Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend
Chapter VIII. Heroes on the Green
There was once a prince
who found himself in the Green Isle of the \'Vest, and this is how
the story of his adventures are told The Prince of the Kingdom of
Level-Plains set out on his travels to see the world, and he went
northward and westward until he came to a red glen surrounded by
mountains. There he met with a proud hero, who spoke to him, saying:
"Whence come you, and whither are you going?"
Said the prince: "I
am searching for my equal," and as he spoke he drew his sword. He
was a bold and foolish young man.
"I have no desire to
fight with you," the proud hero answered. "Go your way in peace."
The prince was
jealous of the hero who spoke thus so calmly and proudly, and said:
"Draw your sword or die."
Then he darted
forward. The hero swerved aside to escape the sword-thrust, and next
moment he leapt upon the prince, whom he overcame after a brief
struggle, and bound with a rope. Then he carried him to the top of a
cliff, and said: "You are not fit to be among men. Go and dwell
among the birds of prey."
He flung him over the cliff. The prince
fell heavily into a large nest on a ledge of rock, the nest of the
queen of eaglesa giant bird of great strength.
For a time he lay stunned by his fall.
When he came to himself he regretted his folly, and said "If ever I
escape from this place I shall behave wisely, and challenge no man
He found himself in the great nest with three young eagles in it.
The birds were hungry, and when the prince held his wrists towards
one, it pecked the rope that bound them until it was severed; so
then he stretched his legs towards another bird, and it severed the
rope about his ankles. He was thus set free. He rose up and looked
about him. The ledge jutted out in midair on the cliff-side, and the
prince saw it was impossible either to ascend or descend the
slippery rocks. Behind the nest there was a deep cave, into which he
crept. There he crouched, waiting to see what would happen next.
The young birds shrieked with hunger,
and the prince was hungry also. Ere long the queen of eagles came to
the nest. Her great body and outstretched wings cast a shadow like
that of a thunder cloud, and when she perched on the ledge of rock,
it shook under her weight.
The eagle brought a hare for her young
and laid it in the nest. Then she flew away. The prince at once
crept out of the cave and seized the hare. He gathered together a
bundle of dry twigs from the side of the nest and kindled a fire in
the cave, and cooked the hare and ate it. The smoke from the fire
smothered the young birds, and when the queen of eagles returned she
found that they were dead. She knew at once that an enemy must be
near at hand, and looked into the cave. There she saw the prince,
who at once drew his sword bravely and fought long and fiercely
against her, inflicting many wounds to defend himself. But he was no
good match for that fierce bird, and at length she seized him in her
talons and, springing off the ledge of rock, flew through the air
with him. His body was soon torn by the eagle's claws and sore with
wounds. The eagle, also sorely wounded, rose up among the clouds,
and turning westward flew hurriedly over the sea. Her shadow blotted
out the sunshine on the waters as she passed in her flight, and
boatmen lowered their sails, thinking that a sudden gust of wind was
sweeping down upon them.
The prince swooned, and regained
consciousness, and swooned again. As the bird flew onwards the sun
scorched him. Then she dropped him into the sea, and he found the
waters cold as ice. "Alas!" he thought, "I shall be drowned." He
rose to the surface and began to swim towards an island near at
hand, but the eagle pounced down, and seizing him again, rose high
in the air. Once again she dropped him, and then he swooned and
remembered no more, until he found himself lying on a green bank on
a pleasant shore. The sun was shining, birds sang sweetly among
blossoming trees of great beauty, and the sea-waves made music on
the beach. Somewhere near he could hear a river fairy singing a
Next he heard behind him a splashing of water, and a shower of
pearly drops fell upon his right arm as he lay there weak and
helpless. But no sooner did the water touch his arm than it became
strong again. The splashing continued, and he twisted himself this
way and that until the pearly spray had drenched every part of his
body. Then he felt strong and active again, and sprang to his feet.
He looked round, and saw that the showers of spray had come from a
well in which the wounded queen of eagles was bathing herself. The
prince knew then that this was a Well of Healing.
He remembered how fiercely the eagle had
dealt with him, and wished he still had his sword. Having no sword,
he drew his dirk and crept softly towards the well. He waited a
moment, crouching behind a bush, and then, raising his dirk, struck
off the eagle's head. But he found it was not easy to kill the
monster in the Well of Healing. No sooner was the head struck off
than it sprang on again. Thrice he beheaded the eagle, and thrice
the head was restored. When, however, he struck off the head a
fourth time, he held the blade of his dirk between the head and neck
until the eagle was dead. Then he dragged the body out of the well,
and buried the head in the ground. Having done so, he bathed in the
well, and when he came out of it, all his wounds were healed, and he
found himself as active and able as if he had just awakened from a
looked about him, and saw fruit growing on a blossoming tree. He
wondered at that, but being very hungry he plucked the fruit and ate
it. Never before had he tasted fruit of such sweet flavour. Feeling
refreshed, and at the same time happy and contented, he turned to
walk through the forest of beautiful trees and singing birds, when
he saw three men coming towards him. He spoke to them, saying: "Who
are you, and whence come you?" They answered: "There is no time to
tell. If you are not a dweller on this island, come with us while
there is yet time to escape.
The prince wondered to hear them speak
thus, but, having learned wisdom, he followed them in silence. They
went down the beach and entered a boat. The prince stepped in also.
Two of the men laid oars in the rowlocks, and one sat at the stern
to steer. In another moment the boat darted forward, cleaving the
waves; but not until it had gone half a league did the man at the
helm speak to the prince. He said simply: "Look behind and tell me
what you see."
The prince looked, and all he saw was a green speck on the horizon.
A cry of wonder escaped his lips.
"The speck you see," said the steersman,
"is the Green Isle. It is now floating westward to the edge of the
the prince understood why the men had hurried to escape, and he
realized that if he had not taken their advice, he would have been
carried away beyond the reach of human aid.
Said the steersman: "Now we can speak.
Who are you, and whence come you?"
The prince told the story of his
adventure with the queen of eagles, and the men in the boat listened
intently. When he was done, the steersman said: "Now listen, and
hear what we have gone through."
This was the story told by the
steersman, whose name was Conall Curlew, the names of the rowers
being Garna and Cooimer.
Yesterday at dawn we beheld the Green
Isle lying no farther distant from the shore than a league. The
fourth man who was with us is named Mac-a-moir, and he spoke,
saying: "Let us visit the Green Isle and explore it. I am told that
the king has a daughter named Sunbeam, who is of peerless beauty,
and that he will give her as a bride to the bravest hero who visits
his castle. He who is bold enough will come with me."
We all went down to the beach with
Mac-a-moir, and Iaunched a boat to cross over to the Green Island.
The tide favoured us, and we soon reached it. We moored the boat in
a sheltered creek, and landed. The beauties of the forest tempted us
to linger, and eat fruit and listen to the melodious songs of
numerous birds, but Maca-moir pressed us to hasten on. Soon we came
to a green valley in which there was a castle. I, Conall, knocked at
the gate, and a sentinel asked what I sought, and I answered: "I
have come to ask for Sunbeam, daughter of the King of Green Isle, to
be the bride of Mac-a-moir."
Word was sent to the king, who said: "He
who seeks my daughter Sunbeam must first hold combat with my
am ready for combat," Mac-a-moir declared.
The gate was opened, and the heroes
entered. Mac-a-moir drew his sword, and the first warrior came
against him. Ere long Mac-a-moir struck him down. A second warrior,
and then a third, fought and fell also in turn.
Said the king, when the third warrior
fell: "You have overcome the champion of Green Isle."
"Bring forth the next best," Mac-a-moir
the king: "I fear, my hero, that you wish to slay all my warriors
one by one. You have proved your worth. Now let us test you in
another manner. My daughter dwells in a high tower on the summit of
a steep hill. He who can take her out will have her for his bride.
He will also receive two-thirds of my kingdom while I live, and the
whole of my kingdom when I die."
All who were present then went towards
the tower, which stood on three high pillars.
"Who will try first to take out the
king's daughter?" I asked.
Said Mac-a-moir: "I shall try first."
He tried, but he failed. He could
neither climb the pillars nor throw them down.
Said the king: "Many a man has tried to
take my daughter out of this tower, but each one has failed to do
so. You had better all return home."
The other two, Garna and Cooimer, made
attempts to shake down the tower, but without success.
Said the king: "It is no use trying,. My
daughter cannot be taken out."
Then I, Conall, stepped forward. I
seized one of the pillars and shook it until it broke. The tower
toppled over, and as it came down I grasped the Princess Sunbeam in
my arms, and placed her standing beside me.
"Your daughter is now won," I called to
Princess Sunbeam smiled sweetly, and the king said: "Yes, indeed,
she has been won."
"I have won her," I, Conall, reminded
him, "for Mac-a-moir."
Said the king: "He who will marry
Sunbeam must remain on Green Isle."
"So be it," Mac-a-moir answered him as
he took Sunbeam's hand in his and walked towards the castle,
following the king.
A great feast was held in the castle,
and Mac-a-moir and the princess were married.
Said the king: "I am well pleased with
Mac-a-moir. It is my desire that his three companions should remain
with him and be my warriors."
I, Conall, told him: "It is our desire
to return to our own country."
The kind did not answer. He sat gloomily
at the board, and when the wedding feast was ended he walked from
the feasting hall.
Mac-a-moir came and spoke to us soon
afterwards, saying: "If it is your desire to go away, make haste and
do so now, for the king is about to move Green Isle far westward
towards the realms of the setting sun."
We bade him farewell, and took our
departure. You met us as we hastened towards the boat, and it is as
well that you came with us.
The prince dwelt a time with Conall and
his companions. Then he returned to his own land, and related all
that had taken place to his father, the King of Level-Plains.
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