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The Scottish Fairy Book
The Black Bull of Norroway


In bygone days, long centuries ago, there lived a widowed Queen who had three daughters. And this widowed Queen was so poor, and had fallen upon such evil days, that she and her daughters had often much ado to get enough to eat.

So the eldest Princess determined that she would set out into the world to seek her fortune. And her mother was quite willing that she should do so. “For,” said she, “’tis better to work abroad than to starve at home.”

But as there was an old hen-wife living near the Castle who was said to be a witch, and to be able to foretell the future, the Queen sent the Princess to her cottage, before she set out on her travels, to ask her in which of the Four Airts she ought to go, in order to find the best fortune.

“Thou needst gang nae farther than my back door, hinnie,” answered the old Dame, who had always felt very sorry for the Queen and her pretty daughters, and was glad to do them a good turn.

So the Princess ran through the passage to the hen-wife’s back door and peeped out, and what should she see but a magnificent coach, drawn by six beautiful cream-coloured horses, coming along the road.

Greatly excited at this unusual sight, she hurried back to the kitchen, and told the hen-wife what she had seen.

"Aweel, aweel, ye've seen your fortune,” said the old woman, in a tone of satisfaction, “for that coach-and-six is coming for thee.”

Sure enough, the coach-and-six stopped at the gate of the Castle, and the second Princess came running down to the cottage to tell her sister to make haste, because it was waiting for her. Delighted beyond measure at the wonderful luck that had come to her, she hurried home, and, saying farewell to her mother and sisters, took her seat within, and the horses galloped off immediately.

And I’ve heard tell that they drew her to the Palace of a great and wealthy Prince, who married her; but that is outside my story.

A few weeks afterwards, the second Princess thought that she would do as her sister had done, and go down to the hen-wife’s cottage, and tell her that she, too, was going out into the world to seek her fortune. And, of course, in her heart of hearts she hoped that what had happened to her sister would happen to her also.

And, curious to say, it did. For the old hen-wife sent her to look out at her back door, and she went, and, lo and behold ! another coach-and-six was coming along the road. And when she went and told the old woman, she smiled upon her kindly, and told her to hurry home, for the coach-and-six was her fortune also, and that it had come for her.

So she, too, ran home, and got into her grand carriage, and was driven away. And, of course, after all these lucky happenings, the youngest Princess was anxious to try what her fortune might be; so the very night, in high good humour, she tripped away down to the old witch's cottage.

She, too, was told to look out at the back door, and she was only too glad to do so; for she fully expected to see a third coach-and-six coming rolling along the high road, straight for the Castle door.

But, alas and alack! no such sight greeted her eager eyes, for the high road was quite deserted, and in great disappointment she ran back to the hen-wife to tell her so.

“Then it is clear that thy fortune is not coming to meet thee this day" said the old Dame, “so thou must e’en come back to-morrow.”

So the little Princess went hom6 again, and next day day she turned up once more at the old wife's cottage.

But once more she was disappointed, for although she looked out long and eagerly, no glad sight of a coach-and-six, or of any other coach^ greeted her eyes. On the third day, however, what should she see but a great Black Bull coming rushing along the road, bellowing as it came, and tossing its head fiercely in the air.

In great alarm, the little Princess shut the door, and ran to the hen-wife to tell her about the furious animal that was approaching.

“Hech, hinnie,” cried the old woman, holding up her hands in dismay, "and who would have thocht that the Black Bull of Norroway wad be your fate!”

At the words, the poor little maiden grew pale. She had come out to seek her fortune, but it had never dawned upon her that her fortune could be anything so terrible as this.

“But the Bull cannot be my fortune,” she cried in terror. “I cannot go away with a bull.”

“But ye'll need tae,” replied the hen-wife calmly. “For you lookit out of my door with the intent of meeting your fortune; and when your fortune has come tae ye, you must just thole it.”

And when the poor Princess ran weeping to her mother, to beg to be allowed to stay at home, she found her mother of the same mind as the Wise Woman; and so she had to allow herself to be lifted up on to the back of the enormous Black Bull that had come up to the door of the Castle, and was now standing there quietly enough. And when she was settled, he set off again on his wild career, while she sobbed and trembled with terror, and clung to his horns with all her might.

On and on they went, until at last the poor maiden was so faint with fear and hunger that she could scarce keep her seat.

Just as she was losing her hold of the great beast's horns, however, and feeling that she must fall to the ground, he turned his massive head round a little, and, speaking in a wonderfully soft and gentle voice, said: “Eat out of my right ear, and drink out of my left ear, so wilt thou be refreshed for thy journey.”

So the Princess put a trembling hand into the Bull’s right ear, and drew out some bread and meat, which, in spite of her terror, she was glad to swallow; then she put her hand into his left ear, and found there a tiny flagon of wine, and when she had drunk that, her strength returned to her in a wonderful way.

Long they went, and sore they rode, till, just as it seemed to the Princess that they must be getting near the World’s End, they came in sight of a magnificent Castle.

"That’s where we maun bide this night,” said the Black Bull of Norroway, “for that is the house of one of my brothers.”

The Princess was greatly surprised at these words; but by this time she was too tired to wonder very much at anything, so she did not answer, but sat still where she was, until the Bull ran into the courtyard of the Castle and knocked his great head against the door.

The door was opened at once by a very splendid footman, who treated the Black Bull with great respect, and helped the Princess to alight from his back. Then he ushered her into a magnificent hall, where the Lord of the Castle, and his Lady, and a great and noble company were assembled; while the Black Bull trotted off quite contentedly to the grassy park which stretched all round the the building, to spend the night there.

The Lord and his Lady were very kind to the Princess, and gave her her supper, and led her to a richly furnished bedroom, all hung round with golden mirrors, and left her to rest there; and in the morning, just as the Black Bull came trotting up to the front door, they handed her a beautiful apple, telling her not to break it, but to put it in her pocket, and keep it till she was in the greatest strait that mortal could be in. Then she was to break it, and it would bring her out of it.

So she put the apple in her pocket, and they lifted her once more on to the Black Bull's back, and she and her strange companion continued on their journey.

All that day they travelled, far further than I can tell you, and at night they came in sight of another Castle, which was even bigger and grander than the first.

“That’s where we maun bide this night,” said the Black Bull, “for that is the home of another of my brothers.”

And here the Princess rested for the night in a very fine bedroom indeed, all hung with silken curtains; and the Lord and Lady of the Castle did everything to please her and make her comfortable.

And in the morning, before she left, they presented her with the largest pear that she had ever seen, and warned her that she must not break it until she was in the direst strait that she had ever been in, and then, if she broke it, it would bring her out of it.

The third day was the same as the other two had been. The Princess and the Black Bull of Norroway rode many a weary mile, and at sundown they came to another Castle, more splendid by far than the other two.

This Castle belonged to the Black Bull’s youngest brother, and here the Princess abode all night; while the Bull, as usual, lay outside in the park. And this time, when they departed, the Princess received a most lovely plum, with the warning not to break it till she was in the greatest strait that mortal could be in. Then she was to break it, and it would set her free.

On the fourth day, however, things were changed. For there was no fine Castle waiting for them at the end of their journey; on the contrary, as the shadows began to lengthen, they came to a dark, deep glen, which was so gloomy and so awesome-looking that the poor Princess felt her courage sinking as they approached it.

At the entrance the Black Bull stopped. “Light down here, Lady,” he said, “for in this glen a deadly conflict awaits me, which I must face unaided and alone. For the dark and gloomy region that lies before us is the abode of a great Spirit of Darkness, who worketh much ill in the world. I would fain fight with him and overcome him; and, by my troth, I have good hope that I shall do so. As for thee, thou must seat thyself on this stone, and stir neither hand, nor foot, nor tongue till I return. For, if thou but so much as move, then the Evil Spirit of the Glen will have thee in his power.”

“But how shall I know what is happening to thee?” asked the Princess anxiously, for she was beginning to grow quite fond of the huge black creature that had carried her so gallantly these last four days, “if I have neither to move hand nor foot, nor yet to speak.”

“Thou wilt know by the signs around thee,” answered the Bull. “For if everything about thee turn blue, then thou wilt know that I have vanquished the Evil Spirit; but if everything about thee turn red, then the Evil Spirit hath vanquished me.”

With these words he departed, and was soon lost to sight in the dark recesses of the glen, leaving the little Princess sitting motionless on her stone, afraid to move so much as her little finger, in case some unknown evil fell upon her.

At last, when she had sat there for well-nigh an hour, a curious change began to pass over the landscape. First it turned grey, and then it turned a deep azure blue, as if the sky had descended on the earth.

"The Bull hath conquered,” thought the Princess. “Oh! what a noble animal he is!” And in her relief and delight she moved her position and crossed one leg over the other.

Oh, woe-a-day! In a moment a mystic spell fell upon her, which caused her to become invisible to the eyes of the Prince of Norroway, who, having vanquished the Evil Spirit, was loosed from the spell which had lain over him, and had transformed him into the likeness of a great Black Bull, and who returned in haste down the glen to present himself, in his rightful form, to the maiden whom he loved, and whom he hoped to win for his bride.

Long, long he sought, but he could not find her, while all the time she was sitting patiently waiting on the stone ; but the spell was on her eyes also, and hindered her seeing him, as it hindered him seeing her.

So she sat on and on, till at last she became so wearied, and lonely, and frightened, that she burst out crying, and cried herself to sleep; and when she woke in the morning she felt that it was no use sitting there any longer, so she rose and took her way, hardly knowing whither she was going.

And she went, and she went, till at last she came to a great hill made all of glass, which blocked her way and prevented her going any further. She tried time after time to climb it, but it was all of no avail, for the surface of the hill was so slippery that she only managed to climb up a few feet, to slide down again the next moment.

So she began to walk round the bottom of the hill, in the hope of finding some path that would lead her over it, but the hill was so big, and she was so tired, that it seemed almost a hopeless quest, and her spirit died completely within her. And as she went slowly along, sobbing with despair, she felt that if help did not come soon she must He down and die.

About mid-day, however, she came to a little cottage, and beside the cottage there was a smithy, where an old smith was working at his anvil.

She entered, and asked him if he could tell her of any path that would lead her over the mountain. The old man laid down his hammer and looked at her, slowly shaking his head as he did so.

“Na, na, lassie,” he said, “there is no easy road over the Mountain of Glass. Folk maim either walk round it, which is not an easy thing to do, for the foot of it stretches out for hundreds of miles, and the folk who try to do so are almost sure to lose their way; or they maun walk over the top of it, and that can only be done by those who are shod with iron shoon.”

“And how am I to get these iron shoon?” cried the Princess eagerly. “Couldst thou fashion me a pair, good man? I would gladly pay thee for them.” Then she stopped suddenly, for she remembered that she had no money.

“These shoon cannot be made for siller,” said the old man solemnly. “They can only be earned by service. I alone can make them, and I make them for those who are willing to serve me.”

“And how long must I serve thee ere thou makest them for me?” asked the Princess faintly.

“Seven years,” replied the old man, “for they be magic shoon, and that is the magic number.”

So, as there seemed nothing else for it, the Princess hired herself to the smith for seven long years: to clean his house, and cook his food, and make and mend his clothes.

At the end of that time he fashioned her a pair of iron shoon, with which she climbed the Mountain of Glass with as much ease as if it had been covered with fresh green turf.

When she had reached the summit, and descended to the other side, the first house that she came to was the house of an old washerwoman, who lived there with her only daughter. And as the Princess was now very tired, she went up to the door, and knocked, and asked if she might be allowed to rest there for the night.

The washerwoman, who was old and ugly, with a sly and evil face, said that she might on one condition and that was that she should try to wash a white mantle that the Black Knight of Norroway had brought to her to wash, as he had got it stained in a deadly fight.

“Yestreen I spent the lee-long day washing it,” went on the old Dame, “and I might as well have let it lie on the table. For at night, when I took it out of the wash-tub, the stains were there as dark as ever. Peradventure, maiden, if thou wouldst try thy hand upon it thou mightest be more successful. For I am loth to disappoint the Black Knight of Norroway, who is an exceeding great and powerful Prince.”

“Is he in any way connected with the Black Bull of Norroway?” asked the Princess; for at the name her heart had leaped for joy, for it seemed that mayhap she was going to find once more him whom she had lost.

The old woman looked at her suspiciously. “The two are one,” she answered; “for the Black Knight chanced to have a spell thrown over him, which turned him into a Black Bull, and which could not be lifted until he had fought with, and overcome, a mighty Spirit of Evil that lived in a dark glen. He fought with the Spirit, and overcame it and once more regained his true form; but ’tis said that his mind is somewhat clouded at times, for he speaketh ever of a maiden whom he would fain have wedded, and whom he hath lost. Though who, or what she was, no living person kens. But this story can have no interest to a stranger like thee,” she added slowly, as if she were sorry for having said so much. “I have no more time to waste in talking. But if thou wilt try and wash the mantle, thou art welcome to a night’s lodging; and if not, I must ask thee to go on thy way.” Needless to say, the Princess said that she would try to wash the mantle; and it seemed as if her fingers had some magic power in them, for as soon as she put it into water the stains vanished, and it became as white and clean as when it was new.

Of course, the old woman was delighted, but she was very suspicious also, for it appeared to her that there must be some mysterious link between the maiden and the Knight, if his mantle became clean so easily when she washed it, when it had remained soiled and stained in spite of all the labour which she and her daughter had bestowed upon it.

So, as she knew that the young Gallant intended returning for it that very night, and as she wanted her daughter to get the credit of washing it, she advised the Princess to go to bed early, in order to get a good night’s rest after all her labours. And the Princess followed her advice, and thus it came about that she was sound asleep, safely hidden in the big box-bed in the corner, when the Black Knight of Norroway came to the cottage to claim his white mantle.

Now you must know that the young man had carried about this mantle with him for the last seven years— ever since his encounter with the Evil Spirit of the Glen always trying to find someone who could wash it for him, and never succeeding.

For it had been revealed to him by a wise woman that she who could make it white and clean was destined to be his wife be she bonnie or ugly, old or young. And that, moreover, she would prove a loving, a faithful, and a true helpmeet.

So when he came to the washerwoman’s cottage, and received back his mantle white as the driven snow, and heard that it was the washerwoman’s daughter who had wrought this wondrous change, he said at once that he would marry her, and that the very next day.

When the Princess awoke in the morning and heard all that had befallen, and how the Black Knight had come to the cottage while she was asleep, and had received his mantle, and had promised to marry the washerwoman’s daughter that very day, her heart was like to break. For now she felt that she never would have the chance of speaking to him and telling him who she really was.

And in her sore distress she suddenly remembered the beautiful fruit which she had received on her journey seven long years before, and which she had carried with her ever since.

“Surely I will never be in a sorer strait than I am now,” she said to herself; and she drew out the apple and broke it. And, lo and behold! it was filled with the most beautiful precious stones that she had ever seen; and at the sight of them a plan came suddenly into her head.

She took the precious stones out of the apple, and, putting them into a corner of her kerchief, earned them to the washerwoman.

“See,” said she, “I am richer than mayhap thou thoughtest I was. And if thou wilt, all these riches may be thine.”

“And how could that come about?” asked the old woman eagerly, for she had never seen so many precious stones in her life before, and she had a great desire to become the possessor of them.

“Only put off thy daughter’s wedding for one day,” replied the Princess. “And let me watch beside the Black Knight as he sleeps this night, for I have long had a great desire to see him.”

To her astonishment the washerwoman agreed to this request; for the wily old woman was very anxious to get the jewels, which would make her rich for life, and it did not seem to her that there was any harm in the Princess’s request; for she had made up her mind that she would give the Black Knight a sleeping-draught, which would effectually prevent him as much as speaking to this strange maiden.

So she took the jewels and locked them up in her kist, and the wedding was put off, and that night the little Princess slipped into the Black Knight’s apartment when he was asleep, and watched all through the long hours by his bedside, singing this song to him in the hope that he would awake and hear it:

“Seven lang years I served for thee,
The glassy hill I clamb for thee,
The mantle white I washed for thee,
And wilt thou no waken, and turn to me?”

But although she sang it over and over again, as if her heart would burst, he neither listened nor stirred, for the old washerwoman's potion had made sure of that.

Next morning, in her great trouble, the little Princess broke open the pear, hoping that its contents would help her better than the contents of the apple had done. But in it she found just what she had found before a heap of precious stones; only they were richer and more valuable than the others had been.

So, as it seemed the only thing to do, she carried them to the old woman, and bribed her to put the wedding off for yet another day, and allow her to watch that night also by the Black Prince’s bedside.

And the washerwoman did so; “for,” said she, as she locked away the stones, “I shall soon grow quite rich at this rate.”

But, alas! it was all in vain that the Princess spent the long hours singing with all her might:

“Seven lang years I served for thee,
The glassy hill I clamb for thee,
The mantle white I washed for thee,
And wilt thou no waken, and turn to me?”

for the young Prince whom she watched so tenderly, remained deaf and motionless as a stone.

By the morning she had almost lost hope, for there was only the plum remaining now, and if that failed her last chance had gone. With trembling fingers she broke it open, and found inside another collection of precious stones, richer and rarer than all the others.

She ran with these to the washerwoman, and, throwing them into her lap, told her she could keep them all and welcome if she would put off the wedding once again, and let her watch by the Prince for one more night. And, greatly wondering, the old woman consented.

Now it chanced that the Black Knight, tired with waiting for his wedding, went out hunting that day with all his attendants behind him. And as the servants rode they talked together about something that had puzzled them sorely these two nights gone by. At last an old huntsman rode up to the Knight, with a question upon his lips.

“Master,” he said, if we would fain ken who the sweet singer is who singeth through the night in thy chamber?” “Singer!” he repeated. “There is no singer. My chamber hath been as quiet as the grave, and I have slept a dreamless sleep ever since I came to live at the cottage.” The old huntsman shook his head. "Taste not the old wife’s draught this night, Master,” he said earnestly; “then wilt thou hear what other ears have heard.”

At other times the Black Knight would have laughed at his words, but to-day the man spoke with such earnestness that he could not but listen to them. So that evening, when the washerwoman, as was her wont, brought his sleeping-draught of spiced ale to his bedside, he told her that it was not sweet enough for his liking. And when she turned and went to the kitchen to fetch some honey to sweeten it, he jumped out of bed and poured it all out of the window, and when she came back he pretended that he had drunk it.

So it came to pass that he lay awake that night and heard the Princess enter his room, and listened to her plaintive little song, sung in a voice that was full of sobs:

“Seven lang years I served for thee,
The glassy hill I clamb for thee,
The mantle white I washed for thee,
And wilt thou no waken, and turn to me?”

And when he heard it, he understood it all; and he sprang up and took her in his arms and kissed her, and asked her to tell him the whole story.

And when he heard it, he was so angry with the old washerwoman and her deceitful daughter that he ordered them to leave the country at once; and he married the little Princess, and they lived happily all their days.


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