Among the hags who
served Beira was the Thunder Hag. When Anus began to reign she fled
across the ocean to a lonely island, where she plotted to wreak
vengeance by bringing disaster to man and beast, because they had
rejoiced when Beira was overcome.
One day in midsummer,
when all the land was bathed in warns, bright sunshine and the sea
was lulled to sleep, the Thunder Hag came over Scotland in a black
chariot drawn by fierce red hounds and surrounded by heavy clouds.
The sky was darkened, and as the hag drew near, the rattling of-the
chariot wheels and the baying of the hounds sounded loud and
fearsome. She rode from sea to sea, over hill and moor, and threw
fireballs at the deep forests, which set them ablaze. Terror spread
through the land as the chariot passed in smoke and clouds.
On the next day the
hag came back. She threw more fireballs on forests of fir and silver
birch, and they burned fiercely. Dry heather on the moors and the
sun-dried grass were also swept by flame.
The king was greatly
troubled, and he sent forth his chief warriors to slay the hag; but
they fled in terror when they saw her coming near.
On the third day she
returned. Then the king called for Conall Curlew, the fearless hero,
and spoke to him, saying: "My kingdom will be destroyed if the hag
is not slain. I need your help, O brave and noble one."
Said Conall: "I shall
go out against the hag, O king, and if I do not slay her to-day, I
may slay her on the morrow."
Conall went forth,
and when he saw and heard the chariot drawing near he went up to the
summit of a high mountain and waited to attack her. But the hag kept
herself hidden behind a cloud which surrounded the chariot. Conall
had to return to the king without having done anything.
"I could not see the
hag because of the dark cloud," he said.
"If she comes again
to-morrow," the king said, "you may fare better."
Conall then made
preparations for the next coming of the hag. He went out into the
fields that were nigh to the royal castle, and separated all the
lambs from the sheep, all the calves from the cows, and all the
foals from the mares. When morning came on there was great tumult
among the animals.
There never was heard
before such a bleating of sheep, such a lowing of cattle, or
neighing of mares, in the land of Alba, and it was piteous to hear
the cries of the lambs, and the calves, and the foals which were
taken from their mothers. The men were filled with wonder at the
thing Conall had done, nor could they understand why he had done it,
and the hearts of the women were touched by the cries of the young
animals, and they wept to hear them.
It was indeed a
morning of sorrow and wailing when the cloud in which the hag's
chariot was hidden came nigh to the castle. The cloud darkened the
heavens, and when it passed over the wooded hill the fire-balls set
the trees in flame, and all the people fled before the cloud and
concealed themselves in caves and in holes in the ground, all except
the warriors, who waited, trembling, with deep eyes and pale faces.
Conall stood alone on
a green knoll, and his spear was in his hand.
When the cloud came
over the valley of the castle, the hag heard the cries of the
animals that assailed her ears, and so great was her curiosity that
she peered over the edge of the black cloud.
Great fear fell on
the hearts of the warriors when they saw the horrible face of the
hoary-headed hag; but Conall was a man without fear, and he was
waiting for the hag to reveal herself.
As soon as he saw
her, he swung his right arm over his shoulder, and he cast the spear
towards the cloud. The swallow does not dart swifter than the spear
of Conall darted through the air.
The hag was wounded,
and threw wide her grisly paws and sank down within the chariot. She
called to the black hounds: "Race quickly!" and they ran swiftly
towards the west. The sound of the rattling of the chariot wheels
grew fainter and fainter as it passed out of sight.
The clouds which the
hag passed over swiftly in her flight were rent in twain, and rain
fell in torrents, quenching the fires that were in the woods and on
There was great
rejoicing in the land because of the mighty deed done by Conall, and
the king honoured that noble hero by placing a gold ring on his
finger, a gold armlet on his arm, and a gold necklet on his neck.
There was peace and
prosperity in the land after that. The hag did not return again, so
greatly did she dread Conall Curlew, the hero of heroes.