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Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend
Chapter VI. Conall and the Thunder Hag


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 the moors.

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.


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