Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend
There was once a prince who found himself in the Green Isle of the West, and this is how the story of his adventures are told:
The Prince of the Kingdom of Level-Plains set out on his travels to see the world, and he went northward and westward until he came to a red glen surrounded by mountains. There he met with a proud hero, who spoke to him, saying: "Whence come you, and whither are you going?"
Said the prince: "I am searching for my equal," and as he spoke he drew his sword. He was a bold and foolish young man.
"I have no desire to fight with you," the proud hero answered. "Go your way in peace."
The prince was jealous of the hero who spoke thus so calmly and proudly, and said: "Draw your sword or die."
Then he darted forward. The hero swerved aside to escape the sword-thrust, and next moment he leapt upon the prince, whom he overcame aftera brief struggle, and bound with a rope. Then he carried him to the top of a cliff, and said: "You are not fit to be among men. Go and dwell among the birds of prey."
He flung him over the cliff. The prince fell heavily into a large nest on a ledge of rock, the nest of the queen of eagles--a giant bird of great strength.
For a time he lay stunned by his fall. When he came to himself he regretted his folly, and said: "If ever I escape from this place I shall behave wisely, and challenge no man without cause."
He found himself in the great nest with three young eagles in it. The birds were hungry, and when the prince held his wrists towards one, it pecked the rope that bound them until it was severed; so then he stretched his legs towards another bird, and it severed the rope about his ankles. He was thus set free. He rose up and looked about him. The ledge jutted out in midair on the cliff-side, and the prince saw it was impossible either to ascend or descend the slippery rocks. Behind the nest there was a deep cave, into which he crept. There he crouched, waiting to see what would happen next.
The young birds shrieked with hunger, and the prince was hungry also. Ere long the queen of eagles came to the nest. Her great body and outstretched wings cast a shadow like that of a thunder cloud and when she perched on the ledge of a rock, it shook.
The eagle brought a hare for her young and laid it in the nest. Then she flew away. The prince at once crept out of the cave and seized the hare. He gathered together a bundle of dry twigs from the side of the nest and kindled a fire in the cave, and cooked the hare and ate it. The smoke from the fire smothered the young birds, and when the queen of eagles returned she found that they were dead. She knew at once that an enemy must be near at hand, and looked into the cave. There she saw the prince, who at once drew his sword bravely and fought long and fiercely against her, inflicting many wounds to defend himself. But he was no good match for that fierce bird, and at length she seized him in her talons and, springing off the ledge of rock, flew through the air with him. His body was soon torn by the eagle's claws and sore with wounds. The eagle, also sorely wounded, rose up among the clouds, and turning westward flew hurriedly over the sea. Her shadow blotted out the sunshine on the waters as she passed in her flight, and boatmen lowered their sails, thinking that a sudden gust of wind was sweeping down upon them.
The prince swooned, and regained consciousness,and swooned again. As the bird flew onwards the sun scorched him. Then she dropped him into the sea, and he found the waters cold as ice. "Alas!" he thought, "I shall be drowned." He rose to the surface and began to swim towards an island near at hand, but the eagle pounced down, and seizing him again, rose high in the air. Once again she dropped him, and then he swooned and remembered no more, until he found himself lying on a green bank on a pleasant shore. The sun was shining, birds sang sweetly among blossoming trees of great beauty, and the sea-waves made music on the beach. Somewhere near he could hear a river fairy singing a summer song.
Next he heard behind him a splashing of water, and a shower of pearly drops fell upon his right arm as he lay there weak and helpless. But no sooner did the water touch his arm than it became strong again. The splashing continued, and he twisted himself this way and that until the pearly spray had drenched every part of his body. Then he felt strong and active again, and sprang to his feet. He looked round, and saw that the showers of spray had come from a well in which the wounded queen of eagles was bathing herself. The prince knew then that this was a Well of Healing.
He remembered how fiercely the eagle had dealt with him, and wished he still had his sword.
Having no sword, he drew his dirk and crept softly towards the well. He waited a moment, crouching behind a bush, and then, raising his dirk, struck off the eagle's head. But he found it was not easy to kill the monster in the Well of Healing. No sooner was the head struck off than it sprang on again. Thrice he beheaded the eagle, and thrice the head was restored. When, however, he struck off the head a fourth time, he held the blade of his dirk between the head and neck until the eagle was dead. Then he dragged the body out of the well, and buried the head in the ground. Having done so, he bathed in the well, and when he came out of it, all his wounds were healed, and he found himself as active and able as if he had just awakened from a long sleep.
He looked about him, and saw fruit growing on a blossoming tree. He wondered at that, but being very hungry he plucked the fruit and ate it. Never before had he tasted fruit of such sweet flavour. Feeling refreshed, and at the same time happy and contented, he turned to walk through the forest of beautiful trees and singing birds, when he saw three men coming towards him. He spoke to them, saying: "Who are you, and whence come you?" They answered: "There is no time to tell. If you are not a dweller on this island, come with us while there is yet time to escape.
The prince wondered to hear them speak thus, but, having learned wisdom, he followed them in silence. They went down the beach and entered a boat. The prince stepped in also. Two of the men laid oars in the rowlocks, and one sat at the stern to steer. In another moment the boat darted forward, cleaving the waves; but not until it had gone half a league did the man at the helm speak to the prince. He said simply: "Look behind and tell me what you see."
The prince looked and all he saw was a green speck on the horizon. A cry of wonder escaped his lips.
"The speck you see," said the steersman, "is the Green Isle. It is now floating westward to the edge of the ocean."
Then the prince understood why the men had hurried to escape, and he realized that if he had not taken their advice, he would have been carried away beyond the reach of human aid.
Said the steersman: "Now we can speak. Who are you, and whence come you?"
The prince told the story of his adventure with the queen of eagles, and the men in the boat listened intently. When he was done, the steersman said: "Now listen, and hear what we have gone through."
This was the story told by the steersman, whose name was Conall Curlew, the names of the rowers being Garna and Cooimer.
Yesterday at dawn we beheld the Green Isle lying no farther distant from the shore than a league. The fourth man who was with us is named Mac-a-moir, and he spoke, saying: "Let us visit the Green Isle and explore it. I am told that the king has a daughter named Sunbeam, who is of peerless beauty, and that he will give her as a bride to the bravest hero who visits his castle. He who is bold enough will come with me."
We all went down to the beach with Mac-a-moir and launched a boat to cross over to the Green Island. The tide favoured us, and we soon reached it. We moored the boat in a sheltered creek, and landed. The beauties of the forest tempted us to linger, and eat fruit and listen to the melodious songs of numerous birds, but Mac-a-moir pressed us to hasten on. Soon we came to a green valley in which there was a castle. I, Conall, knocked at the gate, and a sentinel asked what I sought, and I answered: "I have come to ask for Sunbeam, daughter of the King of Green Isle, to be the bride of Mac-a-moir."
Word was sent to the king, who said: "He who seeks my daughter Sunbeam must first hold combat with my warriors."
"I am ready for combat," Mac-a-moir declared.
The gate was opened, and the heroes entered. Mac-a-moir drew his sword, and the first warrior came against him. Ere long Mac-a-moir struck him down. A second warrior, and then a third, fought and fell also in turn.
Said the king, when the third warrior fell: "You have overcome the champion of Green Isle."
"Bring forth the next best," Mac-a-moir called.
Said the king: "I fear, my hero, that you wish to slay all my warriors one by one. You have proved your worth. Now let us test you in another manner. My daughter dwells in a high tower on the summit of a steep hill. He who can take her out will have her for his bride. He will also receive two-thirds of my kingdom while I live, and the whole of my kingdom when I die."
All who were present then went towards the tower, which stood on three high pillars.
"Who will try first to take out the king's daughter?" I asked.
Said Mac-a-moir: "I shall try first."
He tried, but he failed. He could neither climb the pillars nor throw them down.
Said the king: "Many a man has tried to take my daughter out of this tower, but each one has failed to do so. You had better all return home."
The other two, Garna and Cooimer, made attempts to shake down the tower, but without success.
Said the king: "It is no use trying. My daughter cannot be taken out."
Then I, Conall, stepped forward. I seized one of the pillars and shook it until it broke. The tower toppled over, and as it came down I grasped the Princess Sunbeam in my arms, and placed her standing beside me.
"Your daughter is now won," I called to the king.
The Princess Sunbeam smiled sweetly, and the king said: "Yes, indeed, she has been won."
"I have won her," I, Conall, reminded him, "for Mac-a-moir."
Said the king: "He who will marry Sunbeam must remain on Green Isle."
"So be it," Mac-a-moir answered him as he took Sunbeam's hand in his and walked towards the castle, following the king.
A great feast was held in the castle, and Mac-a-moir and the princess were married.
Said the king: "I am well pleased with Mac-a-moir. It is my desire that his three companions should remain with him and be my warriors."
I, Conall, told him: "It is our desire to return to our own country."
The king did not answer. He sat gloomily at the board, and when the wedding feast was ended he walked from the hall.
Mac-a-moir came and spoke to us soon afterwards, saying: "If it is your desire to go away, make haste and do so now, for the king is about to move Green Isle far westward towards the realms of the setting sun."
We bade him farewell, and took our departure. You met us as we hastened towards the boat, and it is as well that you came with us.
The prince dwelt a time with Conall and his companions. Then he returned to his own land, and related all that had taken place to his father, the King of Level-Plains.