There are two mountains
that overlook the Spey valley, one to the east and one to the west,
and a fairy king dwells on each of them. They are both sons of Beira.
One fairy king is white, and has great fame as an archer; he has a
silver bow and arrows of gold, and once a day he shoots an arrow
across the strath. The other fairy king is black as the raven, and
on his left breast there is a red spot. He has no weapon, but is yet
terrible in battle, because he can make himself invisible at will.
When he does so, nothing remains in sight except the red spot. He
has great strength, and when he goes against his enemies he seizes
them unawares and throws them to the ground. No matter how well they
are armed, his enemies tremble when the invisible fairy comes
against them. All they see is a red spot moving about in the air.
Now, the white fairy
has a fair bride whose name is Face-of-Light. It is a great joy to
her to wander among the mountains where herds of deer crop the green
herbage, and through the strath where cornfields rustle in soft
winds and fragrant flowers bloom fair to see. The black fairy has no
bride, and is jealous of the white fairy because his days are filled
with joy by the beauty of Face-of- Light. These two fairies have
ever been enemies. The black fairy keeps out of sight of the famous
archer, fearing his arrows of gold.
One summer evening when the twilight
shadows were lengthening and deepening across the strath, Face of
Light tripped merrily over the grassy banks, gathering wild flowers.
Silence had fallen on the world; no bird sang and no wind whispered,
the lochs were asleep, and the shrunken river made scarcely a sound
louder than the sigh of a sleeping babe; it was no longer bright
when Face-of-Light turned away from it.
The black fairy looked out from his
mountain home. He knew that the white fairy had lain down to rest,
and he watched Face-of-Light gathering wild flowers. Nearer and
nearer she came to his dwelling, and he crept into a deep forest
which conceals the entrance to his mountain, and waited to seize
her. Face-of-Light, never dreaming of her peril, tripped towards the
edge of the forest; and, seeing many flowers growing beneath the
trees, went in to pluck them. She made the forest bright with her
beauty, and the flowers grew fairer as she drew near them. Suddenly
a great black hand was thrust out from a thick clump of bushes. The
hand seized her, and she shrieked in terror and struggled to escape.
The white fairy heard her cries, which pierced the air like the keen
long whistle of the curlew, leapt up, and looked forth from his
Mountain top. In a moment he knew what had happened. Face-of-Light
had been seized by his enemy, the black fairy, who was dragging her
to a dark dungeon in the middle of his mountain. The white fairy was
unable to go to her rescue for two reasons. Like his dark enemy, he
could not pass the Utmost limits of his mountain house, and having
already shot a golden arrow that day, he could not shoot another
until a new day had dawned.
Night came on, and the black fairy
climbed to the top of his mountain, where he danced with joy because
he had taken captive the bride of his enemy. The white fairy was
stricken with sorrow, and when he heard the cries of Face-of-Light
coming from the dungeon, he fell down in a swoon.
All night long Face-of-Light sobbed and
wept, while the black fairy danced on the mountain top and sang
songs of triumph. He danced so fast that he raised a wind which
swept down the strath and shook the trees from sleep, so that they
moaned and sighed all night long. The cries of Face-of-Light were
heard by human beings, and those who were awakened said one to
another: "Listen to the hag of night. How terrible are her cries!"
Not until the dawn began to break did
the white fairy recover from his swoon. Just when the first shaft of
grey light pierced the eastern sky, he opened his eyes. Then he
remembered his sorrow and wept softly. His tears fell as dew on the
flowers and the grass.
Weeping, he climbed his mountain, and
then wandered round about the crest of it. His heart was heavy for
the loss of Face-of-Light, and when he listened he heard her moaning
in her dark. prison. The black fairy had ceased to dance. He stood
upright on the highest point of his mountain house, and shouted to
his enemy: "Ha! Face-of-Light is my prisoner." Then suddenly he was
silent He saw the white fairy stringing his silver bow and then
drawing from his shining quiver a bright golden arrow.
"Ha!" cried the black fairy, "would you
dare shoot at me?"
"Set free Face-of-Light, or I shall
shoot," the white fairy made answer. His face was white as snow and
hard as ice.
The black fairy laughed, and willed himself to become invisible, and
then, just as the white fairy raised his bow to take aim, his enemy
vanished from sight. No part of him could be seen but the great red
spot on his left breast, which seemed to float in the air.
For a moment the white fairy, gazing
eastward, looked with wonder at the red spot which grew brighter and
brighter. His bow was bent, and his golden arrow was held ready for
sound of defiant laughter came down the wind as the black fairy, now
invisible, danced with joy on his mountain top.
To and fro swayed the red spot, and the
white fairy thought he would shoot at it. His aim was true and his
arm was strong. Straight from the bow flew the bright golden arrow.
It darted through the air with lightning speed and struck the red
spot, which, be it known, was the heart of the black fairy. A shriek
rang out across the strath. It was the death shriek of the black
fairy, who fell down on the bare rock and died. His life-blood
streamed forth, and the whole eastern sky was covered with it. In
the midst of the redness gleamed the bright golden arrow of the
sooner was the black fairy slain than Face-of-Light was set free.
The doors of her dungeon flew open, and she came forth in all her
beauty. When she did so, the mountains and the strath were made
bright, the river sparkled in the light, and the lochs flashed like
burnished silver. All the land was made glad when Face-of-Light was
set free from her dark prison. The slumbering flowers opened their
eyes to gaze upon her, and the birds broke forth in merry song,
while the white fairy smiled and danced with joy.
The black fairy lay dead and invisible
on his mountain top until evening came on. Then Beira came to visit
him. When she found that her son had been slain, she tool: from her
wallet a pot of healing balsam and rubbed it on his wound. Then she
rubbed the balsam on his eyes and on his lips. When she did this, he
came to life, and began once again to plot evil against the white
fairy and his beautiful bride.
This story, which used to be told in
Strathspey, is the story of the struggle between darkness and light.
The black fairy is night, which begins to make itself invisible at
dawn, and the red spot on his left breast is the red light of
morning. The golden arrow of the white fairy is the golden shaft of
sunlight that darts across the eastern heaven as the sun rises in
morning splendour. Face-of-Light is the spirit of the River Spey,
which is bright in daytime and lost to sight in the darkness of
night. When the story-teller says that Face-of-Light leaves the
river, he means that its brightness leaves it when the shadows of
night are falling.
A different story is told in the Ness
valley. There are two mountains on either side of Loch Ness, and on
each is a Fooar, or giant. These sons of Beira are rivals. One loves
the daylight and the other loves darkness.
Every morning at dawn one Fooar flings
across Loch Ness a white boulder. When the boulder goes through the
air the sky becomes bright. Every evening the other Fooar flings
across Loch Ness a black boulder, and the sky grows dark.
The rivals can throw their boulders only
once in every twenty-four hours. When the white boulder is flung, it
strikes the night Fooar, and he falls down in a swoon. He does not
recover until evening, and then he rises and, in turn, flings his
black boulder, and strikes down his rival, who then lies unconscious
until the dawn. When the giant of day grasps his white boulder and
raises it on high, his red hand can be seen in the sky, and the red
hand of the giant of night is often seen at evening. Sometimes the
giants turn round the boulders to adjust them for throwing. Then the
gold rings on their fingers and the golden armlets on their arms
flash athwart the sky in bright splendour.