All the long winter
Beira kept captive a beautiful young princess named Bride. She was
jealous of Bride's beauty, and gave her ragged clothing to wear, and
put her to work among the servants in the kitchen of her mountain
castle, where the girl had to perform the meanest tasks. Beira
scolded her continually, finding fault with everything she did, and
Bride's life was made very wretched.
One day Beira crave
the princess a brown fleece and said: "You must wash this fleece in
the running stream until it is pure white."
Bride took the fleece
and went outside the castle, and began to wash it in a pool below a
waterfall. All day long she laboured at the work, but to no purpose.
She found it impossible to wash the brown colour out of the wool.
When evening came on,
Beira scolded the girl, and said: "You are a useless hussy. The
fleece is as brown as when I crave it to you."
Said Bride: "All day
long have I washed it in the pool below the waterfall of the Red
"To-morrow you shall
wash it again," Beira said; "and if you do not wash it white, you
will go on washing on the next day, and on every day after that.
Now, begone! and do as I bid you."
It was a sorrowful
time for Bride. Day after day she washed the fleece, and it seemed
to her that if she went on washing until the world came to an end,
the brown wool would never become white.
One morning as she
went on with her washing a grey-bearded old man came near. He took
pity on the princess, who wept bitter tears over her work, and spoke
to her, saying: "Who are you, and why do you sorrow?"
Said the princess:
"My name is Bride. I am the captive of Queen Beira, and she has
ordered me to wash this brown fleece until it is white. Alas! it
cannot be done."
"I am sorry for you,"
the old man said.
"Who are you, and
whence come you?" asked Bride.
"My name is Father
Winter," the old man told her. "Give me the fleece, and I shall make
it white for you."
Bride gave Father
Winter the brown fleece, and when he had shaken it three times it
turned white as snow.
The heart of Bride
was immediately filled with joy, and she exclaimed: "Dear Father
Winter, you are very kind. You have saved me much labour and taken
away my sorrow."
Father Winter handed
back the fleece to Princess Bride with one hand, and she took it.
Then he said: "Take also what I hold in my other hand." As he spoke
he gave her a lunch of pure white snowdrops. The eyes of Bride
sparkled with joy to behold them.
Said Father Winter:
"If Beira scolds you, give her these flowers, and if she asks where
you found them, tell her that they came from the green rustling
fir-woods. Tell her also that the cress is springing up on the banks
of streams, and that the new grass has begun to shoot up in the
Having spoken thus,
Father Winter bade the princess farewell and turned away.
Bride returned to the
mountain castle and laid the white fleece at Beira's feet. But the
old queen scarcely looked at it. Her gaze was fixed on the snowdrops
that Bride carried.
"Where did you find
these flowers?" Beira asked with sudden anger.
Said Bride: "The
snowdrops are now growing in the green rustling fir-woods, the cress
is springing up on the banks of streams, and the new grass is
beginning to shoot up in the fields."
"Evil are the tidings
you bring me!" Beira cried. "Begone from my sight!"
Bride turned away,
but not in sorrow. A new joy had entered her heart, for she knew
that the wild winter season was going past, and that the reign of
Queen Beira would soon come to an end.
summoned her eight hag servants, and spoke to them, saying: "Ride to
the north and ride to the south, ride to the east and ride to the
west, and I will ride forth also. Smite the world with frost and
tempest, so that no flower may bloom and no grass blade survive. I
and waging war against all growth."
When she had spoken
thus, the eight hags mounted on the backs of shaggy goats and rode
forth to do her bidding. Beira went forth also, grasping in her
right hand her black magic hammer. On the night of that very day a
great tempest lashed the ocean to fury and brought terror to every
corner of the land.
Now the reason why
Beira kept Bride a prisoner was because her fairest and dearest son,
whose name was Angus-the- Ever-Young, had fallen in love with her.
He was called "the Ever Young" because age never came near him, and
all winter long he lived on the Green Isle of the West, which is
also called the "Land of Youth".
Angus first beheld
Bride in a dream, and when he awoke he spoke to the King of the
Green Isle, saying: "Last night I dreamed a dream and saw a
beautiful princess whom I love. Tears fell from her eyes, and I
spoke to an old man who stood near her, and said: 'Why does the
maiden weep?' Said the old man: `She weeps because she is kept
captive by Beira, who treats her with great cruelty.' I looked again
at the princess and said:
'Fain would I set her
free.' Then I awoke. Tell me, O king, who is this princess, and
where shall I find her?"
The King of the Green
Isle answered Angus, saying: "The fair princess whom you saw is
Bride, and in the days when you will be King of Summer she will be
your queen. Of this your mother, Queen Beira, has full knowledge,
and it is her wish to keep you away from Bride, so that her own
reign may be prolonged. Tarry here, O Angus, until the flowers begin
to bloom and the grass begins to grow, and then you shall set free
the beautiful Princess Bride."
Said Angus: "Fain
would I go forth at once to search for her."
(February) has now come," the king said. "Uncertain is the temper of
Said Angus: "I shall
cast a spell on the sea and a spell on the land, and borrow for
February three days from August."
He did as he said he
would do. He borrowed three days from August, and the ocean
slumbered peacefully while the sun shone brightly over mountain and
glen. Then Angus mounted his white steed and rode eastward to
Scotland over the isles and over the Minch, and he reached the
Grampians when dawn was breaking. He was clad in raiment of shining
gold, and from his shoulders hung his royal robe of crimson which
the wind uplifted and spread out in gleaming splendour athwart the
An aged bard looked
eastward, and when he beheld the fair Angus he lifted up his harp
and sang a song of welcome, and the birds of the forest sang with
him. And this is how he sang:
hath come—the young, the fair,
The blue-eyed god with golden hair—
The god who to the world doth bring
This morn the promise of the spring;
Who moves the birds to song ere yet
He hath awaked the violet,
Or the soft primrose on the steep,
While buds are laid in lidded sleep,
And white snows wrap the hills serene,
Ere glows the larch's vivid green
Through the brown woods and bare.
All hail! Angus, and may thy will prevail...
He comes ... he goes.... And far and wide
He searches for the Princess Bride.
Up and down the land
went Angus, but he could not find Bride anywhere. The fair princess
beheld him in a dream, however, and knew that he longed to set her
free. When she awoke she shed tears of joy, and on the place where
her tears fell there sprang up violets, and they were blue as her
Beira was angry when
she came to know that Angus was searching for Bride, and on the
third evening of his visit she raised a great tempest which drove
him back to Green Isle. But he returned again and again, and at
length he discovered the castle in which the princess was kept a
Then came a day when
Angus met Bride in a forest near the castle. The violets were
blooming and soft yellow primroses opened their eyes of wonder to
gaze on the prince and the princess. When they spoke one to another
the birds raised their sweet voices in song and the sun shone fair
"Beautiful princess, I beheld you in a dream weeping tears of
Bride said: "Mighty
prince, I beheld you in a dream riding over bens and through glens
in beauty and power."
Said Angus: "I have
come to rescue you from Queen Beira, who has kept you all winter
long in captivity."
Bride said: "To me
this is a day of great joy."
Said Angus: " It will
be a day of great joy to all mankind ever after this."
That is why the first
day of spring—the day on which Angus found the princess—is called
Through the forest
came a fair company of fairy ladies, who hailed Bride as queen and
bade welcome to Angus. Then the Fairy Queen waved her wand, and
Bride was transformed. As swiftly as the bright sun springs out from
behind a dark cloud, shedding beauty all round, so swiftly did Bride
appear in new splendour. Instead of ragged clothing, she then wore a
white robe adorned with spangles of shining silver. Over her heart
gleamed a star-like crystal, pure as her thoughts and bright as the
joy that Angus brought her. This gem is called "the guiding star of
Bride". Her golden-brown hair, which hung down to her waist in
gleaming curls, was decked with fair spring flowers—snowdrops and
daisies and primroses and violets. Blue were her eyes, and her face
had the redness and whiteness of the wild rose of peerless beauty
and tender grace. In her right hand she carried a white wand
entwined with golden corn-stalks, and in her left a golden horn
which is called the "Horn of Plenty ".
The linnet was the
first forest bird that hailed Bride in her beauty, and the Fairy
"Ever after this you
shall be called the 'Bird of Bride'." On the seashore the first bird
that chirped with joy was the oyster-catcher, and the Fairy Queen
said: "Ever after this you shall be called the 'Page of Bride'."
Then the Fairy Queen
led Angus and Bride to her green-roofed underground palace in the
midst of the forest. As they went forward they came to a river which
was covered with ice. Bride put her fingers on the ice, and the Ice
Hag shrieked and fled.
A great feast was
held in the palace of the Fairy Queen, and it was the marriage feast
of Bride, for Angus and she were wed. The fairies danced and sand
with joy, and all the world was moved to dance and sing with them.
This was how the first "Festival of Bride" came to be.
"Spring has come!"
the shepherds cried; and they drove their flocks on to the moors,
where they were counted and blessed.
"Spring has come!"
chattered the raven, and flew off to find moss for her nest. The
rook heard and followed after, and the wild duck rose from amidst
the reeds, crying: "Spring has come!"
Bride came forth from
the fairy palace with Angus and waved her hand, while Angus repeated
magic spells. Then greater growth was given to the grass, and all
the world hailed Angus and Bride as king and queen. Although they
were not beheld by mankind, yet their presence was everywhere felt
Beira was wroth when
she came to know that Angus had found Bride. She seized her magic
hammer and smote the ground unceasingly until it was frozen hard as
iron again—so hard that no herb or blade of grass could continue to
live upon its surface. Terrible was her wrath when she beheld the
grass growing. She knew well that when the grass flourished and Anus
and Bride were married, her authority would pass away. It was her
desire to keep her throne as long as possible.
Bride is married,
hail to Bride!" sang the birds.
"Angus is married,
hail to Angus!" they sang also.
Beira heard the songs
of the birds, and called to her hag servants: "Ride north and ride
south, ride east and ride west, and wage war against Angus. I shall
ride forth also."
Her servants mounted
their shaggy goats and rode forth to do her bidding. Beira mounted a
black steed and set out in pursuit of Angus. She rode fast and she
rode hard. Black clouds swept over the sky as she rode on, until at
length she came to the forest in which the Fairy Queen had her
dwelling. All the fairies fled in terror into their green mound and
the doors were shut. Angus looked up and beheld Beira drawing nigh.
He leapt on the back of his white steed, and lifted his young bride
into the saddle in front of him and fled away with her.
Angus rode westward
over the hills and over the valleys and over the sea, and Beira
There is a rocky
ravine on the island of Tiree, and Beira's black steed jumped across
it while pursuing the white steed of Angus. The hoofs of the black
steed made a gash on the rocks. To this day the ravine is called
"The Horse's Leap".
Angus escaped to the
Green Isle of the West, and there he passed happy days with Bride.
But he longed to return to Scotland and reign as King of Summer.
Again and again he crossed the sea; and each time he reached the
land of glens and bens, the sun broke forth in brightness and the
birds sang merrily to welcome him.
Beira raised storm
after storm to drive him away. First she called on the wind named
"The Whistle", which blew high and shrill, and brought down rapid
showers of cold hailstones. It lasted for three days, and there was
much sorrow and bitterness throughout the length and breadth of
Scotland. Sheep and lambs were killed on the moors, and horses and
cows perished also.
Angus fled, but he
returned soon again. The next wind that Beira raised to prolong her
winter reign was the "Sharp Billed Wind " which is called "Gobag".
It lasted for nine days, and all the land was pierced by it, for it
pecked and bit in every nook and cranny like a sharp-billed bird.
Angus returned, and
the Beira raised the eddy wind which is called "The Sweeper". Its
whirling gusts tore branches from the budding trees and bright
flowers from their stalks. All the time it blew, Beira kept beating
the ground with her magic hammer so as to keep the grass from
growing. But her efforts were in vain. Spring smiled in beauty all
around, and each time she turned away, wearied by her efforts, the
sun sprang forth in splendour. The small modest primroses opened
their petals in the sunshine, looking forth from cosy nooks that the
wind, called "Sweeper", was unable to reach. Angus fled, but he soon
Beira was not yet,
however, entirely without hope. Her efforts had brought disaster to
mankind, and the "Weeks of Leanness" came on. Food became scarce.
The fishermen were unable to venture to sea on account of Beira's
tempests, and could get no fish. In the night-time Beira and her
hags entered the dwellings of mankind, and stole away their stores
of food. It was, indeed, a sorrowful time.
Angus was moved with
pity for mankind, and tried to fight the hags of Beira. But the
fierce queen raised the "Gales of Complaint" to keep him away, and
they raged in fury until the first week of March. Horses and cattle
died for want of food, because the fierce winds blew down stacks of
fodder and scattered them over the lochs and the ocean.
Angus, however, waged
a fierce struggle against the hag servants, and at length he drove
them away to the north, where they fumed and fretted furiously.
Beira was greatly
alarmed, and she made her last great effort to subdue the Powers of
Spring. She waved her magic hammer, and smote the clouds with it.
Northward she rode on her black steed, and gathered her servants
together, and called to them, saying: "Ride southward with me, all
of you, and scatter our enemies before us."
Out of the bleak dark
north they rode in a single pack. With them came the Big Black
Tempest. It seemed then as if winter had returned in full strength
and would abide for ever. But even Beira and her hags had to take
rest. On a dusky evening they crouched down together on the side of
a bare mountain, and, when they did so, a sudden calm fell upon the
land and the sea.
"Ha! ha!" laughed the
wild duck who hated the hag. "Ha! ha! I am still alive, and so are
my six ducklings."
"Hlave patience! idle
chatterer," answered the Hag. "I am not yet done."
That night she
borrowed three days from Winter which had not been used, for Angus
had previously borrowed for Winter three days from August. The three
spirits of the borrowed days were tempest spirits, and came towards
Beira mounted on black. hogs. She spoke to them, saying: "Long have
you been bound! Now I set you at liberty."
One after another, on
each of the three days that followed, the spirits went forth riding
the black hogs. They brought snow and hail and fierce blasts of
wind. Snow whitened the moors and filled the furrows of ploughed
land, rivers rose in flood, and great trees were shattered and
uprooted. The duck was killed, and so were her six ducklings; sheep
and cattle perished, and many human beings were killed on land and
drowned at sea. The days on which these things happened are called
the "Three Hog Days".
Beira's reign was now
drawing to a close. She found herself unable to combat any longer
against the power of the new life that was rising in every vein of
the land. The weakness of extreme old age crept upon her, and she
longed once again to drink of the waters of the Well of Youth. When,
on a bright March morning, she beheld Angus riding over the hills on
his white steed, scattering her fierce hag servants before him, she
fled away in despair. Ere she went she threw her magic hammer
beneath a holly tree, and that is the reason why no grass grows
under the holly trees.
Beira's black steed
went northward with her in flight. As it leapt over Loch Etive it
left the marks of its hoofs on the side of a rocky mountain, and the
spot is named to this day "Horse-shoes". She did not rein up her
steed until she reached the island of Skye, where she found rest on
the summit of the "Old Wife's Ben" (Ben-e-Caillich) at Broadford.
There she sat, gazing steadfastly across the sea, waiting until the
day and night would be of equal length. All that equal day she wept
tears of sorrow for her lost power, and when night came on she went
westward over the sea to Green Island. At the dawn of the day that
followed she drank the magic waters of the Well of Youth.
On that day which is
of equal length with the night, Angus came to Scotland with Bride,
and they were hailed as king and queen of the unseen beings. They
rode from south to north in the morning and forenoon, and from north
to south in the afternoon and evening. A gentle wind went with them,
blowing towards the north from dawn till midday, and towards the
south from midday till sunset.
It was on that day
that Bride dipped her fair white hands in the high rivers and lochs
which still retained ice. When she did so, the Ice Hag fell into a
deep sleep from which she could not awake until summer and autumn
were over and past.
The grass grew
quickly after Angus began to reign as king. Seeds were sown, and the
people called on Bride to grant them a good harvest. Ere long the
whole land was made beautiful with spring flowers of every hue.
Angus had a harp of
gold with silver strings, and when he played on it youths and
maidens followed the sound of the music through the woods. Bards
sang his praises and told that he kissed lovers, and that when they
parted one from another to return to their homes, the kisses became
invisible birds that hovered round their heads and sang sweet songs
of love, and whispered memories clear. It was thus that one bard
sang of him:
When softly blew the
south wind o'er the sea,
Lisping of springtime hope and summer pride,
And the rough reign of Beira ceased to be,
Angus the Ever-Young,
The beauteous god of love, the golden-haired,
The blue mysterious-eyed,
Shone like the star of morning high among
The stars that shrank afraid
When dawn proclaimed the triumph that he shared
With Bride the peerless maid.
Then winds of violet sweetness rose and sighed,
No conquest is compared
To Love's transcendent joys that never fade.
In the old days, when
there was no Calendar in Scotland, the people named the various
periods of winter and spring, storm and calm, as they are given
above. The story of the struggle between Angus and Beira is the
story of the struggle between spring and winter, growth and decay,
light and darkness, and warmth and cold.