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Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend
Chapter VII. Story of Finlay and the Giants


Finlay the hunter lived with his sister in a lonely little house among the mountains, and near at hand there were giants who were descendants of Beira. This giant clan was ruled over by a hag-queen who was very old and fierce and cunning. She had great stores of silver and gold in her cave, and also a ;old-hilted magic sword and a magic wand. When she struck a stone pillar with this wand it became a warrior, and if she put the gold-hilted sword into his hand, the greatest and strongest hero in the world would be unable to combat against him with success.

Every day that Finlay went out to hunt he warned his sister, saying: "Do not open the windows on the north side of the house, or let the fire go out."

His sister did not, however, heed his warning always. One day she shut the windows on the south side of the house, and opened those on the north side, and allowed the fire to go out.

She wondered what would happen and she had not long to wait, for a young giant came towards the house and entered it. He had assumed a comely form, and spoke pleasantly to Finlay's sister. They became very friendly, and the giant made the foolish girl promise not to tell her brother of his visits. After that the girl began to quarrel with Finlay. This went on for a time.

One day when Finlay was returning to his home he saw a little shieling in a place where no shieling used to be. He wondered who dwelt in it, and walked towards the door and entered. He saw an old woman sitting on the floor, and she bade him welcome.

Sit down," she said. "Your name is Finlay."

"That is true," answered he; "who are you and whence come you?"

"I am called Wise Woman," she answered. "I have come here to protect and guide you. Alas! you do not know that you are in danger of your life. A young giant has bewitched your sister, and is waiting to kill you this very day with a sharp blue sword."

"Alas!" cried Finlay, who sorrowed to think of his sister.

Being forewarned, the hunter was prepared. When he returned home he set his fierce dogs on the giant, and threw a pot of boiling water over him. The giant fled shrieking towards his cave, and Finlay's sister followed him.

Then the hunter was left alone in the house. His heart shook with terror because he feared that one of the older giants would come against him to avenge the injury done to the young giant.

He had good reason to be afraid. As soon as the young giant reached the cave, his brother cried: "I shall go forth and deal with the hunter."

"I had better go myself," his father said fiercely.

"It is I who should go," growled the fierce grey hag.

"I spoke first," urged the young giant's brother, and sprang towards the mouth of the cave in the gathering dusk.

Finlay waited alone in his little house. The door was shut and securely barred, and the peat fire glowed bright and warm, yet he shivered with the coldness of terror. He listened long and anxiously, and at length heard a growing noise like distant thunder. Stones rumbled down the hillside as the giant raced on, and when he entered a bog the mud splashed heavily against the cliffs.

Finlay knew then that a giant was coming, and crc long he heard his voice roaring outside the door: "Fith! foth! foogie! The door is shut against a stranger. Open and let me in." He did not wait for Finlay to answer, but burst the door open with a blow. The hunter stood behind the fire which burned in the middle of the room, his bow in his hand and an arrow ready. He fired as the giant entered, but did. not kill him. The giant shrieked and leapt towards Finlay, but the dogs made fierce attack. Then the hunter shot another arrow from his bow and killed the giant.

Next morning Finlay hastened to the shieling of Wise Woman, taking with him the giant's head.

"Well, valiant lad," she exclaimed, "how fared it with you last night?"

Finlay told her all that had taken place, and explained that it was owing to the help given him by the dogs he was able to slay the giant.

"There is need of the dogs," Wise Woman said, "but the day of their great need has yet to come."

That evening Finlay again sat alone in his house, wondering what would happen next. No sooner did night come on than he heard a noise like distant thunder, but much louder than on the night before. Great boulders rumbled down the hill-side, and mud splashed on the cliffs. Another and more terrible giant was coming, seeking to be avenged.

"Thoth! Thoth! Foogie!" roared his heavy voice outside the house. "I smell a man inside. Open the door that I may enter. Although you killed my son last night, you shall not slay me."

He burst the door open, and as he did so the house shook. Finlay feared the roof was about to fall upon him, but he feared more when he beheld the giant in the firelight, for the monster had five heads.

He drew his bow and shot an arrow. The giant paused. Finlay shot a second arrow, which, like the first, wounded the monster, but did not kill him. Then the hunter drew his sword and smote him heavily, but his wounds were not mortal. The giant stretched out his grisly hands to seize Finlay, but the dogs leapt at him, and a fierce struggle took place, but in the end Finlay triumphed, and the giant was slain.

Next morning the hunter went to the shieling of Wise Woman, and told her of the night of terror and the long and deadly combat. "The dogs," he said, "helped me. But for the dogs I should have been overcome."

Said Wise Woman: "There is need for the dogs, but the day of their greatest need has yet to come. To-night the fierce grey hag will seek to avenge the death of her husband and son. Beware of her, 0 valiant lad! She will not cone raging and roaring like the giants, but gently and mannerly. She will call to you in a meek and mild voice, asking you to let her in. But, remember, it is her intention to take your life. Do as I instruct you and all will be well."

Wise Woman then gave him instructions, and he went home. When night came on there was silence all around. Finlay waited alone, listening intently, and the silence terrified him more than the noises like distant thunder he had heard on the two previous nights. He shook and shivered beside the warm bright peat fire, waiting and waiting and listening. At length he sprang up suddenly, for he heard a rustling sound like the wind stirring dead leaves. A moment later a weak patient voice outside the door called: "I am old and weary. I have need of food and of shelter for the night. Open and let me in."

Finlay went to the door and made answer:

"I shall let you in, old woman, if you promise to be civil and mannerly, and not do me an injury."

Said the hag: "Oh! I shall give no trouble. I promise to be civil and mannerly. Let me enter your house."

Finlay opened the door, and the hag walked in. She looked a poor frail old woman, and seemed to be very weary. When she had curtsied to Finlay, she sat down on one side of the fire. Finlay sat down on the opposite side.

The hag stretched out her hands to warm them, and began to look about her. Finlay's three dogs were prowling up and down the room, snarling angrily and showing their teeth.

"These are fierce dogs," the widow said. "Arise and tie them with thongs."

"The dogs will not do any harm to a peaceable old woman," said Finlay.

"Tie them up in any case, I pray you. I dislike angry dogs."

"I cannot do that, old woman, because I have nothing to tie them with."

Said the hag: "I will give you three red ribbons from my cap. They are strong enough to hold a big ship at anchor."

Finlay took the red ribbons from her and pretended to tie up the dogs. But he only made them lie down in a corner.

"Have you tied up the dogs?" asked the hag very softly.

"You can see for yourself that they are lying now with their necks close together," Finlay answered.

The hag looked at the dogs, and believing they had been secured with her magic ribbons, smiled to herself.

She sat beside the fire in silence for a time, and Finlay sat opposite her. After a time the hunter noticed that she was growing bigger and bigger.

"What means this?" cried Findlay. "You seem to be growing bigger and bigger."

"Oh, no, my darling!" she answered. "The cold of the night made me shrink, and now I am feeling more comfortable beside your warm bright fire."

There was silence again, and Finlay watched her for a time and then cried: "You are growing bigger, without doubt. You may be pleased or displeased because I say so, but you cannot deny it."

The hag frowned and answered angrily: "I am growing bigger, as you say. What of that? You fear me now, and you have good reason to. You slew my husband last night, and you slew my son on the night before. I shall certainly kill you to-night."

When she had spoken thus she sprang to her feet in full height, and the house shook about her and above. Finlay sprang to his feet also, and as he did so the hag seized him by the hair of his head. Having promised not to injure him inside the house—a promise she could not break—she dragged him outside. The three dogs rose, and sprang through the door after her.

Finlay wrestled fiercely with the hag, and the two twisted and turned hither and thither. The mother of the young giant would have killed him without delay, but the dogs kept attacking her, and gave her much trouble. At length, with the help of the dogs, Finlay managed to throw her down. She lay upon one of her arms, and the dogs held the other.

Oh! let me rise to my feet," cried the hag, who had no power to struggle when she lay on the ground.

Said Finlay: "I shall not allow you to rise up."

"Allow me to ransom myself," the hag pleaded.

Said Finlay: "What ransom will you give?"

I have a trunk of gold and a trunk of silver in my cave. You shall get both," she answered.

Said Finlay: "Having overcome you, these are mine already."

I will give you a gold-hilted sword which is in my cave," the hag then promised. "He who wields this magic sword will overcome any man or any beast in the world."

Said Finlay: "The sword is mine already."

I will give you a magic rod if you spare me," the hag cried then. "It is a matchless weapon. It can also work wonders. If you strike a stone pillar with it, the pillar will turn into a warrior, and if you will put the gold-hilted sword in this warrior's hand, he will conquer the world for you."

Said Finlay: "Your wand is mine already by right of conquest. What else have you to offer for ransom?"

"Alas!" the hag cried, "I have naught else to give you."

Said Finlay: "Then you shall die. The world will be well rid of you."

He slew the fierce hag, and then arose quickly and put "red moss " (sphagnum moss) on his wounds and sores, so that they might be healed speedily. Next morning he arose and went and informed Wise Woman of what had taken place, saying: "It was chiefly owing to the dogs that the hag was overcome."

Said Wise Woman: "O valiant hero! the dogs have now had their day."

Then Finlay told about the treasure in the cave, and said: "I know not how I can obtain the gold and silver, the gold-hilted sword, and the magic wand."

Said Wise Woman: "To-night my daughter and I will go with you to the giants' cave. I will take my own magic wand with me."

When darkness came on the three went to the cave. They set to work and gathered armfuls of dry heather, which they heaped up at the cave mouth and set on fire, so that the young giant within might be choked by the fumes and scorched by the flames. Soon the giant crawled to the mouth of the cave, panting heavily. He came through the smoke dazed and half blinded. Suddenly a warning light appeared on his forehead.

Finlay drew his bow and said: "I will shoot."

"Do not shoot," Wise Woman warned him. "A wound would only make him fiercer, and the dogs would be of no use to you among the fire. If he is allowed to escape out of the flare, the dogs would not see him in the darkness. I shall strike him with my magic wand. I can strike once only, and if I fail he will strike the next blow with the gold-hilted sword which is in his hand."

The giant scattered the fire to get out of the cave, but ere he could rise Wise Woman smote him on the head with her magic wand, and he fell down dead.

When they entered the cave they found that Finlay's sister was within. But she was dead; she had perished in her cave prison.

Finlay took out all the treasure that was in the cave, and carried it to the shieling of Wise Woman. Then he tested the magic wand. He struck a stone pillar with it, and the pillar became a warrior. Then he struck the warrior, and he became a stone pillar again.

"This is wonderful," Finlay exclaimed.

"It is indeed," said Wise Woman. Then she told him that he must visit the king next day and inform him of all that had taken place, and she made him take a vow not to enter the palace.

Next day Finlay set out to the palace of the king. When he reached it he bade the royal servants inform the king that the great giants had been slain.

Said the king: "Let the valiant hero come within."

Finlay, however, declined to enter the palace, and sent him word, saying: "I dare not enter your palace, as I have a vow to fulfil."

The king came outside and spoke to Finlay, saying: " ome within. I shall give you my daughter, the princess, in marriage. You shall also have half of my kingdom as long as I live, and the remainder shall be yours when I die."

Said Finlay: "I give you thanks, O king, but I cannot enter."

When he had spoken thus, he walked towards a grey stone pillar and smote it with the magic wand. The pillar became a noble warrior. Then he smote the warrior, and he became a pillar again. The king was greatly astonished, and exclaimed: "I have never seen anything like this before."

He went into the palace to give orders about Finlay, whom he wished to detain, but when he came out again he found that the hunter had gone.

The king sent out foot-runners and horsemen to make search throughout the kingdom for Finlay, but they returned without having seen aught of him.

Finlay married the daughter of Wise Woman, and he prospered. Years went past. Finlay had a family of three sons. He loved the boys very dearly, and spent happy days roaming with them among the mountains. All went well with him until Wise Woman died. Then misfortune overtook him. His wife died, and all his wealth was stolen from him by night robbers who were in league with the giants. He lost also the magic wand, but he kept possession of the gold-hilted sword. Nor did his troubles have end when he became poor again, for a witch cast spells on his three young sons and smote them with a magic wand. Then the boys were transformed into three beautiful white dogs and lied away.

Finlay was stricken with sorrow, and set out to search for his children. He crossed mountains and moors, following in the tracks of the three white dogs, but without avail. The day went past and evening came on, and still he hastened onward. When darkness had fallen he came to a small glen and saw a light. He walked towards the light, and found it shone from the window of a house. At this house he asked for a night's lodgings, and it was given to him. The old man of the house spoke to him, saying: "You are sad and tearful, O stranger. Are you searching for your three sons?"

Said Finlay: "Oh, yes! Have you seen them?"

"They are travelling over mountain and moor," said the old man. "I cannot do anything to help you. Tomorrow night you will reach the house of a brother of mine, and if he will not help you, I do not know what you should do."

Finlay resumed his journey next day, and when darkness came on he reached the house of the old man's brother, who said: "Your sons are travelling over mountain and moor as three white dogs. They cannot rest or stay, for they must travel by day and by night. I cannot do anything for you. Tomorrow night you will reach the house of my elder brother, and he will give you advice."

Next night Finlay reached the house of the elder brother, and he said: "Your sons will remain under spells until Doomsday if you will not do one thing."

What is that?" Finlay asked.

"You must have three garments made of bog-cotton, and leave them on a hill which your sons in dog form are now running; round. When they see the white garments they will put them on. Each one of the garments will take you a year to make, unless you get a band of women to collect the bog-cotton, and a band of women to spin and weave."

"Alas!" Finlay exclaimed, "I cannot hire workers, because I have lost all I possessed."

"You still have the gold-hilted sword," the man said. "It may be of service to you."

Next morning Finlay resumed his journey with a heavy heart indeed. He went on until dusk. Then he heard cries of sorrow and despair. In another moment he beheld a great giant coming towards him, dragging a young man whom he had taken captive. Finlay drew his gold-hilted sword, and spoke boldly to the giant, saying:

"Let your captive go free, or I shall smite you."

"Ho, ho!" laughed the giant. "Your sword will bend like a grass blade when it strikes my body."

As he spoke he stretched out his right hand to seize Finlay and take him captive also. But Finlay smote the giant with the gold-hilted magic sword, and slew him.

The young man was overjoyed and thanked Finlay, praising him for his valour. "Come with me to my father's house," he said. " He is the king of this country, and will reward you."

The young prince had many sores and wounds, and Finlay put "red moss" (sphagnum) on them. Then the two went together to the palace and entered it. When the king heard his son's story, he said to Finlay: "You shall stay here, O wanderer, and I shall make you rich and prosperous.

"Alas!" Finlay exclaimed. "I cannot tarry here except for one night."

The queen came forward and said: "You are sad and unhappy, O stranger! What is the cause of your grief?"

Finlay told the queen about his lost sons and his weary and fruitless search for them.

Said the queen: "One of the king's shepherds has told me that every morning when he goes out he sees three beautiful white dogs on the green hill nigh to the palace."

"Ah! these are my sons," Finlay cried. Then he told the queen what the elder of the three old men had said.

The queen listened intently, and then spoke, saying: "I shall give you mine aid. Until I have had made the garments of bob-cotton, there will be no rest for me, 0 stranger, because you have rescued my son from death."

Next morning the queen sent women to collect bog-cotton and women to spin and weave. The bog-cotton was collected speedily, for hundreds of women went out to obey the queen's command. Then the yarn was spun; it was put into the weaver's loom and woven. Then women sewed the garments, which were afterwards washed and bleached until they were as white and soft as new-fallen snow on a mountain top. The garments were laid on the green hill when the sun was setting.

Next morning Finlay went out early to look for his sons, and the prince whom he had rescued went with him. They found that the white garments had been taken away, but the boys could not be seen anywhere. Finlay and the prince searched far and wide for them in vain, and then returned to the palace.

A week went past, and Finlay sorrowed greatly. Each morning he asked the shepherd if he had seen either the boys or the white dogs, and the shepherd answered saying: "No, I have not seen the white dogs on the green hill."

On the seventh day three youths appeared at the door of the palace and asked to see the stranger who resided there. Finlay came towards them with tears falling from his eyes.

"What ails you?" one of the youths asked.

Said Finlay: "I am mourning for my three beloved sons whom I shall never behold again."

"We are your sons, O father!" the youths exclaimed together.

Finlay dried his tears which blinded him, and then recognized his lost sons. He embraced them and kissed them, and took them before the kin; and the queen, who bade them welcome.

After that Finlay dwelt in the palace of the king, and his three sons grew up and became mighty warriors.


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