at the washing-stream she found the Spae-Woman rinsing clothes. She was standing on the middle-stones, clapping her hands as if in great trouble. "Oh, Morag, my daughter Morag," cried the Spae-Woman, "there are signs on the clothes—there are signs on the clothes!"

After a while she ceased crying and clapping her hands and came up from the stream. She showed Morag that in all the shifts and dimities she washed for her, a hole came just above where her heart would be. Morag grew pale when she saw that, but she stood steadily and she did not wail. "Should I go to the King's Castle, fosterer?" said she. "No," said the Spae-Woman, "but to the woodman's hut that is near the King's Castle. And take your Little Red Hen with you, my daughter," said she, "and do not forget the three presents that the Queen of Senlabor gave you." Then the Spae-Woman stood up and said the blessing of the journey over Morag:—

May the Olden

One, whom Fairy

Women nurtured

Through seven ages,

Bring you seven

Waves of fortune.

Morag gave her the clasp of farewell then, and went on her way with the Little Red Hen under her arm and the three presents that the Queen of Senlabor gave her in her pouch.

dropcap image ORAG was going and ever going from the blink of day to the mouth of dark and that for three crossings of the sun, and at last she came within sight of the Castle of the King of Ireland. She asked a dog-boy for the hut of MacStairn the Woodman and the hut was shown to her. She went to it and saw the wife of MacStairn. She told her she was a girl traveling alone and she asked for shelter. "I can give you shelter," said MacStairn's wife, "and I can get you earnings too, for there is much sewing-work to be done at this time." Morag asked her what reason there was for that, and the woodman's wife told her there were two couples in the Castle to be married soon. "One is the youth whom we have always called the King of Ireland's Son. He is to be married to a maiden called Fedelma. The other is a youth who is the King's son too, but who has been away for a long time. Flann is his name. And he is to be married to a damsel called Gilveen."

When she heard that, it was as if a knife had been put into and turned in her heart. She let the Little Red Hen drop from her arm. "I would sew the garments that the damsel Gilveen is to wear," said she, and she sat down on the stone outside the woodman's hut. MacStairn's wife then sent to the Castle to say that there was one in her hut who could sew all the garments that Gilveen would send her.

The next day, with a servant walking behind, Gilveen came to the woodman's hut with a basket of cloths and patterns. The basket was left down and Gilveen began to tell MacStairn's wife how she wanted them cut, stitched and embroidered. Morag took up the crimson cloth and let her scissors—the scissors that the Queen of Senlabor gave her—run through it. It cut out the pattern exactly. "What a wonderful scissors," said Gilveen. She stooped down to where Morag was sitting on the stone outside of the woodman's house and took up the scissors in her hand. She examined it. "I cannot give it back to you," said she. "Give it to me, and I will let you have any favor you ask." "Since you want me to ask you for a favor," said Morag, "I ask that you let me sit at the supper-table to-night alone with the youth you are to marry." "That will do me no harm," said Gilveen. She went away, taking the scissors and smiling to herself.

That night Morag went into the Castle and came to the supper-table where Flann was seated alone. But Gilveen had put a sleeping-draught into Flann's cup and he neither saw nor knew Morag when she sat at the table. "Do you remember, Flann," said she, "how we used to sit at the supper-board in the house of Crom Duv?" But Flann did not hear her, nor see her, and then Morag had to go away.


dropcap image HE next day Gilveen came to where Morag sat on the stone outside the woodman's hut to watch her stitch the garment she had cut out. The thread went into the needle of itself. "What a wonderful ball of thread," said Gilveen, taking it up. "I cannot give it back to you. Ask me for a favor in place of it." "Since you would have me ask a favor," said Morag, "I ask that you let me sit at the supper-table alone with the youth you are going to marry." "That will do me no harm," said Gilveen. She took the ball of thread and went away smiling.

That night Morag went into the Castle and came to the supper-table where Flann was seated alone. But Gilveen again had put a sleeping-draught into his cup, and Flann did not see or know Morag. "Do you not remember, Flann," said she, "the story of Morag that I told you across the supper-board in the House of Crom Duv?" But Flann gave no sign of knowing her, and then Morag had to go away.

The next day Gilveen came to watch Morag make the red embroideries upon the white garment. When she put the needle into the cloth it worked out the pattern of itself. "This is the most wonderful thing of all," said Gilveen. She stooped down and took the needle in her hand. "I cannot give this back to you," she said, "and you will have to ask for a favor that will recompense you." "If I must ask for a favor," said Morag, "the only favor I would ask is that you let me sit at the supper-table to-night alone with the youth you are to marry." "That will do me no harm," said Gilveen, and she took the needle and went away smiling.

Morag went to the Castle again that night, but this time she took the Little Red Hen with her. She scattered grains on the table and the Little Red Hen picked them up. "Little Hen, Little Red Hen," said Morag, "he slept too when I gave the seven drops of my heart's blood for his mother's sake." The Little Red Hen flew into Flann's face. "Seven drops of heart's blood, seven drops of heart's blood," said the Little Red Hen, and Flann heard the words.

He opened his eyes and saw the Little Red Hen on the table and knew that she belonged to one that he had known. Morag, at the other side of the table, looked strange and shadowy to him. But he threw crumbs on the table and fed the Little Red Hen, and as he watched her picking up the crumbs the memory of Morag came back to him. Then he saw her. He knew her for his sweetheart and his promised wife and he went to her and asked her how it came that she had not been in his mind for so long. "I will tell you how you came to forget me," said she, "it was because of the kiss you gave Gilveen, and the enchantment she was able to put on you because of that kiss."

There was sorrow on Morag's face when she said that, but the sorrow went as the thin clouds go from before the face of the high-hung moon, and Flann saw her as his kind comrade of Crom Duv's and as his beautiful friend of the Spae-Woman's house. They kissed each other then, and every enchantment went but the lasting enchantment of love, and they sat with hands joined until the log in the fire beside them had burnt itself down into a brand and the brand had burnt itself into ashes, and all the time that passed was, as they thought, only while the watching-gilly outside walked from one side of the Castle Gate to the other.

dropcap image ILVEEN had come into the room and she saw Flann and Morag give each other a true-lover's kiss. She went away. But the next day she came to the King's Steward, Art, who at one time wanted to marry her, and whom she had refused because Aefa, her sister, had married one of a higher degree—she came to Art and she told him that she would not marry Flann because she had found out that he had a low-born sweetheart. "And I am ready to marry you, Art," she said. And Art was well pleased, and he and Gilveen left the Castle to be married.

Then the day came when Fedelma and the King of Ireland's Son, and Morag and Flann were married. They were plighted to each other in the Circle of Stones by the Druids who invoked upon them the powers of the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, and the Air. They were married at the height of the day and they feasted at night when the wax candles were lighted round the tables. They had Greek honey and Lochlinn beer; ducks from Achill, apples from Emain and venison from the Hunting Hill; they had trout and grouse and plovers' eggs and a boar's head for every King in the company. And these were the Kings who sat down to table with the King of Eirinn: the King of Sorcha, the King of Hispania, the King of Lochlinn and the King of the Green Island who had Sunbeam for his daughter. And they had there the best heroes of Lochlinn, the best story-tellers of Alba, the best bards of Eirinn. They laid sorrow and they raised music, and the harpers played until the great champion Split-the-Shields told a tale of the realm of Greece and how he slew the three lions that guarded the daughter of the King. They feasted for six days and the last day was better than the first, and the laugh they laughed when Witless, the Saxon fool, told how Split-the-Shield's story should have ended, shook the young jackdaws out of every chimney in the Castle and brought them down fluttering on the floors.

The King of Ireland lived long, but he died while his sons were in their strong manhood, and after he passed away the Island of Destiny came under the equal rule of the two. And one had rule over the courts and cities, the harbors and the military encampments. And the other had rule over the waste places and the villages and the roads where masterless men walked. And the deeds of one are in the histories the shanachies have written in the language of the learned, and the deeds of the other are in the stories the people tell to you and to me.

When I crossed the Ford

They were turning the Mountain Pass;

When I stood on the Stepping-stones

They were travelling the Road of Glass.


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