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Popular Tales of the West Highlands
THE TALE OF CONAL CROVI.
From Neill Gillies, fisherman, near Inverary.


There was a king over England once, and he had three sons, and they went to France to get learning, and when they came back home they said to their father that they would go to see what order was in the kingdom since they went away; and that was the first place which they went, to the house of a man of the king's tenants, by name Conal Crobhi.

Conal Crovi had every thing that was better than another waiting for them; meat of each meat, and draughts of each drink. When were satisfied, and the time came for them to lie down, the king's big son said –

"This is the rule that we have since we came home - The good-wife must wait on me, and the maid must wait on my middle brother, and the guidman's daughter on my young brother." But this did not please Conal Crovi at all, and he said - "I won't say much about the maid and the daughter, but I am not willing to part from  my wife, but I will go out and ask themselves about this matter;" and out he went, and he locked the door behind him, and he told his gillie that the three best horses that were in the stable were to be ready without delay; and he and his wife went on one, his gillie and his daughter on another, and his son and the maid on the third horse, and they went where the king was to tell the insult his set of sons had given them.

The king's watchful gillie was looking out whom he should see coming. He called out that he was seeing three double riders coming. Said the king, ha! hah! This is Conal Crovi coming, and he has my three sons under cess (Cis, cess, tax, subjection) but if they are, I will not be. When Conal Crovi came the king would not give him a hearing. Then Conal Crovi said, when he got no answer, "I will make thy kingdom worse than it is," and he went away, and he began robbing and lifting spoil.

The king said that he would give any reward to any man that would make out the place where Conal Crovi was taking his dwelling.

The king's swift rider said, that if he could get a day and a year he would find out where he was. He took thus a day and a year seeking for him, but if he took it he saw no sight of Conal Crovi. On his way home he sat on a pretty yellow brow, and he saw a thin smoke in the midst of the tribute wood.

Conal Crovi had a watching gillie looking whom he should see coming. He went in and he said that he saw the likeness of the swift rider coming. "Ha, ha!" said Conal Crovi, "the poor man is sent away to exile as I went myself."

Conal Crovi had his hands spread waiting for him, and he got his choice of meat and drink, and warm water for his feet, and a soft bed for his limbs. He was but a short time lying when Conal Crovi cried, "Art thou asleep, swift rider?" "I am not," said he. At the end of a while again he cried, "Art thou asleep?" He said he was not. He cried again the third time, but there was no answer. Then Conal Crovi cried, "On your soles! all within, this is no crouching time. The following will be on us presently." The watchman of Conal Crovi was shouting that he was seeing the king's three sons coming, and a great company along with them. He had of arms but one black rusty sword. Conal Crovi began at them, and he did not leave a man alive there but the three king's sons, and he tied them and took them in, and he laid on them the binding of the three smalls, straitly and painfully and he threw them into the peat corner, and he said to his wife to make meat speedily, that he was going to do a work whose like he never did before. "What is that, my man!" said she. "Going to take the heads off the king's three sons." He brought up the big one and set his head on the block, and he raised the axe. "Don't, don't," said he, "and I will take with thee in right or unright for ever." Then he brought up the younger one, and he did the very same to him. "Don't, don't," said he, "and I will take with thee in right or unright for ever." Then he went, himself and the king's three sons, where the king was.

The watching gillies of the king were looking out when they should see the company coming with the head of Conal Crovi. Then one called out that he was seeing the likeness of the king's three sons coming, and Conal Crovi before them.

"Ha, ha!" said the king, "Conal Crovi is coming, and he has my sons under cess, but if they are I won't be." He would give no answer to Conal Crovi, but that he should be hanged on a gallows in the early morning of the morrow's day.

Now, the gallows was set up and Conal Crovi was about to be hanged, but the king's big son cried, "I will go in his place." The king’s middle son cried, "I will go in his place;" and the king's young son cried, "I will go in his place. " Then the king took contempt for his set of sons. Then said Conal Crovi, "We will make a big ship, and we will go steal the three black whitefaced stallions that the king of Eirinn has, and we will make the kingdom of Sasunn rich as it ever was. When the ship was ready, her prow went to sea and her stem to shore, and they hoisted the chequered flapping sails against the tall tough masts; there was no mast unbent, nor sail untorn, and the brown buckies of the strand were "glagid"ing on her floor. They reached the "Paileas" of the King of Eirinn. They went into the stable, but when Conal Crovi would lay a hand on the black whitefaced stallions, the stallions would let out a screech. The King of Eirinn cried, "Be out lads; some one is troubling the stallions." They went out and they tried down and up, but they saw no man. There was an old hogshead in the lower end of the stable, and Conal Crovi and the king's three sons were hiding themselves in the hogshead. When they went out Conal laid hands on the stallion and the stallion let out a screech, and so they did three times, and at the third turn, one of those who were in the party said, they did not look in the hogshead. Then they returned and they found the king's three sons and Conal in it. They were taken in to the king, "Ha, ha, thou hoary wretch," said the king, "many a mischief thou didst before thou thoughtest to come and steal my black stallions."

The binding of the three smalls, straitly and painfully, was put on Conal Crovi, and he was thrown into the peat comer, and the king’s three sons were taken up a stair. When the men who were above had filled themselves full of meat and drink, it was then that the king thought of sending word down for Conal Crovi to tell a tale. ‘Twas no run for the king's big son, but a leap down to fetch him. Said the king, "Come up here, thou hoary wretch, and tell us a tale." "I will tell that," said he, "if I get the worth of its telling; and it is not my own head nor the head of one of the company." “Thou wilt get that," said the king. "Tost! hush! over there, and let us hear the tale of Conal Crovi": -

As a young lad I was flshing on a ds beside a river  and a great ship came past me. They said to me would I go as 'pilot' to go to Rome. I said that I would do it; and of every place as we reached it, they would ask was that Rome? and I would say that it was not, and I did not know where in the great world Rome was.

"We came at last to an island that was there, we went on shore, and I went to take a walk about the island, and when I returned back the ship was gone. There I was, left by myself, and I did not know what to do. I was going past a house that was there, and I saw a woman crying. I asked what woe was on her; she told me that the heiress of this island had died six weeks ago, and that they were waiting for a brother of hers who was away from the town, but that she was to be buried this day.

"They were gathering to the burying, and I was amongst them when they put her down in the grave; they put a bag of gold under her head, and a bag of silver under her feet. I said to myself, that were better mine; that it was of no use at all to her. When the night came I turned back to the grave.(The same word means cave and grave; the grave is dug because western graves are dug; but the stone falls on the mouth of the grave, probably because the story came from some country where graves were caves. There is an Italian story in which this incident occurs -- Decameron of Boccacio). When I had dug up the grave, and when I was coming up with the gold and the silver I caught hold of the stone that was on the mouth of the grave, the stone fell down and I was there along with the dead carlin. By thy hand, oh, King of Eirinn! and by my hand, though free, if I was not in a harder case along with the carlin than I am here under thy compassion, with a hope to get off."

"Ha! ha! thou hoary wretch, thou camest out of that, but thou wilt not go out of this."

"Give me now the worth of my ursgeul," said Conal.

"What is that?" said the king.

"It is that the big son of the King of Sasunn, and the big daughter of the King of Eirinn, should be married to each other, and one of the black white faced stallions a tocher for them."

"Thou shalt get that," said the king.

Conal Crovi was seized, the binding of the three smalls laid on him straitly and painfully, and he was thrown into the peat comer; and a wedding of twenty days and twenty nights was made for the young couple. When they were tired then of eating and drinking, the king said that it were better to send for the hoary wretch, and that he should tell them how he had got out of the grave.

'Twas no run, but a leap for the king's middle son to go to fetch him; he was sure he would get a marriage for himself as he had got for his brother. He went down and he brought him up.

Said the king, "Come up and tell to us how thou gottest out of the grave." "I will tell that," said Conal Crovi, "if I get the worth telling it; and it is not my own head, nor the head of one that is the company." "Thou shalt get that," said the king.

“I was there till the day. The brother of the heiress came home, and he must see a sight of his sister; and when they were digging the grave I cried out, oh! catch me by the hand; and the man that would not wait for his bow he would not wait for his sword, as they called that the worst one was there; and I was as swift as one of themselves. Then I was there about the island, not knowing what side I should go. Then I came across three young lads, and they were casting lots. I asked them what they were doing thus. They said 'what was my business what they were doing?’ “Hud! hud!'said I myself, 'you will tell me what you are doing. 'Well, then, said they, a great giant took away our sister. We are casting lots which of us shall go down into this hole to seek her. I cast lots with them, and there was but that the next lot fell on myself to go down to seek her. They let me down in a creel. There was the very prettiest woman I ever saw, and she was winding golden thread off a silver windle.

Oh! said she to myself, how didst thou come here? I came down here  to seek thee; thy three brothers are waiting for thee at the mouth of the hole, and you will send down the creel to-morrow to fetch me. If I be living, 'tis well, and if I be not, there's no help for it. I was but a short time there when I heard thunder and noise coming with the giant. I did not know where I should go to hide myseIf; but I saw a heap of gold and silver on the other side of the giant’s cave. I thought there was no place whatsoever that was better for me to hide in than amidst the gold. The giant came with a dead carlin trailing to each of his shoe-ties. He looked down, and he looked up, and when he did not see her before him, he let out a great howl of crying, and he gave the carlins a little singe through the fire and he ate them. Then the giant did not know what would best keep wearying from him, but he thought that he would go and count his lot of gold and silver; then he was but a short time when he set his hand on my own head. 'Wretch!' said the giant, 'many a bad thing didst thou ever before thou thoughtest to come to take away the pretty woman that I had; I have no need of thee to-night, but 'tis thou shalt polish my teeth early to-morrow.' The brute was tired and he slept after eating the carlins; I saw a great flesh stake beside the fire. I put the iron spit in the very middle of the fire till it was red. The giant was in his heavy sleep, and his mouth open, and he was snoring and blowing. I took the red spit out of the fire and I put it down in the giant's mouth; he took a sudden spring to the further side of the cave, and he struck the end of the spit against the wall, and it went right out through him. I caught the giant's big sword, and with one stroke I struck the head off him. On the morrow's day the creel came down to fetch myself; but I thought I would fill it with the gold and silver of the giant; and when it was in the midst of the hole, with the weight of the gold and silver, the tie broke. I fell down amidst stones, and bushes, and brambles; and by thy hand, oh, King of Eirinn! and by my hand, though free, I was in a harder case than I am to-night, under thy clemency, with the hope of getting out."

"Ah! thou hoary wretch, thou camest out of that, but thou wilt not go out of this," said the king.

"Give me now the worth of my ursgeul."

"What's that?" said the king.

"It is the middle son of the King of Sasunn, and the middle daughter of the King of Eirinn to be married to each other, and one of the black white faced stallions as tocher. "

"That will happen," said the king.

Conal Crovi was caught and bound with three slender ends, and tossed into the peat corner; and a wedding of twenty nights and twenty days was made for the young couple, there and then.

When they were tired of eating and drinking, the king said they had better bring Conal Crovi up, till he should tell how he got up out of the giant's cave. ‘Twas no run, but a spring for the king's young son to go down to fetch him; he was sure he would get a "match" for him, as he got for the rest.

"Come up here, thou hoary wretch," said the king, "and tell us how thou gottest out of the giant's cave." "I will tell that if I get the worth of telling; and it is not my own head, nor the head of one in the company." "Thou wilt get that," said the king. "Tost! silence over there, and let us listen to the sgeulachd of Conal Crovi," said the king.

"Well! I was there below wandering backwards and forwards; I was going past a house that was there, and I saw a woman there, and she had a child in one hand and a knife in the other hand, and she was lamenting and crying. I cried myself to her, 'Hold on thy hand, woman, what art thou going to do?" ‘O!' said she, 'I am here with three giants, and they ordered my pretty babe to be dead, and cooked for them, when they should come home to dinner.' 'I see,' said I, 'three hanged men on a gallows yonder, and we will take down one of them; I will go up in the place of one of them, and thou wilt make him ready in place of the babe.' And when the giants came home to dinner, one of them would say, 'This is the flesh of the babe;' and another would say, 'It is not.' One of them said that he would go to fetch a steak out of one of those who were on the gallows, and that he would see whether it was the flesh of the babe he was eating. I myself was the first that met them; and by thy hand, oh, King of Eirinn, and by my hand, were it free, if I was not in a somewhat harder case, when the steak was coming out of me, than I am to-night under thy mercy, with a hope to get out."

"Thou hoary wretch, thou camest out of that, but thou wilt not come out of this," said the king.

"Give me now the reward of my ursgeul?"

"Thou wilt get that," said the king.

"My reward is, the young son of the King of Sasunn, and the young daughter of the king of Eirinn, to be married, and one of the black stallions as tocher."

There was catching of Conal Crovi, and binding him with the three slender ends, straitly and painfully, and throwing him down into the peat comer; and there was a wedding made, twenty nights and twenty days for the young pair. When they were tired eating and drinking, the king said that it were best to bring up that hoary wretch to tell how he came off the gallows. Then they brought myself up.

"Come up hither, thou hoary wretch, and tell us how thou gottest off the gallows." "I will tell that," said I myself, "if I get a good reward." "Thou wilt get that," said the king.

"Well! when the giants took their dinner, they were tired and they fell asleep. When I saw this, I came down, and the woman gave me a great flaming sword of light that one of the giants had; and I was not long throwing the heads off the giants. Then I myself, and the woman were here, not knowing how we should get up out of the giant's cave. We went to the farther end of the cave, and then we followed a narrow road through a rock, till we came to light, and to the giant's 'biorlinn' of ships.( BIOR, a log; LINN a pool; LUINGEANACH, of ships; naval barge; or LUNN, handle of an oar, oared barge.) What should I think, but that I would turn back and load the biorlinn with the gold and silver of the giant; and just so I did. I went with the biorlinn under sail till I reached an island that I did not know. The ship, and the woman, and the babe were taken from me, and I was left there to come home as best I might. I got home once more to Sasunn, though I am here to-night."

Then a woman, who was lying in the chamber, cried out, "Oh, king, catch hold of this man; I was the woman that was there, and thou wert the babe." It was here that value was put on Conal Crovi; and the king gave him the biorlinn full of the giant's gold and silver, and he made the kingdom of Sasunn as rich as it ever was before.

Told by Neill Gillies a fisherman at Inverary, about fifty-five years old, who says that he has known the story, and has repeated it for many years: he learned it from his parents. Written down by

HECTOR URQUHART.


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