The Book of Wonder Voyages/The Voyage of Maelduin
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The Voyage Of Maelduin
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|see also Jacobs' notes|
The Voyage of Maelduin
THIS is the story of the wanderings of Maelduin, and how for three years and seven months he was driven in his barque to and fro over the boundless, fathomless ocean, and of the many strange islands and mighty wonders he encountered.
Maelduin was the son of a goodly fighter, a hero lord over his clan, Ailill Edgebattle by name. But, whilst he was yet a babe, plunderers from over sea fell upon his home, burned the church of Dubhcluain, and slew his father therein. So his mother fled in haste and came to the King of Arran, and gave her babe in fostering to her bosom friend, the Queen. In one cradle, on one breast, and in one lap with the King's three sons was Maelduin reared, and as he grew up he thought himself their own brother. Yet many knew his father was slain and his mother a wanderer. The youth grew up tall, well-knit, and fair, so that of all flesh within the four brown quarters of this world none might match him in grace and beauty. Hardy he was, fresh and joyous of mood, well skilled in the use of weapons, and in every manly game and art. None 91 like him for running or putting the stone; he and his horse outraced all his comrades.
On a day of days the youths of the court were making merry, contending in feats of strength and skill. Still Maelduin bore off the palm, so that at last an envious comrade burst out angrily: "To think that thou, whose clan and kindred, whose father and mother no man knows, should beat us at every sport, be it on land or water, or in moving the ivory men on the playing board!"
Maelduin stood silent a while, for never until then had he thought himself other than the son of the King and Queen of the land. So he came to his foster-mother and said, "I will neither eat nor drink till thou tellest me the name of my father and my mother."
"Why dost thou ask that?" said she. "Heed not the jealous mutterings of thy companions. Am I not a mother to thee? Is there among the people of this land a mother whose love for her son is greater than the love I bear to thee?"
"That is so," said he; "but nevertheless I pray thee to make known to me the names of my parents."
So his foster-mother told him concerning his mother and delivered him into her hands. And he entreated her to tell him who his father was.But she rebuked him, saying, "My son, it will make thee no happier to know who he was, nor will it in any way profit thee. He has been dead for many and many a year."
"Be that as it may," replied he, "it were better for me to know."
She told him then that he was son to Ailill Edgebattle, of the kin of the Owenaght, lord of the territory of Ninus.
So Maelduin went to his father's land, to enter into possession of the domain that was his by right. And with him went his three foster-brothers, whom he loved dearly. A right welcome was made him by his kinsfolk, and they bade him be of good cheer, now he was on his own land and among his own people.
On a day of days Maelduin and certain of his warriors were putting the stone in the graveyard of the church of Dubhcluain. Placing his foot on the scorched ruin wall of the church, Maelduin hurled the stone clear over it. Then Bricone, the poison-tongued, laughed and said, aloud:
"Better it were to avenge the man slain here than to cast stones over his bare burnt bones."
"Of whom speakest thou?" asked Maelduin.
"Of Ailill, thy father."
"Who slew him?"
"Plunderers from over sea, men of Leix, here on this spot."
Great was the sorrow of Maelduin. Putting down the stone he held ready for the cast, he girded on his armor, flung his mantle around him, and eagerly inquired by what way he might reach Leix. "By sea alone," said the guide.
So he was minded to go first into the country of Corcomroe, the land of Nuca the wizard, and to beg of him a charm and a blessing for the boat he should afterwards build. Charms and blessings the wizard gave him, and instructed him when he should begin to build, and when to put out to sea and how many men he should take with him. And he charged him straitly that there should be seventeen, neither more nor less, and he laid a curse upon him if his charge were disobeyed.
The boat that was built was of wicker work, of eight thwarts, covered with three-fold ox-hide of hard bark-soaked red leather. Then Maelduin gathered together his men, and among them were German and Diuran the rhymer.
On the day appointed by the wizard they hoisted the flapping, many-colored sail to the tall, tough mast, and they put forth to sea. But when they had gone a little way they were roused by the cries of Maelduin's three foster-brothers, who stood upon the beach and called them back.
"Go home," said Maelduin, "I may not carry a larger number than are now in the boat."
"If thou wilt not come back for us, we will follow thee into the sea, though we drown."
Saying which they cast themselves into the water, and struck out boldly from the shore. When Maelduin saw that, he bade turn the boat's head, and put back, taking them into the boat for fear they be drowned. But his heart was heavy, for he thought of the wizard's curse.
They rowed until eve, and ceased not for nightfall. About midnight they were nigh two small and barren islets, on which were two forts. Thence came through the night a noise, great and uproarious, of men drinking and boasting them of the spoils they had won. As they lay for awhile on their oars and listened, there was heard the voice of a hero. "Stand off from me, for I am a better man than thou. I it was slew Ailill Edgebattle and burned the church of Dubhcluain over his head, and his kin have never dared avenge it on me. Hast thou ever done the like of such a deed?"
Great was the joy and fierce the exultation of Maelduin and his companions. "Truly the victory is ours," said Diuran the rhymer, "and God has led us here, steering the bark Himself. Let us land and utterly destroy these forts."
But even as they spoke there arose a great wind and drove them out to sea, far beyond sight or ken of land, into the midst of the huge and endless ocean. "Cease rowing," said Maelduin, "and let the boat drift as it will. Whithersoever it shall please God, there let us be brought." Then turning to his foster-brothers, "You it is who have caused this trouble by joining yourselves to us in spite of the wizard's word that seventeen, neither more nor less, was to be our number. Of a surety more evil will come of this."
They made no answer save to be silent awhile.
For three days and three nights they tossed upon the sea, finding neither land nor ground. But on the morning of the third day they heard a sound from the northeast. "It is the voice of a wave against the shore," said Maelduin. When the sun rose and the day brightened they rowed towards the noise and put in
THE GIANT ANTS
close to shore. Lots were cast to decide which among them should visit the strange land; but even as they were making ready to leave the boat, behold a great swarm of ants, and every ant the size of a foal. They swarmed down to the beach, into the very sea, making as though they would devour alike men and boat. Then Maelduin and his men were sore affrighted and pushed off hastily and with oar and sail made what speed they could. Nor did they cease for three days and nights; and all this while they had no sight of land.
On the morn of the fourth day they came to another island, great in size, and of sandy soil. As they neared it to scan more closely what manner of land this might be, they beheld standing upon the shore a very marvelous beast. In shape it was like a horse, but it had the legs of a hound, and on its feet were talons long and rough and sharp. It pranced and gamboled upon the beach as though overjoyed to see the wanderer, but in its heart it was minded to devour them should they land. "I do not like this beast," said Maelduin; "methinks he is too pleased to see us; we had better leave this island." So they turned the boat's head and made what speed they might. But when the beast saw them departing it was enraged, and, digging up the beach with its sharp talons, it pelted them so violently with stones and rocks that it was all they could do to get out of reach. Nevertheless, pulling strongly, they won the open sea and so escaped this danger.
After rowing long and afar, and hastily, they sighted a large flat island. Lots were cast who should land, and bring back tidings of the country. The lot fell to German, who was little pleased at the task when he thought of the gigantic ants and the taloned monster they had met with on the other islands. Then said his comrade, Diuran the rhymer, "I will accompany thee this time, and when the lot falls to me, thou shalt be my comrade." So they set forth together. Long was the island, and wide, and in the midst an immense open green. Upon this green were to be seen many hoof-prints of horses, and these were very large, every hoof-print as big as a ship's sail. Moreover, lying on the ground were nuts as big as headpieces, and remains of all kinds, vast and monstrous in size, as though giants had gone a-plundering and left their scattered spoil. So German and Diuran were much afraid, and, calling to their comrades in the boat to behold these things, they hastily returned, and sail was set that they might flee swiftly if need be.
Hardly had they stood a little way off the land when they beheld the rush of a mighty multitude along the beach and on to the open green, and the racing of horses against each other. Swifter than the wind was each horse, clamorous and deafening were the outcry and the din of the multitude. Maelduin and his men lay on their oars wondering, and they heard clearly the swish of the whips, and the thud of the horses' hoofs, and the eager shouting of the assembled throng, "Hither the gray steed." "Drive the dun horse there!" "Come on with the white horse!" "Mine is the fastest steed!" "My horse is the best jumper!" So the wanderers tarried no longer, but set sail hastily, for they felt sure it was a gathering of demons they beheld.
A full week were they voyaging in hunger and thirst, until at last they chanced upon a great island, rising high out of the waves, on the seashore of which stood a huge house. The house had two doorways, one opening onto the island, the other onto the sea. Now, the latter was partly of stone, and it was pierced by a hole, through which the waves, as they dashed up against the door, flung salmon into the house. Here, thought Maelduin, we shall find food; so he and his men entered the house, but it was empty. A testered bed there was, evidently the chief's, and a bed for every three men of the household, and before each bed were placed food, a glass vessel containing good liquor, and a glass goblet. So they dined off the food and liquor and thanked God, who had helped them to satisfy their hunger. But as the inmates of the house did not make their appearance, they decided to set sail again.
And this they did; but after a while their provisions gave out, and they hungered greatly, until they came to another island with a high cliff round it on every side, in which could be seen a long narrow wood. Now, as Maelduin passed the wood, which came down to the water's edge, he took a branch from a tree and kept it in his hand three days and three nights while the boat was coasting the cliff. On the third day there was a cluster of three apples at the end of the branch, and no apple but satisfied the hunger of the crew for forty nights.
The next island they sighted had a fence of stone around it. They drew near to spy it out more closely, and when they had landed and gone a little way inland, there sprang up a huge beast, which began to race
THE MONSTER OF THE FEATS
round the island. Swifter than the rush of the cold wind of March seemed its racing to Maelduin. When it was tired of racing it stood on a peak, which towered up in the center of the island, and many and marvelous were the feats it performed; it would put its head down, throw its legs up in the air, and turn and whirl around the bones of its body, while the skin never moved; or again it would make its skin revolve like a mill-wheel, whilst flesh and bones remained still. When Maelduin and his crew perceived the strange and horrible antics of this monster they were seized with dread, and fled hastily, whereupon the monster followed them to the
THE RED HOT SWINE
beach, and hurled stones after them, and would fain have seized and devoured them. It was but a narrow escape they had, for one of the stones pierced through Maelduin's shield and lodged in the keel of the boat. And now the wanderers were sad, complaining and feeble, for they knew not whither in the world they were going, or in what land they might find rest or aid. Weary and hopeless were they, sad and sighing when they had at last sight of another island. Many trees could be seen; and what pleased the wanderers greatly, they were full of fruit, with great golden apples hanging from every bough. And that the apples were good to eat they could soon discern. For beneath the trees lay short, red-colored animals, like to swine in shape, and at times they stood up and struck the trees with their hind legs, and greedily devoured the apples that fell. Strange were the ways of these beasts. From dawn to sunset they hid in caverns underground, but at sunset they came forth to feed, and as they did so many flocks of birds flew in from the sea and perched in the branches of the trees and fed on their fruit.
When Maelduin saw these things, "surely," thought he, "if the beasts and birds can feed so can we." So two of the crew were landed. But the ground was hot under their feet and it was not possible for them to remain long here. For the land was a fiery one, heated by the animals that dwell in the caverns underground. They could but gather hastily as many apples as possible and these they brought back to the boat, and the crew regaled themselves upon them. Great was the virtue of these apples, for whoso ate them lacked neither food nor drink. On the morrow they landed again, and after loading their boat with as many apples as they could pluck ere the soles of their feet were burned, they again set sail.
After a while the apples failed, and great hunger and thirst seized upon them afresh. Nor were they otherwise in a good plight, for the sea gave forth an evil stench, which filled their mouths and noses.
Glad they were to come to an island, wherein was a fort surrounded by a white, high rampart, that looked as if it were a chalk rock or were built of burnt lime. Great was its height from the sea; it all but touched the clouds. The fort was wide open, and round the outer rampart were great snow-white houses. They entered the largest of these and saw no one there, save a small cat, which played in the midst thereof on four stone pillars, leaping from one to the other. It glanced at the men, but never ceased its play. The wall of the house, which reached from one doorpost to the other, was furnished with three rows. The first was of gold and silver brooches fastened to the wall by their pins; the second of gold and silver necklaces, each as large as a vat hoop; and the third of gold and silver hilted swords. About the rooms lay white quilts and garments of shining hue. There were, moreover, a roasted ox, a flitch, and vessels full of sweet, heady ale. "Hath this been left for us? " asked Maelduin of the cat. The creature looked at him suddenly, and then resumed its play. So Maelduin knew that the food was for them. And they ate and drank and slept. What was left of the food they stored up to take with them. When they were about to depart Maelduin's foster-brother said:
"Shall I not take with me one of the necklaces? "
"Nay," said Maelduin, "the house is well guarded."
Howbeit, the foster-brother took the necklace, and carried it as far as the middle of the enclosure. But thither the cat followed them, leaped through the thief like a fiery arrow, and burned him to ashes, after which it returned to its pillar. And Maelduin soothed it with fair words, and put the necklace back in its place, and cleansed the floor of the ashes, which he cast forth on the shore of the sea.
Then they went on board, praising and magnifying God.
Now, on the third day after this, they came in the early morning to another island, in the midst of which was a brass palisade that divided it into two. On either side of the fence was a flock of sheep, black on the one side, on the other white, and in the midst thereof was a big man who kept the flocks apart. When he flung a white sheep among the black it became black, and when he flung a black sheep among the white it became white. This terrified the men in the boat. Then said Maelduin:
"Let us throw two rods on the island, and if they change color it shall be a sign unto us that we too would change color if we land."
So they flung a black-barked rod among the white sheep, and it immediately became white. In like manner they threw a peeled white rod among the black sheep, whereupon it became black at once. So Maelduin would not land lest their color should fare no better than that of the rods.
And they departed in terror.
On the third day afterwards they espied an island, great and wide, upon which were a herd of beautiful swine. Of these they killed a small pig, but, being unable to carry it to be roasted, they cooked it there and bore it to their boat.
On the island was a lofty mountain, from which they thought they would like to view the land. So Diuran the rhymer and German went thither, and, flowing at its base, was a broad shallow river. German dipped the handle of his spear into the water, and straightway it was consumed as if by fire. They went no further in that direction. Moreover, they saw on the other side of the river great hornless oxen, among which sat a huge man. German clashed his spear-shaft against his shield to frighten the animals.
"Why dost thou frighten the silly calves?" asked the huge man.
"If these are calves, where are their dams?" said German.
"On the other side of yonder mountain," he replied.
Then they deemed this was no land for them to stay in, and, having hastened back to the boat, they reported these marvels, and Maelduin bid hoist the sail and lay to with the oars, and they departed speedily.
Not long thereafter they came to an island upon which dwelt a miller, vast of bulk and hideous of aspect; and if he was hideous, still more hideous was his mill.
"What mill may this be?" asked the wayfarers.
Then he made reply:
"Whatever in broad Erin, and in all the four brown quarters of the globe, is not given cheerfully and with a willing heart is ground here. And truly, I tell you, half of the corn of Erin passes through my mill."
Even as he spoke they saw countless laden horses and human beings bending under the weight of heavy sacks, and all were going to and from the mill. And ever the unground corn came from the east, and ever the ground corn was carried westward.
They marveled greatly at these things.
"What is the name of thy mill?" asked they again.
Then he told them it was the mill of Hell.
Thereupon they crossed themselves with the sign of Christ's cross, and departed in their boat.
Lots were cast as to who should land, and the unlucky lot fell to one of Maelduin's two foster-brothers. He went on shore, and when he mingled with the wailing people he at once became as one of them, and wept and wailed too. Maelduin would fain have rescued him,
Then they came to a large island peopled with many human beings, black in body and raiment. They wore fillets round their heads, and they rested not from wailing.
THE MILL OF GRUDGING
"Let four of you go with weapons and force them to come. Cover your faces with your garments, look not at the land, breathe not the air thereof, and keep your eyes fixed upon your own men."
So they went and brought back the other two by force, but the foster-brother had become one of the wallers, and him they could not save. When they inquired of the rescued ones what they had seen in the land, they replied:
"Verily, we know not. What we saw others doing, we did."
Then they swiftly left the island.
Thereafter they came to another lofty island, divided into four parts by fences. Golden was the first fence, silver the next, brass the third, crystal the fourth. Kings dwelt in one division, queens in another, warriors in the third, and in the fourth maidens alone. As they neared the land a maiden came to meet them, and brought them on shore, when she entertained them and gave them food. It was like cheese in taste, but the flavor thereof was such that each man thought he was eating what he best liked. She gave them sweet, heady ale from a small vessel, the strength of which caused them to sleep three days and three nights. Where they awoke on the third day was in their boat, on the open sea, and they could see neither island nor maiden.
So they hoisted the sail and plied their oars, and voyaged onwards until they came to a small island, wherein was a fortress with a brass door on which were brass fastenings. A bridge of glass rose from the door, and when they essayed to mount it they fell down backwards. They were wearied of trying when at last they saw a woman come out from the fortress, and in her hand a pail, which she filled with water from the fountain that flowed beneath the bridge. Then she turned back to the fortress.
"That were a housekeeper for Maelduin," said German.
"Much care I for Maelduin," quoth she, and closed the door behind her.
Then they were angered, and began to shake the brazen fastenings of the door; but the sound which they made was a sweet, soothing music, which caused them to sleep till the next morning.
On awaking they saw the same woman with the pail, which she filled in the same manner as before.
"Tis indeed a housekeeper for Maelduin," said German.
"As if I cared for Maelduin," said she, and shut the door after her.
And again they were lulled to sleep by the sweet fairy music of the brazen door till the morrow.
Thus it continued for three days and three nights. On the fourth day the woman crossed the bridge and came to meet them. Beautiful indeed was she. A circlet of gold bound her golden hair. Silver sandals clad her rosy feet. A gold studded silver brooch fastened her mantle, and a filmy silken smock lay next her white skin.
"I bring thee greeting, Maelduin," said she. And then she named each of the crew by his own name. "It is long since your coming here hath been known and expected," she went on.
Then she led them to a large house near the sea, and bade them haul their boat on shore. Within the house was a couch for Maelduin alone, and one for every three of his people. She brought them food like unto cheese, of which she gave a portion to every three. And the savor thereof was such as each desired to find therein. But she served Maelduin apart. She filled her pail at the same place and dealt them liquor, a portion for every three. She knew when they had had enough, and then ceased to serve them.
And every man said she would be a fitting wife for Maelduin.
Then she took her vessel and pail and left them.
And Maelduin's people said to him, "Shall we ask her if she would marry thee?"
"Just as you will," said he.
When she came next day they asked her if she would love Maelduin and marry him.
"On the morrow," said she, "you shall be answered."
So, after they had eaten and drunk, they laid them down to sleep, but when they awoke they were in their boat on a crag, and they saw neither the island, nor the fortress, nor the lady, nor the place where they had been.
They rowed further, till they came to another island, upon which were many trees, wherein dwelt numbers of birds. Landing, they met a man clothed solely with his own hair. They asked him who he was, and whence his kindred. And he answered:
"I am of the men of Ireland. I went forth on a pilgrimage in a small boat, which split under me when I had gone but a little way from land. But I was unwilling to give up my intent of pilgrimage and put back to shore, and there put a sod of my country's earth under my feet, and upon it I ventured again to sea. Now, the Lord set that sod for me in this place, and enlargeth it by a foot every year, and addeth a tree to grow therein. The birds which you behold in the trees are the souls of my children and kindred who await their doomsday. Angels are sent to feed me daily with half a cake, a slice of fish, and liquor from the well. Whey or water on Fridays and Wednesdays; sweet milk on Sundays and martyrs' feasts; but on the Apostles' feast days and those of Mary and John the Baptist, bright ale and wine. At noon every soul yonder receiveth the same, enough for each."
And when the old man had entertained them for three nights they bade him farewell. And ere they departed he said unto them: "All of you shall reach your country, save one."
When they had been a long while tossing on the waves of the sea, they saw afar off an island, and as they drew near they heard the noise of smiths smiting iron on the anvil with sledges. The din each man made was as if three or four were smiting at once. As Maelduin and his men came nigh the shore they heard one man asking of the other:
"Are they close at hand?"
"Who are coming here?" asked a third man.
"Little boys in a cockleshell."
Maelduin said, "Let us retreat, but let us not turn the boat, but keep her stern foremost, that they might not perceive we are fleeing."
So they rowed away with the boat stern foremost.
In a little while the man in the forge asked: "Are they in the harbor now?" And the watchman replied that they were at anchor.
Shortly after the forgeman again inquired what they were doing. The lookout man replied, "I think they are running away, as they seem to be further from the port than they were a short time ago." Upon that the smith came out of the forge, holding by the tongs a huge mass of glowing iron, which he threw after the boat. By good fortune it did not reach the vessel, but the sea hissed and boiled where it fell. As for the warriors, they swiftly fled into mid-ocean.
After that they voyaged until they came to a sea, thin and misty like a cloud, so that it seemed as if it could not support their boat. As they sailed over, it was transparent to their gaze, and they beheld underneath it roofed strongholds and a beautiful country. Also they saw a huge, monstrous beast, in a tree that was surrounded by herds and flocks, beside which sat a man armed with shield, spear, and sword. And when the armed man beheld the beast he immediately fled. As for the beast, it seized the largest ox of the herd, and, dragging it into the tree, devoured it in the twinkling of an eye; upon that flocks and herds took to flight. When Maelduin and his people saw these things they were yet more terrified, for they feared they should never cross this sea without falling through it, so fine and vaporlike was it.
Only after much danger did they succeed in skimming its surface.
Now a strange thing was to be seen on the next island they came to, a great stream rising out of the beach, and arching rainbow-wise over the whole land, until it fell into the beach on the opposite side. To and fro the wanderers passed underneath the stream without being wet. And when they pierced the arch with their spears huge salmon came tumbling down in such vast numbers that the whole island was filled with the evil smell of the fish, nor could they gather them all because of their abundance.
From Sunday at eventide to Monday forenoon the stream was at rest. When Maelduin and his people had filled their boat with the largest salmon they continued their journey on the ocean.
Thus they voyaged till they came to a great silver column standing in mid-ocean. It had four sides, each of which measured two oar-strokes wide, so that the compass of the whole was eight oar-strokes. There was not a sod of earth about this column, only the boundless ocean. Its base could not be seen, nor could its summit, so high did it tower above the sea. A silver net hung down from the summit, through a single mesh of which the boat went, under full sail. And as they passed through it Diuran struck the mesh with the edge of his spear. "Destroy not the net," said Maelduin, "for what we see is the work of mighty men." But Diuran replied that he did it to the glory of God, and that his story might be the more believed; and he vowed if he ever reached Ireland he would offer this piece of mesh on the high altar of Armagh.
And they heard a voice from the summit of the pillar, mighty, clear, and distinct. But they knew not the language it spake, nor did they understand the words it uttered.
Thereafter they came to a large island wherein was a great plain surmounted by a vast tableland, heatherless, but grassy and smooth. Near the sea rose a high, strong fortress, and therein a goodly furnished house, where dwelt seventeen maidens. Maelduin and his men landed and sat on a hillock before the fort. And as they sat, behold a rider on a race horse came to the fortress. She was arrayed in a blue hood, a purple-bordered mantle, and she wore gold embroidered gloves. Sandals were on her feet, and the horse cloth of her seat was finely adorned. As she alighted one of the maidens led her horse away, and she entered the fortress. Shortly after this, one of the maidens came out to welcome them and invite them to the fort in the queen's name. So they entered and made merry with the queen and her maidens. Good food and wine were served them, a platter and drinking vessel for every three men, and one apart for Maelduin. The next morning, when they were about to depart the queen said, "Stay here and old age shall not fall on you, but you shall keep the age you now have; lasting life shall be yours alway, and every joy and delight. Why then go wandering longer from island to island over the wide and barren ocean?"
"Tell us," then said Maelduin, "how you came here?" And she said: "There dwelt a good man on this isle, and king he was of it. I was his wife and these seventeen maidens are our children. Now, when the king died and left no heir, I took the kingship and go daily to the great plain to judge the folk and decide their disputes."
They abode in that island for the three winter months and it seemed to them they were three years. And one of his people said unto Maelduin: "We have been here a long time; why do we not return to our own land?"
But Maelduin was unwilling, and replied, "In our own land we shall not find aught better than we have here."
Then the people began to murmur greatly saying: "Great is the love which Maelduin bears to the queen. Let him stay with her if he pleases, but we will go back to our own country."
"I will not stay after you," answered Maelduin.
So one day when the queen was busy at the judgment-seat, they launched the boat and hoisted the many-colored sail to the tall, tough mast and went on board. But ere they cleared the land she came riding hastily, and threw a clew after them that clung to Maelduin's hand as he caught it. And the thread of the clew was in her hand, and by it she drew the boat unto her, back to the harbor.
Thereafter they sojourned with her thrice three months. Then Maelduin's people took counsel together, saying: "Now we are sure Maelduin loves the queen more than us. That is why he catches the clew, that it may cleave to his hand, and we be brought back to the fortress."And Maelduin answered them: "Let another catch the clew, and if it cling to his hand, let his hand be cut off."
THE QUEEN OF THE MAGIC CLEW
Thus it was they escaped from her, and from the island.
And for a long time they tossed about on the waves until they came to an island whereon were planted trees, like willow or hazel, upon which grew marvelous fruit, like large berries. They stripped one small tree and cast lots who should first taste the fruit. The lot fell to Maelduin. He squeezed some of the berries into a vessel and drank the juice, and it cast him into a deep sleep from that hour till the same hour on the morrow. As he lay with the red foam on his lips, they knew not till he awoke whether it was slumber or whether it was death. Then he said: "Gather this fruit, for great is its excellence."
So they gathered all the fruit of the land, filling their vessels with its juice, and mingling it with water to moderate its strength, and then they rowed away.
Thereafter they landed on another large island. Part of it was overgrown with yew and oak wood; the rest was a plain, in the midst of which was a small lake, with great herds of sheep feeding in the surrounding meadows. There were besides on the island a church and a fortress. They entered the church and found therein a cleric, ancient and gray, whose sole clothing was his own hair. Maelduin inquired of him whence he came.
"I am the fifteenth man of the community of the blessed Brendan," replied he. "We went forth on our pilgrimage into the vast and boundless ocean and we came to this island. And of the fifteen men all have died save I alone."
Then he showed them the tablet of the blessed Brendan, which they had taken with them on their pilgrimage. And the travelers bowed themselves before it, and Maelduin kissed it.
"Now," said the old man, "eat your fill of the sheep for food, but take no more than it needs to appease your hunger."
So they abode there for a season, feeding on the flesh of the sheep and worshiping with the cleric. One day as they were gazing seawards they perceived what seemed a cloud coming towards them, from the southwest, but on its nearer approach they saw by the waving of its wings that it was a bird. It came to the island and perched on a hill near the lake. And they feared lest it might bear them in its talons out to sea. It brought with it a branch bigger than one of the great oaks which grew upon the island, covered with large twigs, green leaves, and bearing heavy abundant fruit, red berries like to grapes, only larger in size. It seemed weary, and rested, eating of the fruit. Maelduin and his men approached cautiously lest it might harm them. Then they drew nearer and began to gather berries off the branch, but the bird neither moved nor heeded them.
At noon two great eagles came flying from the southwest and lit down in front of the bird, and began to preen and cleanse its feathers. This they continued to
THE GREAT BIRD
do until even, when they began to eat of the berries off the branch. The next morn until midday they passed in tending the bird, preening and cleansing its feathers. At midday they ceased from their task and, perching on the branch, stripped the berries from it, broke them with their beaks against the stones, and cast them into the lake. And with the foam of the berries the water was dyed a deep red. Then went the bird and bathed in the lake until the close of the day, when it perched in another place on the same hill.
On the morrow the eagles returned and sleeked its plumage as if it were done with a comb. At midday they rested a little, and then flew off to that quarter of the heavens whence they had come. But the great bird remained, shaking his pinions, until the third day, when it soared up and flew thrice round the island, alighting for a little while on the same hill. Then it flew towards the land whence it came with a speed swifter and stronger than before. Wherefore it was manifest to all that to it had been restored the gift of youth, and through it the word of the prophet had been fulfilled: Thy youth shall be renewed like the eagle's.
Then Diuran wondered greatly and said, "Let us go bathe in the lake and make ourselves young even as the bird has done." And when one of his comrades would have dissuaded him, fearing the venom left by the bird in the lake, he still persisted, saying that he would go first.
So he plunged in and bathed and drank of the water. And from that time forth until the end of his life he suffered from neither weakness nor infirmity, his eye-sight was passing strong, nor did he lose a tooth from his jaw or a hair from his head.
After bidding farewell to that ancient man, and taking with them a provision of sheep, they came to an island around which ran a moving fiery rampart. In the side of the rampart was an open doorway. And whenever this doorway, as it turned around the island, came opposite to them they could see through it the whole island, and all its indwellers, even human beings, beautiful, abundant, wearing adorned garments and feasting with golden vessels in their hands. Pleasant was it to hearken unto their drinking songs, and long did the wanderers gaze upon this marvel, from which they might hardly depart, so delightful was it.
Not long after this they saw among the waves a shape like unto that of a white bird. They turned the prow of the boat into it southward, and on drawing nearer they perceived it to be a man clothed solely in his own white hair, kneeling on a broad rock.
And they entreated a blessing from him, and asked him whence he came.
"From Torach," replied he; "there I was reared. I was cook unto a church; but I was an evil cook, for I sold the food of my brethren for treasures and jewels, so that my house became full of costly stuffs and raiment, of brazen pails and small brazen goblets, of brooches of silver and pins of gold. Truly nothing was lacking in my house of all the things which men hoard, and I had golden books and book-covers adorned with brass and gold. Besides this, I would dig under the houses of the church and rob them of their treasures. "Thus I grew proud and haughty, thinking of my riches and spoils, and would no longer be cook unto my brethren. So I put forth to sea in a new boat of tanned hide. But I first emptied my house of its treasures and filled my new vessel therewith. When I set sail the sea was calm, but great winds arose and drove me into mid-ocean, far beyond sight of land, and there my boat stood still, moving not.
"As I looked about me, I beheld a man sitting upon a wave, who inquired of me whither I was bound. And he told me I should be sorrowful and full of terror if I knew the band that surrounded me; for a crowd of demons encircled me on every side because of my covetousness and my pride, my haughtiness, thefts, and other evil deeds. Then he told me that my boat should remain motionless until I did his will; and his will was that I should fling all my treasures into the sea.
"So I flung all into the waters save a small wooden cup. Then he gave me whey-water and seven cakes, and bade me go whither wind and wave carried me. I minded his words, and following the will of my boat, was finally landed upon this crag. Seven years was I here, living on the seven cakes and whey-water given me by the man who sent me from him. Nor had I any other food. When that came to an end I fasted for three days, at the end of which, at the hour of noon, an otter brought me a salmon out of the sea. But as I could not eat it raw I threw it back into the water, and fasted for another three days. On the third day the otter brought me the salmon again and another otter brought a piece of flaming firewood, and set it down and blew with its breath, so that the fire blazed up. Thereon I cooked the fish, and lived on such food for another seven years. And at the end of that time the fish supply ceased and I fasted again for the space of three days. Then on the third noon half a wheaten cake and a piece of fish were cast up and a cup of good liquor came to me. Thus I receive food every day. And neither wind nor wet, nor heat nor cold affects me."
Now when the hour of noon arrived, half a cake and a piece of fish came for every man, and in the cup which stood before the cleric was found each man's fill of good liquor. And the cleric spake to them: "You will all reach your country save one man. And you, Maelduin, will find the man who slew your father in a fortress. Slay him not but forgive him, for God hath saved you from many great perils, and ye, too, are men deserving death."
Then they bade him farewell and resumed their journey.
They drove forth over the ocean until they came to an island wherein was a great level plain, and on this plain a vast multitude playing and laughing without stay or pause. Lots were cast by Maelduin and his men to see unto whom it should fall to enter the island and explore it, and the lot fell upon the third of Maelduin's foster brethren. So he left the boat, but no sooner had he set foot to ground when he, too, began to play and laugh without ceasing. In vain did his comrades call him back. He leaped and laughed and sang as though all his life he had been one of the islanders. So after waiting a long time they put forth again, sorrowful to leave him. But he never stayed from his merry play and joyous laughter.
Then was fulfilled the doom of Nuca the wizard that only Maelduin and the seventeen appointed comrades should win back in safety to the land of their birth.
After this they came to an island filled with cattle, oxen, kine, and sheep. There were neither houses nor forts therein, so they fed on the sheep. Then some of them espied a large falcon, which they declared to be like the falcons of Ireland. So they agreed to watch whither it went, and when it flew to the southeast they rowed after it until even, when they sighted land like unto Ireland. Rowing towards it they found it to be the very island from which they had been driven by the wind, and thereon were the slayers of Ailill, Maelduin's father.
There they landed, and, going to the fortress where the inhabitants were dining listened at the door to their conversation.
One man said, "It would be well if we do not see Maelduin." "That Maelduin," said another, "hath been drowned." "But," said a third, "mayhap it will be he who will wake you out of your sleep." "What should we do if he came now?" asked a fourth. To that the chief replied, "We would welcome him gladly, for indeed he has suffered long." Thereat Maelduin struck the knocker against the door.
"Who is there? " said the doorkeeper.
"Maelduin," replied he.
"Then open," said the chief, "for thou art welcome."
Thus they were gladly welcomed, and gifts of new raiment were made them. Then they told of the marvels God had shown them, according to the word of the sacred poet who saith:
"This, too, it shall please thee to bear in mind."
Thereafter Maelduin went to his own district, and his tribe and kinsmen joyed greatly at his coming, and Diuran the rhymer took the five half-ounces of silver he had brought from the net and laid them on the altar of Armagh, exulting in the miracles and wonders God had wrought for them. They narrated their adventures from beginning to end, their perils and dangers by sea and land, and Aed the fair, chief poet of Ireland, wrote them down, that the men of Ireland might delight in them forever.